The controversy over the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero in NYC has taken on a life of its own. In last Sunday’s Poughkeepsie Journal a number of columnists addressed the issue. I saw flaws in a number of points they were making, and none of them, as I recall, looked to our Judeo-Christian tradition to support their thoughts on the topic.
One columnist suggested that we lead by example. That is, we should demonstrate tolerance to the Muslims, and this should influence them to become more tolerant people. Generally leading by example is a good idea. Kill them with kindness. This is biblical, as we read in Romans 12:19-21 (NRSV):
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Having quoted that passage, let me add that a lot of Scriptural commands are written to apply to individuals, not to governments. Following some Scriptural commands would be irresponsible by governments, even though desirable for individuals. That’s because governments have a different role to play, including protecting its citizens.
In this case, there are two aspects that must be taken into consideration:
First, we have the sensitivities of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 or who were otherwise traumatized by the events of that day. While there has been an Islamic presence in that neighborhood, a brand new building promoting Islam is offensive to some and inappropriate.
Second, the leading by example suggestion by the columnist is naïve. We are dealing with a religion and culture that promotes intolerance in its holy scriptures. Giving in is a sign of weakness to them. Chamberlain gave in to Hitler and that was perceived as weakness, for example. His appeasement did not result in “peace in our time” but in World War II. As the song says, “You have to know when to hold and know when to fold.”
I can’t say what the motivation of the group planning this Islamic center is. Whatever the intent, we must also look at the effect this building will have (and is already having). Given that the terrorists attacked the US in the name of Islam two blocks from where this Islamic center would be built, I’d say build it somewhere else out of respect for those who lost loved ones, co-workers, and friends. The fact that the planners have dug in their heels and seem unwilling to build somewhere else tells you something about their intent, I believe.
To get some basis of comparison, it would be like building a chapel where a fanatical Christian killed an abortion doctor. In a real-life example, nuns were forced out of their convent near Auschwitz some years ago because a Christian presence wasn’t wanted near a place where so many Jews were killed. Although Hitler and his gang did have Christian backgrounds, they weren’t devout Christians, didn’t kill in the name of Christ, and persecuted and killed some Christians as well (think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
If nuns can be driven out of their convent because of Jewish sensitivities, don’t you think Muslims should be pressured not to build an Islamic center so close to where 3,000 people were killed in the name of Islam?