America: no longer the Mecca of tolerance
The controversy over whether a community has the right to reject the building of religious centers, particularly mosques, is not a new issue. Despite recent attention the topic has garnered from the debate over the erection of the Cordoba House Mosque, located dangerously close to Ground 0, the friction and conflict of interest can be seen nationwide.
According to a recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 52 percent of New Yorkers oppose the building of the mosque, with reasonable justification. The residents who voted against the building feel as if the building will serve as a greater symbol and a painful reminder of the thousands of lives lost nearly nine years ago as a result of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Clear across the country, in Temecula, California, this exact issue is being debated. However, in this case, those against building the mosque cannot cite terrorist attacks or "unhealed wounds" to justify their claims. Instead, the residents of Southwest County, where Temecula is located, say that congestion and traffic is among the reasons for their vehement opposition. According to Aaron Claverie, of The Californian, the justification comes from the possibility of "traffic problems that could arise at the corner of Calle Medusa and Nicolas Road."
To many, these excuses do not seem a sufficient enough cause to deny the construction of what could become a center of faith and religion for Muslim-Americans in southern California.
Munira Syeda, communications manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles, feels as if this dispute has been directed exclusively and largely at the Muslim community. "At this particular time in America, there is an organized effort by some people to stop building mosques. This has happened to other minorities in the past- such as the Jews and the Quakers, but that was several centuries ago," said Syeda. Though she is right in her belief that "any American should be allowed to build a house of worship as long as its legal and they're following the rules and regulation," Syeda fails to recognize the fact that this aversion is a continuing trend for other religions as well.
For Rabbi Morley Feinstein, of the University Synagogue in Brentwood, Calif., the issue hits very close to home. "My ancestors were denied the rights of the majority when they came to this country," he said, reflecting on a past of racism and unjust discrimination in a country where pride is routed in fairness and equality. "In fact, when UniSyn applied for a permit to build in 1954, it was denied by the city of Brentwood."
In Mecca, which is considered the holiest site for followers of Islam, there is not a single church for Christians to worship. The difference is, however, the United States prides itself on a culture of tolerance, freedom and equal rights. Immigrants continually flock to the US in search of religious and social freedom. The denial of the right to build a mosque, though technically protected under the first amendment, reflects a personal enmity of the American public, towards Islam. No matter who exemplifies this feeling, including former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich, this grudge that some hold against Muslims, even Muslim-Americans, is pure racism.
Despite animosity from the thousands of protestors who continue to shoot down the prospect of building a mosque near Ground Zero, Temecula, Cornona, Rowland Heights, and numerous other cities across the nation, Usman Madha, the Director of Administration and PR at King Farhad Mosque in Culver City, says he can empathize with the opposition. "I understand the feeling that some people cannot let go of what they lost. I understand the wounds are still fresh, let time heal."
But, is time really the problem?