Commentary: Oh my God, another 'mosque' issue

Special to McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 3, 2010 

The issue of the "World Trade Center Mosque" has generated a great deal of controversy recently. Opponents of the project should be alerted to the fact that there is another religious center of a group with connections to terrorism even closer to a place that has been bathed in the blood of the victims of terrorism.

Opponents of the "mosque" say it is an insult to the memory of the victims of terrorism on 9/11 to have an Islamic place of worship so close to Ground Zero. Even though it is a community center with only a room where prayers can be said, two blocks away and not visible from the site of that terrible act of terrorism, they insist it should not be built.

They argue that Islam is a religion that has a history of encouraging the use of violence, discrimination against women and intolerance toward those of other faiths. While they say they support the guarantee of freedom of religion in the First Amendment of the Constitution, they believe the so-called mosque should be moved some unspecified distance away from such hallowed ground.

Those who feel that way may wish to raise their voices against another facility that is just across the street from where hundreds were killed and injured because of terrorists.

The religion in question has a history of violence, intolerance and links to terrorism. For the sake of consistency and to demonstrate the limits they want on the First Amendment are applied evenly, the opponents of the "mosque" should demand this other place of worship be relocated. Anything less, according to their logic, would be a victory for terrorists.

The hallowed ground in this case is the site of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. In this country's second worst act of terrorism, Timothy McVeigh combined fertilizer, fuel oil and a rented truck to construct a bomb that brought down most of the building. It killed 168 people, including 19 small children, injured 680 more and damaged 324 buildings within a 16-block radius.

McVeigh was raised a Roman Catholic. Across the street from the memorial to his victims is a Catholic church — St. Joseph Old Cathedral. It has been there for over a century, but given recent history should it not be moved?

Shortly before his execution, McVeigh said he practiced no religion, but in his formative years he was a Catholic. Catholicism has a history of violence against those of other faiths, as the Inquisition and the Crusades amply demonstrate.

Its treatment of Galileo demonstrated intolerance even to scientific advances that supposedly conflict with its teachings. It discriminates against women by not accepting them to the priesthood and by insisting they have no reproductive rights. And need it be pointed out that that the head of this religion is a former member of the Hitler Youth who served in the German armed forces during World War II.

Besides McVeigh there are other instances of Catholic involvement in terrorism. Eric Rudolph, the abortion clinic bomber was a self-professed Catholic.

In addition, it was revealed last week in Britain that in 1972, a priest was involved in planting three car bombs detonated by the Irish Republican Army. The bombs killed nine people, including an eight-year-old girl, but the priest was neither arrested nor even investigated. Instead, the Church, with the help of British authorities, transferred him to another parish.

In other words, the Church reacted to protect itself and not the victims of the crime, in the same way it did on numerous occasions more recently when confronted with priests accused of sexual abuse.

Does any of that mean that Old St. Joseph ought to be relocated? Does any of this say anything about the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world?

Of course not. They have no more responsibility for the acts of criminal priests, Rudolph or McVeigh than the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world have for what 19 fanatics did on 9/11.

That will not stop the politicians and pundits who exploit issues like the "mosque" for personal gain. It will not prevent them from proclaiming their support for freedom of religion with one breath and inciting mindless fear, xenophobia and bigotry in the next. But that does not mean anyone has to be stupid enough to fall for it. Given the numbers who flocked to hear Glenn Beck defile the memory of Dr. King on Saturday, there is no shortage of such people who do, however.

To the extent Beck and others succeed in making the "mosque" an issue, it will be a victory, not just for intolerance, but also for the terrorists.

For Beck and company will have brought down the image of America abroad — just as effectively as the terrorists brought down the Twin Towers.


Dennis Jett, a former career diplomat, is a professor of international affairs.

McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.

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