Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

August 13, 2010


My last post opposed the mosque at Ground Zero because building bridges between neighbors, aside from law, does not begin by irritating your neighbors. But Islam is more than a religion. It is a form of government that aims at the committment of all its citizens to Islam, giving non-believers even less than a second-class citizenship and places them under Muslim rule of law, the shariah. When the devotees of Islam succeed in conquering a non-believing constituency, a monument is built as a symbol of its victory. When Muslim armies in 614 defeated the Jews in Jerusalem, a mosque was built on the site of the sacred Jewish temple. Today as Temple Mount, ruled by a Muslim entity, it is a symbol of that ancient Muslim victory.

In 711, a Muslim army from North Africa conquered a large part of Spain and established an Emirate in Cordoba. As a monument to its conquest, the cathedral was demolished and a mosque was constructed on the site. Cordova became a renowned center of Muslim art, architecture, and culture generally. Bernard Lewis, a scholar of Islamic history, wrote that had Islam offered equality to non-believers,"it would have been a theological as well as a logical absurdity". Christians and Jews were "dimmis", Arabic for "the peoples under protection of Islam". Dimmis were subject to a special tax, legal discrimination, and other indignities. A child born of a mixed marriage had to be raised as Muslim. The bishop of Cordova, obviously a realist, urged his people to tolerate their second-class status. Nevertheless, between 851 and 859 forty-nine Christians were decapitated for offenses against Islam. Christian education centers and monasteries were subjected to a process of closures. Cordova and its mosque were symbols of Muslim victory. To our amazement, the proposed Ground Zero Muslim Center was named the Cordova House. A monument built, not on the ruins of a cathedral, but on the ruins of the Twin Towers, a kind of modern-day cathedral? Why did Muslim extremist Hamas, yesterday, voice its satisfaction with the mosque site? Could they see the mosque, so near Ground Zero, as a happy reminder of a Muslim victory? . Perhaps the founders belatedly thought of this. Last week, they scrapped the Cordova name, replacing it with "Park 51", the street address.

It is argued, correctly, that Christians have their own history of bloody intolerance, the Inquisition and the Crusades, as examples. The difference lies in the evolving progress in the West in technocracy, education, tolerance, and democracy, whereas, according to Lewis' book "What Went Wrong", the Muslim world simply did not build on its earlier splendor and simply did not move ahead. For example, no European nation practices the death penalty while Muslim nations still do. Newspapers bring news of Muslim nations amputating the hands of thieves, the stoning to death of adulterous women, death in some places for conversion, and other offenses under extreme provisions of shariah law. And there are examples that once Muslims take over, as recently as in Northern Nigeria, the shariah is put in place. When nations are under Muslim rule, as eg Suadi Arabia, Jordan, Indonesia, Afganistan, and Iraq, the shariah rules. Christian and Jewish worship is forbidden. In Muslim Spain, various dynasties ruled in different parts, with varying degrees of tolerance. Modern Muslim nations, too, are characterized by varying degrees of tolerance. After 9/11, we are quite aware of the impact of extreme Muslim jihadists on New York and on the entire nation. And we are aware of the peace-loving Muslims, who are our neighbors. We welcome them - merchants, livery services, professionals of all kinds.

Given this wide spectrum of Muslim belief, political action,peaceful neighborliness, charitable activity, and also violence expressed in the name of their God, it is appropriate to ask our new neighbors to declare what precisely distinguishes them from their extreme co-religionists. The Koran limits a husband's beating of his wife to the point of bloodshed. In our society, domestic violence is a crime. Will the mosque founders and allies specifically reject this provision of the Koran? And also the specific provisions providing for a muiltiplicity of wives, death for non-believers, blasphemers, and women adulterors? How do our newcomers feel about the text in the Koran that authorized the fatwa - death penalty - against Simon Rushdie for what he wrote and the Danish cartoonist for his insulting drawings? These are harsh questions but they require specific answers. But they are justified by past history and current events! By the experience of mosques in England as a source of jihadists. A casual general affirmation that the present worshippers are peace-loving
is simply insufficient. The basic texts are at issue here.

The present mosque dispute is not the first instance in our history where the surrender of a religious principle was required for welcome. The Territory of Utah, predominantly Mormon, sought entry into the United States on several occasions but in vain. Mormon religious belief in plural marriages was the sticking point. In 1862
the US Congress passed legislation banning bigamy. It was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1878, declaring that "religious duty was not a defense against crime". Mormon elders signed the 1890 Manifesto, officially disavowing plural marriages.In 1896, Utah was admitted as the forty-fifth state.

Many of us remain opposed to a mosque at Ground Zero. This is not a question of freedom of religion. The Muslims are free to build under our law. But sensitivity to twin-towers' victims and now to country wide voices, a sensitivity which has not yet characterized the mosque people, would suggest that bridge-building would be helped by using a different site. However it plays out, the mosque originators should disavow specifically how they differ in principle from other less peace-loving
co-religionists. Something similar to how the Mormons of Utah became US citizens.