An intriguing debate has been rumbling along nicely in the United States. Park 51, a complex in lower Manhattan, is the location where The Cordoba Center (American spelling as it is in New York - forgive me conscience) has been earmarked for construction. The group of Muslims behind the $110 million project want the current building demolished and want to erect The Cordoba Center.
The only problem being that it is two "blocks" from "Ground Zero". As this became newsworthy the debate has fire-balled into an argument most prominently between anti-Islamist rhetoric and liberal voices - not so much Muslims as they don't really deserve a voice.
There are a few Muslims who have spoken out and the few represent a moderate voice. The voice that The Cordoba Center want people to hear. Voices 'Middle America' don't really want to hear because in their minds the planned construction is categorically insensitive to those that lost their lives on 11th September 2001. How dare any Muslim plan to establish a center for inter-faith discourse near Ground Zero.
Ultimately, Middle America has lost the battle - "the project surmounted a final hurdle on Aug. 3, 2010, when a decision by the New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the way for the construction of Park51. The tower of as many as 15 stories will house a mosque, a 500-seat auditorium, and a pool. Its leaders say it will be modeled on the Y.M.C.A. and Jewish Community Center in Manhattan." http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/p/park51/index.html?inline=nyt-org
Again, this brings into question the level of tolerance Muslims feel in the United States. Quite inversely to what has been demonstrated by a minority of white Americans, Muslims have lived for a long time in the US without ever feeling the need to relocate and indeed the number increases with reversion and immigration.
What is surprising is that there is still a latent hatred that rears its loose limb from the ground every once in a while. In fact, much of the liberal United States is geographically retained in relatively small geographic areas. The same areas that are constantly democratic havens.
Sometimes it feels like a ticking time-bomb and while Michael Bloomberg came out with some utterly positive statements about the liberties of religious expression, it still must mean that much of the US is off limits for Muslims.
In any case Bloomberg's speech http://www.mikebloomberg.com/index.cfm?objectid=38F02174-C29C-7CA2-FB24F2BA115AF739 (thank you Dimitri) reasserted the importance of change, liberty and freedom of expression after the decree was passed.
The center can now be built. But much work needs to be done to educate even a small minority of the US that fears or hates Islam so much. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/06/akbar-ahmed-on-jon-stewar_n_673465.html Dr. Akbar Ahmed appeared on Jon Stewart recently and is looking to bridge a gap that is much wider than it is in Europe, however, it seems Muslims have an easier task in the UK or Germany than they do Stateside. France, Switzerland...perhaps there are problems but Muslims general liberties exist.
It is the fear of those freedoms being removed and the lack of some actual freedoms that harms the Muslim psyche so much and until that fear is removed there will always be a distinct gap in what interaction communities can do.
By the same token, where does America face its biggest problem with its Muslim communities? Middle-class Muslims. Again Middle America is so easily misinformed and is so easily malleable that one way or another they affect consumer, political and social decision making.
Who started it? We will never really know but when an empire holds power and responsibility it will never be perceived by the liberal as working without an agenda.
Despite Bloomberg or Municipal Commissions, the reason why middle-class Muslims in America have been moved to any degree has been affected by US foreign policy. And it isn't likely to change with any affect anytime soon.
Afghanistan and Iraq and any other movement or motion of military might continues to blight the good work done on the ground in the US. A unified voice is what Muslims need a la Akbar Ahmed and a unified effort would solve much of the problems America face...on the ground and at policy level.
I can't see it happening and I can't see middle Americans changing either so its to the pockets of inter-culture and inter-faith success that we look to maintain our hope and happiness.