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Forgiveness, Fear, and the Mosque at Ground Zero

2010 June 7
by Julie Clawson

I’ve become used to seeing images of protests on the news recently. While a few years ago these were displayed as sure signs of anti-American sentiments, they are now a mainstay on the nightly news. Hardly a day goes by without seeing some sign calling Obama a Muslim socialist or demanding that the government not take away Medicare in order to pay for socialized heath care. But it was seriously disturbing to see the images from New York City yesterday of the protest of the Muslim center going in two blocks from the site of Ground Zero. The planned center is being built in an old Burlington Coat factory building and will include a fitness center, community meeting rooms and a mosque. Basically it’s the neighborhood YMCA with that weird contemporary church plant meeting in the yoga room on Saturday nights. But it’s Muslim and therefore has drawn out the haters.

islam911The organization Stop Islamization of America, a self-proclaimed human rights group, organized the protest on Sunday. This group’s mission is to ensure the preservation of freedom of speech against Islamic supremacist intimidation and attempts to make the United States compliant with Shari’a [Islamic law]. After reading about this group and seeing some of the photos Samir Salmanovic posted from the event as he stood in solidarity with Muslims (including the one here), I couldn’t help but reflect on the tendency in this country for us to fear and hate the other.

It is an odd balance American’s strike between forgiveness and hate. On one hand we become obsessed with stories of extreme forgiveness. The Amish women who chose to forgive and love the families of the man who killed their children so captured our attention the story was even turned into a movie. We prize such extreme acts of love almost to the point of fetishizing them, and yet when the offenders are too different from us we cling to our hatred. I remember listening to my grandfather’s tales of World War 2 and first realizing this strange tension between forgiveness and prejudice. He fought on the German front as a naval officer, he was part of the D-Day invasion, ferried Patton across the Rhine River, and had his best friend blown away in the foxhole next to him. Year later as a man of German descent himself, he had easily forgiven the Germans for the war and yet still spoke with extreme contempt about the Japanese. Forgiving those like us is easy; extending mercy to those who are other is where our fear often strangles our compassion.

This fear of the other prevents us from seeing the world clearly. Our belief in our own rightness clouds how we see the other. During my time at Wheaton College there was much debate about changing the school’s mascot from that of Crusader. While it was eventually changed to the Wheaton Thunder, many people could not understand why there was any reason to change it at all. They thought it was preposterous that any person (especially Muslims and Jews) would be offended by the image or judge modern day Christians by the past actions of historical Crusaders. Yet, even in the church we daily judge Muslims by the actions of a few of its members. So while we applaud the Amish women for their acts of forgiveness, the fear and hatred sparked by the events of 9/11 still inform the average American’s opinion of Muslims. So to the protesters, the building of a Muslim center and mosque so near the site of Ground Zero is just another act of violence – a threat to American supremacy. There is no forgiveness of the terrorists and the grudge against them is extended to all Muslims.

I, like many of the Muslims involved, understand the need to tread carefully here. Even in working for peace and reconciliation one has to be aware of how one’s actions might offend people who have been previously hurt. This is why Wheaton eventually did change its mascot, out of a desire to promote love and healing instead of reopening old wounds. But it is pure fear of the other that is sparking some to say just having Muslims near Ground Zero is offensive. It is heartbreaking knowing that many of the protesters are there claiming to represent Jesus while they scream their message of hate. This isn’t just about protesting political ideas, but a demonstration of our bondage to sin. The images of the protest hurt as they mock everything the faith I follow claims to uphold. As I wait to see how this current drama unfolds, I can’t help but wonder what it will take for American Christians to move from just fetishizing forgiveness to actually letting mercy and compassion for all rule our hearts.

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. Alan permalink
    June 9, 2010

    So, would Muslims who were offended by the mascot “Crusader” have been guilty of fear and hatred? Or, would they be justified in their being offended, and it not have anything to do with fear and hatred?

    I do not fear Islam or Muslims, but I think it is likely that the group founding the mosque is being intentionally disrespectful. And, I find that distasteful. I would not go to an abortion clinic where a crazed fundamentalist had shot the place up, and ask to start a church there. I have better sense and respect than that.

  2. June 9, 2010

    Alan, how do you know that “it is likely that the group founding the mosque is being intentionally disrespectful”? Is there evidence of this?

  3. June 9, 2010

    Thanks for this post, Julie. As you said, “fear often strangles our compassion.” And isn’t this fear based on a lifelong mis-education? Does the Other appear as Other by default or are we conditioned and educated over time to consider our neighbor as Other?

    Ground Zero is not a past event but a present opportunity where Christians and Muslims of good will can come together, hear each other, perhaps for the first time, and move toward forgiving each other for the years of mutual suspicion, distrust, and mis-education.

    Jesus taught to forgive those who trespass against you and to love your neighbor. Muhammad taught that we are all made from a single soul and so to hurt one is to hurt the whole. There are so many Muslims who yearn to know and befriend their fellow Christian brothers in faith. It hurts us to stand so far apart from one another.

    I have faith in us that we will stand closer together one day. Because God does.

    Rahim

  4. Autumnal Harvest permalink
    June 9, 2010

    Alan, like Chris, I wonder what evidence you have that this group is being intentionally disrespectful. I don’t think anyone would find it disrespectful or distasteful for you to start a church several blocks away from a place where an abortion clinic shooting had occurred, unless you had particularly chosen that spot with some pro-life goal in mind.

    Also, the analogy between “Muslims who are offended by a happy depiction of centuries of glorious Christian warfare against Muslims” and “Christians who are offended because Muslims want a place to worship” doesn’t strike me as a particularly apt one.

  5. June 11, 2010

    Julie,
    Yes. The way of Jesus is to love all, including any real enemies. We need to practice and live out before the world the value of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. And nothing more or less, I think.

  6. Adam Parmenter permalink
    July 17, 2010

    Their intent is not relevant. Our constitution protects their right to observe their religion as they see fit and their right to express their views as they see fit. Do they hate America? How can I know that, I don’t know them. Am I offended by a Mosque at Ground Zero? Yes, I am. Would I defend their right to build a Mosque at Ground zero? Yes, without hesitation.

    I love the constitution, and believe that it points to rights not defined by man, but designed by our creator God. Those rights MUST be applied to all citizens equally. For that reason, they should be allowed to do all that is within the law and their rights. Even if I don’t like it.

    Protesters have rights as well, but they would be better served to go over to a person who is Muslim and build a relationship. Just showing up with a sign and yelling is lazy.

  7. Thomas Kurian permalink
    August 5, 2010

    Jesus taught to forgive your enemy, love thy enemy ; MohaMad taught to behead thy enemy, rape thy enemy’s wives.

    MohaMad raped 6 year old Aiysha when he was 56 years old. He calls it marriage and the koran is full of details of him forcing her for sex.

    MohaMad personally behead 700 jews in one day. he had 23 wives, and sex slaves.

    MohaMad said “Slay the infidels where ever you see them”

    Don’t beieve me? Read the Koran yourself. Jesus clearly warned us about false prophets that would come after jesus. Mohamad is the worst of all that

  8. August 5, 2010

    i read that they (Cordoba group) were trying to show the other side of islam, that they wanted people to remember that also muslims were killed in the towers, and that the whole thing (i mean the attacks) was against the TRUE meaning of islam. they want to celebrate that in USA we could all get along if we go about things in the right way. and that muslims can want to get along with the rest of the country.

    and if we are going to have freedom of religions in USA, we should be willing to see that there are different beliefs about extremism in islam, just like there are in christianity.
    if you look in history, lots of terrorism was done by christians, we just didn’t call it that then… example, the conquista of what is now Latin America, iirc included the biggest genocide on record, even bigger than those of Hitler and Stalin, and brought to us by the catholic church. i look at those as my co-religionists, even though i am protestant, and they were MESSED UP. that’s exactly how the peaceful muslims that i have talked to look at radical islamic terrorists.

  9. Perspective Please permalink
    August 7, 2010

    Thank you so much for a refreshingly non-reactionary article about this subject. It is sad and frightening how quickly and easily we humans tend to generalize about emotionally charged issues. So many people are painting all of Islam with the Taliban/Al Qaeda brush and condemning the entire religion from the actions of a few extremists. It is driven by fear, grief and outrage. Although this is a natural response to what happened on September 11th, emotional reactions must inevitably be balanced with calmer realism and objectivity in order for healing to take place. Unfortunately, this is a slow process.

    I believe those of us who are able to see and understand beyond our impulsive emotional (and human) reactions need to keep voicing that greater perspective, with love for all concerned, so that it is not lost amid the dark clouds of hatred and fear. Anyone who commits heinous acts to injure others is themselves driven by fear, grief and outrage, and the resulting hatred, even if they don’t realize it. Those injured too often become those who injure back, perpetuating the vicious circle of hatred and violence. Who is to say which one “started it”? In the end, it doesn’t matter. All sides have their role in what happened/happens.

    Forgiveness is as much for the forgiver as for the forgiven, and is usually not about saying “it’s okay to have done what you did.” It is about healing, so that a future is possible and so that we don’t destroy each other and ourselves in the process.

    Thank you for being a balancing, healing voice of reason, Julie.

  10. Asif Sheriff permalink
    August 8, 2010

    I read your article in support of the Cordoba House on their website. Can you please provide one example of a muslim institution in the US that is modeled around the YMCA?

    Will this institution permit women to pray beside men? What will be the dress code for girls in the swimming pool? Around which muslim country’s culture will this House model its own?

    Can you provide some examples of mosques in the US where non-Muslims routinely visit for jobs, shelter or recreation like the YMCA?

    Will the prayer room allow a Hindi to pray to an idol God? How will this institution reach out to gays and lesbians?

  11. Jim Shiers permalink
    August 9, 2010

    Do you propose to tell the beaten wife she wasn’t beaten?
    Do you propose to tell the rape victim she wasn’t raped?
    Do you propose to tell the victims in an attacked city they were not attacked?
    How much harm is there to deny the vicim’s reality and say, “No, you weren’t violated, it was just your imagination?” Psychologists will tell you this denial causes even deeper emotional damage and depression. We need to protect our brothers and sisters, not cause further pain.
    Do you propose to allow religion attackers to force themselves into the city of the attacked?
    There is not an ounce of sense, sensibility, respect, or compassion in this purposfully provacative, painful action perpetrated by insensitive purveyors of Islam. Muslims may be dealing with their own pride, or their own shame, but ground zero is the place for neither. Good persons best show their compassion by being sensitive to the pain of others. Billions of promised prideful dollars cannot repurchase the pain that was caused at WTC. Let the wounded grow through their pain without reopening the wounds. My Muslim friends would not allow the mosque to be built based on their compassion and sincere wish to not hurt anyone. Someone less caring has an agenda.

  12. David Smith permalink
    August 10, 2010

    Julie,

    I noticed in two places you talk about Amish women forgiving. The Old-Order Amish don’t have a particularly large presence on the web (and even less now that they have come to an agreement against it) and cannot serve as a corrective. However, I’m am sure that the Amish women would be astounded by your statement. What happened to the men? For that matter, given this is the Amish you are speaking of, where is the community, the church?

  13. Danny White permalink
    September 16, 2010

    IT is not about religion…. it is about FEELINGS…… feelings for the dead, inncocent children, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers…
    IF there is feeling… then do not build the Mosque.

    But i see crude and hatred that has build up from 9/11 being exposed
    by building the mosque…. that land is sacred but it is not a place for the mosque.
    If its is pure defiance to build the mosque…. ha! what a religion..na
    they have no feelings man!!!

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