Addressing Muslims at the White House on the occasion of Ramadan, President Barack Obama announced his support for the mosque planned at Ground Zero in New York.
According to the Associated Press, the president said, “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”
Well, isn’t that nice, Mr. President, and oh so politically correct. Perhaps you need glasses, sir; you’re a tad short-sighted.
President Obama is absolutely correct in declaring that America’s commitment to religious freedom, a treasured liberty, must be unshakable. However, the placement of a mosque in close proximity to Ground Zero is not a matter of religious freedom. Rather, it is a matter of mutual respect, empathy, and sensitivity.
Nobody needs to be reminded of the tragedy that transpired at Ground Zero, but it appears that the president and supporters of the proposed mosque need to be reminded of how the families affected by 9/11 feel. Contrary to popular belief, the passage of time does not heal grief; it merely builds a cocoon, a necessary buffer, around the wound created by loss. Without this buffer, the grieving could not function day-to-day. To the 9/11 families, constructing a mosque near Ground Zero is like shredding that buffer, or ripping a band-aid off an open wound.
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Supporters of the proposed mosque, including the president, cite the historic persecution of Christians and Jews in their defensive arguments, a valid point if the issue was one of religious freedom. Once again, it is not. Of course, Muslims should freely worship and place their mosques where they see fit. However, they, like members of all religions, must worship with respect and sensitivity to those outside their particular faith. Building a mosque near Ground Zero is like thumbing their collective noses at the grieving 9/11 families. If erected, the proposed mosque will be a tangible, concrete statement that says “we don’t care.”
That being said, we must be mindful not to equate Muslims and their houses of worship with Al Qaeda or Muslim extremists. The individuals who hope to worship within the proposed mosque are not the terrorists that wreaked havoc on our nation, on the world, in 2001. They are “everyday” people, like you and me, and they deserve that treasured liberty of religious freedom. But that liberty comes with responsibility. We all have the responsibility to respect one another and honor one another’s grief.
So, Mr. President, I applaud your commitment to religious freedom; however, please allow me to edit your White House statement as follows: “As a citizen, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. However, religious freedom should be synonymous with respect and honor. While we acknowledge the right of the Muslim community to build a house of worship near Ground Zero, we ask that they, in turn, publicly acknowledge the deep loss felt by the 9/11 families, and utilize this opportunity to demonstrate respect for their grief. We respectfully ask that the Muslim community honor the memory of those lost on 9/11 by erecting their mosque elsewhere.”