The bid by the nay-sayers to have the Islamic cultural learning center and mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan designated an historical landmark has been defeated. The Landmark Preservation Committee have deemed the building not sufficiently important, by a unanimous vote.
New York’s Mayor Bloomberg continues to be an outspoken supporter of the project. In a press conference surrounded by members of various multi-cultural and religious institutions, and in front of the Statue of Liberty, he said of the firefighters involved in that terrible conflagration, ….not one of them asked: ‘What God do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?’
The Islamic center, with the mosque slated to be called Cordoba House, in recognition of the intellectual, commercial, artistic and religious influence of Moorish Spain in the 700s – an influence that continues through the sciences and arts, will be now be called the rather more innocuous, and less contentious, Park51.
The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, an outspoken proponent for the Christian right, and others are disgruntled by the outcome and have vowed to continue their opposition. Jewish leaders have reacted angrily to the Anti-Defamation League’s stance against the center saying they opened the door to hatred.
And so the rumblings will continue with one side avowing to bridge the differences and encourage cultural awareness and tolerance, whilst the other preaches a closed door policy of ‘how dare they?’
Converts are historically the most zealous. Psychologists at York University have found in studies that religious extremism may be driven by anxiety, which tends they believe, to be present in those with bold but vulnerable personalities.
Perhaps both in the United States and Europe, we should be asking what is drawing the young men and women, born and brought up in our open societies, to the stringent extremes of a radical Islam? Is it because they have a foot in two worlds and do not feel a true part of either culture? CCKs (Cross-Cultural Kids), who at home and at night, are expected to live by the mores of their parent’s culture; and at work or school during the day are encouraged to assimilate completely with western customs. What a dichotomy for young minds. What can we do to make people more at ease with dual cultures, and to feel safe within both. Maybe we bear some of the responsibility for expecting, sometimes demanding, a choice.
No-one is denying there are radical clerics – of every persuasion. So before we blame Islam for attempting to subjugate people’s craving to belong, let’s remember the various other sects who have enticed members of our society to their way of thinking. Jonestown and Branch Davidian being two of the more extreme.
In a world becoming smaller in so many ways with the ease of travel, the internet and the thumbing of text messages across continents, life is becoming less black and white, if it ever has been. There has to be more give and take, more gray. More tolerance of the cultural differences that present themselves daily, and a more willing acceptance that we can learn from each other, that sharing ideas leads to exciting new ventures and inventions.
Of course we should not embrace every element of another culture, or endorse extreme beliefs or actions, but we should at least attempt to understand how they have come to be, and why they continue. It cannot be a one-sided deal and that can only be avoided with education, and a belief that each culture has good and bad aspects.
We naturally hear of those relatively few, but vociferous, people who have been radicalised. They make the headlines. What about the countless many who do assimilate into a society not their own, yet retain elements of their heritage, and lead happy successful lives contributing to the community around them?
Attempting to create a society more ready to learn, accept and revel in those differences rather than be afraid of them must surely be a positive move. Shouldn’t we look on Park51 as a step in the right direction? A concrete symbol that forgiveness should be universal.