Professors discuss Ground Zero mosque

Four scholars discussed freedom of worship, the history of Muslims in the United States and the controversy over the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero Monday in what moderator Perin Gurel ’10 jokingly titled the “panel to restore sanity.”

The panelists — Yale American studies chair Matthew Jacobson who received an honorary degree in 2000, Columbia University doctoral student Zaheer Ali, PhD candidate Haroon Moghul, and Tufts University Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Rosemary Hicks — discussed the anti-Muslim sentiment that pervades many areas of American society. For example, Jacobson said the issue of the Mosque and community center was sensationalized by the attention of an irresponsible media.

Jacobson said the problem is “a media that is lurking on a handful of extremist views.”

By focusing the attention of the public on photos of anti-Muslim protesters, the media made it seem like there was a big controversy when there was none, he added.

Ali said the right of Muslims to build mosques — or of any people to build places of worship — is not being debated by the state of New York.

“Citizens are competing with the state to draw spaces,” Ali said, referencing the controversy over who has the right to build on Ground Zero.

He added that Islamophobia can sometimes be used to express racism, since some Muslims are African-American, and that he thinks race is embedded in the notion of “hallowed ground.”

If Muslims cannot build on Ground Zero because of 9/11, Ali said, the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot might as well be declared a white-free zone.

Hicks said it is important that the issue of the center at Ground Zero not be dismissed as a meaningless political argument. The episode highlights important issues in American culture such as racism and economic elitism, she said. Hicks said nationwide incidents of violence against Muslims show that the Islamic community is still not given its full rights.

People who oppose Park51 on the grounds that it does not comply with American ideals are wrong because America has never been anti-religion, Hicks said.

“[Those] who use a claim to Americanness to shut others out are demonstrating insecurity about their American status,” Hicks said.

Moghul said those who are defending the project have been having a hard time communicating their message.

The proposed Park51, which has been cleared of legal controversy, would be a 13-story building and would include a prayer space able to accommodate 1,000 to 2,000 people.

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