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Islamic religious freedom not being suppressed: But building a mosque near ground zero is not appropriate Print
Letters to the editor
Thursday, Sep. 30, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

To the editor:

With all due respect to Fr. Peter Daly (Catholic Herald, September 16, 2010), the “religious freedom” argument being used against those who oppose the building of the mosque near ground zero is a platitude that increasingly rings hollow. His comparison of this issue to the bigotry against Catholics in the 19th century strikes me simply as a false parallel.

Let us not forget that the primary cause for the opposition to the Cordoba House mosque is the fact that terrorists, claiming they were acting in the name of Islam, attacked and killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed the World Trade Center complex. Father Daly seems to overlook this very significant fact in his article.

Had the entire Muslim world stood up and condemned the 9-11 attacks, then those most closely affected by the deaths and destruction could conclude that the hijackers were religious extremists who acted out of their own warped belief system. Unfortunately, though, we all remember the scenes of people dancing in the streets of some Muslim countries, seemingly celebrating the carnage.

Religious freedom not suppressed

Yet, I have spoken to no Catholics who begrudge Muslims their religious freedom in this country. The Cordoba House opposition has been quite clear from the start that Imam Rauf has every right to build his mosque on the proposed site, but simply believe he should not do so in deference to the legitimate feelings that a mosque overlooking the scene of such a national tragedy caused by Islamic extremists is not appropriate. The 100+ mosques in New York City, many established after 9-11, indicate quite clearly that Islamic religious freedoms are not being threatened or suppressed.

There has been no burning of mosques around the country. There has been no mob violence incited against Muslims. There has been no organized racial or religious discrimination against our Islamic brethren.

Nor, has anyone associated with opposition to the Cordoba House ever suggested or endorsed such behavior. In fact, when the pastor in Florida threatened to burn Qurans, many of the organizations opposing the mosque made public statements denouncing his plans.

Not the same as bigotry faced by Catholics

Yet, Father Daly seems to imply that the bigotry that Catholics faced in the 1800s is somehow looming against Muslims and is evidenced by the opposition to the Cordoba House mosque.

Apparently he believes that upwards of 70 percent of the American public are closet bigots against Muslims, and their intolerance has now been unmasked by the mosque controversy.

Sorry, but I just don’t see it. The protests and opposition spokespersons have been peaceful and judicious. There has been no rhetoric denouncing Islam as a faith, or likening all Muslims to terrorists.

Blanket denunciations of a whole group of people, ironically, only appear to be coming from the media and left-wing ideologues directed at that majority of Americans who are uncomfortable with the Cordoba House proposal. The only epithet being hurled is “Islamaphobe” on the editorial pages of newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Mosque opposition is justifiable

Rather than being a knee-jerk reaction to a misunderstood religious group, as was the case against Catholics 150 years ago, the mosque opposition’s stance is quite justifiable considering recent events. In the last year we have seen attacks and attempted bombings in American cities by American Muslims with links to radical imams. We have also learned that some of the new leaders in al-Qaida are Muslims who grew up attending American mosques, or running them.

One such leader is Anwar Awlaki, the American-born cleric who is now al-Qaida’s top recruiter of Western suicide cells. He served as Imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., and was known to be the spiritual advisor of, at least, two of the 9-11 hijackers and Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan.

Thus, one would think that scrutinizing the philosophy and sayings of an imam proposing a mosque so close to ground zero may be a prudent thing to do. So, who is Imam Feisal Rauf? He portrays himself as a moderate Muslim interested in the bridging of relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and perhaps that is exactly what he is. Then again, Rauf has reportedly refused to identify Hamas as a terrorist organization; labeled U.S. policies as “an accessory to the crime” of 9-11 in a 60 Minutes interview, and stated “Osama bin Laden was made in the USA”; promotes sharia law in his books and speeches; and has refused to sign a pledge agreeing that former Muslims should be protected from the death sentence sought by most sharia interpretations for Muslim apostates. His moderation, therefore, may be in the eye of the beholder.

Proposal causing discord

Thus, the questions being asked about the financing and purpose of the Cordoba House are not the ravings of a prejudiced uprising that the media tries to depict, and apparently, Father Daly has bought into. The reality is that, unlike the Catholic churches of the 1800s, there are currently mosques in America that have been financed by foreign powers (Saudi princes), that have had religious leaders that preached about the institution of an official religion and the establishment of (sharia) law, and whose influence has led to the disruption of the public peace.

One question that many are beginning to ask is why a “bridge builder,” who is aware of the difficulties caused by some adherents of his faith, would not be discerning and sensitive enough to abjure a proposal that is causing so much discord with the very people he wishes to win over?

Perhaps a look into history may reveal an answer. Whereas Father Daly may believe Catholics are ignorant of their American roots, I am sure that Imam Rauf is quite aware of Catholic history from a little further back — such as when in Spain in 786, after the Muslim conquest, the Basilica of San Vincente was razed to the ground and the Great Mosque of Cordoba was erected in its place.

Steve Maurice, Oregon, Wis.