Please pardon me as I take a long and winding road to sort out my feelings.
The Auschwitz Convent
In 1984 Cardinal Macharski, archbishop of Cracow, announced the establishment of a Carmelite convent in Auschwitz in a building on the camp periphery which had originally been a theater but was utilized during World War II to store the poison gas used in the Auschwitz-Birkenau crematoria. When a Catholic organization called Aid to the Church in Distress issued an appeal to mark the pope's visit to the Benelux countries in 1985 under the slogan "Your gift to the Pope -- a convent in Auschwitz," the Jewish community -- initially in Belgium -- reacted with outrage. They were joined in their protest by leading Catholic dignitaries in Western Europe. Jews stressed that although others had suffered there, Auschwitz had become a symbol of Jewish martyrdom and while not objecting to a convent devoted to commemoration of Catholic suffering in Auschwitz, it should not be situated within the boundaries of the camp. Although similar Christian institutions existed in other camp sites, Auschwitz, it was felt, was different. The presence of the convent would contribute to the minimization of the Jewish aspect, already scarcely mentioned in the official communist era descriptions on the site as prepared by the Polish government. One reaction in Polish circles was to emphasize the theme of the fate of Poles for whom Auschwitz was also "a synonym for martyrdom and extermination." The issue energized the Jewish world and became the major subject in Jewish-Catholic discussions, overshadowing all other aspects of the ongoing dialogue.
To make a long story short, the convent was moved, at Papal urging, some fifteen years after the crosses were raised.
I was against the nunnery. The Carmelite argument was (and remains) that many Christians were martyrs who were killed in the same Nazi concentration camps. This is entirely true, and all the victims of Nazis must be remembered.
The Third Reich was a particularly Christian disease, and the Final Solution was genocide of the Jews. The tragedy touched and continues to touch many people, but the institutionalized hatred was primarily directed against one specific group of people.
Many of the people murdered were members of my family. This is personal.
I was happy when the convent was moved. Those who wish to honor the victims of the Nazis can and should proceed with their memorials. But they should also be respectful of the other victims.
The "Ground Zero Mosque"
To make another long story short:
When a 'Ground Zero mosque' really is neither (Baltimore Sun, 8/14/10):
From the pitched rhetoric of its opponents, though, you'd think a minaret-topped mosque was going to be built right atop the site of the former World Trade Center.
Instead, Park51, as the proposed building would be called, is envisioned as a community center of about 15 stories which, although it would include a mosque for prayer, would also have a swimming pool, an auditorium and other amenities that make it more akin to a YMCA than a dedicated house of worship. And it wouldn't be built anywhere on Ground Zero itself but two blocks to the north.
I don't think the proposed building is a good idea. The argument made by proponents is that two blocks is a long way away by New York City standards, and there has been an Islamic presence (including a mosque) in the area for decades.
Al Queda is a particularly Islamic disease, and the US is The Great Satan. All non-believers are targets and the continuing tragedies continue to touch many people, but the institutionalized hatred is for America, and New York City has been a repeated target.
How far does Ground Zero extend? I can't say. Two blocks seems disrespectful, somehow, for a new development.
This is America, and we're the good guys, dammit.
Al Queda is not Nazi Germany. The madness of the Third Reich was the mainstream ideology of conservative Christians in Europe. The Germans/Austrians/Czechs/Poles/etc. who didn't wholeheartedly embrace genocide at least tolerated it. By comparison, Al Queda taps into the radical thought on the right of Islam, but suicide is specifically prohibited by the Quran. Al Queda are not terrorists because they are Muslim, but despite it.
I'm hardly the first person to make this analogy, nor the first to shoot it down.
So even though I don't think it's a good idea, I fully support their right to do so. Allow me to wave the flag, just a little, and point out that America was founded as a haven for religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights guarantees that even unpopular religions can worship in peace.
To be even more forceful: If we live in fear, and deny that which makes America great, then the terrorists have won. The people building Park51 did not fly airplanes into buildings. They have the rights of all Americans. I can disagree with what they do and support to the death their right to do it.
While I reacted negatively to the initial reports of the "Ground Zero Mosque", anytime the morons on the right are against something, chances are real Americans (who don't want to secede just because they lose an election) should most likely be in favor of it. In doing research for this essay, some of the stupider ones popped up. John Stewart did a great job whacking Glenn Beck. Some of the less vitriolic: No Mosques At Ground Zero (which conveniently ignores the mosque that's there now) and Why the Ground Zero Mosque Must Be Stopped, which aims at the Imam, Faisal Abdul Rauf.
When right-wingers are wrong on the issues, they go after the person. I have no doubt that the Imam and I disagree on many issues. But he clearly isn't quite the evil Dick Cheneyesque warmonger as portrayed by Beck and co. Indeed, 'Ground Zero' Imam: 'I Am a Jew, I Have Always Been One' Atlantic, 8/19/10:
The right-wing campaign against the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" includes vicious personal attacks on the Muslim cleric who leads the Cordoba Initiative, the organization behind the plan. I know Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, and I know him to be a moderate, forward-leaning Muslim -- yes, it is true he has said things with which I disagree, but I have never expected him to function as a member of the Zionist Organization of America.
In 2003, Imam Rauf was invited to speak at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan. The service was held at B'nai Jeshurun, a prominent synagogue in Manhattan, and in the audience was Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father. In his remarks, Rauf identified absolutely with Pearl, and identified himself absolutely with the ethical tradition of Judaism. "I am a Jew," he said.
America has over 300 million citizens. Perhaps 20% or more are lying assholes, and they control the media. Islam has over a billion adherents. Some of them are assholes. Anyone, regardless of religion, is allowed to do pretty much anything within the law. The same Constitution that protects Fox "News" and the teabaggers also protects Muslims with strong opinions. That's how America works.
The 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival
Since my column last week, I've posted four more videos. One of them is related, vaguely, to the discussion above. That Sara Aziz was a Fringe play about Muslim women in the 1990s discussing the hijab, a religious covering of most of a woman, leaving only the face and hands visible. As it happened, a few days later I was at the theater just after a performance of That Sara Aziz and found four women in great debate about the play. They kindly agreed to be video'd about their reactions to the play and the hijab in particular: