A mosque near ground zero?

The New York City community board endorsed the Cordoba House, a community center and mosque planned for construction near Ground Zero.

Significant opposition has emerged against the project. Sarah Palin even weighed in this weekend, tweeting, "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing."

Should there be a mosque near Ground Zero?

Should the Cordoba House organization have a right to erect a mosque near Ground Zero? Yes. Is it prudent for the group to pursue that right? I’m not so sure.

This controversy has to be viewed in the context of New York City’s 9/11 trauma — and the context of one uncomfortable truth: 9/11 was a faith-based initiative. The hijackers were operating on strongly, perhaps primarily, religious motivations, and the religion that motivated them was Islam. To be sure, it was Islam as they understood it, and millions of Muslims do not understand their faith in that way. On the other hand, the number of Muslims who do understand their faith as Muhammad Atta did is far from insignificant. What we sometimes call "political Islam" is not a distortion of Islam; it is a particular understanding of Islam that crops up far too frequently to be so casually dismissed.

I’m willing to grant that the Cordoba House organizers have a very different understanding of Islam. For them it may truly be (pardon the politically correct phrase) a religion of peace. But Islam is not always so. (Not that Christianity has clean hands in this regard, not when the Catholic-Protestant war in Northern Ireland, to cite just one example, remains in living memory.)

It’s time to acknowledge that the understanding of Islam that made Ground Zero into Ground Zero lies within, not outside, the spectrum of Islam as it is understood and practiced around the world.

In the abstract, Cordoba House has the right to build its mosque. When complete it would probably provide downtown New Yorkers with excellent neighbors. But there’s a profound cultural tone-deafness in pursuing this project at this time and in that place.

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