The Cordoba House Islamic community center, scheduled for construction on private land within a few blocks of where the Twin Towers once stood, has drawn ire from many Americans, many of whom have provocatively called it the “Ground Zero Mosque” and have condemned it as offensive, and many of whom have called on the government to step in and prevent the center’s construction, in violation of both the private property rights of the owner of the land as well as the principles of religious toleration that make America a great country.
Defenders of the construction project have pointed out that the building is not a mosque, but a community center — essentially a Muslim version of the YMCA. Opponents have snapped back that the building will in fact have a mosque in it.
But according to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is spearheading the project, the center will also include separate places of prayer for Christians and Jews. And while some have said the project’s backers should instead give money to a 9/11 memorial, the Imam says the center will also have “a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.”
Some have pointed out the supposed bad taste of building any sort of house of Muslim prayer near Ground Zero, but this assumes that Islam was the culprit on 9/11. It wasn’t. And even moderate defenders of the “Ground Zero mosque” will try to differentiate between radical and moderate Islam — but radical Islam is not really the reason behind the 9/11 attacks, either. The motivation was revenge for U.S. foreign policy, and although that certainly doesn’t excuse the atrocity, there is nothing unique about Islam, fundamentalist or not, that is needed to explain this act of revenge. As Robert Pape’s extensive research decisively shows, even the particularly gruesome spectacle of suicide bombing has little to do with religious extremism per se — many suicide bombers are not Muslim and even secular — and much more to do with resistance against a foreign occupier.
When Americans went to war after 9/11, revenge was a motivator there, too. But Americans’ religion had little to do with it. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, this too was likely an act of revenge (or as some would claim, self-defense) against Hezbollah. The fact that the Israelis were mostly Jewish was not the major factor. Geopolitics and war in the region, as well as in U.S. conflicts with the Muslim world, do relate to religious questions. But it is not Islam, or Christianity, or Judaism, that is responsible for these acts of violence.
The Lebanese seem to understand this distinction, as they appear to support the reconstruction of a synagogue that was destroyed in the Israeli invasion of their country in 2006. Lebanon’s own “Ground Zero” synagogue is a good example for Americans of how to distinguish between belligerents that attack your country and the religion they happen to belong to.