Commentary: The price of living in a free society

Excluding current politics, there are few issues more divisive than the divide between Western religions and Islam. Everywhere we turn, the public is reminded that there are serious concerns many have concerning the religion.

This schism took a great leap on 9/11 when Islamic fanatics crashed passenger jets into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and an a rural field in Pennsylvania. This action went a long way toward labeling Muslims as a group a deadly enemy. All Muslims, of course, are not our enemy. Many are our friends and neighbors and are patriotic Americans.

Without any doubt, however, some Muslims — about seven percent of the total number, which adds up to tens of millions worldwide — are the West’s bitter enemies.

One recent hot button issue is the proposed “mosque at Ground Zero,” actually a planned multi-million dollar Islamic community center and mosque to replace a building roughly two blocks from the site where the World Trade Center towers stood. Opinion on both sides of this issue has been volatile; local zoning officials in New York have given the project a thumbs-up.

I took the position in an earlier column it would be a slap in America’s face to erect an Islamic edifice adjacent to the site where some 3,000 people died on that September morning. I still feel this way, but I don’t think an agreement can be reached to change plans for the center.

Recently I attended a discussion group in which two Macon residents debated the proposed construction of the Islamic center. The “against” argument was built on the concept that while there are many Muslims who find terrorism reprehensible, there are many who don’t, and until the center’s Islamic backers resoundingly condemn terrorism the center should not be built.

The argument “for” the center was based on U.S. law and custom: Freedom of religion is a basic right, and any religion — Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Hindus or what-have-you — has the right under the Constitution and zoning laws of New York City to erect a center where a deserted clothing outlet now stands. That building has been serving as an Islamic house of worship for more than a year.

My emotional opposition notwithstanding, that “for” position is correct. This is what America is all about. The privilege of living in a free society is that occasionally the public has to put up with things it may find repugnant.

A court ruling during the 1970s to permit neo-Nazis to march through the Jewish community of Skokie, Ill., comes to mind as one of those constitutionally protected but noxious events. (The march never took place, but it could have.)

To read the complete column, visit www.macon.com.