When I started writing this post, it was to be somewhat of a rant. As it turns out, it came out more “preachy” than “ranty’. I hope will forgive me, and indulge me just a little 🙂 .
Unless you live under a rock (or are much smarter than me and ignore the mainstream news), you have no doubt heard about the plans to build a mosque new so-called Ground Zero in new York. You have also heard of the debate that has sprung up between proponents of the mosque, and those who oppose it.
At the same time, we have someone who calls himself a Christian, and a leader at that, proposing to hold an event to burn copies of the Quran, and encouraging others around the United States to do the same.
Although both of these controversies stem from very different motivations, they both illustrate the very clear difference between what is legal, and what is simply “the right thing to do”.
On the one hand, we have a group wanting to build a religious centre, with a stated goal of also reaching out to other communities in the interest of collaboration and understanding. While I know there are those who see more subversive goals behind the project, I am willing to take what they propose at face value.
It is very clear that the construction of this complex (if I understand correctly, it is more than a mosque) is legal. This has been made clear at many levels of government, up to and including the president. They own the land. What they want to do fits within the zoning for the land. To be clear, what they want to do is completely legal, and they are fully within their rights to proceed.
That said, it is also clear that a significant number of people (I hesitate to say a majority, as I do not believe any statistics published by the media) are upset and offended by this plan. Some are upset because they a paranoid, xenophobic extremists who are absolutely convinced that anything Islamic is inherently evil. There also many, however, who are normal, rational people who have an understandable sensitivity when it comes to the events of 9/11. It is this second group whose feelings should be considered in this matter. While I do not believe any of the rhetoric that the mosque complex is a conspiracy to infiltrate the US, or to be a slap in the face or “victory symbol” for the 9/11 attacks, it is very clear that the project is causing pain to many people.
So what does this mean? It means that the right thing to do here has nothing to do with what is legally allowed. The right thing to do is to recognize and embrace the people who are genuinely hurt by this proposal. The right thing to do is to tell them “while we know we have the legal right to build our mosque, and we will not be bullied or coerced into changing our plans, out of compassion for those for whom we are unintentionally causing pain, we will change our plans and move our project somewhere less sensitive.” This would go a long way towards improving the image of Islam in American, and disarming the extreme “Islamo-phobes” who are so vocal. Again, this is the right thing to do, as opposed to merely the legal.
Turning attention now to events in Florida and the Christian group planning to burn Qurans as a philosophical statement. As opposed to the supporters of the mosque project, this Christian group is wilfully and intentionally acting to cause pain and upset to Muslims around the world. It is their stated intent to offend Muslims. This event has been vocally opposed by religious leaders of every persuasion. It has been opposed by political leaders at all levels and of all philosophical leanings.
The unfortunate fact, however, is that as morally reprehensible as these actions are, they are perfectly legal. What they are doing is legal, and to force them to abandon their plans would definitely not be the right thing to do, as it would infringe upon their rights and only further fuel their hatred.
As what they are doing is perfectly legal, what should we do about it? Well, for one thing, stop giving them so much attention. Unfortunately, it is far too late for that as this has been publicized around the world. The only thing we can do is stand by and watch. And forgive them. We can also make sure that we use this as example to explain to our children why this type of hatred and intentional disrespect is wrong. Finally, we can embrace those who are hurt and offended by this action, those who are its targets, and try to make them understand that we share their pain and outrage. Even though the book-burners are doing what is legal, we can take it upon ourselves to do what is right.
If only we could spend more time focusing upon what is the right thing to do, versus simply what we are legally allowed to do, we might have some hope of moving forward.