“Ground Zero Mosque” debate colored by discrimination

Prejudice and discrimination. Like it or not, to some degree, these two character flaws are features of American society and culture. They are, unfortunately, particularly overt in the debate over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” This dispute is a prime example of politicians, media pundits and interest groups wishing to capitalize on the deep wounds left on the American psyche by the terror attacks of 2001. It also highlights the prejudices harbored by many of our country’s patrons and leaders. There are several facts of the matter in this case that deserve consideration.

First, proposed site of the “Ground Zero Mosque” is, in fact, two to three blocks away from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks. Other buildings and businesses the same distance from the site include a Burger King, a McDonald’s, several bars and a gentleman’s club. If ground so far away from the attack site is truly hallowed, wouldn’t an extended shrine dedicated to September 11 in the surrounding area be a better fit for the city? Of course not; New York is alive. People and businesses need space to live and operate.

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Second, the main aim of the “mosque” is actually to serve as a community center open to all people. According to the community center developer’s website, the center would have “outstanding recreation spaces and fitness facilities (swimming pool, gym, basketball court), a restaurant and culinary school, a library, reading room and art studios in addition to childcare services.” We are sure those opponents of the community center would have no problem with a Christian-affiliated YMCA being built in the same space; the issue here is clearly the perceived connection between Islam and terrorism.

Third, a mosque is intended to be in the facility, run separately from the community center and open to all.

The simple truth is many opponents of the community center are acting out of a prejudice against the Islamic community — a prejudice based on the actions of a small group of unstable and insane extremists that are not representative of Islam or the Islamic community. A smaller group of opponents seek to prey on the sympathies of this country’s people in order to make this into a divisive election issue. There is no issue with the constitutionality of building this center. Those who argue on those grounds are ignorant of the First Amendment,guaranteeing freedom of religion for all American citizens, as well as the tenets of capitalism on which our country was founded.

The question is not whether members of Muslim Americans for all New Yorkers have a right to build a mosque 600 feet from ground zero. They do. The question is whether they should — and we believe the Park51 Community Center should be built, mosque and all, in its current location. Those who oppose its construction are letting unfounded, unnecessary fear dominate their judgment.