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The Right to Be Insensitive September 8, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Church and State, Current Events, Islam, Muslims, Religion, Religious Right, Terrorism.
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In the short story The Accident, the great science fiction writer James White tells the story of the origin of Sector General, the interplanetary medical center created to provide medical care to aliens. The story tells of two war heroes of different species, Grawlya –Ki and MacEwan, who had been locked in mortal combat between their spaceships and both crash landed on an unknown world. Determined to learn all he could about his enemy, Grawlya-Ki boarded MacEwan’s ship. MacEwan was gravely injured, dying. Grawlya-Ki did not know when or if his distress beacon would bring rescuers.

After a 6-hour one-on-one battle, the two were probably going to die together. Because there was no longer anything left to fight about and because they had developed a respect for each other during the fight, they began to communicate and in so doing, found that the entire war between their two peoples had been based on a joint misunderstanding.

When the Orligian rescue ship arrived, the two were barely alive and beyond medical help so the Orligians put the control room of the spaceship and the two combatants into stasis and transported them to the central square of the planetary capital of Orligia where for 236 years it served as a very effective war memorial. When medical science finally progressed to the point where the beings’ wounds could be healed, they were released from stasis and eventually founded the Sector General hospital which brought peace to the galaxy through providing medical care for all.

It is to be hoped that something similar will happen with the Cordoba Center, which most Americans know as the Ground Zero mosque even though it is not actually a mosque nor is it at Ground Zero– but since when have facts ever stood in the way of a good sound bite?

There is a great deal of rhetoric slinging about the country about the Cordoba Center, which is actually a proposed Islamic Community Center that will not even be visible from Ground Zero. President Obama lost approval points and raised anew questions about his religious beliefs when he stated that he supported the right of the Moslems to build the mosque and dared to voice the opinion that freedom of religion applies to everyone, not just Christians.

If the Cordoba Center has served as a divisive political issue for the upcoming elections, it has also divided Moslems, many of whom have come out publicly against the proposed center, some on the grounds that it is insensitive and some who state that it is being built by radical Islamists who are thumbing their nose at the 9-11 tragedy.

It is the insensitivity of the proposed Cordoba Center that I keep coming back to. I can fully accept that the developers do not mean to be insensitive. I can completely accept that they mean it to be a center for people to learn more about Islam. However I also think they do not realize that Ground Zero has assumed a hallowed place in the mind of most Americans and that for most of us, 9-11 will forever be remembered as the day our world changed for the worst.  I remember the fear and sense of loss I felt after 9-11, not just for the lives that were lost but for the sense of security that we as Americans had lost. Never again would we be able to feel safe in our own country, on our own land. People who have grown up in places continually torn asunder by war and terrorism have never known what it is like to feel complete safe, but we did before 9-11.

Before 9-11, we were largely untouched by terrorism. We remember when we could board airplanes without having to take our shoes off and without having to discard all our liquids and without having our bags routinely searched. We remember when the New York landscape was dominated by the twin towers and the jarring after images of the cityscape with nothing where the twin towers used to be. We remember when we could check out library books without worrying that the FBI was checking our reading history, and we remember a time when we could buy airplane tickets without having to worry about a watch list.

Our world changed forever on 9-11 and Ground Zero is a continual reminder to us of not only the lives that were lost but the way of life that went with them. While I can wholeheartedly support the constitutional rights of the Moslems to build the Cordoba Center, inside I keep thinking that it is insensitive. I understand that they don’t mean to be insensitive, but it is.

But…

It was insensitive of the NRA to hold their annual meeting in Denver after Columbine, but they did so anyway, and it was their right to do so. We do not have a right not to be offended in this country, and there are no laws against being insensitive. And maybe, just maybe the Moslems supporting the community center are right to force the issue, to say, in effect– “Look, we know you blame every single member of the Moslem religion for what happened on 9-11 but that is not what we are about. We are about community, about learning, about families, and if you come to our center, you might learn something about us.”

It’s kind of the same strategy Rhett Butler made Scarlett O’Hara adopt when he had her wear the very daring gown to the party the day after she was caught kissing Ashley Wilkes. People are going to be talking about you anyway so you might as well give them something to talk about. And people are going to be fussing about Moslems anyway so you might as well give them something to fuss about.  So maybe fifty or one hundred years from now, school children will visit the Cordoba Center and learn about it in schools as a monument to peace and a tribute to how two vastly different groups of people were brought together to form a more perfect union.

The freedom of speech and religion that we have in this country did not come easily. We fought hard for our right to be a nation, for our right to govern ourselves and for our right to make our own decisions about religion. The peace that we usually enjoy in this country was also hard-won, and in many cases it is only a surface peace, hiding a roiling jumble of conflicts beneath. If some of us have to be offended today in order for there to be a chance of peace in the future, so be it. I support not only the right of Feisal AbdulRauf to build the Cordoba Center, but I support the Center itself. May it lead to greater understanding between our peoples.

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