FACEOFF: Should the proposed mosque be built near the Ground Zero site of the 9-11 terrorist attacks?

Be sure to read what FACEOFF columnists Charlie Meyer and Steve Smoot have to say on this subject and if you have something to say about it, send us a letter-to-the-editor at: letters@newstribune.info. We want to hear what you have to say.

FACEOFF: FACEOFF: Should the proposed mosque be built near the Ground Zero site of the 9-11 terrorist attacks?online survey

FACEOFF: Should the proposed mosque be built near the Ground Zero site of the 9-11 terrorist attacks?

The 'Ground Zero Mosque" is a planned $100 million, 13-story, glass and steel Islamic community center and mosque. Plans are for the facility to include a 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare area, bookstore, food court serving halal dishes, and Islamic prayer space for 1,000–2,000 Muslims. It would replace a building that was damaged in the September 11 attacks, and is located two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Though the building is privately-owned and has no affiliation with local or state government, the proposed location of the project has triggered an intense nation-wide controversy.

Polls show that a majority of Americans (a margin of 54%–20%) oppose building a "mosque" on that site, as do most people from New York State (61%–26%) and New York City (52%–31%).

Opponents cite the mosque's proximity to Ground Zero, where members of Al-Qaeda killed 2,750 people on September 11, 2001. Some opponents also criticize its original name, Cordoba, alleging it to be a reference to the Islamic reconquest of the Christian city of Córdoba. The project's sponsors explained that the name was meant to invoke 8th–11th century Córdoba, which they call a model of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

Across the U.S., families of 9/11 victims, as well as politicians, Muslims and various organizations, have come out both for and against the project. Some relatives of 9/11 victims argue that the project's location was insensitive, while supporters say it would be an opportunity for Muslims to demonstrate peaceful Islamic values. Some opponents have also questioned the project leaders' views on 9/11. Others including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg support the project on freedom-of-religion grounds.


By Charlie Meyer:

The big problem with religious freedom is in getting a lot of folks to show real tolerance towards the religious beliefs of others.  We either have freedom of religion, or we don’t. “Freedom of Religion” is far more than “Freedom of MY Religion.” We should take some lessons from the Unitarian-Universalists.

The Constitution is still the Constitution, even when the subject is controversial.   We hear the Far Right braying about being literal “strict constructionists,” except, oddly, for when they want to change some of the amendments to meet their dogma.

How did all this “Ground Zero Mosque” mayhem start?  Right-wing blogger Pamela Geller has been spewing all manner of anti-Islam scare drivel on her blog “Atlas Shrugs”  for quite some time. If one is so lazy or unimaginative that they have to cheaply swipe  and misspell an author’s book title for purposes other than parody, just make sure it’s Ayn Rand. She’s been dead for decades.  Did some minor Saudi sheik ditch Pam at the wedding with a catering truck full of canapes?

Go back fifty years, and conspiracy theorists were warning that President John F. Kennedy was beholden to the Vatican.

I am not a Muslim.  I wouldn’t be a very good one, as I have been known to beat the heat over a nice cold draft mug.  Come to think of it, that wouldn’t make me an orthodox adherent of a few Christian denominations that also tend to get grumpy about “coldies.”  It’s a free country, but the drinks aren’t.

The First Amendment is very specific: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”. There’s not a lot of ambiguity there. With that freedom, we’re also stuck with some religious zealots.

Take hate-mongering Fred Phelps and his flock at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.  Phelps and his faithful have been crudely protesting military funerals to promote their pogrom against gays, lesbians, or whatever special sinner types featured in Phelps’ fire and brimstone weekly sermons. 

States are still struggling to craft statutes that maintain the dignity due fallen military service members and their loved ones, while protecting the “freedom of religion” of Rev. Phelps and his fruitcake flock.

Beyond First Amendment concerns, which President Obama, sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, caught so much Right-wing grief in mentioning, there is no Constitutional measure of taste or political orthodoxy. Miss Manners and Emily Post were never officers of any court of law.

To cite my favorite line from “Casablanca”, let’s “round up the usual suspects” in this affair:

Speaking of “affair”, there’s serial wife-dumper Newt Gingrich trying to lead the nay-sayers.  I guess Newt had to do something to deflect the recently publicized ire of ex-wife #2. “A woman scorned...”  Gingrich had his moment of opportunity umpteen years, and a couple wives, ago.  He failed. Pudgy Newt has delusions of being the “Comeback Kid” mixed up with an obnoxious party guest who just won’t leave.

 Then there’s Sen. David “Hookergate” Vitter (R-La.), the “family values conservative” with an inconvenient little love-on-the-side-by-the-billable-hour habit, leaping right in, criticizing the Administration on the mosque project from the Bayou.  Come to think of it, we should probably pack Vitter off on a fact-finding junket to Afghanistan.  The Taliban just stoned another young man and a woman there to death for alleged “adultery.” If Vitter doesn’t curb that wandering eye and off-the-reservation, leg-humping libido, his Missus might just make him wish he was living with the Taliban.

Back from the politically dead, there’s Rick Scott, millionaire G.O.P. candidate for Governor of Florida with his inane “Obama’s Mosque” ad. He’s the guy with the Mussolini hairdo last seen failing to kill health care reform.   In 1997, Scott was made to walk the corporate plank by his own Board of Directors, after the Hospital Corporation of America had the largest Medicare and Medicaid fraud scandal in history.  It must have been a slow issue day on the campaign trail in the Sunshine State, or Scott forgot Lower Manhattan is nowhere near Tallahassee. 

What’s the latest “Islamic terror” conspiracy scare topic? “Terror Babies!!!”  CNN’s Anderson Cooper quickly debunked that crazy conspiracy theory in his interview with clueless Texas State Representative Debbie Riddle (R).   

There’s a common denominator with these meddling G.O.P. nay-sayers: none of them are legal, or even taxpaying, residents of the Big Apple.  There is the constitutional issue of freedom of religion, which the President reminded us of. Republican New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on whose patch the proposed mosque is to be situated, also supported the project on the similar grounds. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the project. Apart from the Constitutional issues, the siting issue properly belongs to the citizens of New York City, through their elected officials, not tourista politicians.

I still can’t believe the chutzpah: Conservative ideologues are actually complaining that New York City didn’t bureaucratically stop a project on private property. Aren’t they usually railing against regulations and big government?

Rest assured folks, “freedom of religion” isn’t exactly like Kryptonite to Superman.  The doors to a house of worship are no barrier to law enforcement for prosecuting illegal acts, such as terrorist group fundraising, sexual abuse, or hooking up “spiritual leaders” with multiple 15 year old wives. 

Are your beliefs so shallowly and precariously held that you have to deny someone else’s freedom to believe? Or not believe, for that matter? Is your America too weak to handle someone else’s religious freedom? Mine isn’t.

The measure of freedom is tolerance.


By Stephen Smoot:

It’s a Shinto Temple within shouting distance of the USS Arizona monument at Pearl Harbor.  It’s a thousand Southern Baptists parading through downtown Baghdad singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” at the top of their lungs.  It’s a gesture that only a fool would think would not cause serious offense were it to actually happen.  That’s why we have no temple honoring Japanese warriors at the site of their greatest victory and we do not thrust the church militant into the face of a Moslem nation that, at least in part, still sees itself as defeated and not liberated by America.

Let’s make something clear.  The people behind the proposal, planning, and possible construction of the mosque have one goal in mind, to stick a thumb in the eye of the United States.  They hit us hard on 9/11.  We hit them back and hurt them, but did not destroy them.  They consider that in itself a victory, in the manner of the well worn Friedrich Nietzsche maxim “whatever does not kill you makes you stronger.”  That is as true for terrorists as bacterial infections.  Now they want to build this structure in the middle of a still open national wound.  Even a sociopath without feelings or an ounce of sensitivity could tell you, “yeah, you might make someone mad if you build this thing.”  Do they want to embarrass, humiliate, and undermine the United States with this building?  You bet your life.  However I cannot recall how many times in this column and elsewhere I have argued against zoning laws.  Beyond the fact that they drive away economic development, they slice away at a person’s basic right to do with his or her property as they see fit.  That natural right remains basic to the American ideal.  We can do what we want with our property as long as we create no tangible and immediate threat to our neighbors.  If the mosque planned to use and dump toxic chemicals that might contaminate the neighborhood, that represents a tangible threat.  If they just plan to bring people in to do whatever it is people do in a mosque, well, that will hurt feelings, but little else.  If they own the property, they have the right to build, period.

That does not mean that New Yorkers cannot respond. 

Noise ordinances must be evenly applied at night.  That means no 5 AM call to prayer blaring through loudspeakers waking everyone up.  The property rights issue cuts both ways.  If they construct a mosque in a place that remains culturally sensitive, then New Yorkers obviously do not need to show it sensitivity.  Many have proposed a variety of businesses to surround the proposed mosque, including adult entertainment clubs, Hooters style restaurants, establishments that specialize in selling pork, and other things that Moslems might consider unclean.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  You cannot use our idea of rights to create something offensive and then complain when the tables get turned.

The other side of this issue lies in the political realm.  Barack Obama stepped once again into the role of the galactically stupid by announcing his support for its construction.  Then he tried to back off of his endorsement of the project the next day, as per usual when he says something dumb and his poll numbers sink further.  Obama has a knack for inserting himself into local issues where he has no jurisdiction and no business.  Sometimes you just need to remain aloof.  Repeat after me, Mr. President, “this is a matter for the people of the City of New York to decide.”  There you go.  Accept that it’s none of your business.  That’s not so bad, is it?  Democrats who had not yet abandoned the president hastened to do so in light of poll numbers showing that 70% of Americans opposed the building’s construction.  Even Senator Harry Reid, the liberal majority leader, said it should be built elsewhere.  Some Republicans, such as Sarah Palin, attacked.  Many othe! rs chose to sit this fight out, concerned over the impact on property rights.  Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie fears the generalization of all Moslems as extremist terrorists, stating, “And what offends me the most about all this, is that it's being used as a political football by both parties. And what disturbs me about the president's remarks is that he is now using it as a political football as well. I think the president of the United States should rise above that.”

 The truest test of principle comes when a person must support something that they find distasteful.  I find the placement of this mosque to be not just distasteful, but a deliberate insult.  However, we should not give ourselves short term satisfaction in blocking this mosque with government power.  It would give us long term problems because it would set a precedent that would further weaken our cherished right to property.

This week saw the passing of one of the pioneers of our format.  James J. Kirkpatrick served as the “right” opinion on point/counterpoint segments of the 1970s.  His blunt style won him a devoted audience while serving as fodder for irreverent comedians in movies and television.  Even more important, he and his colleagues demonstrated that spirited political debate can occur within a civil context.  At the end of the day, impassioned advocates can disagree, but still remain friends.  He will be missed.

FACEOFF: FACEOFF: Should the proposed mosque be built near the Ground Zero site of the 9-11 terrorist attacks?online survey