Sense vs. Sensitivity at Ground Zero and the Lincoln Memorial

When it comes to the mosque near Ground Zero and Glenn Beck's rally on the National Mall, one group's sensitivity is another one's injustice.

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The lower-Manhattan building that will make way for an Islamic center. (Getty)

The crowd raging on the right is red-faced and mad as hell: How dare anyone propose building a mosque -- a mosque! -- at Ground Zero, when it was Muslims who took down the World Trade Center? Never mind that the proposed project is neither a mosque nor located at Ground Zero; emotions are boiling over and reason has evaporated. The only thing that remains is the twisted, logic-challenged equation in which Islam plus Mosque times Muslims equals Terrorist Attack Where the Twins Towers Stood.

The proposed Islamic community center, two blocks away from Ground Zero, is envisioned as a grandiose, $100 million edifice. It would include a swimming pool, gym, basketball court, 500-seat restaurant, culinary school, library, reading room, art studios, child care center, Sept. 11 memorial and -- oh yeah -- a mosque that organizers say could attract as many as 2,000 worshippers on a given day.

Opponents argue that that's simply too much Islamic culture way too close to the World Trade Center site. (Since proposed mosques as far away as Tennessee are also facing protests nowadays, you wonder if they're acceptable anyplace in the country.) The opponents, who include family members of 9/11 victims, claim that anyone who supports the proposed location is insensitive.

And perhaps it is insensitive. But it's funny how the Glenn Becks, Sarah Palins and assorted Tea Partiers complain about sensitivity near Wall Street, while preparing to show none whatsoever on the National Mall. As they flock to Washington, D.C., for Beck's so-called Restoring Honor event on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, they're trouncing on many other folks' sensitivities.

Insensitive? How about staging a poorly camouflaged GOP-Tea Party rally at the Lincoln Memorial 47 years after King highlighted the seminal moment in the civil rights movement there? What about hijacking King's legacy? (Beck says his rally will "reclaim the civil rights movement.") How about claiming that King and others marched solely for equal civil rights? (Beck says that social justice and economic rights weren't also part of King's agenda.)

Arguments against Saturday's march, made by the Rev. Al Sharpton and other black leaders, should sound familiar to Beck, Palin & Co. because they've spouted the same ones since the mosque controversy broke. "They shouldn't do it there ... it's too close ... they're being insensitive ... it's disrespectful."

Building such a facility near Ground Zero was bound to be a touchy topic, and it has nothing to do with the right to build one -- just as opposition to Beck's event isn't about his right to hold it. A person can defend freedom of religion and feel a bit uncomfortable with the center's location. Likewise, a person can defend the right to assemble and wish a group had chosen someplace else -- and some other date -- to do so.

Folks who think that opponents of the Islamic center are being overly sensitive open themselves up to similar charges by opposing Beck's rally. On the surface, Restoring Honor aims to pay tribute to America's military personnel and others "who embody our nation's founding principles of integrity, truth and honor." Citizens are urged to attend and "help us restore the values that founded this great nation." And there's nothing wrong with that. Just as there's nothing wrong with Islam as practiced by millions of peace-loving adherents around the globe.

No one would care much about a Christian church being built near Ground Zero. But, so the reasoning goes, an Islamic center might attract some radical, anti-Western, Jihad-supporting extremists. In the same way, there wouldn't be as much opposition to Restoring Honor if it weren't such a right-wing political event. But since we're talking about Beck, Palin and the Tea Partiers, so the reasoning goes, they might attract some racist, xenophobic Christian zealots. Yes, extremists exist in both Islam and the Tea Party, but we can't let that fact intrude on our freedoms of religion, expression and assembly.

Groups on either side of the Beck rally and the Islamic center have arguments that may have merit. But both sides should make those arguments while respecting their opponents' sensitivity, not demonizing them for it. Inevitably, there will be disagreements and criticism, and sometimes winners and losers -- with the latter group experiencing hurt feelings.

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