SOMEONE ASKED me that question today and I said "no." He said, "Why do you say that?" I said, "I don't have enough time to give you a full answer, and a short answer wouldn't be very good."
A woman sitting nearby said, "I think it should be allowed. After all, just because Muslims flew the planes into the Twin Towers doesn't mean all Muslims are bad."
The man added his two cents. "I believe in freedom of religion," he said, turning to me, "Okay, tell me this. What do you think about the internment camps in World War Two?"
I said, "I think they were wrong."
"Why?" he asked, "Isn't stopping the mosque the same thing?"
For once in my life I spontaneously came up with a good answer at the time rather than ten minutes later. I said, "No it isn't, because the Japanese-Americans they put in the internment camps did not have the same ideology as the Japanese who attacked America. The Japanese war machine was driven by a militaristic, imperialist, expansionist Shinto ideology. Almost none of the Americans placed in internment camps had those beliefs.
"That's really the question, isn't it?" I said. "Will the people who run the mosque share the same ideology and the same goals as those who flew the planes into the buildings? If they do, I think we would both agree they should not be allowed to build the mosque. And if they don't have the same ideology or goals, I think we can agree they should be allowed to build it.
"Unfortunately, in all likelihood, they will be promoting the same ideology in the Ground Zero mosque as the hijackers were following. And they will probably have the same goals (although they may differ in tactics). When mosques were investigated in the U.S., the majority of them preached jihad against America. And we have nothing in place to monitor what mosques are preaching. Why? Because they are protected by the freedom of religion."
He was just staring at me now. This was obviously a much better argument than he expected, and he had nothing left to say. So I kept going. "So now the question is: If something being preached is seditious, but it's part of a religious doctrine, which law should trump which? Should preaching and promoting the sabotage, undermining, and overthrow of U.S. laws and the U.S. government be protected by the right to freedom of religion?"
Luckily for him, we were interrupted by someone, and he had to go take care of something. But I was thinking about it afterwards. This mosque controversy is a great opportunity for us to awaken more people to the basic teachings of Islam. This issue pivots around the central question: What is the ideology of Muslims in general? If it's peaceful like they say it is, then okay, build the mosque because Islam had nothing to do with 9/11.
But if Islam is inherently political, supremacist, imperialistic, and intolerant — if that's really a core, mainstream, inseparable part of Islamic doctrine — then what do we do? That's really the question we should be asking. This issue helps us push conversations into two important questions. First, what is the ideology of Islam?
Here is a list of the central beliefs of mainstream Islam.
And second, if this is true (that Islam is inherently political, supremacist, imperialistic, and intolerant), what should we do about it? I think Robert Spencer has a possible answer. Read it here.
When the guy I was talking to earlier came back from his errand, I told him about Spencer's idea, and he saw the sense in it. And he seemed to also understand that it makes sense not to build more mosques — especially at Ground Zero — until we have some sort of solution to the more fundamental problem.
I published a version of this article on An Inquiry Into Islam in case you would rather share this article with others from there.