In a recent Wall Street Journal article, terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said that anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is bad news for anti-terrorism efforts: “We are handing al Qaeda a propaganda coup, an absolute propaganda coup.”
By many accounts, the man who could blunt the power of that coup is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the religious leader behind the planned Islamic Center near Ground Zero. The imam has been surprisingly mum on the issue while he travels in the Middle East. What message of faith could he offer to Muslims and non-Muslims alike that could turn this moment of division into a time of healing?
In his book, the imam of the proposed mosque/community center at ground zero, wrote “Cain loved Abel, by killing him. That’s why I advise my congregation to probe one who tells you, ‘I love you like a brother.’” Americans are now probing the decision to build the mosque. Arguably it is a statement of love. Those who worship there might be recognizing the loss to humanity and praying for God’s guidance. There is legitimate reason, however, for concern. One need not be islamaphobic to be worried that a significant mosque/community center will encourage Cain (or those like him) to repeat the crime of killing his brother.
I know that Imam Rauf has the right to build his community center/mosque in any appropriately zoned area, but if it is located at Ground Zero, it will be inextricably tied to terrorism that was motivated by Islamic extremism. It may even be seen as a trophy honoring the terrorists. That means it will always be a point of controversy and division.
Controversy surrounding the center will limit its availability to serve as a legitimate place of peace and worship. There will always be protesters and others who want to undermine the objectives of a true religious/civic center. That should cause Rauf to carefully consider his options at this point. Moreover, the rhetoric that is being thrown around on the internet and elsewhere will continue if the center is built. That speech not only stirs up anti-Islamic feelings within the United States, it also gives the terrorists more motivation to carry out their attacks. As such, we all have incentive to set this issue aside. That can only happen if the project is stopped.
I do not think that Rauf has bad intentions; I met him in 2005, and he certainly seemed to be a voice of moderation. The mosque that he oversaw back then was only 12 blocks from ground zero. He’s not moving into an entirely foreign area and trying to claim victory with this new project. Still, he has to understand the feelings of others.
Only Imam Rauf can resolve this situation. New York Governor David Paterson proposed to help him out by finding a different location for the center. The Catholic Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, endorsed that plan. Rauf should take them up on the offer.