Ethical Controversy: Islam Center in Manhattan

One of the central themes of the BSA's Venturing program is to empower youth and young adults in reasoned, ethical thinking. One tool for this is the Ethical Controversy. An ethical controversy considers an issue where there are two fundamentally different ways of viewing a situation. Each individual attempts to explore as fully as possible one side of the issue, much like one would in preparing for a debate. However, unlike a debate, the goal is not to argue against the opposing side and "win" the argument. Rather, it is to ensure that both sides are as fully explored as possible.

This fall, our Venturing crew has chosen to explore the Ethical Controversy of the Park51, the Islamic community center proposed to be constructed a few blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center and Ground Zero of September 11. This controversy, at the very least, pits the ideas of religious tolerance and freedom of religion with the realities of painful feelings of victims of a horrible tragedy brought about by zealots identified as extremist Muslims. However, other issues unavoidably creep in.

As some of my crew members wish to explore some of these issues in more depth than we will be able to consider during our meeting, this site will include some references to various perspectives of the controversy. I hope they are useful.

  • What exactly is Park51 or Cordoba House? It is intended to be a community center for all New Yorkers, modeled after the YMCA and the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, including a pool, an auditorium, and a mosque.
    - official website for the project (it redirected for me)
    - wikipedia entry for the project

  • Why are people upset about this project?
    - Since the terrorists of 9/11 claimed to be acting under religious (Muslim) motivation, allowing a mosque is an insult to survivors or loved ones of victims of the attack
    - Claim that a mosque is or will be interpreted as a "trophy" by radical Muslims
    - General fears that growth of Islam in America (i) will promote local extremism, especially of the kind promoted as Wahhabiism, and (ii) will establish sharia law (Islamic code of law) that is independent of constitutional law
    - It is believed that funding for the project, which is private and therefore not subject to public review, will come from foreign interests, possibly through groups and organizations tied to extreme views, foreign states, etc. Fears of these foreign interests in building the mosque on American territory is closely related to the fears of a "trophy mosque."
    - A Christian church, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church, was the only church destroyed by the collapse of the WTC. It has not yet been rebuilt, and blame has been placed on the Port Authority of NY and NJ for holding up reconstruction.

  • What are the arguments in favor of the project?
    - The center can serve as a witness of America's religious freedom and diversity.
    - In particular, the proposed inclusion of a 9/11 memorial will serve as evidence that American Muslims are moderate and share the pain of the attacks and join in sorrowing and memorializing the victims.
    - The construction is a private enterprise that has met all government regulations and approvals. By the principles of religious freedom enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the project has every right to go forward.
    - Related to the above, by supporting the construction's right to proceed, America would be demonstrating an ability for tolerance and the ability to distinguish the evil motivations of a few from the general views of other practicing Muslims. It was not the Muslim community in general that attacked, but a small extreme segment. As a nation, we do not hold ill will to the entire community.
    - The majority of the center is not specific to Muslims, but is a community center for all in the area. The mosque portion itself is not so large, and would belong to a group that had already been worshiping in the area.

  • More about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
    - NY Times spotlight article (some historical background) that states he is moderate and a peace-maker
    - Conservative websites (e.g., here) quote the imam as holding more extreme views, particularly when addressing Muslim audiences in other nations



  • Questions to think about:
    - Some say, "They have the right to build the mosque. But they shouldn't." Others say, "Sure they have the right to worship. But they should just choose another location." What are possible underlying beliefs behind these views? How would your opinion change if the same sentences were used against your church's plans to build a building or temple?
    - When considering a situation like this, what information is really relevant? How do we know if information is biased or unbiased?
    - A NY Times poll shows that 50% of New Yorkers oppose the building of the Park51 center. And 38% of those who directly expressed support for the right to build the center would prefer it be built somewhere else. How relevant is public opinion? How does the Bill of Rights protect religious minorities from public opinion? In a democracy, is that fair?


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