Monday, August 30, 2010

Opinion: On mosque near 'Ground Zero', a distinction without a difference

Last week, The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart proposed the idea that "you can't divorce the right to do something from the ability to exercise that right."

He was referring to the debate over whether Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf should go ahead with plans to build a mosque on private property a short distance from the former site of the World Trade Center. 

Among those opposed to such action, a distinction has emerged. Some argue either that Muslims do not have a right to build a place of worship in the United States or that other citizens have a right which supersedes that freedom of religious expression. Another, ostensibly more reasonable, group acknowledges the right certainly exists but argues that the spiritual leader should scrap the plans anyway. Their assertion is that having the right to do something does not necessarily mean one should exercise that right.

Although it is certainly an inexact analogy, this reminds me a bit of women's rights in Iran. The law of the Islamic Republic does allow women to run for and hold elected offices. Somehow, despite hundreds of attempts and an apparent lack of legal obstacles though, no woman has ever been certified by the Guardian Council to run for President. A contradiction seems to exist between what is legally permissible and what is socially allowable.

There are times when the liberties enshrined in our Constitution afford rights to people that make us uncomfortable. Standing up for those rights anyway is a true expression of patriotism. Legally allowing an action while using popular opinion to effectively forbid it is a specious way to honor a fundamental American value.



  1. I have a question. If everyone in the middle east is so modernized and up to date then why are they coming to our western countries? I understand it's their right. but why? Why dont they stay in the middle east and build their wonderful community center/mosque. I mean if they're so un barbaric.

  2. Hi Anonymous, a bit of an answer for you.

    The answer is that it isn't so modernized and up to date, and it is. It is and it isn't. Ya know.

    It just depends on what part of a country you're in. Some parts are as basic as it gets, people living off the land with no power or running water. Other parts you'll feel like you're in a manhattan penthouse. The rest of the world is catching up in their level of "modernity", but the west is the place where the modernity is most widespread. You can still find people living pretty basically in the USA but it's not as common.

    As for why they come to the west, I'm sure there's lots of reason. I bet some of them fall in love with a western tourist and get married and move over. Others are pursuing schooling and get into a good university here. Others do whatever they can to get here to get a basic job and send the money home (but this is much rarer for people from the east, they tend to go to rich countries in the region to find work, it's more Central/Latin American's who come to the USA to make money to send home). I'm sure some move here cause they like the lifestyle better, others move here cause their parents force them too. I'm sure you can think of a handful of reasons too!

    And I'm sure they build community centers and mosques all over the middle east. But these people live in new york. It would be silly for them to build a center in the middle east - what, are they going to fly 16 hrs everytime they want to play some basketball? Since they live in NYC it makes sense for them to build a community center near where they live so they can go do community things. Having a place for people to maintain their culture is extremely important. Just cause you don't like their culture doesn't mean that they don't get to preserve it. This is America. That's one of the great things about this country - we have freedom of religion and as long as you're not harming others you can believe in whatever you want.


What do you think? Comment here.