The newest political hot spot in America is the mosque slated to be built near Ground Zero, the site of the Trade Towers bombing of 2001, in New York City. Politicians are lining up and taking sides in the countdown to elections this fall. Even President Barack Obama voiced his ambivalent and unclear opinion, noting that America’s commitment to religious freedom must be “unshakable.” That includes, according to the president, “the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan.” The next day though, he backpedaled and declared that while people have a right to build mosques in America if they want to, he isn’t quite sure about the wisdom of this particular location.
As always politicians are using the controversy first stirred up by conservative talk radio hosts to make election bids. Some are saying that they believe in freedom of religion; others that they believe in zoning laws and the sacredness of this particular site. And surprisingly, unlike most issues, this one is not split down party lines.
For one thing, mere months from November’s midterm elections for Congress, no one can afford to disenfranchise his or her electorate. According to a recent CNN poll 68 percent of Americans are opposed to the mosque being built at Ground Zero. Even politicians not up for election this cycle have to watch their step or risk losing votes for their party. Many lawmakers have decided that silence, at least on this issue, is golden. Whatever they say, they’re bound to insult either their political base or their political party. We are way past the days of actual integrity and principle, if ever those days have existed in Washington.
What are the principles behind the issue? America certainly is a place of freedom, including religious freedom. Yet there are lines. Your freedom to do what you like cannot infringe on another’s for example. And no matter your religious preferences they cannot suspend the laws of the land, thus polygamy, human and animal sacrifices and honor killings are all illegal notwithstanding your religion.
To say the mosque should be built because of religious freedom is an emotional response and not an analytical one. There are already many mosques in America and none have ever been controversial as this one is. It’s not the mosque; it’s the location. The truth is that the building of this mosque in this neighborhood in New York is a local issue and has nothing to do with the federal government or the nation as a whole at all, at least under normal circumstances. With this in mind President Obama’s initial refusal to comment was the appropriate one since this has nothing to with him nor his branch of government. But these are not normal circumstances.
In this particular case even though the planes blew up and destroyed buildings in New York the attack was made on the whole of the United States and its people. Muslims made the attack. Perhaps not these Muslims, but the mosque’s intended location is certainly politically provocative and intended to be so. So the people of the United States and at length their president, after due consideration, do have every right to weigh in on this debate. Whatever the outcome, the mosque controversy will certainly affect the November elections and perhaps even those of 2012.