Everyone conscious on 9/11 has an opinion about whether or not a mosque should be built near the place where once stood the fabled World Trade Center towers, destroyed in an act of fanaticism now erroneously equated with a billion human beings who worship in mosques. Personally, given the rabid rhetoric that has engulfed the public discourse about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, I think that placing a mosque on or near ground zero is nothing less than a "stick in the eye" for Americans whose understanding of the event has been formed by powerful political forces and cultural prejudices. I am saying that the political-cultural reality is that a serious act of forgiveness and benevolence is so radical an idea even today that it would stand as a provocation to further misunderstanding and violence.
The NYT on Sunday ran a long article about mosques being suggested for places that a scant fifty years ago were quite unsure of what a mosque is and what goes on within them. Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was the archetype for this clashing cultures phenomenon. I have to admit that a middling town in TN is about the last place (excepting Idaho, of course) where I would expect to hear about building mosques. In other words, the idea of mosques is "merely" a reflection of the past 50 years worth of immigration from Islamic culture to America, something a nation of immigrants themselves ought to be able to swallow.
But swallowing is difficult, to be sure. James Carroll in the Boston Globe addresses the issue in a way that will probably not please Roman Catholics (and Carroll used to be a Catholic priest) or run of the mill Zionist Protestants whose aim is to fulfill prophecies not actually expressed in the Christian Bible (but certainly best-selling fictions by end-times authors). Carroll's essay unearths the essential background "Western-Christian" doctrine of violent hostility toward both Jews and Muslims. It is an important essay because you just do not get this kind of historical perspective of our prevailing nearly subconscious prejudices from the media. Perhaps the press does not know.
Carroll goes through the basic litany of the debt European intellectual progress has to Islam, but puts the contemporary "clash of (popular) cultures" question more squarely in an historical context than you probably have seen. The most provocative statement made by Carroll is this:
...Jews were a victim people, but Muslims were a world power. The success of their movement, in fact, was due to its humane and spiritually resonant message, a proclamation of the radical inviolability of each person's autonomous interior life, which the believer could experience five times daily in prayer....
This is a statement which will, I think, rock many Christians back on their heels. Their understanding of Islam is framed and lighted by the jihadist, rather than the peaceful and contemplative overwhelming majority within Islam. Catholics and Protestants are not now, nor are they expected to be in the near future, ready to understand Islam in its own terms. Islam is the new "communism," an ideology with faith in doctrine at its center, something against which to push, to define oneself, in the absence of a handier process of group affiliation to achieve one's immediate needs for "control" and "identity."
But this must change. Building a mosque at ground zero or in Arlington National Cemetery is not the way to begin, but building in Murfreesboro or Seattle or Las Vegas or Boston or Springfield or especially Salem, might be a good idea right now.