Much of the debate over New York’s Part51 project seems to have taken place outside of New York, where it has become a mainstay campaign issue in races across the country. However, a New York Times poll out today shows that a majority of New Yorkers, 67 percent, believe the Islamic center — which has already been approved by authorities — should not be built. Some other results:
- 62 percent think Muslims have the right to build it (29 percent said no)
- 52 percent think New York politicians should take a stand (41 percent said no)
- 32 percent think politicians outside New York should take a stand (64 percent said now)
- 51 percent of Manhattanites favor construction (41 percent oppose), while only 31 percent of the other four burroughs’ residents favor construction (52 percent oppose)
- 74 percent of Republicans oppose; 44 percent of Democrats oppose
- The education trend is fairly predictable; the more education completed, the more likely one is to support the project. Those with no college education showed a 24/62 favor/oppose spread; those with post-graduate degrees were split 60/30
- 38 percent of those who supported the project later said they think it should be moved farther away
- 33 percent said Muslims are more sympathetic to terrorists than other Americans
- Almost 60 percent said they harbor negative opinions about Muslims because of 9/11
There were many of the same opinions harbored by others that has been promulgated during the nation-wide debate. One woman said she favors freedom of religion except in this case, arguing sensitivity over 9/11 should prevail.
“Give them an inch, they’ll take a yard,” another respondent said. “They want to build a mosque wherever they can. And once they start praying there, it is considered hallowed ground and can’t be taken away. Ever. That’s why we’re having this tug of war between New Yorkers and the Islamic people.”
The Washington Post’s Sue Jacoby examines the concept of sacred or hallowed ground, a phrase tossed around a lot during the Park51 debate but never elaborated upon. Sacred ground, generally considered where humans have died, are usually intended to unite but instead promote strife and violence, Jacoby writes. Successful examples of hallowed ground include Nazi concentration camps and the Gettysburg battlefield, where historians have worked to create an atmosphere of solemnity while at the same time promoting peace and tolerance. Jacoby quotes Lincoln’s famous 1862 speech at the site of the U.S.’s bloodiest battle:
“It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, for by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
… Lincoln’s words are just as applicable to the memories of recent bloodshed. It is for us, the living, to honor the dead not by puffing ourselves up about sacralizing pieces of earth but by working to prevent the creation of more blood-soaked “sacred places.”
For many, the great debate over the Islamic center boils down to religious freedom and sensitivity to victims. Noble intentions both, but there is more to the debate. The call for tolerance reaches beyond religion and becomes tolerance of that which we may fear.
All rational people know that 9/11 was perpetrated by a radical Islamist fringe group; the vast majority of the world’s second-largest religion, including those who also call themselves Americans, are victims of 9/11 as well. Once viewed as victims joining victims to fight the divisive, destructive desires of the terrorists, the Park51 project becomes less a question of sensitivity and more a question of devotion to the tolerance and freedom such terrorists despise.