‘Bridging the gap’

Proposed cultural center near ground zero sparks debate

FLITE held a debate through Global Initiative regarding the controversial issue of whether or not a mosque should be built two blocks from ground zero.

The issue has stirred controversy, as many Americans feel building the worship center would be a slap in the face to the families of those who died on Sept. 11. Some feel the mosque is being built as a victorious display from Muslims for what happened on that day.

The structure being built is not a mosque, but a multi-faith worship and cultural center.

Debate moderator Dr. Tracy Busch commented on the value of these discussions in clarifying misconceptions.

“It is good to get together as a university community and talk about what is true and to diffuse the untruths,” said Busch.

The structure, named the Cordoba House, was inspired by a city in Spain where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived peacefully in the Middle Ages. It would be a place of multicultural and multi-faith enrichment, including separate spaces for prayer for Muslims, Jews, Christians, and other faiths. Also, there would be space for community activities, classrooms, and a multi-faith memorial for those who suffered at the hands of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Despite the clarification, the discussion on Sept. 16 stirred many varying opinions. Some still feel building the center is intruding on a still-healing wound and is offensive to the family members of those who died.

Mark Brejcha, a senior and history major, supports building the Center. Brejcha spent 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and worked extensively with the Muslim Populous. He said he respects the Muslim culture through his experiences overseas.

However, Brejcha also said he believes that the nearness to such a sensitive area is an issue.

“I certainly support freedom of religion and I support the creation of the Islamic Center as I’ve come to understand that they’re not building a mosque,” said Brejcha. “But I do not believe that it should be built there because of the proximity and the sensitivity surrounding the World Trade Center tragedy.”

Others feel Muslims should have the right to build a place of worship wherever they wish, and are enraged by the link often formed between Muslims and terrorists.

“We first have to accept that Sept. 11 was not an Islamic terrorist attack,” said senior Ahmet Demir. “People can call themselves whatever they want. I could call myself a Christian, and then I will blow something up and be a terrorist and be a ‘Christian’ terrorist, but I am not a Christian. I can’t call myself anything,” said Demir.

The argument that other religions have their share of radicals was also mentioned. The president of the Muslim Student Organization, Ahmed Taha, said he believes religious freedom is a wonderful practice, but the Mosque should not be built if it is still a sensitive area for many.

“If so many are against it, we shouldn’t build it,” said Taha. “Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should do so.”

Others still believe that American ignorance to Islam is a strong dividing force. Ferris student Jeff Pollock views disapproval of the center as history repeating itself and said the misconception that a few people’s vile acts represent the rest of the group they claim to stand for is toxic to society.

“It comes down to xenophobia, ignorance, and downright hatred,” said Pollock. “This isn’t the first time people have tried to limit the way people can worship.”

Sophomore Matt Reinbold said he thinks it is time to move on from the equation of Muslims with terrorism, and to move forward with peaceful reconciliation.

“Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese and after that event Japanese Americans were discriminated against,” said Reinbold. “When you see Japanese Americans you don’t conjure up images of Pearl Harbor or think they’re kamikazes.”

Reinbold also believes that not only would the center help soothe American animosity and misunderstanding toward Muslims, but would also display peace and understanding on behalf of Muslims toward Americans.

“I feel the center could bridge the gap,” said Reinbold.

Overall, the most commonly discussed issue was the idea that America needs to educate itself on Islam and not make hasty, uneducated assumptions or stereotypes of one group based on a few radicals’ actions. Freshman Rachel Talaski agrees people need to be more informed.

“I think it is very important for Ferris and other places to hold informational meetings about topics to get the facts straight and so that through talking to other people on the issue we can gain greater understanding on the issues,” said Talaski. n