I’m familiar with the drawbacks of polls generally. But for some reason my familiarity doesn’t do much quell my disappointment when I see what I consider to be embarrassing poll results like these:
Muslims, Jews, other non-Christians and non-religious Americans are more likely to favor retaining the current location as originally conceived, or transforming the center into an interfaith institution. The majority of Catholics, Mormons, and, to a lesser degree, Protestants, believe the center should find another location.
The poll also asked about overall familiarity with the issue, and Mormons accounted themselves as the least of these. So the poll basically portrays Mormons saying ”I haven’t actually heard a great deal about the circumstances, but go ahead and move your community center someplace else.”
When the story was hot in the news a few months ago I was saddened to see several Mormon friends or acquaintances voice opposition to the NYC Mosque/Community Center. They usually recognized the legal right of the builders, but opposed it on the grounds that it somehow hurts those affected by 9/11. The reason I’m sad is because I think members of the Church should be especially sensitive about this issue, given our own experiences regarding public opposition to our own buildings (some of which, by the way, are much more exclusive than community centers).
Aside from the poor poll results are a few great stories about Muslims and Mormons finding solidarity in the hubbub. (See here and here for instance.) But there seem to be many Mormons who do not feel much solidarity with Islam, nor sympathy for the plight of those trying to construct the Islamic Center in the face of opposition. Mormon political figures like Harry Reid and Mitt Romney wouldn’t stick out their necks.
I can understand how the proposed building would be offensive to those who incorrectly equate all of Islam with 9/11, or those who don’t believe any Muslims (especially American Muslims) were negatively impacted by 9/11. On the other hand, I think the the folks constructing the Center have done a pretty poor job on the PR side and have done little to help otherwise uninformed but open individuals understand their side of the situation, to try and get their message out there, to respond to some of the rhetoric being spread by anti-Islamists, to quell the fear or outrage, to try to spread understanding.
But my Mormon gut tells me that we ought to be supporting the project. A Facebook group called “Mormons Who Support a Mosque Near Ground Zero” has garnered 500 members. It would be even better if more Mormons sought to become acquainted with the proposal and plans, as well as with Islam itself, in order to make a better-informed decision as to whether or not the project deserves support. This is not to say that anyone in opposition is uninformed. But the reasons I have seen given by Mormons in discussions around the Web have been lacking in rigor, to say the least (comparisons to building a temple at Mountain Meadows seems to be among the more popular responses. This response is weak for more reasons than I care to delve into in the main body of the post, feel free to engage on that in the comments). How ironic would it be if Mormons and Catholics, two groups historically marginalized in the United States, should be among those more likely to oppose the construction of the Islamic Center near Ground Zero? Especially given their mutual praise of religious freedom regarding other topics?