Of the 2995 people who died on 9/11, 59 were Muslims. Yet Reuters reported yesterday that New York Governor David Paterson will pressure the developer of the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan to relocate. This is nuts.
As an Evangelical Christian, three pillars of my faith guide my response to this trumped-up controversy: forgiveness rooted in the Cross, the value for Truth, and the call to love our neighbor.
Evangelicals believe in the power of the Cross, the place where Jesus died at the hands of his enemies; the place where Jesus uttered, "Forgive them Father for they know not what they do"; the place that makes radical forgiveness possible. Yet the Muslim world did not perpetrate the terrorist acts of 9/11, so there is actually no need to forgive Muslims for 9/11. The fault sits squarely with Al Qaeda, a small terrorist organization. And therein lies is the irony. We have failed to do the lesser thing. Jesus calls us to follow him into forgiveness of our enemy. But forgiveness isn't politically profitable. So we have been led by Evangelical hacks like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to feed on misdirected bitterness rather than follow Jesus' lead.
Fear and hysteria are no excuse for muddled language and twisted truths. Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth and the life." Thus, to suppress truth is to suppress Jesus himself. Why would Jesus care about truth? Because lies destroy people made in the image of God, thus destroying the image of God on Earth. We would do well to remember that the next time Newt Gingrich rants that building a mosque in the shadow of the World Trade Center is like the Nazis putting a swastika next to the Holocaust Museum. Come on.
So what is the truth?
Dr. Sarah Sayeed, president of Women in Islam, Inc. and program director for the Interfaith Center of New York, explained in a recent interview:
There has been a mosque on Warren Street, four blocks from the World Trade Center site, for many many years. My dad used to go there for prayers when I was a little kid. A lot of the Muslim people who work at City Hall or in the financial district would go to that mosque.
The Warren Street Mosque lost its lease and had to find a new location. Some people in that community came together and were able to purchase the building on Park Place and West Broadway, where the Islamic Community Center is now proposed; two blocks closer to Ground Zero. The people in the purchasing community partnered with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who had another mosque in Tribeca -- also close to Ground Zero. Imam Feisal serves on the board of the Interfaith Center of New York.
Their vision included a full-blown community center that serves the wider community, not just the Muslim community. It's conceived in the tradition of the YMCA, with a pool, a place for seniors to congregate, a place for the arts and a multi-faith chapel and prayer space. So, it's really a cultural center that is being built by a group of Muslims. They're also talking about having an interfaith advisory group to help shape the work in the building.
In light of this truth, to ask this long-established community to relocate is a first step down the long road to ethnic cleansing. It is the antithesis of Jesus' call to love our neighbor.
Governor Patterson and other politicians are trading truth for political points. And worse, without realizing it, they are following the lead of right-wing liar, Pamela Geller, founder of Stop the Islamization of America, a crude website dedicated to stopping the spread of Islam in the U.S. and worldwide. Loonwatch.com lists Geller as "the looniest blogger ever." The mosque controversy traces directly back to Geller. And it is true to form. During the 2008 elections, Geller claimed that Obama was a Muslim and that purple is the official "gangsta" color of the Obama administration -- no connection, just goof-ball.
My faith's values for forgiveness, truth, and love of neighbor lead me to conclude that politicians using the Islamic community center as an opportunity to score political points are mounting a direct assault against the honor of the dead -- not just the 59 Muslim Americans who died but also all those whose lives were stolen by the hands of terrorists on September 11, 2001. They are betraying the heart of our country. Worse, they are betraying the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees the free exercise of religion. And this is the one freedom Islamic extremists despise most.