Today’s Guest Post is by Paula Coppel of Unity
I was thinking of that design as I pondered the recent furor over whether a Muslim mosque should be permitted two city blocks from Ground Zero.
I know there is more to the debate than religious freedom. Like everyone else, I vividly remember the horror of Sept. 11 – the shock, the helplessness, the immeasurable grief and pain. But it is faulty and absurd logic to conclude that “since the terrorists responsible for 9-11 were Muslim, then all Muslims must be terrorists. “ As one commentator adroitly countered: Does that mean that, since the person responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing was Christian, all Christians are criminals?
For there was another aspect of 9-11 that I remember vividly. After the initial shock, there was a brief time when we Americans were asking ourselves, “Why did this happen? Why do people hate us?” We were curious and interested in seeing the world through the eyes of others. That openness was quickly consumed by a retaliation strategy, but I have often wondered what would have happened if we had stayed in the question longer.
The terrorists should of course be held accountable for their crimes – but when we use them as an excuse to practice religious discrimination, we are going in the exact wrong direction. In fact, we are playing their game, villainizing an entire population because we don’t like something a few of them have done.
Imagine, instead, what a powerful statement it would make if the Ground Zero memorial was an open plaza encircled by places of worship reflecting the world’s major religions, including not only a mosque, but also a temple, cathedral, church, etc. What a profound demonstration it would be of the mutual respect needed to reverse the destructive divisiveness in the world. It would indeed say, “Enough of this nonsense. We need to all get along, even if we don’t agree.” To paraphrase Gandhi, there really is “room for us all.”
I have recently been encouraged by two encounters that suggest movement in the direction of compassion and understanding. First, the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council (representing 15 faith traditions) quickly developed and approved a public statement upholding the Muslims’ rights to worship where they wish. It said, in part:
Our community is threatened when any faith is misrepresented. The hysteria involved in the controversy over a new Islamic community center, which includes a mosque, in a commercial zone near Ground Zero in New York City requires us to reaffirm the American tradition of religious liberty.
As our Muslim neighbors celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, we recall with appreciation their daily contributions to medicine, business, education, public service, and other dimensions of our community life. They need to know that we claim them as fellow Americans and cherish their part in the religious liberty that makes our community and our nation strong.
The terrorists did not commit a religious act on 9/11; it was murder. Overwhelmingly Muslims locally and worldwide immediately spoke out against the defilement of their faith on that day. Our citizens still feel the pain of 9/11. Even as we grieve with the victims’ families, we continue to support the principles of freedom and religious liberty upon which our nation is built. The GKCIC honors and embraces our community’s religious differences and strives to ensure that all faiths are welcome to build and grow their places of worship.
The second point of encouragement was a compelling video link my daughter sent me in which best-selling author and political advisor Jeremy Rifkin indicates it is not only possible but probable that we as a human race are becoming hard-wired toward empathy on a global scale. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g
The outpouring of support for Haitians and others who have suffered catastrophic loss suggests we are not only capable of seeing things from someone else’s viewpoint, but that we increasingly practice empathy because it feels right and good. As we take actions that bring us inner peace, we inevitably contribute to a world at peace – one where peaceful coexistence is not just an earnest wish on a T-shirt, but a way of life.
Paula Coppel has been involved in Unity since 1980. She is the former vice president of Communications and Publishing at Unity World Headquarters at Unity Village, and currently attending Unity Institute as a full-time ministerial student. Paula is the editor of Sacred Secrets: Finding Your Way to Joy, Peace and Prosperity, and also represents Unity on the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. For more information about Unity, please visit www.unity.org