When talking to people who are against the building of an Islamic Community Center in New York City, the number one rationale I hear is that it will hurt the feelings of a great number of people who have experienced great loss. It will offend them and it will upset them. Therefore, in order to respect and be sensitive to their feelings, the Islamic Community Center should not be built.
Isn’t it important to respect their feelings? And if a great number of people feel a deep and genuine upset or hurt or offense by the idea of the ICC being built, shouldn’t that matter?
No. And to explain to you why, let me make an analogy.
About a month ago, I was listening to a radio show in which a man was being interviewed who had just found out that his college-aged daughter was gay. He was sobbing. He was heart-broken, and didn’t know what to do: wracked with conflicting feelings, you could hear the true and sincere anguish in his voice.
If I didn’t know what he was upset about, and just listened to his sobs and the tone in his voice, my heart would have broken for him.
But as is turns out, I did know what he was upset about. He just found out that his daughter was gay, and to him it was worse than if his daughter had died.
Do I have to respect his feelings, just because they are sincere and deeply felt? Absolutely not. I pity him for having to experience the deep suffering born out of his own prejudice.
I may feel sorry for him. But if he wasn’t bigoted to begin with, then there would be no problem.
The angst and fury and offense that some people feel at the proposed building of the Islamic Community Center is exactly the same. It is real and true and honest emotion… that is born out of prejudice. It is born out of prejudice because the only way an Islamic Community Center could possibly be offensive is if you hold the implicit and unconscious equation in your head: “Islam equals Terrorism.”
If you do not hold that equation in your head, then there is nothing to be upset about or offended at.
How do I know? Because you are not offended by churches in Germany, even though the Nazi’s were Christian. Because you are not offended by churches in Oklahoma City even though Timothy McVeigh was a Christian. Because you are not offended by churches in the Southern States, even though the KKK are Christians. You are not offended by churches just because fringegroups that claim to be inspired by Christianity have committed horrific crimes.
The same logic applies to the Islamic Community Center in New York City. The only way it is offensive is if you think that the terrorist acts of a fringe group are somehow “inherent” in Islam, and that is prejudice. We absolutely should not “respect” or “take into consideration” emotions—no matter how sincere or deeply felt—that are born out of prejudice.