I want to tread gently on the subject of plans to build a mosque near what is called Ground Zero. The matter is bound to be controversial, given the events of September 11, 2001, and the many arguments that make it appear as a strike by followers of Islam against those who do not share that faith, and of course a direct attack on the USA. So, what does the US President add to the discussion by coming out with what appeared to be a definitive position in support? Could he be anything but a lightening rod for the already polarized positions?
He said on Friday that, in keeping with American traditions of religious freedom, people had the right to build structures that facilitate the practising of their religion. He said: “That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” He appeared to step back from endorsing the plan, however, when the next day he qualified his remarks, saying that he was not commenting on the wisdom of the plan. While he believes Muslims have the right to build the mosque and community center so close to where two hijacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers, killing 3,000 people, he is not sure it is a good idea. He is clearly mindful of the deep held hurt and sensitivities but felt that he had to express a civic position, but when he speaks, his civic position is immediately political.
Those who oppose the president politically or are against the idea have plenty to jump on, and were quick to paint the president as insensitive to a significant portion of America’s population, and especially those whose loved ones were killed in the horrendous tragedy at the World Trade Center. There may never be a way for those directly affected to ever feel that those who may have some connection with the perpetrators have any normal rights.
Like the attack on the World Trade Center, it is now a fact. The president’s words are the same: they have been uttered and the discussion will never be the same again. Somehow, I don’t feel that the president’s trying to qualify the impression given by his original comments will make any difference to those whose minds are made up. More so that the words were uttered by a president who,unlike any of his predecessors, has more than a passing acquaintance with Islamic traditons, even though he is now a practising Christian.
Do the views of those who will not be convinced matter more than those who may be swayed?