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May 31st, 2010
03:19 AM ET

A Muslim voice at ground zero

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

The United States has from its inception seen itself as something new. But populism—the politics of nostalgia—has a long history here. And the nation’s capital is, among other things, a Necropolis—a site for the memorialization of the dead.

How a nation memorializes the dead matters, not least by revealing what it lives for. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial tells us that the dead are to be remembered by name. So does the Oklahoma City National Memorial, whose 168 chairs represent the individuals taken by terror on April 19, 1995.

The memorials we are now building out of the ashes of 9/11 tell us something about the United States, too, as does the Ground Zero site itself, which is why the recent scuffle over whether there is to be a mosque in the vicinity is a matter not just for the Tea Party spokespeople who oppose it or the New York City community board that voted 29-1 to support it. It is a matter for all Americans, and the questions it calls are two.

The first concerns the so-called war on terror. Is the United States at war with Islam? If so, there should be no mosque near Ground Zero, and perhaps no mosque anywhere in Manhattan or for that matter in the United States.

The second is whether we are at war with the First Amendment. The United States may well be the most Christian country on earth (at least three out of every four Americans call themselves Christians) but until the First Amendment is repealed it is also a country that guarantees religious liberty to Christians and non-Christians alike.

So I disagree with Rod Dreher’s claim that a mosque at Ground Zero is “insane.” And I agree with Joe Klein’s call to build that mosque in the name of American freedom.

But building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero is not enough. If the Ground Zero site, forever hallowed by those who disappeared into death there, is to reflect American values, the religion of Islam should also have a place at the Ground Zero memorial itself.

Like the Vietnam and Oklahoma City memorials, the 9/11 memorial will include a litany of the names of the dead. It should also include the names of Muslims worldwide who denounce the terrors of 9/11 as a crime against humanity and against Islam itself. These people are out there by the millions.  Let’s gather their signatures online and display them in a database at Ground Zero.

For every right-wing talk show host who says the mosque, if built, should be bombed, there are in my view millions of Muslims who know their tradition well enough to denounce terror in the name of Allah. Am I right? Let's find out.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Culture wars • Islam • Politics • Religious liberty • Violence

soundoff (883 Responses)
  1. PHILLYRICK

    and if it is so important to these leaders to destroy the "zionist pigs", why aren't they wrapping themselves in TNT or flying planes into buildings? Because they know that they have an entire "herd of cattle" which they can mold and manuever to do their bidding. This is just another way of shoving their opinions and ideals down our throats. Hell, as a country we do it all over the world. Thank god for gw bush.......without him their would be no democracy in Iraq....oh wait a minute.........

    June 7, 2010 at 2:39 am |
  2. PHILLYRICK

    when it is all said and done, organized religion is one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on mankind. Whether it be christianty, judism, islam, or any other, they all have one thing in common......they rule by fear. Back about 1000 yrs ago, religions, especially christianty, used their power to control people. Fear was their weapon. do this or go to hell or worse. look at the Inquistion......Its been a mind game for centuries. These very few extremist muslims are easily swayed with fiery rhetoric and bald face lies. When was the last time you heard about a "devout" catholic strapping in a few pounds of C4 and boarding a bus full of muslims? These so-called islamic religious leaders are nothing more than Hitler or Stalin in robes. Why should we allow such views into this country when we know somewhere down the road, another zealot will try to eliminate the "infidels"? Take the guy in new york three weeks ago. He is an american citizen, but with really whacked views and ideas. If this is "religion" i can do without any of it.

    June 7, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  3. PHILLYRICK

    I agree that this is a country for religious freedom. This has always been one of our primary goals and pursuits. But there is no reason to have a mosque built within eyesight of ground zero. It is an absolute insult to all who perished. I know that it is a very small fraction of muslims who take the extremist view, but mosques all over the country and the world for that matter, have been used as recruiting sites for those who wish to do us harm. I have a relative in homeland Security and he has told me, without getting into detail, numerous times where sleeper cells have been uncovered and arrested. MOst of these never make the news. If they did, the american people may take a different view. As for the city committee approving the building, all i have to say is one word....."income". They should be ashamed of themselves for their decision.

    June 7, 2010 at 1:39 am |
  4. Vijai

    This muslim nonsense must stop. Islam is a sick religion and it needs to be cleansed by eliminating all their sick mullahs, nonsensical fatwas, and the jihadist nonsesne. Only then can one look at Islam as a meaningful religion.When one sees a muslim praying 5 times a day it is a joke! No wonder cartoonists like to mock Mohamamd and the other muslim clowns. Ground Zero should forbid anything Islamic till a cleansing of the religion takes place.

    June 7, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  5. Joe American

    The Greatest Gift for All

    Christmas is a time of traditions. If you have found time in the rush before Christmas to decorate a tree, you are sharing in a relatively new tradition. Although the Christmas tree has ancient roots, at the beginning of the 20th century only 1 in 5 American families put up a tree. It was 1920 before the Christmas tree became the hallmark of the season. Calvin Coolidge was the first President to light a national Christmas tree on the White House lawn.

    Gifts are another shared custom. This tradition comes from the wise men or three kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus. When I was a kid, gifts were more modest than they are now, but even then people were complaining about the commercialization of Christmas. We have grown accustomed to the commercialization. Christmas sales are the backbone of many businesses. Gift giving causes us to remember others and to take time from our harried lives to give them thought.

    The decorations and gifts of Christmas are one of our connections to a Christian culture that has held Western civilization together for 2,000 years.

    In our culture the individual counts. This permits an individual person to put his or her foot down, to take a stand on principle, to become a reformer and to take on injustice.

    This empowerment of the individual is unique to Western civilization. It has made the individual a citizen equal in rights to all other citizens, protected from tyrannical government by the rule of law and free speech. These achievements are the products of centuries of struggle, but they all flow from the teaching that God so values the individual’s soul that He sent His son to die so we might live. By so elevating the individual, Christianity gave him a voice.

    Formerly only those with power had a voice. But in Western civilization people with integrity have a voice. So do people with a sense of justice, of honor, of duty, of fair play. Reformers can reform, investors can invest, and entrepreneurs can create commercial enterprises, new products and new occupations.

    The result was a land of opportunity. The United States attracted immigrants who shared our values and reflected them in their own lives. Our culture was absorbed by a diverse people who became one.

    In recent decades we have begun losing sight of the historic achievement that empowered the individual. The religious, legal and political roots of this great achievement are no longer reverently taught in high schools, colleges and universities. The voices that reach us through the millennia and connect us to our culture are being silenced by "political correctness." Prayer has been driven from schools and Christian religious symbols from public life. Diversity is becoming the consuming value and is dismantling the culture.

    There is plenty of room for cultural diversity in the world, but not within a single country. A Tower of Babel has no culture. A person cannot be a Christian one day, a pagan the next and a Muslim the day after. A hodgepodge of cultural and religious values provides no basis for law – except the raw power of the pre-Christian past.

    All Americans have a huge stake in Christianity. Whether or not we are individually believers in Christ, we are beneficiaries of the moral doctrine that has curbed power and protected the weak. Power is the horse ridden by evil. In the 20th century the horse was ridden hard. One hundred million people were exterminated by National Socialists in Germany and by Soviet and Chinese communists simply because they were members of a race or class that had been demonized by intellectuals and political authority.

    Power that is secularized and cut free of civilizing traditions is not limited by moral and religious scruples. V.I. Lenin made this clear when he defined the meaning of his dictatorship as "unlimited power, resting directly on force, not limited by anything."

    Christianity’s emphasis on the worth of the individual makes such power as Lenin claimed unthinkable. Be we religious or be we not, our celebration of Christ’s birthday celebrates a religion that made us masters of our souls and of our political life on Earth. Such a religion as this is worth holding on to even by atheists.

    June 7, 2010 at 12:21 am |
    • stephen douglas

      Sooooooo, do you support a mosque at ground zero, or not? The discussion has nothng to do with Christmas.

      June 7, 2010 at 12:54 am |
  6. commenter

    kudos on the article. we need more people like you in the world. a true american!!!!

    June 6, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
  7. jack

    The 'slims should realize that building a mosque at ground zero is not and will never be seen as the "gesture of goodwill" that they intend it to be. There are plenty of other places to build their mosque; doing so at ground zero is only asking for trouble. Also, I live in a 'slim country, but am not a 'slim. Islam may have been relevant 1400 years ago, but is approaching irrelevancy today, which explains why it is constantly mocked by us "infidels". What sort of followers need to be told what to eat, what to wear, how often and how to pray, how to wash their hands, how to beat their wives ( w/o bruising, of course )? The answer? Those who can't think for themselves.

    June 6, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
    • Jim

      As long as NYC community board OKs ground zero mosque plans, there is no reason for us to think its asking for trouble. New york is a cosmopolitan place. People really do not care. Besides, its really not a mosque. It is a multicultural center with a prayer hall. These places are very common NYC. Big apple has a big heart.

      June 6, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
  8. Observer One

    muslims do not have the right to build their so called mosque anywhere in the usa. they need to be eradicated from the earth once and for all. It's a total dishonor to the men, women and children who died at ground zero to build such a thing there. i was once told back in 1980 never trust a muslim and it's still true today. These animals call it a religion when in reality it is nothing more than an out right hate cult which changes it's rules constantly and interprets it's little cr appy book they way they want to at any given moment. So the USA should just nuke islam once and for all and end the nonsense.

    June 6, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
    • Total non sense

      FInally, someone who make sense. Islam is simply with been a human PERIOD.

      June 6, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
    • Jim

      i smell racism here... racism and extremism...terrible

      June 6, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  9. sanethinker

    At best the Arab's in 7th century were maintaining repository of information got from Romans, Greeks, Indians, Chinese etc. They depended on productivity of countries like India and China courtesy "silk route". They made huge margin on trade between India/china on one side and Europeans on other. That current economy is not working in their favor except only one commodity "oil" and hence the frustration I guess. What I learn is this repository was key to help European renaissance after the prolonged dark age and the industrial revolution that followed. The productivity of India/China before 17th century were around 65%.
    Now both seems to be racing their way to where they were before colonization.

    June 6, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
    • Jim

      First of all, its not just 'oil', America runs on oil. Without oil where would we go? Literally where can a person go without a car? and India and China are doing far better than us. We have uemployment in USA but big companies and banks are outsourcing to these countries.

      June 6, 2010 at 10:58 pm |
  10. Ben Cooper

    Learnyourfacts: Let me see if I understand you - we're talking about the highest form of scientific or medical advancement that often results in a Nobel Prize and you trot out a list of nobodies? I mean, where on your list is Obama bin Einstein, Mustafa Thomas Edison, Bahir Jonas Salk, Rashad William Shockley and Shihab Linus Pauling? Heard of those people, have you? If we as a human race had to depend on Arabs for advances in medical science to control and/or eradicate diseases, we'd all be dead by now. And you know what? If the Nobel Prize winner in medicine told al Qaeda he didn't believe in Mohammed, they'd shoot him no matter his value to humanity because Islam is such a loving religion...a religion filled with goons and thugs who set off bombs to blow innocents to pieces. So let's build a mosque to terrorism! Right there in NYC under the ghostly shadows of the twin towers.

    June 6, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
    • learnyourfacts

      dear ben you asked for a list of MUSLIMS who achieved a noble prize and that was a list im not saying that people of other religions didn't contribute to the world im just proving you wrong. Another thing wrong with what you are saying is that a lot of muslims live in new york do you see each and everyone of us carrying bombs and blowing up ourselves and innocent people because i sure don't. To call all people in a certain religion terrorist is wrong and racist. You look like you have a brain so you shouldn't let the media brainwash you and make you think that terrorism is Islam because it isnt all you need is a little education and maybe then next time you speak you wont sound so mindless.

      June 7, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  11. efffie

    Building a mosque is that location is an insult to America and everyone who died there. What are people thinking????? Not much, evidently. Very bad decision.

    June 6, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
  12. steve

    This is how the islamists come to power then your goverment then they own you people you better wake up to this i am telling you.

    June 6, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
  13. Gary

    Oh I get Religion equates hate killing bombs.......No wonder I am agnostic!

    June 6, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  14. Bill

    The solution to peace in the world is the end of all message boards everywhere

    June 6, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
    • Jim

      agree 100 %

      June 6, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
    • PHILLYRICK

      so bill, your answer to the world's problems is to stifle opinions? They have a word for that..........totalitarianism.

      June 7, 2010 at 1:48 am |
  15. cardog

    After reading the majority of these comments it's safe to say that there is little that can be said to change the minds of those who have responded to this subject. So the only thing that I will add is this: The koran, like the new testament bible preaches love ,forgivness, and understanding, but like always, man has taken something meant to be good and moulded it to what fits his agenda.
    9/11, true was committed by a few fanatics who claimed to be doing it in the name of Allah.The Christain divide in Northern Ireland is killing done in the name of Jesus, Arabs throughout the middle-east continue to kill each other i.e sunni versus the other group. And let's not forget the Isrealis versus the Arabs killing each other.
    Not one blog has explained the above in any form or fashion. No one seems to care about the death and destruction. No one has even one answer to the children of these conflicts as to why the need to kill each other, so they in turn grow up to do the same thing and pass the hatred on to their children.
    It's to bad that I and I'm sure others cannot dis-connect ourselves from you rightous a–h–es.

    June 6, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      This is a very nice comment cardog and I tend to agree with u.

      June 6, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • Ben Cooper

      Uh...Cardog? The Koran preaches love, forgiveness and understanding? Gee...you don't suppose Mohammed read the bible and the New Testament writings, rearranged the words as though he wrote them, then promptly proclaimed himself God's prophet - as though what he "preached" was in any way original, do you? Exactly what did he say that is in any way new or enlightened as compared to Jesus' words? I suspect that he simply decided he didn't want any Jews at the top of the heap, so he invented a story about an angel appointing him as God's prophet...all of this SIX HUNDRED YEARS AFTER Jesus said that there would be many FALSE PROPHETS to come after Him. Dead on with that comment. Good-bye, Mohammed. Fake. But you know what else the Koran preaches? Murder. So how does that square with your idealistic understanding that, if one doesn't go along with Mohammed's phony claim about himself, he should be killed? Where, uh, is the love, forgiveness and understanding there? Where is the love, forgriveness and understanding when Sunnis kill Shiites and vice versa? The Middle East has a history of sheer intolerance and slaughter. So please just shut up. Its a vicious violent religion that appeals to one's worst instincts.

      June 6, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • Jim

      Ben has some serious issues waiting to be resolved. These postings are not going to help anybody.

      June 6, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
  16. GodIsForImbeciles

    Erecting a mosque near Ground Zero is like erecting a Monument to Nazi Supremacy next to Auschwitz. This entire discussion is vapid and insulting.

    June 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  17. sparkle

    if there is a church than there is a mosque and if there is no mosque than thre is no church and than that will be equal to all of us so i agree to build a mosque

    June 6, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  18. Gary

    We have a Western hating President who despises capitalism. We voted him office. We might as well erect a 300 story mosque to celebrate the twin towers demolision. We should celebrate every day when a human or group are blown to pieces somewhere in the name of Isam and peace.

    June 6, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  19. Don from New Hampshire

    I disagree with the writer about a mosque at ground zero. Islam may be a religion of peace but that is not how it appears to be practiced. I do not believe that the people who want to build there are doing it for any educational or understanding reason. I feel that they want to show what they (the 911 terrists) did and that they have the power to shove it in our faces.
    I work with men who are muslem, both nice guys, who cannot be near each other because of differing sects. They do get physical on sight and there seems to be no reasoning due to their religious teachings about any who are not of their sect.

    June 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • Ben Cooper

      Mohammed was about as much of a prophet as Howdy Doody. A complete fraud who plagerized the bible to make it appear he was actually saying something new. And I'm sure he had help doing it over a few beers or camel milk or whatever they drank in those days. Oh, there was something new! He decided to install himself as God's prophet(!) when, in fact, he was just a con artist hungry for power. So, in Mohammed's mind, he decided he would catapult himself over Moses and Jesus - telling everyone he was the Big Kahuna...and because of his ability for self-promotion, he'd get free eats and drinks, pay no rent...you know, strut around as though God really saw something in him that not even Christ had. I mean, give me a break. Putting a mosque next to the site of the Twin Towers is worse than an outrage. And we can thank the spineless gutless people of New York City for letting this happen.

      June 6, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
    • Jim

      i don't know about new hampshire, but in my state there are many good Muslims who practice their religion and have a very strong sense of community. I have been reading Kuran for a while. Sometimes I have questions and I ask them. they give me pretty good answers.

      June 6, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
    • Jim

      when i came here I was against this idea of Mosque, but after reading some of these comments, I am changing my mind. We should not listen to people like Ben and sanethinker. They are extrmists who are not thinking about the victims. I think they should listen to victims' families what they have to say about it.

      June 6, 2010 at 11:35 pm |
  20. billybob

    There should be no mosques or churches anywhere. Religion, in all its forms, is an insidious invitation to divisiveness and fanatical behavior based on nothing more than mythology (and not very entertaining mythology at that.). It's not a matter of intelligence, but one of cultural indoctrination. There are many somewhat intelligent believers out there, but far fewer than you might think. Most truly thoughtful and introspective people will call religion what it is – a group fantasy that you happen to be born into. Mosques and churches are monuments to slavish adherence to ignorance and have no place in a truly enlightened society. Especially at the site of a tragedy that is the direct result of such ignorance and stupidity.

    June 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.