The proposed building of a mosque and community centre close to the site of the destruction of the twin towers and the annihilation of three thousand Americans, of whom three hundred were Muslims, has awakened feelings of outrage in some Americans.
They have no objection to the building of a mosque; what appals them is its placement in close proximity to the 9/11 massacre. Andrea Peyser (Mosque Madness at Ground Zero, New York Post, May 13, 2010. NYPOST.com) describes the proposal as “a swift kick in the teeth.” Rep Peter King (R-N.Y) says, “President Obama is wrong,” … “The right and moral thing for President Obama to have done was to urge Muslim leaders to respect the families of those who died and move their mosque away from Ground Zero. Unfortunately, the President caved in to political correctness.” Richard Lowry writes, “those who want to block the mosque are demanding a truly meaningful gesture in “special sensitivity… Namely, moving it elsewhere.” (Mosque near Ground Zero? Have a little sensitivity, 16Aug 2010, www.sunjournal.com/guest-columns/story/892857)
Those who support the building of the mosque have put aside personal feelings in the interests of democracy and the American constitution. But John Hawkins sees their principled stance as foolhardy. “The whole idea of having a mosque at Ground Zero is an abomination. It’s nothing less than an attempt by radical Muslims to celebrate the death of 3,000 Americans at the hands of Al-Qaeda while laughing at the stupidity of Americans who are willing to give them a pass in the name of political correctness … every moderate Muslim in America should be up in arms about this mosque. It’s nothing less than people claiming to be moderate Muslims trampling on the graves of the people who died on 9/11. (John Hawkins, Morons At A Ground Zero Mosque Protest, Right Wing News, 09 June 2010, rightwingnews.com/2010/06/ morons-at-ground-zero-mosque-protest).
But the Muslims who have planned the mosque state that their intention is to further democracy. “Daisy Khan, executive director of the Muslim society, described her vision of a center led by Muslims, but serving the community as a whole…It will have a real community feel, to celebrate the pluralism in the United States, as well as in the Islamic religion,” Khan said. “ It will also serve as a major platform for amplifying the silent voice of the majority of Muslims who have nothing to do with extremist ideologies. It will counter the extremist momentum.” (Nicole Bliman, CNN. CNN.com 16/08/2010)
When people have suffered a great tragedy, it is usual to respect their feelings and to treat them with “special sensitivity.” Is it wrong to do so? Is one to regard special sensitivity as pandering to self-indulgence? Is that why there has been a disregard for the need for special sensitivity in the choice of the mosque site?
Those who wish to build the mosque have in their choice of site connected their proposal to the bombing of the twin towers and, whether they intend it or not, created the impression that they align themselves with the act of terror. If this is not so they need to explain how the choice of the site distances them from the 9/11 bombings. To say it is to give a voice to moderate Muslims is to look after the sensitivities of Muslims. True they need to explain their position but the building of what is perceived to be a monument, a triumphal structure, should not be the first step in rapprochement. It is not the way to overcome prejudice. There should be a meeting of peoples. Many non-Muslims, even some who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attack support the building of a mosque and demonstrate that there are people willing to work together. Working together is what will break down barriers of ignorance. Building monuments that seem ambiguous in intent can only deepen divisions.
What is needed is empathic understanding. But the opposing sides view themselves as victims: the non-Muslims as victims of Islamic Jihad and the moderate Muslims as victims of prejudice; as victims they are all incapable of empathy. Without empathy there can only be a continuation of conflict and misunderstanding. In South Africa we have learnt that from Nelson Mandela who in his actions has shown that empathy is key to reconciliation.Special sensitivity is definitely required and on both sides.