US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The fear behind the Muslim center at Ground Zero

By Megan Sweas | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The big interfaith news of the weekend was not good: The Anti-Defamation League announced that it is against a proposed Muslim center two blocks from Ground Zero.

The ADL, which fights anti-Semitism, is being accused of hypocrisy for the decision, but it says it is taking sides with families who lost loved ones on 9/11. "Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted," National Director Abraham H. Foxman told the New York Times.

The NYT, along with a number of media outlets, misidentifies the center as a mosque in the headline, though the story clarifies its purpose: "Oz Sultan, the programming director for the center, said the complex was based on Jewish community centers and Y.M.C.A.'s in Manhattan. It is to have a board composed of Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders and is intended to create a national model of moderate Islam."

But this story isn't just about this one center. Americans seem to be afraid of Muslims gathering throughout the country, as we can see in the Tennessee official's comments on Islam in response to a question about a proposed mosque that he was asked on the campaign trail.

In Infidel (which I just finished last week), former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes the problem of government-funded Muslim community centers and schools in Holland. These centers promoted fundamentalist Islam. Her response: cut funding to all religious centers and schools-Muslim, Catholic, or Protestant.

While that makes complete sense to us in the U.S. (people fighting for government assistance for Catholic schools might want to think about this), the point is that Hirsi Ali rejects all religion, not just Islam. Christopher Hitchens writes the forward to her book.

One of the top blog commentaries on Google about this center near ground zero comes from an atheist, blaming 9/11 on religion as a whole.

What are our options? We can reject Islam and try to convert a billion people to Christianity (not likely, especially if we make them hate us, as a Christian responding to the Tennessee case said). We can reject all religion and try to convert the whole world to atheism (even less likely). Both of these would likely beget more violence and maintain the "clash of civilization" mentality.

Or we can support those Muslims working for moderation and dialogue. There are moderate Muslims on YouTube and Malaysian TV. We've asked them to stand up against terrorism, but then we aren't standing behind them.

What better way to stand up to terror, though, than building a place of dialogue and community close to (but not on) the place that extremists made their statement? Than saying that we refuse to let you define Islam?