As you’re probably aware, there are currently plans to build a massive thirteen floor, $100 million mosque near Ground Zero, the site of the September 11th attacks. It’s a tasteless move, orchestrated by some seemingly uncouth characters. The original name for the mosque (it’s now slated to be Park51) was Cordoba House, a reference to the partial Muslim conquest of Spain. Now, in fairness, the Islamic group behind the proposed mosque claims that this is an ecumenical outreach, and that the original name was intended as a reference to a period of religious tolerance under Islamic leadership. The story is that the building just happens to be two blocks from Ground Zero, since space is hard to come by in New York. Maybe so. Perhaps no one involved in the planning considered the implications of building here, or the statement building a mosque here would make. But they know now. Someone might foolishly propose a ecumenical pork-chop dinner to foster Christian, Muslim, and Jewish unity. Simple enough mistake. But if, after learning that Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork, the organizers continued with the plan, we’d have reason to suspect their good faith.
Let’s start off with two obvious points:
- The proposed mosque, including its location, is certainly protected by the First Amendment.
- Putting a gigantic mosque near Ground Zero is tasteless, and morally repugnant to any morally sane person — regardless of religious affiliation.
Put another way, the mosque can and may be built there, but it shouldn’t be. This is something which the majority of New Yorkers affirm. For the first point, banning the construction of a specific religion’s building at a particular site is about as unconstitutional a law as you could get. Try and imagine what a law preventing this mosque from being built would look like. Short answer: it would either blatantly violate thee Constitution, or would be obviously deceptive (a law to prevent all new construction in this area, etc.), or both.
For the second point, I don’t think I need to explain how building a massive mosque near an enormous massacre done in the name of Islam is a slap in the face to victims and humanity as a whole. The entire move looks like a Muslim group gloating over an abhorrent attack on innocent civilians. And this is true regardless of your thoughts on Islam — indeed, many liberal Muslims agree. As Catholics, the Orthodox are dear to us, yet if there was a proposed Orthodox church being built at the site of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre (where some 8000 Muslim Bosniaks were massacred for religious and ethnic reasons), hopefully Christians of all stripes would stand with outraged Muslims in opposition to the church being built at that spot. It’s not that we don’t want the Orthodox to build churches – the opposite is true – but that we don’t want them to build churches on the site of massacres done in the name of the Orthodox faith. It’s an issue of good taste. Build your house of worship, but build it elsewhere. That message is no more anti-Islamic than it is anti-Orthodox (or any other example you want to use).
As the Wall Street Journal notes, in the 1980s, a group of Carmelite nuns had purchased an abandoned building on the outskirts of Auschwitz, which they used to pray for the victims. Unlike the Park51 mosque, there was no question of the Carmelite’s good faith here. They mourned for the victims and prayed for their souls. Yet Jewish groups were hurt by the presence, and the well-intentioned effort became a lightening rod of controversy. As a result, John Paul II asked them to move. Continue their wonderful apostolate, but do it elsewhere, so as not to rub salt in the wounds of the mourners.
All of this is common-sense. As I noted, this is the majority view within New York. But some political folks seem completely unable to grasp the notion of being able to do something you shouldn’t. First, there was Obama’s massive unforced error. He decided, inexplicably, to give a public speech in favor of the right to build the mosque, without so much as a word suggesting the mosque is a terrible idea. What he said was technically correct, just a speech praising the Westboro Baptist Church’s legal right to picket military funerals with awful signs would be an accurate statement of the law. But Obama seemed to have little understanding of the human element – why this is an objectively bad idea, even if it’s a legal one. Stranger still, he decided to make his first entry into this public debate at a Muslim iftar in honor of Ramadan. So in front of an almost all-Muslim audience, he came out seemingly in support of the mosque. The next day, Obama backed down, telling reporters he wasn’t (necessarily) supporting the mosque, and wouldn’t give an opinion one way or another. On the other hand, the reaction from right-wing folks like Andy McCarthy has been similarly absurd.
There is one aspect of all of this that has particularly troubled me that I haven’t seen other Catholics speak out on. Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld has proposed building a Muslim gay bar nearby Park51. On the one hand, it illustrates the point nicely: Gutfeld is intentionally spitting in the face of Muslims. It’s vile, but legal. So he can, but shouldn’t do it. On the other hand, Gutfeld claims to be serious about this, and says he’s spoken to investors. It seems weird to have to point out that opening a Muslim gay bar isn’t consistent with Catholic morality, but National Review’s resident Catholic, Kathryn Jean Lopez seems to have forgotten this. It’s one thing to say to Muslims who support the mosque, “you wouldn’t like it if a gay bar were opened next door to spite you.” It’s quite another thing to actually support the repulsive example in question. It’s the childish logic, “let’s be as offensive as the people who are offending us,” and yet another example of how much of this conflict is Christians being asked to choose between secularism and Islam. It’s a false choice: we reject both, while acknowledging the good found in both (respect for rights and respect for God, respectively).
All that said, I fully support those Christians taking a strong stance against this, because it’s just crass and immoral. The supporters of this mosque should be shown the errors of their way and constantly entreated to reconsider this idea. And maybe, in the process, we can get more people to support the rebuilding of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church. If you’re not familiar, St. Nick’s was an Orthodox church destroyed in the September 11th attacks, and the church has been unable to rebuild because of the massive red tape. That’s a First Amendment issue which everyone should be able to rally around.