Why is Building a New Mosque so Controversial?

"Ground Zero" is a term for the place in lower Manhattan, New York City, where some 3,000 people died during the events on September 11, 2001. When the twin towers of the World Trade Center were struck by hijacked jets, leading to the eventual collapse of the buildings, America watched in horror. It took some just a few minutes to realize what others still have trouble comprehending--The United States of America was attacked, and we were at war. Only the war was not a conventional war, with uniformed combatants, rules of engagement, and Geneva Convention protocol. Non-combatants were no longer safe, because the enemy, radical Islam, saw all Americans as the enemy of the religion of Muhammed.

America's costliest war, in terms of casualties, was not World War I or World War II. It was the in-fighting called the Civil War that resulted in greatest number of dead soldiers. The Civil War was about keeping a nation united as much as it was about ending slavery. After one of the more horrific battles, near the farming community of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Lincoln was invited to make a few brief comments about the battle of Gettysburg, and the sacrifice of those who died on the field of battle. President Lincoln said, in part:

"... we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground....It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

President Lincoln saw the Civil War as the opportunity for a new beginning for America, where the people are free, and the people rule. He made it clear that the sacrifices of many, especially those who gave their lives on battlefields like Gettysburg, should not be forgotten. Keeping America free and united meant the soldiers did not die in vain.

The nearly 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11, including people working their jobs in the World Trade Center, New York City firemen, NYPD officers, and passengers in airplanes, did not know they were considered enemies, targeted for death. They did not see themselves as soldiers, or combatants of any type. Yet they were put in the cross-hairs of the most concerted effort to bring war to American soil since the War of 1812.

The "War on Terror" started before 9/11, but the attack on the twin towers brought home to 300 million Americans that the War was no longer "over there," but everywhere, including "here." The focal point of this new awareness was lower Manhattan, Ground Zero.

Similar to what President Lincoln said about the battlefield at Gettysburg, we cannot consecrate or hallow the ground where the World Trade Center once stood, but we can, and should, make sure that those who died did not die in vain. They died enjoying the very freedom that has set America apart as the "city on the hill." Their deaths provided an opportunity for America to count the costs, and recall that there were certain things worth living for and dying for, including freedom.

Of course individuals or religious groups have the right to build a building on their own property, subject to reasonable zoning restrictions. There are federal laws that prevent local governments from zoning out churches, synagogues, yes, and even mosques. The issue with the proposed $100 million Gound Zero mosque is not whether it is Constitutionally permissible for Muslims to build a mosque so close to the site of the attack on the World Trade Center. The issue is whether Muslims should build the mosque. The answer is clealy, "No!"

Why should Muslims not build a mosque on their own property in lower Manhattan? Because it would be a slap in the face of the victims of 9/11, and their families, to have what some perceive as a Muslim "trophy of conquest" just two blocks from where nearly 3,000 people died as a result of Islamic jihad. It would be a symbol of Muslims gloating (similar to the televised outbursts of glee from Muslims around world when the twin towers fell) to place a Muslim monument so close to the scene of the worst carnage on American soil since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It would be a visual claim to the greatness of Islam in an area where Muslims should hide their heads in shame due to the actions of fellow-Muslim terrorists.

In 1988 I lead a protest rally in which 25,000 people took to the streets to protest a film, The Last Temptation of Christ, that portrayed Jesus in an unfavorable, if not blasphemous, light. When we marched down Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood on that Thursday afternoon, August 11, 1988, we were not telling the producers of the film that they could not make and show the film. We appealed to their presumed decency and desire to be good neighbors to the millions of Christians who were offended by a film that denigrated Jesus. We asked MCA/Universal to show sensitivity to the sincerely-held religious beliefs of those who embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Despite the appeals, MCA/Universal went ahead with the release of the film, and wrapped themselves in the flag and the First Amendment to insulate themselves from criticism. The old adage, "He who frames the question controls the debate" rang true. MCA/Universal tried to frame the issue as whether they had the right to make and show the film. Just like the Ground Zero mosque, the issue of whether they had the right to do something offensive was a red herring. The issue was should the film be shown. With the mosque, the issue is should it be built.

If the mosque is built, it would show not only how tone deaf the Muslims are who are in charge of the intended project, but it would provide justification for those that claim the mosque is intended to be a symbol of conquest, that lower Manhattan has become dar al Islam ("house of Islam"). In Islamic thought, there are only two kinds of territory--dar al Islam or dar al-Harb ("house of war"). Those countries that have not become part of Islam's conquests are considered to be at war until Islam subjugates the land. There is no third option. Jihad continues until all land is under Muslim sovereignty.

If there is such a thing as "moderate Muslims," (which many people who study Islam say, without trying to be flippant, is an oxymoron), they could show their good will and sensitivity by foregoing building the controversial mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. They could demonstrate that Muslims can and do assimilate into American culture, and that they intend to be good neighbors. But they won't. Why? Because it is not the nature of Allah or his followers to be benevolent or merciful. It is not consistent with the Qur'an to acquiesce to dhimmis ("non-Muslims living under intended Muslim rule"). With respect to non-Muslims, the Qur'an only gives three options on how Muslims are to deal with infidels: convert, subjugate, or execute. There is no fourth option.

Those who favor building the mosque, including New York Mayor Bloomberg, and those who fail to speak out againt the utter insensitivity of building it so close to Ground Zero, including President Obama, have, at best, a skewed idea of what it means to "do the right thing." MCA/Universal, when given the chance to do the right thing, cared more about what the Hollywood elite would think if they were perceived to have caved in to the demands of Jerry Falwell and Donald Wildmon to not release The Last Temptation of Christ. Millions of religiously-sensitive Americans be damned. The Ground Zero mosque builders, who are obviously aware of the controversy that has erupted, care more about not being perceived as weak in the face of demands from infidels. The opinion of their fellow Muslims, jihadists and terrorists included, will trump the heartfelt requests from the families and friends of 9/11 victims, themselves victims whose healing memories may be affected again by this latest Islamic insult. No, we cannot force people to be nice. We can only appeal to decency and good will. I will be pleasantly surprised if the Muslims in charge decide to forego building the mosque at the intended Ground Zero location. If they try to build it despite the outcry (and opposition from 70% of Americans, according to one poll), they will confirm our worst suspicions. It may be Islam's last and best chance to earn acceptance in America, the land of the free.