Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Cordoba Center controversy

I take no position on the proposed Islamic Center in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Towers site. Still, I like Greg Gutfeld’s idea of creating a gay bar next door. Since the developers of Cordoba Center say they favor tolerance and understanding, they should welcome their new neighbor. This proposal may encounter some problems, though, because of zoning regulations. A better idea would be a Gay Marriage Center, in which weddings would be performed by an interdenominational staff, including a gay imam.

A torrent of comment has appeared regarding this controversy. I haven’t read much of it, since my concern with Islam focuses more on the faith’s foundations--in the seventh and eighth centuries CE. I do not take a current-events approach to religion.

As far as I can tell, though, no one has cited an interesting parallel. In 1984 Roman Catholic nuns of the Carmelite Order opened a convent near Auschwitz in Poland. Some Jewish groups called for the removal of the convent, and representatives of the Catholic Church agreed in principle in 1987. Two years later the Catholic Church ordered the Carmelites to move, but they remained until 1993, leaving behind a large cross. The cross had originally been erected at the time of the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979.

This led to further protests by Jewish groups. Catholics countered that considerable numbers of Polish Catholics, including the sainted priest Maximilian Kolbe, had died at Auschwitz.

The controversy was further inflamed by the erection in August 1998 of some hundreds of additional smaller crosses outside the Auschwitz site, despite the opposition of the country's bishops. Government efforts to resolve the situation through the courts by revoking the lease on the land met with little success. Eventually, local authorities removed the crosses to a nearby Franciscan monastery, sealing off the site to prevent the erection of further crosses. For the time being, though, the large cross remains.

One can offer several reasons for keeping the convent (which is now gone) and the cross or crosses. It is not simply that Catholics died at the site, but the convent at least could be regarded as an act of atonement.

Nonetheless these Christian religious intrusions are acts of almost unbelievable insensitivity. There are plenty of other places where the convent and crosses might be set up. Sometimes what one c a n do is not what one s h o u l d do.

I would apply the same yardstick to the proposed Cordoba Center. Yes, it can be done legally. But to do so would be a major act of insensitivity. The facility would stand as a continuing focus of controversy, going against what we are told would be the chief purpose of the Center, to promote harmony and understanding. For this reason, the sponsors would be well advised to find another site in Manhattan.

POSTSCRIPT. The television personality Greg Gutfeld has proposed, quite sensibly, that a gay bar be opened next to the Center aka mosque. His own name for the bar is "Heaven and Halal." Some others that have been proposed seem better:

Homo-hammad's Hamlet; Saddam's Spider Hole; Jihad Judy's ("We're not in Mecca anymore, Toto"); The Naughty Saudi; The Camel's Hump; Osama's Oasis; Faghdad's; Pray and Play; Between the Sheikhs; Ba'ath House; Sodom Who's Sane?; My Cave or Yours?; You Mecca Me Feel Like Dancing; Khomeini Men, Kholittle Time.

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