After Mosque, Demand for Ground Zero Church

By Rakesh Raman

Close on the heels of President Barack Obama’s reported remarks on the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center, Greek Americans have demanded the rebuilding of a church destroyed at Ground Zero in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

As the speculative madness around the mosque issue is increasing, the association for the nation’s three million American citizens of Greek heritage, including a number of Philhellenes, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) has come out with this strange demand, which will only add fuel to the fire.

The association has requested the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to resume negotiations with the representatives of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church to rebuild the church destroyed on September 11.

“The Greek American community is displeased and angered that Port Authority officials have declared that a deal to rebuild St. Nicholas is dead,” national president Nicholas A. Karacostas said.

“We view the church to be of national significance given the circumstances of its fate; a fate that has all but been forgotten by officials. We urge the Port Authority to honor its commitment to the congregation of St. Nicholas and resume negotiations to rebuild the church at its rightful place at Ground Zero.”

Karacostas expressed the organization’s disappointment in a letter sent August 18 to Christopher Ward, executive director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He added AHEPA will not tolerate additional bureaucratic stall tactics in the effort to rebuild the church, which has served the community at large since 1922.

But why the demand now? In fact, AHEPA has strategically raised its demand now, as the mosque issue is still burning.

Obama under Attack

Most would agree that AHEPA’s call is a searing reaction to Obama’s Ground Zero project mentions that are largely being linked with his perceived religious beliefs particularly by the American media, which is projecting that Obama is pro-Islam and hence anti-Christianity.

As the politically motivated anti-Obama campaign in America is virtually reaching its frothy peak, a national survey by the Pew Research Center claims that a growing number of Americans say that Barack Obama is a Muslim, while the proportion saying he is a Christian has declined.

The Pew poll, conducted among just 3,003 respondents in an American population of over 300 million, has tried to highlight the link between Americans’ perception of Obama’s religion and their opinion of his job performance.

With such a small sample size, the Pew Research Center has tried to project views on the President’s approach to religion, including the influence of his religious beliefs on policy decisions. (Read: Americans Say Barack Obama is a Muslim: Survey)

Obama has been facing the wrath of people on other policy matters also. With the recent change in military leadership for Afghanistan, for example, there is a hope by the White House and others that this will help to change the direction of the war as well as attitudes toward it.

President Obama probably also hopes this helps change opinions on his handling of the situation in Afghanistan. But just three in ten (29%) have a positive opinion of how he is handling it, while six in ten (59%) have a negative opinion, according to a Harris Poll of only 2,227 U.S. adults. (Read: Thumbs Down for President Obama on Afghanistan)

That’s not all. Poor Obama is also being targeted for an issue like AIDS. Recently, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) launched an attacking campaign, saying: “President Obama, The War on AIDS Has Not Been Won,” which compares the amount of U.S. dollars spent fighting the global AIDS epidemic vs. the amount spent on the war in Afghanistan. (Read: Obama, The War on AIDS Has Not Been Won)

But why this scathing attack on Obama from all the corners – including media, religious and scholarly circles? The prime reason has nothing to do with his religion or political performance; it’s basically media – rather the lack of content with media.

Today, almost all the American media companies are struggling to recover from their attenuating bottom lines. They want more readers – and thus advertisers – who could support their dwindling businesses.

In this harsh market situation, they are ready to apply any tool to keep standing on their feet. It is highly unfortunate – but true – that sensation helps media companies in such circumstances. Sensational wordiness in articles can help them attract more readers who by nature get excited from controversial editorial content. And American media is tactfully leveraging this opportunity by adding more spice to even trivial issues. Obama issue is one of them.

Plus, the American information consumers are behaving like educated illiterates, particularly, in this case. Blinded by unfounded religious beliefs, they are unable to realize that any organized religion that believes in any identifiable God keeps people away from people by promoting religion-based groups. And organized religion has always been the cause of the most heinous crimes and killings in the world.

Hindu-Muslim Conflicts

Americans are not alone. People in all parts of the world have blind faith in man-made religions. For instance, a similar case of ugly religious conflicts is being witnessed in India. Termed as Ram Janambhoomi – Babri Masjid (birthplace of a Hindu God Ram and a mosque) fight or Ayodhya (the place of fight) debate, it is about the perpetual fight that started in 1992 between two political factions. However, it has been given a religious flavor by political parties who are hell-bent to woo the voters from both the religions – Hindus and Muslims.

And you will be surprised to know that the issue is, in fact, a few centuries old and being revived again for dirty political objectives and at the cost of many human lives, which are lost since 1992.

The story says that in 12th century, a temple complex was built in honor of Hindu Lord Ram. But in 1528, the Babri mosque was constructed under the orders of Mughal emperor Babur.

After a series of see-saw fights between two major Indian political parties – Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – over the construction of Ram temple or Babri mosque, the issue is still hot among the Indians and even in the Indian parliament. While the politics-led and religiously flavored hate camapign is on, it won’t affect a common Indian whether it is a temple or a mosque in Ayodhya.

But that is India where the number of illiterate people is the highest in the world – literacy rate is just about 60 percent in urban areas (and about 20 percent in hinterland), which is well below the world average of 84 percent. So most uneducated people can easily be hoodwinked by the Indian politicians. And because of extreme poverty in many Indian areas, political parties can even buy hooligans to create trouble that could help them politically.

But why in America – where almost all are educated and well-off – people are behaving like illiterates? Just to satisfy their own whims, some Americans are going to the extent of pitting Christianity against Islam by labeling the 9/11 terrorists as “Islamist terrorists.”

Plus, there is a rampant growth of hate groups on online social media sites like Facebook where you can find persistent and systematic campaign in favor of one religion while denouncing the other. These days, target is none other than President Obama.

Most of these people who are spreading hatred are American commoners who are sharing article links from newspaper sites or other media sites without understanding the subtleties of the issue. Others follow them like herds and comment in a freewheeling and highly irresponsible manner.

Reactions and Defense

While the whole issue, which is now revolving around the American President and his statements (being interpreted by different people in different ways), is going from hot to hotter, reactions are coming from other sides.

Incensed by the rampant Islamophobia, a Muslim American scholar has reacted sharply by releasing a book on Islam Thursday (August 19).

Moustafa Zayed believes that the American people are being told lies about Islam, particularly related to the building of mosque near Ground Zero. He has also showed his displeasure to the planned burning of the Holy Quran in a Florida church.

In his book “The Lies about Muhammad,” Zayed refutes, paragraph by paragraph, all claims and allegations about Muhammad and Islam in the well-publicized Islam-bashing book “The Truth about Muhammad” by Robert Spencer.

Zayed explains: “My contention is that all misperceptions that the average American has about Islam (from what jihad truly is, to what women, minorities, and human rights are), are not just outright fallacious but, worse, are the total opposite of the truth!”

Zayed comments, “Today’s Islamophobia is not a misunderstanding, or a difference in beliefs or opinions, but a deliberate fabrication and misinformation of clear facts perpetrated upon the American people.”

He asks if Islam is that awful, why is it that it was not only the only religion that grew in America the past 18 years, but actually doubled in population?

Zayed argues, “If it is inherently a violent and intolerant religion, why is it the fastest growing religion in the world, with over 1.6 billion followers?” “Some people are seriously misled about Islam,” he says.

“The Lies about Muhammad” has just been released on amazon.com and more information is at: http://www.theliesaboutmuhammad.com/

Now, the task ahead is not to figure out who is right and who is wrong about historical facts on religion. The bigger challenge is to overcome the prevailing fiery situation in America.

As the chaos in the American political and social circles is getting intense, the onus mainly lies on the media fraternity to use some restraint while reporting the events. A blind chase after the gullible eyeballs and fast buck will take scribes away from professionally accepted ethics.

Moreover, before the situation takes an ugly turn, people need to open their eyes and accept the fact that humanity is the biggest and the purest religion in this world. So instead of spreading religion-based hate, they have to accept others irrespective of their colors and creeds. Will they?

Photo courtesy: AHEPA

By Rakesh Raman, the managing editor of Raman Media Network.

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Rakesh Raman