September 9, 2010
Posted: 12:06 PM ET
By Father Edward Beck
Last night I was sitting in the green room at CNN headquarters in New York waiting to go on Larry King Live to join the discussion with Imam Rauf about the proposed Islamic Cultural Center to be built two blocks from Ground Zero. The more the man spoke, the more apparent it became that I and the other guests would not be needed after all. The Imam had a lot to say. And I was content to sit and listen.
His frustration about the controversy surrounding the Cordoba House (Park 51) project is understandable. As he noted, when he first announced the project in December there was no outcry, not a blip on anyone's radar. Then, when some politicians decided to use the issue for their own selfish ends, all hell broke loose.
Let's be clear: The controversy surrounding Cordoba House is laden with discrimination, xenophobia and irrationalism. To say that the fundamentalist murderers who flew planes into the Word Trade Center represent Muslims is like saying Hitler's Christianity is representative of all Christianity. Or it's like saying when a radical fundamentalist Christian kills an abortion doctor out of misguided religious fervor, that he or she represents all Christians. Should Christians be denied the opportunity to build a church two blocks from an abortion clinic because of the actions of one of its errant followers?
What's at stake here is religious freedom and tolerance, a bedrock of our United States democracy. The motto on our national seal says: "E Pluribus Unum"- Out of Many, One. We need to uphold and live by that motto. We are a culturally and religiously diverse society that claims the rights of our citizens are protected. We cannot waver in that protection because radicals on both sides are intent on having a shouting match based more in emotion than facts.
The misrepresentation of Cordoba House as some radical mosque has been but one distortion of the facts. As duly noted by the Imam during his interview with Soledad O'Brien, the Cultural Center will be more like a YMCA than a traditional mosque. It will have a swimming pool, classrooms, and separate prayer spaces for Christians, Jews, and, yes, Muslims. And what's wrong with that? Nothing.
We are at the confluence of some significant religious and secular events: The Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Muslims end their observance of Ramadan and break the fast with celebration. And we will commemorate the 9th Anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. What better time to celebrate the unity of the 3 great Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity? Love of God and neighbor is the hallmark of all three. Cordoba House is a wonderful place to start putting that Golden Rule into effect. Let's be who we say we are and who we know deep down we are. And not the narrow-minded, hateful, xenophobic monsters that those who hate us want others to believe we are.
Father Edward L. Beck, C.P. is a Roman Catholic priest of the Passionist Community. He is the author of SOUL PROVIDER: Spiritual Steps to Limitless Love.
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