Unraveling the forces behind the NYC Mosque
A national outcry has erupted due to the Manhattan Mosque project, a cultural and community center slated for construction two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. Those in opposition to the project have been the most vocal, claiming that it is disrespectful and insensitive to build an Islamic mosque so close to a site where Islamic extremists caused the death of almost 3,000 people. Yet advocates of the project suggest that an essential part of the Constitution is the freedom to practice any religion, that protesters' arguments have no legal merit, and that this mosque has the potential to demonstrate America's capacity for religious tolerance.
Regardless of how the issue is viewed, there are numerous leadership themes threading their way through this complex story.
1. Religious leaders
Perhaps the most compelling example of leadership in this convoluted story came from leaders of various religions, including Jews, Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Mormons, Sufis, and Muslims. These leaders put their religious differences aside to issue a joint statement supporting the construction of the mosque. Their reasoning was simple: at one time or another, every faith has been "denied its right." Rather than continue the cycle, they argue, Americans of all faiths have the opportunity to be an example of religious tolerance for the rest of the world.
2. An ex-governor and future presidential hopeful
Although Sarah Palin no longer holds office, she is the de facto leader of the Republican party and has significant sway over public opinion, with over 225,000 twitter followers and a spot on FOX news. She couldn't resist jumping into the mosque fray, asking "peaceful Muslims" and New Yorkers to "refute" the proposed plan. More recently, Palin took on the AP, insisting that the project be referred to as the "Ground Zero Mosque", keeping her point of view in the headlines. Unfortunately, Palin's previous (and inaccurate) statements about the Constitution and Declaration of Independence being based on Judeo-Christian beliefs may undercut her argument that the mosque location is simply insensitive.
3. A blogger
In an effort to trace the origins of the controversy, Salon.com found that a blogger by the name of Pamela Geller incited the masses when she criticized the Muslim community for a lack of sensitivity in her Atlas Shrugs blog. She uses some fairly incendiary language and claims the project "is Islamic domination and expansionism." Presumably because the mosque will be tall and rectangular (as most NYC building are), Geller also suggests the mosque design "is a mockery of the World Trade Center building design." Geller leads the group Stop Islamization of America, which launched a very successful public relations campaign against the mosque and succeeded in getting the story published in larger media outlets. She continues to play a leadership role in this controversy, working to further frame the issue through her worldview.
4. 9/11 families
The entire controversy stems from the idea that building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero would be insensitive to victims' families. Very few family members have spoken out, and those who have are equally divided on whether the mosque should be built in its planned location. Only time will tell whether a leader will emerge from these families and help develop a unified voice, either for or against the project.
5. The imam
Feisal Abdul Rauf is the imam who spearheaded the mosque project. Rauf has been widely criticized in public forums, yet a recent article examining his life find that the charges levied against him are unfounded. In fact, Rauf is often asked by the US State Department to deliver the message that Muslims can integrate into American society. His message has largely been one of reconciliation, and in a recent interview Rauf spoke specifically about the alignment between the principles the Declaration of Independence and the core tenants of Islam. But the question remains: can Rauf help foster any common ground between supporters and opposition to his Mosque project?
It will be interesting to see how this controversy plays out, who steps to the forefront, and whether any leader can bridge the divide created by such an inflamed topic. Let us know what you think.
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