Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Washington Post, John Mark Renolds HOMERUN: Mosque & Halki
Director of the Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University
John Mark Reynolds
Is PR disaster worth it?
President Obama, after saying that building a mosque at Ground Zero fit our "commitment to religious freedom," backtracked, saying he wasn't commenting on the 'wisdom' of building it so close to 'hallowed ground.'
A Fox News poll showed that while 61 percent of Americans believe that Cordoba House has a constitutional right to build near Ground Zero, 64 percent believe it is not appropriate to do so.
Does Obama's hedging show a lack of ethical convictions? Does Hamas' endorsement change the debate? What is behind public opposition to the site? Can you believe in religious freedom but not believe the mosque is appropriate?
If Muslims choose to build near Ground Zero, they should be allowed to do so.
The reaction of the majority of the American public demonstrates that doing so is not wise in the short-term, but it is up to the funders of the Islamic center to decide if the immediate public relations disaster is worth it.
Meanwhile, nobody is helped by the President's bumbling response to the situation. What is his position? Is anybody sure? We recently learned that the President is not reading while in office.
His response proves it.
President Obama's responses were thoughtless and political. He is trying to vote "present" on an issue where the American public will not tolerate hesitancy. In the end Americans will admire courage, even for causes they don't like. Nobody likes a self-serving poll-gazer who tries to split the difference of moral issues.
What should we do?
Nobody should challenge the right of Muslims to build where they can. This is America and we respect both freedom of religion and reasonable uses of private property.
It is good to see Islamic scholars supporting both ideas. Through bitter experience and failure, Western religious people have learned that the free market of ideas is the best way to protect religion. Forced conversions or enforced conformity to a state religion is harmful to the individual, the state, and the religion.
For Islam to become more integrated into the West, it must continue to embrace both freedom of worship and the ownership of private property. Americans trust that the same Muslims pressing for an Islamic study center near Ground Zero will also publically support the rebuilding of the Orthodox Church destroyed on 9/11.
President Obama should press for this Orthodox Christian congregation to be allowed to rebuild their church. The tens of thousands of Arab Christian citizens in the United States, forgotten by the media, know that Christian liturgy has been said in Arabic longer than the Koran has existed. Arab Christians citizens have adopted noble American values, fought in her wars, and supported her government for almost two hundred years. Like all Arabs, they face the stereotypes against that proud people group, but they do so with the added burden of receiving no help from Islamic states abroad.
Now they see a sister Orthodox Church allowed to remain in ruins while the President of the United States defends, more or less, the right to see a new Islamic study center built. As one Arab friend sadly said to me on 9/11, "Why are you shocked? We have been killed for years by the same type."
Orthodox Christians have been slaughtered by Islamic states for centuries. They have been safe in America for hundreds of years, but a failure to rebuild a church destroyed by Islamic fanatics, as so many of their churches have been over the centuries, will send a bad message to this group of American citizens. They long to believe that, unlike in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, or Indonesia, a growth in Islam will necessarily lead to their marginalization and death.
They have a right to be worried and President Obama has only stoked their fears.
We are told that it was a twisted view of Islam that led to the attack on 9/11 and Americans want to believe it. As the Islamic center is built, it would be a generous act of good will, if funding were also found in the Muslim community to rebuild a place of worship destroyed by Islamic miscreants.
Christians have a duty to protect the rights of unpopular groups. We love our religious neighbors and our enemies. If Islam is indeed a religion of peace, Christian trust we will see the same treatment in the parts of the world where Muslims are a majority and Christians are not.
As a result, I look forward to seeing American Islamic scholars and public relations people pushing for the government of Turkey to allow Christians in the most sacred church in the East: Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It will be even easier for them to argue for reopening the Orthodox seminary in Turkey so the Ecumenical Patriarch, spiritual father to millions of Orthodox Christians in the world, can train his clergy.
The same principles should also allow for church planting activity all over the Arabian Peninsula. Despite official statistics, we all know there are Christians residing in Arabia. Can they build churches? Do they have property rights?
Our example in New York City should spur our State Department to ask these questions of the house of Saud, which receives billions in aide from the United States. You can build a mosque in the United States, Kenya, Italy, the United Kingdom, Russia, or Greece. Can you build a church in Arabia?
Following the New York City model, Egyptian Christians, part of Egypt long before Islam, will not face persecution and be allowed to witness to their faith. They will be allowed to build new churches and to easily rehabilitate old ones.
Even more important than buildings is the right to choose one's own religion or lack thereof. Converts to Islam, or atheism for that matter, do not face death in Moscow Russia or Moscow Idaho. I am sure Islamic Americans will labor so that Christian or atheist converts are equally safe in Mecca or Medina.
The hard truth is that Jewish groups in New York City are already being terrorized. They must install metal detectors in their places of worship to avoid real threats. The Ecumenical Patriarch lives in fear of his life and Christians are slaughtered in parts of the Islamic world. Christians, let alone atheists or other faiths, are second-class citizens, officially or unofficially, in the entire Islamic world.
Americans know they have elected a man named Barack Hussein Obama president, but they are sure that the voters in no Muslim land would elect a man named Ignatius John Smith, even if he were allowed to run.
Americans instinctively oppose the 9/11"mosque," because we don't see fair play from the Muslim world. We must overcome this justifiable irritation, allow it to be built, and then trumpet our demands for equal treatment using it as an example.
Western Muslims who embrace Western values of freedom of religion and freedom of property do not face their main foes in New York City Hall or in Washington. They face their main foes in Tehran and Mecca. If they are serious in their commitment to these freedoms, then they will soon open Islamic study centers pressing for these values in Tehran and Mecca.
That is where the real threat to private property and freedom of worship is found globally.
A Muslim in New York should not be safer than a Christian in Arabia if Islam is what it claims to be. Some people I know think Western Muslims are just saying what they must in the West to allow for their own growth. They are not committed to the values of Washington, Lincoln, or Reagan.
If the mosque is built, we shall see what is true by the effort made by Islamic scholars in the West to change things in the parts of the world dominated by Islam.