Nine years later: is peace on hold?

Maria Andersen | Research Assistant, The Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity

The name “Ground Zero” does not imply that there is zero room in Manhattan for different religions. When the WTC towers fell on 9/11, free lives were lost amongst the ashes and clouds. Now, nearly a decade later today, it appears that a new cloud may be crushing the American spirit of freedom. The recent protests over the Ground Zero mosque, as well as the questioning of President Obama’s religious beliefs, may be putting the peace that we have spent nine years rebuilding on standby.

George Santanya infamously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” America was founded on the principles of freedom of speech, race and religion. Discrimination and prejudice were seemingly left in the past. But this past January, a Gallup Poll shockingly revealed that “4 out of 10 Americans admit to feeling at least “a little” prejudice toward Muslims.” In August 2010, one in three New Yorkers admitted to having unfavorable feelings towards Muslims.

The Constitution legally protects the right to choose. The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This constitutional right applies to all Americans — Christians, Muslims, etc. Most Manhattanites understand this concept as 67% have said that “while Muslims had a right to construct the center . . . they should find a different site.” The strongest underlying reason for these sentiments is respect for the 9/11 victims’ families. However, the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows group supports the mosque and stated in May: “We believe…this building will serve…for the rest of the world that Americans stand against violence, intolerance … [and] we recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent.” Statements like these suggest that all the commotion may be on behalf of a straw man.

On September 10th, Pastor K.A. Paul claimed “it was legally acceptable for an Islamic center to be built near the site of the attacks in 2001 that destroyed the twin towers, but not morally acceptable.” Is Paul aware that there are strip clubs closer to Ground Zero than where the prospective mosque will be built? No one is making a fuss over the “morality” of the proximity of such gentlemen’s clubs. Men have the freedom to express their entertainment values by going to the Pussy Lounge; they should have the right to express their religious values by choosing to go to a mosque.

Florida Pastor Terry Jones claimed on September 10th that “Jesus would approve of his plan for ‘Burn a Koran Day.’”  But would Americans — of all religious affiliations — concur with this? Would Middle Easterners? Bin Laden has emphasized before that Americans should respect Muslims and Middle Eastern cultures. He has also said, “Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or Al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands.” He was directly referring to the American interventions in Palestine and Lebanon, but this can certainly apply to respecting religious freedoms as well. The Constitution already secures the right to freely practice any religion. This security should be enforced out of respect for the law, the people and our neighbors abroad — not ignored.

In August, suggestive, and arguably offensive, news headlines stirred up questions regarding Obama’s religious beliefs.  A recent Pew Poll shows that 20% of Americans think Obama is a Muslim. When he was elected to office in 2008, his biggest supporters were Catholics, Jews and Muslims, a rather diverse group.  Two years later, is it absolutely necessary to assign Obama to just one of these three religious groups?

Some may argue that Obama’s religion does matter, since a politician’s religious beliefs can affect his policies. Arguably, family history, genetic make-up, and past personal experiences could do the same. Perhaps religion should be completely left out of the political sphere, but in reality this is not the case. Politicians are humans too, and for this reason, they are far from perfect. There is no way to ensure that their personal experiences will not interfere with their voting habits. However, when one critiques politicians on the grounds of their personal, subjective religious values, an intellectual argument can quickly be overshadowed by ignorant distaste. The nine-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks should not be spent stubbornly bickering; rather, it should be spent remembering the lives lost and honoring true American freedom.

Maria Andersen is a senior at George Mason University majoring in Economics.

Tags : barack obama ground zero mosque religion
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