Sunday, August 15, 2010

"So What I Said Was..." -- Obama and The Mosque

I got this email from one of my sisters today.

"Obama slammed, praised for backing NYC mosque. Barack Obama was compared to America's first president and castigated as "insensitive and uncaring," after defending plans for a mosque near New York's ground zero."

"Brent, I was wondering how you feel about this? I am trying to understand his rationale, and hosting an iftar dinner when he would not host the National Day of Prayer recently."

For some reason, her question struck a chord in me -- mostly because it's a good question. How do I feel about that?

Here's what I said (leaving out all our names and endearments and other personal stuff and adding a clarifying remark or two) --

I have mixed emotions about this whole scenario -- especially the mosque. As a matter of religious rights in our country, I agree with his statement that Muslims, like any other religion, have the right to build houses of worship where ever they want to (so long as they obey all the building laws).

I also agree with that he was not saying that the Muslims building a mosque there was a "smart" decision -- “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding."

I think the Muslim group is being politically/socially insensitive to build a mosque there (given that feelings -- right or wrongly run high about that ground)... but that they do have the right to (so long as they obey all the zoning laws, get the permits, etc).

I'm not sure how I feel about the National Day of Prayer thing. The National Day of Prayer is not a holy day/month observed by a specific religion -- like Ramadan, or Passover, or Easter or whatever. President George W Bush was the only one to hold observances at the White House -- even President Reagan who got it going (President Truman signed it into law in 1952, but it was largely ignored until the 80s) didn't have anything at the White House.

It is an interfaith day of prayer supposedly, so I don't see what the harm would be in having a ceremony at the White House. Reportedly, Thomas Jefferson was the first to host an iftar dinner and it is a custom of modern White House dinners -- as they do host seder dinners, Christmas dinners, and other religious dinners. Personally, I don't think any "religious" dinners -- regardless of the religion -- should be held at the White House as a public event. Separation of church and state and all that. If the president wants an Easter dinner, for example, he should have one in the private quarters as private meal for his family and friends.

If he or she (whoever the president is in the future) wants to attend an iftar or seder, it seems to me it should be at a mosque or synagogue -- a religious place for a religious ceremony. The same would be true of National Day of Prayer event -- go to the National Cathedral or neutral ground like Nationals Park (the baseball field) or some such place.

Perhaps I'm just a cranky old Quaker (okay, so I am a cranky old Quaker), but state involvement in religion has long been bothersome to me. Almost 400 years ago, the state (both England and some colonial governments) had no problem locking up, exiling, and even hanging people for being Quakers. They said where we could meet and where Meetinghouses could (or could not) be located. I had hoped we had moved past that... but evidently Bob Dylan was wrong. The times, they are not a-changin.'

-- Brent


Marianna said...

I've been thinking about your post since I first read it a few days ago. This whole controversy, frankly, has me befuddled. I simply do not understand how the presence of a mosque four blocks from the site of the former WTC can be disrespectful to the victims and families of the terrible tragedy of 9/11. In even the passing belief that the presence of this mosque would be disrespectful is a subtle acceptance of media-fueled beliefs that all Muslims are terrorists. This Islamic Center has interfaith work as a fundamental part of its mission. What we need more of in today's climate is information and understanding. This community center will help provide just this.

Brent Bill said...

Perhaps I overstated. While I agree that a community center could provide such interfaith work, I am fearful that given the current climate that it would be hampered by vitriolic public opinion from doing such work. That's why I think it is unwise -- at least at this time. I personally have no problem with the location. And the argument could be made that now is precisely the time, I guess -- to stand up against religious bigotry. But I'm afraid the message they hope to promote is getting lost in the rhetoric ...

Doug Sloan said...

Keith Olbermann Special Comment: There Is No 'Ground Zero Mosque'

An incredibly intelligent, righteous, and truly patriotic comment against hate and irrationality.

Constitutionally protected rights are more important than mob rule. Protecting Freedom of Religion is not bowing down - it is standing up for what is right, it is how we live in this country. That is why, during WWII, the Supreme Court exempted Seventh-Day Adventists students from saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school. That is why schools are integrated and states can't prosecute interracial marriages. There has been a mosque near the World Trade Center site since before the World Trade Center was built. Please listen to the entire video before responding.

Marianna said...

I do understand this sentiment and it is one shared by many in the Muslim community.

All in all I find this controversy terribly sad, and as the mother of a child with the name Amin more than a little scary!