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Jul. 27 2010 - 10:51 am | 1,685 views | 0 recommendations | 18 comments

‘Ground Zero mosque’: How close is too close?

Ground Zero view

Image by SpecialKRB via Flickr

In writing about the mosque/Ground Zero flap today in The New York Times, Clyde Haberman brings up a point that has been bothering me too:

…we have learned that many people must have been out sick the day the teacher taught prepositions. The center is routinely referred to by some opponents as the “mosque at ground zero.”

. . . There’s that “at.” For a two-letter word, it packs quite a wallop. It has been tossed around in a manner both cavalier and disingenuous, with an intention by some to inflame passions. Nobody, regardless of political leanings, would tolerate a mosque at ground zero. “Near” is not the same, as anyone who paid attention back in the fourth grade should know.

This elicits a question: How far away must the mosque be before the Newt-Sarah-Jihad Watch brigade would be satisfied? Richard Land, who heads public policy for Southern Baptists, played games with the at-near difference in a recent column for the Washington Post. He provided a most interesting comparison.

Having a mosque at Ground Zero would be the equivalent of having a Japanese Shinto shrine built next to the USS Arizona. Do the followers of Shinto have a right to have a shrine in Honolulu? Yes. In close proximity to the USS Arizona? No.

From what I could tell on Google Maps, the closest Shinto shrine to the USS Arizona is 6.7 miles away. The closest Baptist church (not strictly Southern Baptist, mind you, but neither was Truman) I could find in Hiroshima was .5 miles away from their Ground Zero.

Yes, the proposed ‘mosque’ (Haberman points out that it’s probably not what you imagine) would be closer than both of those examples, but not ‘at.’ Here’s the map of the where the Islamic center would be in relation to Ground Zero, as provided by the developers’ web site.

And one reminder: The distance between Ground Zero and Al Qaeda headquarters, where the attack was planned, is over 6,000 miles.


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  1. collapse expand

    Mr. Humphrey,

    The question was asked: “Having a mosque at Ground Zero would be the equivalent of having a Japanese Shinto shrine built next to the USS Arizona. Do the followers of Shinto have a right to have a shrine in Honolulu? Yes. In close proximity to the USS Arizona? No.”

    I was surprised that you did not attempt to answer those questions. The answer is not a geographical one but legal or moral one. The answer to the second question is that if anyone religious group has a right build a center of worship near the USS Arizona, then indeed Shintoists do. Now it is useful to point out here that in fact there are no religious facilities in any proximity to the USS Arizona Memorial as it is 1) in the middle of Pearl Harbor and can only accessed via boat, 2) a National Parks Service area which would preclude such facilities.


    So really whole question raised is moot since such a shrine, indeed any shrine, would be both physically impossible and illegal. However, even if we ignore this and imagine it were possible, there are still other considerations. Consider another part of the Washington Post blog:

    “That still does not negate the fact that it would be inappropriate to have a Japanese shrine in close proximity to the USS Arizona.”

    I would point out that one can be a Shintoist and not be Japanese. There are many Americans who are Shintoists, including many in Hawaii. Moreover, not all Japanese are Shintoists, many Buddhists and Christians. However let us assume that only Japanese could be Shintoists and all Japanese are Shintoists and it were both physically and legally possible to build a Shinto shrine at the USS Arizona Memorial, why should it not be allowed? It was not the Shinto Religion that attacked Pearl Harbor, it was the Japanese Navy. Even if every single pilot and sailor involved in the attack had been a Shintoist, they were not ordered to make the attack by the Shinto Priesthood but by the secular military command. A Shinto Shrine would still pose no conflict with the Memorial.

    However, let us assume that the Emperor himself, as titular head of the “kami-no-michi” had personally ordered the attack and not in his secular, political position as head of state. Why, if it were physically and legally possible for a Shinto (the all and only Japanese religion) Shrine to be built in close “closeness” (i.e. proximity) to the USS Arizona Memorial, why would that be a problem? In fact, it would seem entirely appropriate. What greater indication of reconciliation and forgiveness than such an absolutely impossible shrine?

    • collapse expand


      First, let me say your points are well-argued and thanks for them.

      The reason I didn’t answer the question is I am not able to. The question being: “How far away must the mosque be before the Newt-Sarah-Jihad Watch brigade would be satisfied?” Since I don’t belong to that movement, I really don’t know the answer.

      Of course the major noise that is coming from this issue is not addressing a legal question, but more of a moral one, although that doesn’t quite get it either. Perhaps we could call it a morale question. It seems to be harming morale for certain people that a Islamic community center would be just blocks away from the WTC. So much so that those demoralized folks use the word ‘at.’ Surely, there’s no great strategic advantage to having a place of worship there, which was my final point, so morale seems to be the only question. So… What would be far enough?

      As for me, I think your last point is right, but because of the way you set up the question to provide a pure answer, it doesn’t perfectly fit the World Trade Center, as I know you know. On its surface the Imam and developers have nothing for which to be forgiven. The Imam distributed water to recovery workers. He has made some controversial comments about Gaza, but this his statement in May could not be more clear: “We condemn terrorists. We recognize it exists in our faith, but we are committed to eradicate it.”

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Respect for those who suffered is important. Following Pearl Harbor the American public would not have minded one little bit if every Japanese on the planet had been burned alive. For those that lost family members getting reminders of anything Japanese near a memorial is putting a red flag in front of bulls.Those that truly desire peace learn when to stand back and show respect and remorse for deeds of the past.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Georgie Anne Geyer wrote her usual brilliant and insightful piece on this issue: http://www.news-herald.com/articles/2010/07/24/opinion/nh2805633.txt

    No offense, but it’s a refreshing alternative to the usual partisan sniping.

  3. collapse expand

    “Near” has two more letters than “at.” And only one in common.

  4. collapse expand

    Is freedom of religion measured in English or metric units?

    Should the Mormons be allowed to place a LDS temple at the site where they perpetrated the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

    Should the Catholics be allowed a church in Beziers, France?

  5. collapse expand

    stick a mosque on top of new development it will stop the crazies attacking it again.apart from the homegrown christian crazies that is

  6. collapse expand

    Know yourself and know your enemy and in a thousand battles you will not face peril. Sun Tzu.

    This whole debate for me seems to lend itself to most terrorist propaganda siting America’s long and very well establish history of racism. What better way to prove to the “not yet jyhadist” of the “injustice and hypocrisy” of the American people then by stirring emotions concerning this Mosque as well as bring out all the racist and hateful comments done by Americans against the building of this Mosque.

    The Muslim extremest that carried out these attacks on 9/11 are not only separate from the mainstream Islamic ideal, but I dare say are equivalent to the Christian/Catholic radicals that helped conduct the inquisition and the “Holy” Crusades.

    What I’m trying to state though, is that They (terrorist)do not yet have the TOTAL support of Islam backing them and they will use situations like this Mosque to justify their cause against this Country.

    As Sun Tzu stated, Know yourself and know your enemy.

    My suggestion is to reinforce and grow our relationship with Islam and Muslims. To acknowledge that the terrorist actions,although claiming to be of Religious motivations, in no way reflect the moral and ethical beliefs of the majority of peaceful Islamic followers.

    If their weapon is hate, we need to defuse it with kindness.

    • collapse expand

      Radical Muslims will use anything and everything to justify their cause. We will simply keep killing them.Frankly the radical Muslim element is trash and the earth will not miss them. The longer they fight the weaker and more absurd they reveal themselves to be.The very notion that they have religious goals or beliefs is a joke. Mohamed would kill all of them given the opportunity.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  7. collapse expand

    We need to put a memorial at ground zero to all the illegals who have died in the desert crossing the border….the lefties would love this

  8. collapse expand

    and a nice little bar selling fine ales

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