I am really embarrassed today. Embarrassed by the reaction to the mosque at Ground Zero. Embarrassed because it is not on Ground Zero, not even visible from where the Trade Center stood. Embarrassed because it is not even a mosque (it is a community center with a prayer room). Embarrassed because the Tea Party is spouting its stupid, yet dangerously vitriolic separatist ideology again.
But I am most embarrassed because I can see the lunatic, and equally dangerous vitriolic extremist “Islamists” saying, “I told you so.” I think that nothing pleases Al Qaeda more than the wild-eyed, “No mosque, no Muslims” protesters. Over one billion real Muslims are disturbed and hurt. American Muslims are disturbed, hurt, and embarrassed.
Religion has been a source of peace for centuries. However, once it is politicized, it has only brought shame, terror, injustice, and inhumanity. But we never seem to learn. The very Christianity which teaches people to “turn the other cheek” morphed into the cruel Crusades. The ever-accepting Hinduism denigrated itself by being associated with political clubs like the RSS and Shiv Sena. Judaism’s Zionists have less spirituality and more geopolitical goals. And, of course, there is Islam’s egregiously monstrous Mr. Hyde—the Taliban.
By its very nature, religion can be only personal. It is what one believes, and what one takes away from its code. Of course, the basic tenets of any religion will remain the same.
Actually, the basic tenets of all religions are the same. It is what we apply most to our lives that varies from person to person. Dictionary.com defines religion as: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”
This set of beliefs, though general and universal, means different things to different people—both in spirit and application. One person’s interpretation is never going to work for more than a couple of other people at the most. Each person entering a place of worship, even for congregational rituals, has his own mindset, his own relationship with the creator. That special connection is sacrosanct. Once religion begins to have an applied public facade, and we begin fitting everyone into one box, it loses its meaning. It becomes solely an ideology—political, self-serving, and hateful. It is not religion anymore.
The protest boards say, “No mosque at Ground Zero.” They could say “No library at airport,” or “No synagogue near this coffee shop.” It means exactly the same thing. Someone telling someone where to do what—for no other reason that they believe that they have the might to do so (they certainly do not have the right!).
Ground Zero is a symbol of the most dastardly act of terrorism. It is a gash that for unfathomable reasons has not been filled, and after nine years remains only a hurtful reminder instead of the planned memorial. I cannot begin to imagine the pain of relatives of the victims when even I feel a stab of pain every time I see a picture of the erstwhile WTC. It is hallowed ground, not only because of the number of innocent lives cut down so cruelly, but because of those brave souls who rushed in to try to save them. We are only adding insult to injury by associating it with shallow, ignoble motives, such as ranting incoherently against the building of a house of faith.
And that is why I also feel, along with the inevitable embarrassment I spoke of, a disquieting angst. It is not simply that they are protesting a constitutionally guaranteed place of worship in a dilapidated part of the city, but it is the very fact that there are those amongst us who make that sharp a distinction between “us” and “them.” It is exactly this psyche that humanity must not tolerate. It is not only about constitutional rights, it is not only about tolerance or acceptance. It is much, much bigger. Much, much more frightening. It is about people needing to empower themselves—with hate and anger.
They are rallying against converting a nondescript, now-defunct (like the rest of the street) Burlington Coat factory store to a community center, which is also blocks away from Ground Zero. Shakespeare’s Hamlet comes to my mind. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” There is nothing to complain about. Nothing is changing—not the people who are involved, not the building that was designated and passed by municipal laws, and certainly not the country (unless those that oppose it have their way!). The only change the center might bring is a little life to the dead block, and maybe some economic uplifting. It does not even change the area’s skyscape!
No, it is not the building/center/mosque that is bothering those complaining, demented minds. It is not about anyone’s feelings, or the proximity to any special ground. It is simply about control. It is the fear that something unfamiliar is also exercising its right to exist. It is the apprehension of the unenlightened that they will have to open their minds, if not their hearts, to see that the world is made up of very differing peoples and faiths and ideas—and none of them is “the other bad one.” The part that is scary is that instead of seeing this, or even trying to open a dialogue, people would rather lie to create hysteria, and scream themselves silly. We degrade into beasts when we begin to think we are better then anyone else, and that only what we have is acceptable.
It is heinous arrogance when we begin to believe that we have the right to determine what somebody else does, irrespective of its legality, or his or her entitlement to it. But when we begin to assume the right to determine what someone should think, by telling them what and where to pray, it is beyond the moral code of anything human.