Unfortunately, the conversation has become overheated, politicized and counterproductive. I believe that most Americans who oppose locating a mosque near Ground Zero are neither anti-freedom nor anti-Muslim; they just don't believe it's respectful, given what happened there. I say that as someone who strongly believes that the Sept. 11 attackers and other members of al-Qaeda do not represent any faith, but instead taint all faith with their acts of murder. I met many Muslims around the world who feel that, along with airplanes, the terrorists hijacked their religion.
When my fellow Americans ask why more Muslims don't speak out against such violence, I respond that they do -- and I met many who were vocal in their condemnation of al-Qaeda and its acts of terror. Osama bin Laden wants to portray our efforts against terrorism as the West vs. Islam; we must work hard to portray them as civilized people of many faiths vs. a death cult.
That's why I believe it is so important that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his congregation make what I fully understand would be a very difficult choice: to locate their mosque elsewhere. Putting the mosque at a different site would demonstrate the uncommon courtesy sometimes required for us to get along in our free and diverse society.
I recognize that I am asking the imam and his congregation to show a respect that has not always been accorded to them. But what a powerful example that decision would be. Many people worry that this debate threatens to deepen resentments and divisions in America; by choosing a different course, Rauf could provide a path toward the peaceful relationships that he and his fellow Muslims strive to achieve. And this gesture of goodwill could lead us to a more thoughtful conversation to address some of the ugliness this controversy has engendered.Sometimes, the right answer is to do the wrong thing for the right reasons, and the reasons Hughes gives are compelling. It is far easier for Imam Rauf to move his proposed community center and place of worship then it is to battle millions of Americans who do not find his actions respectful. It is an opportunity to try to end the controversy through being an adult rather than digging in and being stubborn and child-like. Life is about compromise in any national society. It is a move designed to show respect towards and shame those who choose not to respect you. Sometimes indeed the right answer is to surrender for the greater good.
Not everyone who is against the Park51 project is an anti-Islamic bigot. Let's get this out of the way right the hell now. As I have said, the reasons behind Hughes's argument are a sincere concern for fostering the greater good and to avoid conflict. I believe after reading this article that she is genuinely concerned that if the Park51 project is built, there will be nothing but strife, anger, and violence from those who wish the project serious harm.
Sometimes the answer is to surrender now and to fight the good fight later. And with all due respect to Karen Hughes and her diplomatic credentials and the idea of using diplomacy to further relationships between American Muslims and Americans in general...
This is not one of those times.
I have only to drive a mile or so from my home to the proposed site of a mosque being protested by anonymous fliers that threaten "the takeover of this country" if the mosque is built here, some 700 miles from Ground Zero. My current home is too close to Lower Manhattan to allow a mosque to be built. As Adam Serwer reminds us:
Plenty of Americans say Muslims do not have the right to build mosques in the United States. 48% of us, as a matter of fact, wish to deny Muslims their rights under the Constitution, including 14 percent of Americans who say no mosques should be built anywhere in the US.
Exactly how will moving the Park51 project solve this much larger issue? The simple truth is that it will not. It will only throw the spotlight onto the next mosque project being protested. That project too will be asked to shut down or move. And the next. And the next. And the next.
Until the 14% have their way. That is the only logical endpoint of such capitulation...unless a stand is taken. If we as a country decide that the Constitution does not apply to Islam here, then it does not apply to Islam anywhere in the United States of America. You cannot say that the people behind Park51 have the right to build a place of worship within the laws and then say they do not have the right to exercise it.
If you apply the "can they yes, should they no" argument, then there are those who will demand that Islam be removed from the United States of America, period. Can they worship at existing mosques yes, but should they? Can they practice Islam in the United States, yes...but should they? Can we allow Muslims in the United States yes, but should we?
Capitulating on Park51 is the easy thing to do. Nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy. We are already seeing the results of what will happen no matter what Park51 does or where it is placed: it will not stop those who are the bigots, those who want Islam and their adherents erased from the American landscape, those who see no difference between the people who attacked us on 9/11 and the people who are building Park51 or any mosque in America or any Muslim in America period.
Moving the Park51 project will not slake their anger. Period.
Sometimes, the correct choice is the difficult one: to stand for what is right and just and lawful especially when it is unpopular. It is at this point when standing for the difficult but right position is the most necessary.
Build it. Show those who say that America is full of hate that hate can be conquered through real freedom.