The “Ground Zero Mosque”

The proposed “Ground Zero Mosque”—or more accurately, the proposed multi-purpose Muslim community center, Park51—has been at the center of a media firestorm lately. All the usual suspects among the right-wing pundits have been milking the outrage over the planned construction. Some prominent Democrats, such as Harry Reid and Howard Dean, have jumped on the bandwagon. President Obama has backed off his earlier defense of the project. In the face of majority opposition to the project, these politicians are willing to compromise their principles for political expediency. But the fact that a majority of US citizens apparently oppose the Mosque does not make that position just or wise.

From what I gather, many who oppose the community center acknowledge that the developers have the right to build on this site. Instead, the opposition is denouncing the plans as inappropriate. They seem to believe it is insensitive to build a Muslim center so near the site of a catastrophe associated with Islam. Some, such as Newt Gingrich, even suggest that the project is a vindictive triumphalism, that this is some “victory mosque” to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.

Park51 is not next to, will not loom over or be visible from the 9/11 Memorial, will not even be on a prominent route to the Memorial. The proposed project is not a mosque. But really, I don’t care if it was a mosque, or directly connected to the site of the twin towers or the memorial. I don’t feel that the project is insensitive to the US or the pain of caused by 9/11. On the contrary, it is exactly what we as a nation need.

We need the visible presence of sincere Muslims of goodwill—of whom there are many—to take back Islam from the Jihadis and radicals. We need Muslims who reject the corrupt Islam which looms so large in the perception of our nation today, and who want to help heal the devastation done by those who have misappropriated and desecrated the name of their faith. We need Muslims who will declare through their works “That which tore down and destroyed this area is not Islam. This which we do to build and renew is Islam.” We need a presence which can help bridge the divides between us, help overcome the xenophobia which has only grown stronger as a reaction to the work of evil men under the pretense of religion on 9/11. We need their help in taking back the site from the spectre of the terrorists.

The developers of Park51 seem qualified to be that presence. The people and organizations involved with the project, such as the Cordoba Initiative, seem to all be “moderate” Muslim organizations, focused on outreach to the wider community and to multifaith understanding. As Newt Gingrich has suggested, the name Cordoba is significant, but not in the way he believes. Yes, Cordoba was the capital of Muslim Spain. Cordoba was also the land of the most religious freedom in Europe at the time—and for several centuries afterward. The Cordoba Initiative is inspired by that oft forgotten legacy to nurture understanding and respect among different faiths and cultures.

To thwart Park51 would ultimately hurt our nation. It would be a boon to Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic organizations in their recruiting. They would be able to point to the US’s obstruction of Park51 as further proof of the irreconcilable differences between the West and Islam, that the West is inherently hostile to their faith. Compromise and appeasement only encourages the West to act as bullies, they will say, and thus the only way to communicate with the US and the West is through violence.

More importantly, it will aggravate the divisions between us, alienate Muslims and others who are different from the majority in the nation. Our collective psyche will never mend if we continue to nurse the pain and jealously protect it as our own. Innocent Muslims died on 9/11 as well. The only way to heal the festering wounds caused by 9/11 and our xenophobia is to face them head on, to meet with Muslims of goodwill, to find the common ground we share with them, to have faith in their humanity, and invite them in to share our pain as we share theirs. Park51 can play a role in facilitating that healing process.

As Valerie Elverton-Dixon eloquently put it:

Our true power lies in how we refuse the terrorists our terror, our fear and our suspicion of our Muslim sisters and brother. Our true power and our true strength is that from many we are one. It is from the strength of that unity that gives us the bravery not only to allow an Islamic Community Center two blocks from ground zero, but to welcome and to celebrate it (“Park 51 and America’s Unresolved Pain, Tikkun Daily, 08.19.2010)”.

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28 Responses to “The “Ground Zero Mosque””

  1. Diana Kennedy Says:

    Excellent, excellent commentary. Such a good point about the healing we need. So sad that the forces of hatred and intolerance are pretending to protect the victims of hatred and intolerance. As Martin Luther King jr wrote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

  2. Wesley W Says:

    I’m not even sure a majority of US citizens oppose the Mosque. From what I’ve read, not even a majority of people in NYC and Manhattan oppose it. It’s also sad to hear these short-sighted remarks from Newt Gingrich, someone I have often agreed with.
    One of the most important points to remember is that some vague notion of sensitivity to the victims of 9/11 can’t trump the kind of freedom our nation was founded on. I can’t in any way understand how a Mosque would besmirch the memory of those victims and first-responders, which appears to be the biggest objection.

  3. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Wes, I’ve seen a number of polls which indicate majorities both of NYers and US citizens oppose Park51. Whether those polls are accurate, I don’t know (I hope not).

  4. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Ironic how often hate and intolerance rationalize themselves as opposing hate and intolerance, isn’t it, Diana?

  5. Diana Kennedy Says:

    I heard that!

  6. Derek Staffanson Says:


  7. Thom Says:

    First, Derek, I think this is one of my favorites of the many great things you’ve written here. I’m sure that’s influenced by how insanely angry I am about this whole thing, but I really, really liked this post. Thanks!

    Second, the polls definitely show a majority opposed pretty much everywhere. Residents of NYC are 53% (I think) opposed. The group that aren’t, interesting, are actual Manhattenites, who oppose it at around 36%.

    See for example. (There are other polls with similar results.)

  8. Thom Says:

    Also, I really liked this point:

    That’s what we must never forget about 9/11. This was never a war between us and the Muslim world. It’s a war between us and al-Qaida. The central battleground in this war isn’t Iraq, Afghanistan, or Lower Manhattan. It’s Islam. That’s the ground al-Qaida is fighting for. It’s the ground Imam Rauf wants to take back. He wants to build an Islam that loves America, embraces freedom, and preaches coexistence. Let’s help him.

    From William Saletan at Slate ( )

  9. Enna Says:

    Great post Derek!

  10. rmwarnick Says:

    Unfortunately, the very fact that this fake controversy has gone national, and is eating up so much air time, is a victory for the right-wing noise machine. This is their favorite tactic: gin up a false narrative (remember the Swift Boat liars? Death panels?) and force the Dems to either try and explain why it’s false or give up and run for cover.

    The uptick in unemployment as Bush’s Great Recession goes into a double dip, the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, the latest crisis in Iraq, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and probably the greatest natural disaster ever in Pakistan have to compete with a “Ground Zero mosque” that’s not at Ground Zero and not a mosque.

  11. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thanks Thom and Enna. That is a fantastic quote, Thom. Really sums up why we need to support people like Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf! If you want to look at it strategically, Park51 can be a key weapon in the “War on Terror”–if we stop trying to shoot ourselves in the foot with it.

    You’re right, RMWarnick, and I debated the wisdom of even bothering to give more attention to a topic which should really just be a non-issue. But I decided that taking the stand on the principle of bridging divides and attacking xenophobia were worth it.

  12. Mike H. Says:

    Good piece. Dennis Smith in “Report From Ground Zero” called for a center like this one. Also, the LDS Church built a Temple at Winter Quarters Nebraska, not a site of victory, since 2,000 LDS members died there.

    I also suggest people ignore the “troglodytes” (as Eisenhower called them), and look at places like Queen Rania’s Facebook page.

  13. IdahoG-ma Says:

    So very well done, Derek. I feel passionately about this issue. Glad to see I am not the only one. I made my position clear on Facebook in response to ‘the poll’, but my friends and relatives think I have gone to the dark side. *sigh*

  14. Risa Says:

    IdahoG-ma, the dark side is where the cookies are at.

    I posted on Facebook as well and I was surprised at the people who agreed with me. Having been to Ground Zero 3 times and my best friend lived there during 9/11 (her roommate only survived by an alarm clock set wrong) this issue feels deeply personal to me. And yet, I don’t see how promoting racism and hate is a logical way to combat racism and hate. Maybe I’m able to distinguish between the extremists who committed the act and the normal Americans who identify as Muslims wanting to build the community center. The Muslim community center isn’t even visible from Ground Zero. It’s just another non-descript building surrounded my a ton of other non-descript building.

    Seriously, where was Rush when they wanted to build a Christian community center next to the Federal Building in Oklahoma City? I didn’t hear him railing against white Christian anti-government terrorists. But that’s because I don’t pay attention to a thing he spews from his mouth.

  15. SUNNofaB.C.Rich Says:

    Really Risa, do you think you would have been able to distinguish Faisal Shazad, Abulhakin Muhammad, Malik Hasan and Hasan Akbar from normal Americans who identify as muslims? Maybe not huh?

    Strategically speaking, considering American opposition to this “park 51” to be a boon to muslim terrorists is on par with support for it from weak liberal Americans being a boon to muslim terrorists.

    Anyways, keep cheerleading… I’ll keep being politely suspicious.

  16. DJ Says:


    I last commented on welfare post and it has been awhile since I’ve paid much attention to your blog, mostly because the email account I previously entered is one that I check once every two months or so. However, this post has changed my mind about that. I want to be updated more frequently and have therefore ‘registered’ with the email I check multiple times a day.

    I’m STILL a conservative in many ways. However, and much to the surprise of many who know me personally, when I went to vote in the recent primary election in AZ, I requested the requisite paper work in order to change my party affiliation. I’m currently registered as an independent. Admittedly, I’ve never voted for a ‘Demoncrat’ and I’m not sure if I ever will. That said (I’m getting to my point and response to this post soon, I promise), I’m not sure that I’ll ever vote for another Republican again, either. I’m registering as a Libertarian, something I would not have done when I registered to vote years ago.

    My point of telling you that is crucial to my point.

    Being -somewhat- LDS, I CANNOT believe the number of people who, in THIS Church especially, are voicing opposition to this ‘mosque’. In quotes because, technically, it is NOT a mosque. An actual mosque is a worship space used ONLY and strictly for the purpose of worship. That in itself annoys me when anyone refers to what’s been built as a ‘mosque’. Ignorance annoys me…what can I say?

    I have never, ever, ever agreed with Keith Olbermann. That is, until I saw this:
    Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    I will comment further and make remarks about the video soon.

    I disagree with SO much about Islam. I think it’s an inherently violent religion (but, only because it is). Any ‘moderate’ muslim is willingly and knowingly ignoring parts of their faith. In fact, I would consider myself a ‘moderate’ Mormon because of certain doctrines, historical practices/facts, and -perhaps mostly- because of the LDS culture, mostly in UT, but certainly not limited to it. I have not been through the endowment ceremony. I have not been to the temple since I was a kid to do baptisms. I use tobacco and I am not against having a beer when the mood strikes. I DO, however, believe that there is something special in the spirit I feel in an LDS Church, despite the 3 hour block. I NEVER leave Church from an LDS service regretting having gone. It makes for a better day and generally a much better week. So, I am choosing to ‘ignore’ certain disagreements and doctrinal concerns, and am basically a ‘buffet’ Mormon; taking only the things I like and am ok with, and leaving the rest for others to ‘enjoy’.

    In this sense, I am like ‘moderate’ Muslims. Mohammed himself murdered (beheaded) people in public.

    I’m telling you this because I want to be clear; Islam IS an inherently VIOLENT religion. Choosing to fully participate in that is an individuals choice and, so I thought, in this country, it’s their right.

    I think the community center is in bad taste, I won’t argue that.

    However, bad taste is not illegal. Wanting to ban mosques from being built in this country is assinine, absurd, and deeply unChristian. Not to mention the fact that it’s wrong.

    People have the right to assemble peacefully. They get to choose whichever God they wish to worship, or not worship. I see this censoring of one religion as a gateway to censoring others. Hell, I even think the LDS Church has ever right to polygamy, ESPECIALLY in light of the probabal entitlement of marriage being extended to gay people. If a man and a man can marry because they love each other, why can’t two straight women marry one man for religious reasons? The ONLY reason the United States authroities that be ever FORCED the Church to discontinue the practice is because, well, they thought it was just weird. The ONLY reason the practice was discontinued internally, within the Church, is because the bretheren preferred to stay out of prison and further the Lord’s work than to go to prison and have the Church be systematically dismantled; it was a practice simply not worth arguing about, basically.

    As time went on, the west’s feelings on love and marriage have become increasingly defined as marriage between ONE man and ONE woman. It’s the law of the land. In the event that gay marriage is allowed, there would then be NO reason for the Lord to not lift the ban on the practice. How many people in the Church would be willing to abide that law now, currently? Just a thought, but those who didn’t, might also be considered ‘moderate’.

    My point is subtle, but it’s there. First, the Muslims will be denied their rights to build and worship where and how they see fit. The American public is not now privy to the temple ceremony, excepting the internet. How long will it be before the Church is forced to openly discuss what goes on in the Temple (even though the U.S. government has on file what goes on in the endowment process and, therefore, might even be considered public record)?

    First, they came for the Muslims…


  17. DJ Says:

    Not sure why that video didn’t embed. Here’s the link to Olby’s special comment.

    The one and ONLY time I’ve ever agreed with Keith Olbermann, so far…

  18. DJ Says:

    “I’m telling you this because I want to be clear; Islam IS an inherently VIOLENT religion. Choosing to fully participate in that is an individuals choice and, so I thought, in this country, it’s their right.”

    What I meant: It is not their right to be violent. It is their right to worship who/what, where, and how they see fit.

    The terrorists who caused 9/11 did so with the sole purpose of disrupting the American way of life, religion included; ALL religions. Attempting to stifle one religious sect, so long as their patrons are non-violent, is deeply, and dangerously, UnAmerican. First, they came for the Muslims…

    Does anyone else have a problem with the fact that this is happening in THIS country?

    Yes, the building is in bad taste. Lady Gaga is in bad taste. But, in this country, they both have the right to exist.

  19. Derek Staffanson Says:

    DJ, I think many of us also have a problem with that happening in this country. It is hardly the first time, but we should resist it whenever it happens.

    I disagree that Islam is an inherently violent religion. Or at least, that it is any more inherently violent than any other religious tradition. Yes, there are instances of bloodshed in its history, including that of its founder. There are also many instances of bloodshed in the history of Christianity and of the Jewish history and scriptures upon which it is founded. Overall, the bulk of the Koran is peaceful (not perfectly, but again, neither is the Bible, which includes some brutally barbaric injunctions). Until the last century or so, the record of the Muslim world is exceeds that of the Christian world in its tolerance, commitment to learning, and diversity.

  20. SUNNofaB.C.Rich Says:

    standing up for the principle of freedom of religion is one thing. Getting wholeheartedly behind this particular venture, with ideas that it’s going to “‘find common ground” or “facilitate the healing process” is foolish. They can build it (as long as they jump through all the hoops everyone else who wants to build something does) because that’s the American way but it’s not going to build any bridges.

  21. Thom Says:

    Sunn (for lack of a better name choice),

    Only time will tell which of us is right, but I honestly believe it will build bridges. If it gets built (after all, they still need to raise a lot of money, after approvals), most Americans will stop worrying about it and it will slip out of our day-to-day thoughts. The only people for whom it will continue to have relevance are people who live or spend a lot of time in Manhattan, and most of those people already support it. Sure, if they suddenly decide to “train terrorists” there it’s not going to build any bridges, but if they succeed in their desire to be a peer to the YMCA and the JCC, I suspect they’ll build a lot of bridges.

  22. DJ Says:


    My suggestion that Islam is an inherently violent religion is hardly debatable.

    However, choosing to not participatein that part of the doctrine is like current LDS choosing to not chew tobacco, smoke cigars, drink alcohol, or have multiple wives. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, to name a few, did all of those things. In fact, the night before his martyrdom, John Taylor took Smith wine to drink in the Carthage jail.

    So, my point, I guess, is that though the violence IS inherent in the religion, I also think it’s fair to suggest that only the fundamentalists and most extreme members of the faith participate in the ‘less-fortunate’ parts of their doctrinal tradition. Kind of in the way that Warren Jeffs participates in the historical LDS theological tradition.

    The ONLY reason polygamy was banned in the Church is because the U.S. government told the bretheren that if they didn’t discontinue the behavior that they’d be thrown in jail. Instead of disrputing the work as a whole, they saw wisdom in simply doing what the government asked of them; laws of the land are to be followed, even if the only reason the government had for asking the saints to discontinue the practice was because, well, it was/is weird. My question now, over this part of the gospel particularly, if gay people are granted the entitlement to marry, as loving, consenting adults, how far behind that will polygamy between consenting adults be? Hugh Hefner does it, he’s just not getting trouble because he’s not married to any of them. But, as soon as someone extends a wedding proposal, thereby promising to care for the other for the remainder of this life, it’s somehow wrong. Hefner can sleep with those women and they can all live in his home, but he can’t legally promise to care for their needs for the rest of his, or their, life? This is obviously off topic, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. How far behind legalizing gay marriage is polygamy? Once it’s legal according to the laws of the land, the only reason it was ever discontinued from Church practice, will the LDS Church return to it? What reason other than ‘It’s against the law’ does the Church have?

    I realize someone is going to say that the Church discontinued plural marriage because the Lord told them to. But, the REASON He said to was for fear the authorities of the Church would end up in prison. So, if the practice becomes legal, I’m just wondering what the Church will do.

    Again, this still -kind of- relates to the topic of Islam being violent. IF plural marriage is again instituted, members will be forced to decide if they’re willing to participate the same way ‘moderate’ Muslims decide to not participate in the more violent aspects of their religion.

    The Quran is not the only Muslim holy book. They also follow the teaching of the Hadith. To say that Islam, and Sharia law, isn’t violent and therefore the religion IS inherently violent is, in my estimation, incorrect.

    The following link will take you to a video about Islam. Some will call it propoganda or simply distorted rhetoric, but right here and now I challenge any person to refute the accuracy of its claims.


  23. Christopher Ganiere Says:

    Having worked in the housing architecture, developers sometimes have to work YEARS to get permission to build on their own land.

    Like any major developer, the group behind the community center will have to not only raise money, they will also have to convince the residents that they will be good neighbors. On some projects it only takes one resident to stop a project. On others one resident or community group can force a design change or “mitigation.”

    So far they seem to have gotten all the political support they need (the planning commission voted unanimously to permit the project to go forward). Now this was only one vote, and the planning commissioners could change their minds at any time. Will the planners listen to the groups of concerned citizens? Will the news media have any effect? Only time will tell.

    This community center has a long way to go before design or construction.

  24. nilochlainntwit Says:

    I’ve written two posts about this topic. I’m a LibMorm, a convert, and a New Yorker. See what you think… The Islamic Cultural Center & The Spirit – and NY v. Islamic Cultural Center: A Few Thoughts -

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  26. Rob Says:

    This should be a country of adults, and in this country you should be allowed to have bad taste and in this case, even be a bit of a jerk about who you are and what you believe as long as it dosn’t encroach. I think laws around being offensive can get pretty wierd if that is how they are going to lump this. This is really more of a good manners issue and thats all. It just seems classless to want to build it there. Just like if I draw a cartoon picture of a certain Arab Prophet there should be no law to tell me otherwise. However on a peronsal level I am probably a bit of a Jerk.

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