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Proposed Muslim community center near 9/11's "ground zero"

2010-OCT: Sketches of the center released.
Richard Land's position. Our comments

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2010-OCT-03: Conceptual sketches of the community center released:

The preliminary design for the community center has been released. It reveals a futuristic-looking building that is mainly secular in function. It will have a total of 16 floors, of which the largest section will hold a four-floor sport, fitness and swimming center. Another full floor will be devoted to a child care center and playground. Two basement floors will hold a Muslim prayer space. Much of the rest will contain a restaurant, culinary school, artist studios, exhibition space, and an auditorium. The 12th floor will hold a 9/11 memorial and sanctuary open to people of all faiths, and recognizing the deaths of about 3,000 civilian victims. Each each of the major religious groups: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and "notas" (none of the above) lost hundreds of members in the terrorist attack.

Sharif El-Gamal, the project developer, said:

"I would have done things a lot differently during this process if I understood what we were up against."

He believes that much of the criticism of the community center was sparked by:

"... a campaign of deception and deceit. ... People have been calling this the Ground Zero mosque. It's not at Ground Zero and it's not a mosque. Our identity has been stolen from us. It has been stolen by extremists." 1

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Dr. Richard Land's position on the community center:

Dr. Land heads the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. As such, he is one of the most influential fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. Some news sources claim that he supports the construction of the proposed community center some six blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. The truth is that he favors the right of people of all religions to build churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. on their land. However, he is "unalterably opposed" to the mosque near ground zero because it is needlessly hurtful to the families of the victims who died on 9/11."

In a section of the ERLC website titled "Setting the record straight" ERLC staff write:

“As Baptists, we believe in religious freedom, that is the right of people to the free exercise of their faith without interference from government authorities. All Americans should be ashamed when they hear that their fellow Americans are involved in acts of violence and vandalism in their attempt to deny Muslim citizens the same rights they demand for themselves."

“Baptists have been victimized by such religious discrimination in the past. We should always remember that if we allow the government to discriminate against one religion today, they can discriminate against all religions tomorrow. We should not make a religious belief illegal or treat it differently than we treat other religious beliefs in the law."

“The Free Exercise clause in the U.S. Constitution provides for American citizens to worship freely and build their houses of worship without threat or fear of retribution, like the vandalism that occurred recently in Murfreesboro, TN. ..."

“When we start allowing the government to decide which religious beliefs are kosher and which ones are not, then we are on a steep and slippery slope to a dark and dangerous place where our cherished religious freedoms will be crushed." 2

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2010-NOV: USA Network poll:

USA NEtwork conducted a poll during early 2010-NOV, asking a series of questions related to racism, religism (religious intolerance), and homophobia (intolerance based on sexual orientation). Of particular interest here is a question raised about mosques.

The survey found that:

  • 38% would be somewhat or strongly opposed to having a mosque built in their neighborhood. Eight percent would oppose a church being built. 13% would oppose a synagogue.

  • 38% also said they worry when they see someone dressed in Muslim clothes in a crowded public place whether they may be a terrorist.

  • 68% believe that Muslims experience prejudice fairly often or very often. This is an increase from 60% one year ago.

1,607 randomly selected American adults were polled. The margin of error is ±2.7%. 3

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Our observations:

Many individuals involved in the debate seem to believe that the community center is actually a mosque that would be erected on top of ground zero or immediately adjacent to it. We wonder whether there would have been fewer objections if the media had accurately and consistently reported:

  • That the proposed building would be six blocks away from ground zero,
  • That it is to consist of a community center with a mosque on part of one of its 13 floors, and
  • That it will be open to people of all faiths.

We also wonder whether there would have been fewer objections if most of the American public were:

  • Aware of the divisions in belief among the various Muslim traditions.

  • Familiar with the differences and similarities between Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices.

  • Aware of the persecution by the Wahhabi-controlled government of Saudi Arabia -- where most of the 9/11 terrorists came from -- against the Sufi tradition of Islam -- the tradition followed by the sponsors of Park51. The old Middle Eastern saying "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" may apply here.

Also, we wonder if much of the criticism and hatred focused on the community center would have been avoided if a proper memorial had been erected at the location of 9/11 to replace the open pit that now exists: Photo of former location of the WTC twin towers

Finally, we wonder if the negative response to the community center would have been so great if the news hadn't broken so close to a mid-term election. A number of political leaders, senators, congress persons, etc. used the center to whip up hatred against Muslims in an apparent effort to gather votes.

We notice considerable bias in reporting. Some news sources gave unbalanced coverage of the topic by only quoting people who agreed with them:

  • Illume, a Muslim magazine, quoted mainly people who were pleased with the cultural center construction. However, to their credit, they allowed members of the public with diverse views to post comments at the end of their article. They also placed a photo of an apparently distressed woman who was protesting the building of the center.

  • World Net Daily, a conservative Christian news source, quoted only the remarks of people who were distressed or angry. Not a single positive voice was quoted.

  • CNN quoted a range of beliefs.

We recommend that people be aware of past biases on the part of their favorite news sources, and realize that they may not be receiving a balanced presentation. Media have considerable power to shape public opinion by simply selecting only certain aspects of events to publish. They don't even have to lie. Those news outlets that are ideologically driven frequently give biased reports.

We find that It is often useful to listen to and read news sources whose political or religious philosophy is very different from our own. We suggest that others consider adopting the same policy.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. David Caruso, "A modern design for Islamic center," Associated Press, 2010-OCT-03, at: http://www.northjersey.com/
  2. "Q) Is Richard Land involved with a coalition to defend the right of Muslims to build mosques in the United States?," ERLC, 2010-OCT-08, at: http://erlc.com/
  3. "USA Network's New 'United or Divided' Poll Shows Americans Believe Racial, Ethnic, Political Divisions are Worse Than Just a Year Ago," PR Newswire, 2010-DEC-08, at: http://www.prnewswire.com/
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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2010-OCT-6
Latest update: 2010-DEC-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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