President Barack Hussein Obama was reported by the US media to support the establishment of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, New York City. He cites the religious liberty rights of Americans.
The construction of a mosque near Ground Zero [not ON Ground Zero as thought by some] has generated much heated debate. Some Christians have likened this to a conquering Islamic army establishing Mosques as a sign of victory. Surely such imagery does not help a dispassionate discussion of the matter.
While the 9/11 attacks were instigated by Islamic militants, this should not be made to disparage the rest of the world's Muslims who sincerely follow the call of their faith to peace.
The problem with tacking any denominational religious meaning to the Ground Zero site is that not only Christians were killed there. There were Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, non-believers, believers of smaller faith traditions and Muslims too. No religious tradition can appropriate the site which is holy ground. Pope Benedict XVI did not say the Mass there but lead his flock to say inaudible prayers. No cross or marker was left to mark this historical event [except pictures] since the Vatican has learned from its previous mistakes as discussed in the next paragraph. In fact anyone should be allowed to say their prayers there without imposing any permanent religious symbolism.
This is the same issue in Auschwitz which we recognize as a place where many Jews were murdered by the Nazi (who were for the most German). But it was not only the Jews. Roman Catholics, Romas, gays, Adventists, Protestants, non-conformists, Jehovah's Witnesses were also murdered there. So can the followers of these faiths be prevented from having a space there? The Catholic nuns put up a convent nearby but the Vatican ordered the nuns to transfer elsewhere. Pope John Paul II celebrated a Mass there in 1979 and a cross was erected to mark the event. The Vatican also ordered its removal but due to opposition from Poles, the cross is still there.
The question that is the basis of the debate in Poland is whose holocaust was it? Was it solely for the Jews or the Polish Christians that were murdered in Auschwitz?
The same question can be asked in Lower Manhattan. Whose holocaust was the 9/11 attacks for? Was it for the Americans only [by this we mean that they hold US passports and are part of the mainstream, presumably Christian]? Or is it for all people of many nationalities since we do know that there were foreign workers and tourists at the Twin Towers on that fateful day?
The Carmelite nuns had their convent not within Auschwitz death camp but just outside the walls. This is so similar to the NYC mosque. It is not on Ground Zero but a few blocks away. The resolution of these issues are not that easy. But they would require the consensus of the community, in the NYC case, the New Yorkers and the American people [including immigrants and the undocumented who worked in the Towers too]
But the Islamic prayer space we call a mosque has its own architecture. Is that architecture so abhorrent near Ground Zero? Is it as abhorrent as a Christian church that could be built nearby which has the cross and a typical Waspy or Irish Catholic architecture? Will some Americans go into fits over a church near Ground Zero?
These questions American should answer. What is the nature of their religious liberties? Some Americans compare their opposition to the mosque in the same way some Islamic countries oppose Christian churches on their territory. The problem is that America guarantees religious liberty and those Islamic countries do not. Now it is another issue to convince these emirates to grant religious liberty to residents of their countries. Some of the emirates have realized the wisdom of allowing freedom of worship and returning to an earlier Islamic tradition of respecting the rights of Christians and Jews to worship as they please.
As for me, I would support a Ground Zero sacred space devoid of religious symbolism. This is somewhat similar to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb memorials. The human spirit (as sensed by the heart) in its longing to touch the Divine Peace is enough.