Saturday, July 31, 2010

Losing faith

It seems to me the so-called 'mosque at ground zero' controversy is a story about losing faith which, ironically, is causing me to lose faith.  I'll try to explain.

As background: a Muslim group has proposed building a center -- not a mosque -- two blocks from -- not at -- ground zero.  Several right wing ideologues (including the former half-term governor of Alaska and former Speaker of the House from Georgia), falling down upon their knees in gratitude for a tailor-made culture war issue, have seized upon the proposal and gotten good traction from it. 

It is, of course, completely incompatible with conservative political philosophy that (1) politicians and demagogues from say, Alaska and Georgia, should use a national platform try to impact a local land use decision in New York , and (2) that government should interfere with and even prevent the practice of religion.  But it seems to me that people now identifying themselves as conservative leaders have lost faith (if they ever had it) in the conservative idea of local decision-making and the free practice of religious faith. 

The fact that the issue has been a political bonanza for those exploiting it suggests to me that we as a people have lost faith in the American idea that all faiths, and all people of good will, are welcome to coexist and even compete in the marketplace of ideas.  The people trying to build this center hoped that it would make a statement to the world about both freedom and respect in the United States, and about the integration of Islam into American life.  How much more clearly could American Muslims say to Al Qaeda and its ilk, 'you don't speak for us', than to help re-build near ground zero?  But instead, our own fundamentalists have rushed to convey the opposite message: Al Qaeda was right; Muslims aren't part of the culture that was attacked; they don't belong here.  And to our shame, we are apparently agreeing, which is making me lose faith in the electorate.

Thank goodness land use decisions are still local.  To their great credit, Mayor Bloomberg and the Manhattan Community Board that must approve the project seem to be resisting all the political pressure the right can throw at them on the principled grounds that NYC is all about respect for all cultures and faiths, and that government has no place interfering with peaceful religious practice. 

It's almost enough to restore one's faith.

Mark Edwards

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Well said. Thank you.

I teach a course on "world religions" in which students are introduced to Islam and, perhaps surprisingly, most of them, most of the time, exhibit some understanding of the significance of "the American idea that all faiths, and all people of good will, are welcome to coexist and even compete in the marketplace of ideas."

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 1, 2010 10:01:37 PM

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