When plans were made to build a mosque two blocks away from ground zero, controversy erupted. It became an issue for New York. When the implications of 9/11 were factored in, it emerged as an issue for America. But it wasn't until recently that I felt it became a proprietary issue for Utah.
You may have noticed a billboard on I-15 near 10600 South. It displays wreckage from ground zero in New York with large print stating, "Remember 9/11." It also advocates against building a mosque near the location of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. The billboard's sponsor says that it is his way of protesting the proposal. He says that he's "looked a little bit into the people that are building it" and questions their professed motives of peace.
What happened on 9/11 was a tragedy. I am among the fortunate group of people who lost neither family nor friends in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I have worried and prayed as three of my family members have repeatedly been deployed to fight the resulting war, but those moments of distress pale in comparison to the pure agony of those who lost loved ones in the cowardly assault on innocent people in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The attacks on 9/11 were — and remain — a tragedy.
There are those among the survivors of 9/11 who oppose the construction of the Cordoba House. It is a religious place of worship for Muslims, and the hijackers who killed their loved ones were Muslim. These fellow-citizens have a right to their feelings of grief — and even their notions of anger. Nobody has a right to tell them to feel otherwise. However, I delicately suggest that the anger projected toward the proposed mosque is misplaced. The 9/11 hijackers represent an extreme segment of Muslims. They interpret "jihad" not as a holy struggle against the evils within us but as a war against a number of things — including America. But they do not represent the Islamic religion anymore than Ted Bundy represents Mormonism or Bernie Madoff represents Judaism. They are extremists who do not speak, act or kill in behalf of the Islamic faith.
Like most major political issues, the rhetoric regarding the proposed mosque is heated. The problem with billboards such as the one mentioned previously is that they contribute to misconceptions, which in turn lead to fear, and then to anger. If anger is justified, it can serve a noble purpose. But if anger is manufactured by misconception — even sincere mistaken beliefs — it produces a climate which can easily lead to violence. And that is not the American way.
Perhaps the sponsor of this billboard is right and there are dangerous motives at play. But as of yet, neither the CIA, the NSA or any other intelligence agency responsible for our welfare has sounded the alarm. The most likely scenario is that this mosque is being built to foster peace and understanding. Is it being done in the midst of public discontent? Yes. That fact cannot be disputed. But sometimes, visionary actions taken to implement the peace of the future are not understood in the zeal of the moment.
Many in the Jewish community were fearful when individuals associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proposed constructing a building on Mount Scopus in Israel. Today, that building stands as a symbol of peace and understanding in a land that is historically known for little of either. Let us as Utahns lend our support to this mosque which has the potential to become a global symbol of the incomparable virtue of American religious freedom.
Kurt Manwaring is pursuing a graduate degree in public administration at the University of Utah.
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