Vexed Issue over Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero Foolish
By Andy Greenspon '11
The slow news in the summer months inevitably lead to outrageous stories, especially during the election season when politicians will do anything to score points with their constituencies. And in this day and age of 24-hour cable news networks, straightforward events are bound to be blown out of proportion.

Thus we are left with the story of the “Ground Zero mosque.” People have been saying that building this mosque is a provocative and insensitive act, specifically for 9/11 victims and more generally for all Americans. The fact that polls state a significant majority of Americans are against the mosque is troubling to say the least. It suggests an ignorance of the facts on the ground and nothing more than a visceral understanding of the issues at hand. For those who don’t know, I’ll do a little rundown of some of the facts on this “mosque” and how the controversy arose. After that, I think the answer to whether or not the mosque should be built will be a fairly definitive yes.

The phrase “Ground Zero mosque” is a great sound bite though definitively false. According to, the proposed building, now called Park51, will not just be a mosque but a 13-story community “cultural center that includes a swimming pool, gym, basketball court, 500-seat auditorium, restaurant and culinary school, a library and art studios.” It would be open to all New Yorkers though geared towards engaging New York’s many and diverse Muslim communities. The top two floors would be a mosque (or prayer center; honestly, whatever you want to call it) but would be run separately from the rest of the facilities.

Furthermore, the proposed site is actually just over two long blocks from Ground Zero, or according to The Washington Post, “roughly half a dozen normal lower Manhattan blocks from the site of the North Tower.” Ground Zero cannot even be seen from the current building, and once completed, there will be no views of the memorial either. Anyone who goes to Ground Zero, whether as a tourist, mourner or passerrby, would have no idea that this mosque is nearby were it not for all the current news.

The site used to be a Burlington Coat Factory before 9/11 when the plane’s landing gear assembly crashed through the building. It remained abandoned for eight years until Muslims bought the building over a year ago in July; they have been using the site as a mosque ever since. The New York Times published a lengthy front-page story about the project last December without any fuss from anyone except a few obscure right-wing bloggers.

There were then no news articles on the project for five and a half months until May when a few articles reported that the local community board passed a non-binding resolution of support for it. Following this, a right-wing blogger denounced the plans, and then a New York Post columnist wrote the first major newspaper article that framed the project as inherently wrong and suspect. Right-wing opinion makers read the article, and at that point the story spread like wildfire through the news media and was instantly made a political issue.

With all that said, there really are only two issues to discuss concerning the community center: the legality and the prudence of it. Muslims legally purchased the building, and the proposed project is also legal. Now, there have been questions about whether Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the planner of Park51, might actually be a radical Muslim and about where the funding for the center will come from. Unfortunately, I cannot address all these issues in this article, but Rauf seems to be trusted by the U.S. government and despite some outlandish comments he has made, he has also promoted interfaith dialogue and condemned terrorism as un-Islamic. Clearly if there were any actual terrorist connections or anything illegal going on, the government would step in, so debating such issues is pointless unless they actually arise.

The main question then is the prudence of building this center so close to Ground Zero. Of course, the space is already being used as a mosque, and there is another mosque close by that has been there for decades; a vibrant Muslim community already exists, so what could be wrong with setting up another mosque on top of a very large and beneficial community center?

We are then left with divergent views over the purpose of building the center so close to Ground Zero. Conservative politicians and pundits keep discussing this as a win for radical Islam, that it will be seen as a victory landmark by terrorists and empower them to step up their attacks on Americans.

If we do not allow the building of this community center, however, then radical Islam will have truly won, because it will have forced us to give up our deepest held principles that go back to the founding of this country. For isn’t that the goal of terrorism, to instill enough terror on the population to have us forgo our way of life and our principles, simply to feel safer, or in this case more comfortable, in our daily lives?

While no doubt some radicals will claim Park51 as a victory, we are not going to win the hearts and minds of these people any time soon. Nor are they going to stop attempting to harm Americans or destroy the American way of life regardless of what happens with this project. On the contrary, preventing Park51 would only further alienate American Muslims, who are generally the most moderate, who come here for the freedoms and opportunities that America stands for. Do we really want to deepen the cultural and religious divisions within this country over a simple community center and house of worship? By allowing this project, we are showing that we stick to our principles, no matter the religion in question. Furthermore, a cultural center open to all New Yorkers can only increase interfaith dialogue, which given the state of this country, can only be beneficial for everyone.

The question still remains though: is it provocative or insensitive to the 9/11 victims to build this mosque? Perhaps. But if we couldn’t do anything in this country that might possibly offend someone, this really wouldn’t be America. Furthermore, we cannot keep equating all Muslims with terrorism. Therefore, we should honor our principles of liberty and the Constitution this country stands on, quit turning this into a political issue, and allow this community center to be built for Muslims and all New Yorkers.

As a final aside if you aren’t yet convinced, ask yourself this: Once this year’s election cycle passes, will news pundits and politicians even care about Park51?

Issue 01, Submitted 2010-09-20 20:10:56