Monday, August 16, 2010

Religious War in NYC

It never ends. The Right-Wing Noise Machine* has found a new spin for the (near) Ground Zero (semi) Mosque** (GZM) story, assuring that it will live for another week. I had the rare opportunity to listen to Rush Limbaugh today, and he was ranting about Saint Nicholas church not being rebuilt. The basic story is that the church building was adjacent to the WTC site, and was crushed when the south tower fell. The church has yet to be rebuilt due problems coordinating with the Port Authority, which is responsible for the renovation and rebuilding of the WTC site.

Some bloviators are contrasting the difficulties facing this church against the supposed ease with which the the GZM project is proceeding. They take this as evidence that government officials --and by extension "the elite", which includes everyone who disagrees with them-- favor Islam over Christianity. This recent spectacle of demagoguery comes to us thanks to George Demos, a Republican candidate for Congress in NY. He apparently finds it easier to get elected on a campaign of FUD targeted at local activists, instead of directing constituent attention to substantial policy issues, or even his competition in the election. While I'm sure that the St. Nicholas congregants appreciate the attention that their cause is getting, I'm guessing that they (especially the officers) want nothing to do with this divisive issue of the GZM

Before picking apart the comparison between the GZM and St. Nicholas church, I want to present this Google Earth image of the WTC site. There are two things to pay attention to:
  1. St Nicholas is within the reconstruction/renovation zone, immediately adjacent to the WTC site. It is in the SE corner (there's a map with this NYT story). It is actually in a location where the Port Authority wants to build a park and an underground bus/truck screening center.***
  2. The Cordoba House is two full blocks away from the WTC site (I have it marked in the map). It is intended to be 13 stories tall. I counted 16 stories on the building that separates it from the WTC site.

View Larger Map

(Update: street view)

View Larger Map
Okay, here are some important differences between the church and the mosque:
  1. The church site is in the middle of an incredibly complex reconstruction and renovation project. The Port Authority may have bumbled this project, and made it more complex than is necessary, but nobody is forbidding the church from building in that area (immediately adjacent to the WTC). The problems arise from trying to figure out what is the best site for the building, how it will fit into new zoning regulations, and who will pay for it. The zoning issue would not exist if they were simply planning to rebuild the original building, but they want to build a much larger structure. The financial issue is especially tricky since the Port Authority is building underneath the WTC site, including the church site.
  2. In contrast, the opponents of the mosque would forbid them from building anywhere in the general vicinity of the WTC. Furthermore, the barriers that they would place in front of the mosque construction are not based on any practical considerations -- they just dislike the religion that would be the focus of the project.
I guess that's really the entire difference between the two construction projects. One is held up by a coordination problem, the other would be forbidden for ideological reasons. The opponents of the mosque act like they are so liberal because they don't want to expel all Muslims from the USA, they just insist that Muslims keep their heads down and constantly apologize for the actions of other Muslims. It is ridiculous that they accuse Bloomberg and others of facilitating the mosque, when all that they have done is speak up for it in the face of this ideological onslaught being led by Republican office-seekers.

*I don't think I've ever used the term "Right Wing noise-machine", but I couldn't think of any better description of those media outlets who pick up on Republican talking points and never shut up about them.
**The GZM is not on the WTC site, or even adjacet to it. It also apparently would not even qualify as a mosque since it will have a food court and performance space. It will have a large prayer room and hold Friday services, but that will only occupy a portion of the building. It is also said to be built from glass and steel, so it won't have the traditional architecture of a mosque.
***The transportation system that they are building makes no sense to me. Maybe it will work out well, but it seems like they have too many conflicting demands. Maybe that's just how transportation is in NYC.

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