The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Reciprocal Sensitivity

If your sole source of news is the mainstream media, I suspect you’re only vaguely aware of Park51—a controversial proposal to build a Muslim community center/mosque two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. Politicians and spokespeople on the Left see no problem with Park51, arguing that religious freedom is sacrosanct and that we should welcome the diversity implied by the $100 million project. Those on the right suggest that Park51 is a metaphorical finger in our eye—symbolizing (albeit subtly) the Islamists' greatest victory against the Great Satan—a victory that cost over 2,700 innocent civilians their lives. Both sides of the political spectrum are wrong.

On the Left, people like Tom Friedman write:
When we tell the world, “Yes, we are a country that will even tolerate a mosque near the site of 9/11,” we send such a powerful message of inclusion and openness. It is shocking to other nations. But you never know who out there is hearing that message and saying: “What a remarkable country! I want to live in that melting pot, even if I have to build a boat from milk cartons to get there.” As long as that happens, Silicon Valley will be Silicon Valley, Hollywood will be Hollywood, Broadway will be Broadway, and America, if we ever get our politics and schools fixed, will be O.K.

A wonderful sentiment, no doubt, but to call it naïve is an understatement. Worse, it misses a much bigger point that I’ll get to in a moment.

Park51 is not about religious freedom. Moslems are free to build Mosques throughout the five boroughs of Manhattan and just about everywhere else in the USA. They are equally free to practice their religion and do so with remarkably little harassment, given the bellicose attitude of a non-trivial percentage of Islamic extremists who reside both inside this country and abroad.

But Park51 is also not about symbols or a nefarious plot on the part of Islam. True, the construction of a Mosque so near to the World Trade Center site could be construed as a symbol of Islamic supremacy, but we can’t read the minds of its sponsors. Sometimes a Mosque is just a mosque. When the Right asks questions about funding for Park51, they should be answered clearly and completely to ensure that Wahabbi money is not involved. But rejecting the project just because it is Islamic is wrongheaded.

So what is Park51 about? I think it’s about a surprising lack of sensitivity on the part of the Moslems who proposed it and those on the Left who champion it. Let me digress for a moment.

In the early 1990s, the Carmelite order opened a convent near the entrance to Auschvitz, the infamous concentration camp that was pivotal in Germany’s attempt to exterminate Jews, gay people and other “undesirables.” Jewish organizations thought the location of the convent was inappropriate and after a few years of debate, Pope John Paul II asked the nuns to move. They did. The Pope never said that there was anything wrong with the location of the convent, but he was sensitive to the bad feelings it created near hallowed ground for Holocaust survivors and their families.

Of all the possible locations in New York City, why was a site two blocks from hallowed ground chosen? Did none of the Moslem proponents of the project consider that it might precipitate bad feelings among the tens of thousands of people in the immediate area who lost loved ones after the Islamic terrorist attacks? And if they did, did they care? Apparently not. Unlike Pope John Paul II who showed sensitivity, the proponents of Park51 showed none.

Worse, the titular home of Islam, Saudi Arabia, won’t allow the Christian bible to cross it borders, and would never allow the construction of a Church or Synagogue anywhere in the country. Could you imagine the construction of a small church on the road leading into Mecca?

According to Tom Freidman, we should be proud that “You can study Islam at virtually any American university, but you can’t even build a one-room church in Saudi Arabia.” Proud? Maybe. But I think it’s reasonable to be angry as well.

There comes a time when the people of this country should expect—no, demand—reciprocal sensitivity. I think this is that time. If Islam wants us to believe that it truly is the religion of peace, it should have the maturity to be sensitive to the placement of Park51, recognizing that just because they have the right to put it there doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.