A handful of protesters have responded to plans for Cordoba House, a Muslim community center two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center in New York, with slogans like “You can build a mosque at ground zero when we can build a synagogue in Mecca.” The protests are unlikely to have much real impact, since Cordoba House is being built on private property, not as part of either a public memorial site or a rebuilt office tower. It has passed local zoning requirements.
New York and Mecca are not a good comparison. Mecca is, above all else, a religious center. New York is a religious center only in the the Devil’s Dictionary of Ambrose Bierce, where “Mammon” is described as the chief god of the world’s leading religion, whose temple is in the Holy City of New York. The Saudi royal family – who have been guardians of Mecca ever since their great grandfather seized it from the Hashemites after World War I – seem to revere the dollar as much as anyone in America.
Mecca and Jerusalem might be a better comparison. There is already a very large and ancient mosque in Jerusalem, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. It is true that Mecca has a shortage of synagogues. The rules governing Mecca wouldn’t stand Supreme Court scrutiny if Mecca were located in the United States of America. Just ask the Mormons how the laws of Deseret and Salt Lake City changed, once the U.S. 7th Cavalry arrived.
The protests are missing the real point of what America has to offer the world, and specifically to Islam. The very fact that a mosque can be built in New York City, two blocks from ground zero, with the 29-1 support of a local community board, and the support of the mayor, is our greatest strength as a nation.
The Congress of the United States also boasts its first Muslim representative, sworn in on a Qu’ran from the library of Thomas Jefferson. The significance of this event may have been misunderstood by many residents of predominantly Muslim nations. They may think that valiant Muslim jihadists have infiltrated the Great Satan and secured control of a district from which they can elect one of their own to congress. That would, after all, be consistent with how politics works in many other nations.
The truth is, Rep. Keith Ellison (catch that Arabic-sounding name?) was elected from a district with an overwhelming Christian majority, like most districts in the United States, and more Jewish voters than Muslim voters. That is the truth we should be trumpeting to the world. The question we should be asking is not “Do you have a synagogue in Mecca?” but “Do you have overwhelmingly Muslim districts electing Jewish citizens of your country to your parliament?”
It would take a vote of two thirds of both houses of congress, and a majority of three fourths of the state legislatures, to establish Islam as the official state religion of the United States. It would take the same overwhelming series of votes to establish the Roman Catholic Church, the Assemblies of God, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Judaism, or the Episcopalian Church (one of the few churches that ever actually aspired to be annointed as the official Church of the United States).
Its not going to happen. But the First Amendment to our constitution does protect the free exercise of religion by all of the above, and many more. Even a majority voting “we don’t want you here,” is limited, by the simple words “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Welcome, we’re not afraid of you. Are your cousins afraid of us?