Allowing mosque near World Trade Center proves our society is better

It is always bothersome when some outside group sticks its nose into local matters. It’s often the ACLU, as it did when the Grand Junction City Council decided to put the monument of the Ten Commandments on city property. Sometimes it’s the other side. When a Christian group was offended by a gay and lesbian display at the Mesa County library they, with the help of a right-wing legal aid organization from out of state, threatened to sue the library district.

Those are our fights, I always thought. They’re in our community and we are perfectly capable of solving those issues ourselves without the help of anyone from elsewhere. What, after all, would they know about our community?

So I found myself a few weeks ago having a conversation with a friend who asked what I thought of the proposal to build a mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York. My response was it was a local issue, and the wishes of the neighborhood should be what decides it. If it’s OK with the people who live there, then it’s OK with me. If it’s not OK with them, then it’s not OK with me. That, after all, had been my sentiment when we dealt with a local issue in my town. So the position was perfectly consistent.

It was also a cop out of the first order. As much as I’d like to think communities are capable of solving all of their own problems and resolving all of their local conflicts, we’re all a part of a larger universe. Our solution to what we deem to be a local issue may be at odds with, say, what the Supreme Court, or state or federal law, has to say about things. We may think we’re autonomous but we’re not.

Nor is the neighborhood around the World Trade Center site. Terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 didn’t attack New York. They attacked the United States. Just as the Japanese didn’t attack Pearl Harbor. They attacked the United States. So we all have some say on the issue.

So, like we do in all matters these days, we have chosen sides. Actually, we haven’t. The sides were chosen long before the issue hit the radar screen. As always, it broke down like this: Democrats, left wing, liberals, progressives, vs. Republicans, right wing, conservatives. Everyone, for the most part, stayed with their tribe. It’s easy that way. You don’t have to think about anything. You’re a Republican-right-wing-conservative, you’re against the mosque being built that close to Ground Zero. You’re a Democrat-left-wing-liberal-progressive, you’re for it. And, as always, your side is right, the other is wrong. Period. Left, right. Black, white. Day, night. Good, bad. Never stray from the one true path. Regardless of which path that might be. Never consider any other points of view. That’s the way we conduct the public’s business these days.

That’s unfortunate. The mosque at Ground Zero debate is one that can define what this country is really about, if we give it some thought. The fact that those airplanes that morning nine years ago were driven into the twin towers of the New York skyline in the name of Islam does indeed give one pause. How could we possibly allow a temple to Allah, the same god whose name was uttered as the planes struck the World Trade Center, to be built that close to what truly is hallowed ground? Would any Islamic country do likewise if the tables were turned? The answer of course is no, there’s not an Islamic country in the world that would consider it.

That is the Republican-right-wing-conservative point of view, and one that is compelling. The flip side of that argument, though, goes like this: If we don’t allow it, then we are more like an Islamic country. That is telling. We’re not an Islamic nation, nor are we a Christian nation, at least not in public matters, and the fact that we are even considering allowing the construction of the mosque says much about us. It says we are better than the societies that would not allow such a monument to be built under similar circumstances. We are different. We’re better, and we’re stronger.

It seems to me what’s really important is that we maintain that difference. Surely we are big enough and strong enough to allow the mosque to be built. So build it. We can deal with it. It will probably become the site of daily protests when the first shovel of earth is turned. That’s OK too.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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