CAPE ELIZABETH – We members of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination in Maine have watched the ongoing arguments about the location of an Islamic Community Center in lower Manhattan with anxiety and disgust.

The Community Center, known as Cordoba House (or Park 51), will also incorporate a mosque.

If the issue were truly the right of Islamic leaders to erect a mosque, there would be no debate. The Constitution of the United States is manifestly clear that any religious group has that right, subject to the zoning laws of the local community.

These matters have already been settled by the locality, New York City.

However, demagogues and irresponsible political leaders have chosen to inflame passions and attempt to deny U.S. citizens their right to freedom of religion.

Specious arguments have been raised, to the effect that “Muslims ought to be sensitive to the losses suffered on 9/11 and not place a Mosque in such close proximity to Ground Zero.”

How far away is too close? Objectors also object to mosques in other cities, such as Nashville, Tenn.

Too close to Ground Zero, perhaps? Anyone who knows New York City understands that two blocks is farther away in lived urban space than two villages in a rural area.

Some, but only some, relatives of the victims of the Twin Towers crime have objected, ignoring the reality that Muslims also died in the attack. The 9/11 attacks were crimes against humanity, not against a religious orientation.

The misrepresentation that the 9/11 attacks were religiously motivated leads to allegations that Islam is intrinsically more violent than Christianity or Judaism.

That is not the experience of the people of Iraq or Afghanistan. Moreover, many in the Middle East and the Iberian Peninsula remember the bloody history of the Crusades.

The reality is that adherents of all religions have violated the tenets of their faith with violent and aggressive acts, rationalizing that they must be justified because “God is on our side.”

If nonviolence were a requirement for the location of a place of worship, there would be far fewer of any kind.

Christians in particular have been quick to demand the right to evangelize all over the world, demanding equal treatment, sometimes blithely trampling on the religious sensitivities of others.

This is not the case in this instance: Cordoba House Community Center will serve a community already established and fully a part of our society.

That is, perhaps, what the demagogues and political pundits most hate and fear: that we are now a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multireligious society. This is something to be celebrated, not condemned.

We members of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination rejoice that at long last the promise of the Constitution, as amended, is fully realized, so that all are truly equal and accorded the same freedoms and responsibilities.

It is not as George Orwell said in “Animal Farm,” “all are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”

We recognize and support the placement of Cordoba House Community Center and Mosque as a matter of legal right and simple justice.

And we welcome the opportunities that we as persons of faith have to meet and work with other persons of faith, our brothers and sisters.


– Special to The Press Herald


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