Harassment and hostility, or healing and harmony?

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

The proposed Cordoba House community centre, or Ground Zero mosque, on Park Place would find itself between the Dakota Roadhouse and the Amish Market.

St. Peter's Catholic Church
Manhattan

Nothing is really out of place in New York City. Everything man does for good or evil takes place here, cheek by jowl and usually in public view. So the fact that the Cordoba House has elicited a hostile response from most New Yorkers is worthy of note. In a city where Armani blithely plasters quasi-pornographic billboards across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral, the citizenry is not easily provoked.

Religious freedom is not the issue. In conformity with the law, the developers have a right to build their mosque. Indeed, the environs mark an important milestone in the history of American religious liberty. Just around the corner is St. Peter's Church – the oldest Catholic parish in New York. Established in 1785, it marked the first centre of Catholic life after the Catholic persecution of British colonial rule gave way to broader religious liberty.

I like to pray at St. Peter's when in Manhattan. It was there that they brought the body of the first registered death on Sept. 11, 2001 – Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to the fire department. I keep his picture in my house. It was good that the Lord's house was nearby and able to open its doors to the suffering, the afflicted and the dying. It would be a good thing to have more prayer, not less, on the streets around Ground Zero. For both Christians and Muslims to beseech the mercy of God at that horrific site would be more fitting than some of the commercial excess and tacky consumerism that will no doubt be built at Ground Zero itself.

The delicate question is the critical one: What kind of mosque and community centre will Cordoba House be? The sad reality is that throughout the Islamic world, especially in the Arab nations, Christian churches, schools and orphanages – where they are allowed to be built at all – often find mosques built next door, from which hostility and harassment issues forth. Even churches deliberately built away from busy parts of the city sometimes find mosques quickly built next door, with the amplified muezzin a regular disruption.

It doesn't have to be this way. It certainly cannot be considered the desire of all Muslims. But this is a reality, and it would be foolish to ignore all this in view of the Cordoba House proposal.

Put it this way. If the Ismaili Muslims were proposing a cultural and religious centre – as they have prominently built on Sussex Drive in Ottawa – there would likely be no anxiety at all. But a proposal that will cost $100-million – much of the funding to come from the Arabian peninsula – should provoke serious people to ask serious questions. The track record there is not good, and it is not racist, or xenophobic, to ask whether this project will bring harassment and hostility to a place that is in need of healing and harmony.

The track record there is not good, and it is not racist, or xenophobic, to ask whether this project will bring harassment and hostility to a place that is in need of healing and harmony.

Religious sensitivity needs to be heightened at a place of religious war. Nine years on from 9/11, perhaps it has been forgotten that what took place at Ground Zero was the most spectacular battle in a religious war. It is not a war between Christians and Muslims, but a civil war within the Islamic world that is occasionally exported by the jihadists to the infidels in New York, or London, or Madrid. This war within Islam has killed thousands of Christians, but hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This intraIslamic killing has moved outside of the Arab world to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The war did not begin in 2001, but has been raging at least since 1979, when the Ayatollah returned to Iran in January, and when jihadist terrorists violently seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca that November.

This war will eventually have to be resolved within the Islamic world itself. Yet while the war still rages, it would be perverse to award the offending jihadists a monument in the heart of New York. Yesterday in The New York Times, Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba House initiative, wrote that his project would explicitly undermine the jihadists and, in effect, be an ally in the struggle against Islamist terrorism. Those are welcome words. Yet before Cordoba House goes forward, there needs to be concrete evidence demonstrating which side of this religious war will find a welcome there.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Harassment and hostility, or healing and harmony?" National Post, (Canada) September 9, 2010.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2010 National Post




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