Responses from right-wingers and evangelical Christians to the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” have been spread broadly throughout the cable news media and online news and opinion sites over the past few weeks. Initial responses were typical God-and-country red meat, proclaiming Ground Zero to be “hallowed ground”, and declaring that allowing Muslims to build a mosque on that site would be, (to borrow a tired phrase,) to let the terrorists win.
This response, despite the patriotic fervor with which it was proclaimed, has now finally widely been debunked (including a great bit by Frank Rich today in the New York Times). First off, the proposed building isn’t a mosque, but a cultural center. And it isn’t planned for the “Ground Zero” World Trade Center site; it’s actually two blocks away. And similar “hallowed ground” within a two-block radius of Ground Zero houses an off-track betting establishment, a strip club, multiple fast-food restaurants, and several souvenir shops (just to name a few), so it’s not like the whole area has been somehow ‘set apart’. And finally, what does it say about our belief in religious freedom if, after due process has been followed, we then want then government to prohibit the building of a religious center based strictly on the particular religion in question?
Those points may not yet have gained full acceptance, especially among Republicans looking for an election-year issue, but in general I’ve seen them make inroads in he past few weeks.
But yesterday on the Christian group blog Evangel, a post by Tom Gilson (a strategist with Campus Crusade for Christ) brings up what I believe will be the next round of argument against the project: saying that if we look at this strictly as a religious liberty issue, we are making the mistake of believing that Islam is simply another religion.
[A friend] views Islam as a religion that deserves the same rights and privileges as any other. That’s questionable, to say the least….
If you think the Ground Zero mosque comes down to a simple matter of symbolism, or of religious freedom, then you don’t understand the issues deeply enough.
Instead, the author proclaims, Islam is a way of belief whose ultimate goal is domination, and that if we don’t watch out, America will simply be Islam’s next conquest.
On this topic I have heard and seen much from both sides. I have read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s chilling account of growing up in Somalia and her passionate assertion that Islam, as a religion, denigrates women. I have also heard first-hand from a Zimbabwean Christian pastor who warned that the Islam he encountered in Africa was intent on conquest. But by the same token I have worked for many years alongside Muslims who are gentle, family men, who had no aspirations but to provide for their families and to live here peaceably as neighbors and friends. (And, let’s face it, I can no more fairly hold all Muslims responsible for 9/11 than they can fairly hold all Christians responsible for Timothy McVeigh, Aryan separatists, and, oh, the Crusades.)
The more I think on this subject, the more I am convinced that once again right-wing Christians like Mr. Gilson have mixed up their politics with their religion and gotten it wrong. Nowhere does the Bible instruct us to protect our turf, to repel the unbelieving alien, and to presciently foil those who might intend to persecute us. But it does instruct us, often, to love our neighbors. To turn the other cheek when wronged. It reminds us over and over that our battles are spiritual battles, not physical ones. That Jesus already is Lord, and that we need not fear what mortal men can do to us.
We should stop fighting new mosques at every opportunity, and stop making enemies of dear people for whom Christ died. Instead, we should follow Christ’s command and love them.
It’s time to apply Jesus’ teaching about giving both coat and cloak. If someone comes and says ‘give us land to build a mosque’, don’t just give the land; also bring cold water (in the name of Jesus) to those who are laboring to build it.