If you build it, they will….?

So a mosque is planned near ground zero. What do I think? I’m glad you asked. My answer depends on who’s asking.

If a Muslim asked, I’d say, “Why are you planning on doing this near the site where America’s greatest mainland catastrophe occurred at the hands of your religion’s worst fanaticism? If you’re trying to build bridges with the American people, this is an absurd strategy. It feels a bit, ‘in your face’, like running up the score when you’re already winning. Bad form.”

If a conservative asked, I’d say, “Think twice before you oppose this. In fact, think three times: Thought #1: What if this were a church building instead of a mosque, and the government was being encouraged by it’s constituency to forbid on the basis of mistrust (they ‘eat flesh and drink blood’!). Thought #2: Do you like your freedom of religion? Thought #3: Or do you only like freedom of religion if it applies to your religion?

If a Obama asked, I’d say, “What is your vision for pluralism in America? If you think that the immigration issues related to Mexico are a big deal, take a look at what Europe’s facing across the pond. It makes our issues look like a squabble between neighbors over a broken lawnmower by comparison. You need to cast a vision for cultural assimilation that honors incoming folks and our cultural roots and heritage which, in spite of the secularists desire to declare otherwise, is distinctly Judeo Christian. So far, your lack of vision on immigration issues leaves some of us worried that, in the absence of plan, the loudest voices will prevail.

If you asked me what I think, I’d give you my answer, but first I’d say…what do you think?  I welcome your thoughts.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Roy

    How long should Muslims wait before they build a community center/mosque near where those towers stood? Another 20 years? Another 100 years? How many blocks away should they be?

    There are churches all over this country. A country that “distinctly Judeo Christian” Europeans came to and took from those that were already living here. The same “distinctly Judeo Christian” Europeans that made treaties with the natives and didn’t fulfill those promises. The same “distinctly Judeo Christian” Europeans that sold blankets to natives purposely infected with small pox. And on and on it goes.

    Despite the delusion we seem to be under, America didn’t just drop from heaven w/ Starbucks, Wal-Mart and a Baptist church on every corner. Our forefathers took it by force. Why would any of you want to even associate Jesus with the people who did this? America is founded on the destruction of another. It would not exist as it does without it.

    Did any of those “distinctly Judeo Christian” Europeans consider asking the surviving Native Americans if it was too soon to put a cross up? I’m guessing not. My advice to those up in arms about a mosque blocks from where the twin towers fell is to take an American history class and those without sin cast the first freaking stone.

  • Rick

    I don’t understand why this is an issue or why you’re attempting to make it an issue. People have a right to practice Islam just as we have a right to practice Christianity. Those organising the mosque in Manhattan didn’t have anything to do with the 9/11/01 attacks, right? Unless you think they did, then they definitely shouldn’t build their mosque there and you need to report them to the authorities if you know something. But that isn’t the case. A few radical Islamic terrorists don’t speak for all of Islam. The same is true for radical Christians. Would we prohibit a church to be built near the site of the Oklahoma City Federal Building because Timothy McVeigh was an extremest Christian?! Timothy McVeigh didn’t represent mainstream Christianity.

    • raincitypastor

      I’m not attempting to make it an issue Rick It IS an issue already, made such by the left and the right, by the press and the politicians. I’m just tossing it out there to, I hope, help people think about how their faith should inform the conversation.

  • GDG

    Richard,

    I don’t take offense that you brought it up, but would reiterate the statements of Rick regarding the Oklahoma City bombing. The complete hypocrisy of an American who is choosing freedom for one religion over another is truly hard to believe.

    The media knows this is a polarizing story, and I believe this is a perfect time for Christian and Muslims to stand hand in hand, together, preaching support for the building of this mosque.

    I have heard you speak about helping others, as Christians, and crossing over to those that may not be as easy to tolerate. e,g, Inviting a person in extreme poverty over for dinner, not just the new Christian neighbor who moved in next door.

    This would be an amazing act of crossing over, and anyone who gets got up in the media hype needs to learn how to think for themselves.

    • raincitypastor

      and helping people think for themselves…is one of the points of this blog

      • GDG

        :)

  • David

    Yup, this one is an issue alright. Combine thousands of years of history with some very powerful symbolism and you get some very power reactions.

    In his own words, the project is named after Cordoba in southern Spain, a city where between the eighth and 12th centuries, Muslims, Jews and Christians intermingled freely. In fact, during the 10th century under the Moorish caliphate, Cordoba became a major global city and boasted the world’s biggest library. “There was a great exchange of knowledge,” notes Imam Feisal, as he calls for more of such exchanges, “intellectual and otherwise”, today (http://cordobainitiative.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/the-straits-times-imam-with-a-mission/). Pointing to the fact that ordinary Muslims have been killed by Muslim extremists all over the world, [his wife] Khan also said about the mosque, “For us it is a symbol… that will give voice to the silent majority of Muslims who suffer at the hands of extremists. A center will show that Muslims will be part of rebuilding Lower Manhattan” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordoba_Initiative).

    However, as I am sure the commenter above who noted the violent history of the U.S. knows, the history of Islam is not all honey and roses either. “The Cordoba Mosque was the third largest mosque complex in the world … built on the site of a former Christian church, to commemorate the Muslim conquest of Spain. This perpetuated a cultural Muslim practice of building mosques on the sites of historic conquests.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordoba_Initiative). After all, it was under the rule of foreign-born Moors that the city of Cordoba was occupied. These emirates expanded their influence and power at the point of a sword across the Iberian Peninsula and into Europe, threatening Christian civilizations that were at the depths of the Dark Ages until they suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Tours in 732. The Muslims of that era had also forcibly converted the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa, slaughtering many people as they conquered new, formerly Roman controlled nations. They also destroyed the Hindu templates and relics in India and had burned and destroyed many libraries and placing of learning foreign to their own. It was not until after this period of expansion came to an end that the Muslims turned to Libraries and peaceful co-existence (and then mostly with traders who gave them financial prosperity). It was then that the Cordoba Mosque was built and the city because a great center of knowledge. Until, of course, it was captured by King Ferdinand III during the Spanish Reconquista.

    Back to today’s problem, which is this? Is it a victory Mosque? Or is it a center for growth and learning, intellectual exchange, and what have you? I worry, as I am sure many others do, that the same people who rejoiced at seeing the towers fall with interpret this as a victory Mosque, regardless of what the headlines, the President, or anyone else has to say about it. This leads me to wonder why someone is going to all this effort, knowing that a significant number of people (who he apparently opposes in ideology) will find their own victory in what he is doing.

    It seems to be profoundly evil. Not illegal; not unfair; not unjust; but evil. Imam Feisal may have good intentions, but I am having a hard time seeing good come of it. This makes me wonder what is at work here.

    It may also be worth noting that an Islamic Shrine currently exists at the site of the former Temple Mount. Not directly applicable, but not entirely irrelevant either.

  • Lee

    Speaking of ground zero, there are McDonald’s in Hiroshima and Dresden, Anglican Churches in Boston and Baltimore, sushi restaurants all around Pearl Harbor, and even the Roman Catholics managed to maintain a church or two in Jerusalem despite all that holocaust hand-wringing. From a cultural perspective, the analogy that Muslim-Americans are “running up the score while they’re winning” seems a bit backwards – apparently they can’t even build a new mosque to replace the two already within ten blocks without it becoming a media-hyped national referendum and game of political hot potato.

  • GDG

    “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” Gingrich said on the Fox News program “Fox and Friends.”

    “We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor,” Gingrich said. “There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”

    Just a small sample of what the talking heads are saying to create divide. Luckily, I do not watch much television, in this case Fox News, and had to go to the Seattle Times to read this.

  • Lois

    In all the rhetoric, the point is getting lost: What businesses and services would be suitably reverent to share the hallowed ground (as some have called it) with Ground Zero? And what might be unsuitable? The Thunder Lingerie and peep show ? The Pussycat Lounge strip club? Already there.

    The mosque will not occupy a free-standing building, but rather share space with a community center located on the upstairs floor of a large commercial building. How “In your face” is that? Its other neighbors are bars, pizza shops, liquor stores, cafes, corporate headquarters, salons, apartments and condos, a museum, banks, courthouses and a marina.

    According to the NY Daily News, “There are at least 10 churches in lower Manhattan south of Canal St., three synagogues, one Buddhist community center and a Hare Krishna facility. There’s also a Muslim prayerhouse that, on its website, denies any connection to ‘any other organization trying to build anything new in the area of downtown Manhattan.’ ”

    And if all the talking heads and conservative bloggers have their way, just what do they hope to accomplish? By conflating all Muslims with the fanatics who perpetrated 9-11, they are only helping the cause of those preying on the hearts and minds of the disaffected and disenfranchised. More Muslims died in the WTC than hijacked planes into it.

  • Lute

    Lois:

    Well said!

  • thomas

    Richard,

    I’m not a Muslim, but I think if you responded with your “it’s like running up the score when you’re already winning” statement to me I would find it at best very dissapointing, and at worst, terribly offensive. Just as an evangelical Christian (like myself) doesn’t consider the murder of an abortion doctor by an extremist Christian group a “win”, I don’t think most Muslims consider the 9/11 attacks a “win” for Islam. It seems like the Muslims hoping to build this community center certainly don’t. I feel like we should at least give the group the benefit of the doubt and not start from an assumption that they are attempting to somehow enrage the American people (I do think they are attempting to put Islam and the American conception of Islam into the public conversation – more below).

    I agree that the whole thing is a public relations nightmare, but it seems like this is largely due to the fact that a good chunk of the post 9/11 American public (or western world in general) seems almost eager to accept Islam as a monolithic extremist body (frequently forgetting that Muslims are among those most frequently targeted for attack by extremist groups like Al-Qaeda – whether because many ordinary Muslims don’t follow the correct doctrine, aren’t strict enough/pure enough/whatever or because they happen to be most easily accessible targets for terror in the nations where those organizations function most freely). It’s true the public conversation surrounding this is ugly – we don’t like what we see on the airwaves when we speak so highly of “freedom” otherwise – but to offend and provoke (peacefully mind you, they’re building a community center and house of worship for goodness sake) is one particular strategy to draw attention to what is a real problem – a strategy we may not always agree with or be particularly comfortable with, but one we can’t dismiss offhandedly as “bad form”, especially when the offense it provokes seems to have its origins in unfair prejudice and the desire to paint a certain group of religious adherents with the same (extremist) brush.

    I think your imagined response to a conservative gets to some of these same points – but why do you feel it would be inappropriate to reinforce those sentiments and respond in a more positive manner to your imagined Muslim questioner? On what basis can we fairly say that because this irritates certain news commentators (whose cynicism and opportunism will never cease to amaze me) or sectors of a certain Western audience, that what they are doing is in bad form? To do so is to already concede the point that we unfairly associate this moderate group (a moderate identity that seems to be supported by other observors) with the terrorist attackers simply because they share the title “Muslim”. As a Christian, I know, and you know, that titles can be problematic…

  • raincitypastor

    Thanks for your words Thomas. I appreciate the challenge to my “running up the score” point of view, and the question you ask does cut to the heart of “public relations” issues about which I have strong feelings. Back in the 80′s, when I was first in pastoral ministry, the foolish excesses and greed of some TV pastors gave all of us a bad name, so much so that when I came in to the clubhouse after a round of golf once, the locals who knew me stood, in unison, and pulled out their wallets, as one of them shouted, “did you have a vision from God that you need our money?” I didn’t want to be called, pastor, or even Christian.

    I’ve come a long way since then – to the point that now I sort of consider it my calling to restore some of these words rather than run away from them. Your observation reminds of the possibility that those planning this place of worship may also have in mind the restoration of marred image of Islam. Still, as I tell other when teaching about communication and preaching: perception is 90% of reality, and if people perceive Islam as monolithic, then that’s the starting point for Muslims, like it or not. And with such a starting point, I’d still suggest that this step, if it’s intended to restore and rebuild trust (whether the trust was rightly or wrongly broken), is too big for a first step.

    To go back to my comparison – the reality was that our church was raising some money right at the time of the TV preacher’s financial scandals. In such a setting, any appeal was tainted from the start, and I needed to keep this in mind when communicating. If I were speaking a Muslim, I might change my phrasing in light of your comments, but I’d still challenge them to consider the wisdom of this as a step towards building American relations, if indeed, it is a step.

    Thanks again for you words.

    • Lee

      I think the history of the media narrative of this project says far more about us as a people than the project itself says about Islam:
      http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/08/16/ground_zero_mosque_origins
      .
      The ability of public perception to be so easily shifted, to suddenly latch onto a meme and turn something that had been non-controversial into this huge issue is terrifying. It’s yellow journalism at it’s worst, preying on xenophobia and jingoism. I think it is irresponsible to stand with those who have created this controversy, stooping even to outright fabrication. I am genuinely concerned that the next iteration of this will start discussing how the Muslim communities already meeting in Manhattan are inappropriate and need to be removed. Or Muslim business owners. At what point do we stop and say that this is wrong, regardless of public opinion? Christians have faced this kind of decision before, and largely failed.

  • Lamont

    Like “The Dome Of The Rock” in Jerusalem. God put a pagen temple on the Temple Mount. I wonder what his purpose for putting this pagen… well Temple @ ground Zero. America’s god was conquered as well? (if you know what I mean). :)

    • Roy

      Except Muslims aren’t pagans. Embarrassing.

  • GDG

    It’s accepted racism disguised as patriotism.


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