The Common Good

Is the Cordoba House "Insensitive"?

"Yes, Muslims have the constitutional right to build a mosque near Ground Zero. But it should not be built because it is insensitive to the victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack by Islamic terrorists."

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So goes the gist of the double-pronged argument presented by what appears to be the majority sentiment in the United States. According to a recent CBS poll, 71 percent of respondents said "no" to the question, "Is building a mosque near Ground Zero appropriate?" To another question -- "Do the developers have the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero," 67 percent answered, "yes."

Let's look at the insensitivity issue. Are those clamoring against the Cordoba House consistent in speaking out about other cultural symbols that dominate the American scene, yet stir up hurtful feelings?

The display of the Confederate Flag is one such symbol. While some adherents proudly display that flag as a symbol of southern pride and independence, others see in it racist intimidation. After contentious struggle, South Carolina in 2000 became the last state to remove the Confederate Flag from its capitol.

Since 1928, Andrew Jackson's portrait has been on the $20 bill. Most polls place Jackson in the top-ten greatest presidents for being the first "populist." Cherokee tribal people, however, place him as the worst president, a near "Hitler" in their eyes. Why? Because Jackson set in motion the forcible removal of Cherokee to patronize white settlers who coveted these native people's lands. Jackson even disregarded the U.S. Supreme Court's decision declaring the forced removal illegal. 4,000 Cherokee out of 15,000 died on the "Trail of Tears" to the western lands. Jackson's Indian Removal Act forced or manipulated numerous other eastern tribal people to western territories including the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Pottawattamie. Thousands died on their journeys. Jackson's policy was clearly racist and genocidal. So why is Jackson on the $20 bill?

I have a few questions to ask Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, the Anti-Defamation League, and the 70 percent of Americans who believe in the First Amendment right of freedom of religion, but feel an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero would be insensitive to the 9/11 horror. "May I ask you to petition that Andrew Jackson to be removed from the $20 bill? And while you're working on the cultural sensitivity issue, would you tackle the biggie? I'm talking here about Christopher Columbus, the man whose name graces countless streets, towns, holidays, celebrations, and even our nation's capitol, the District of Columbia. Columbus directly instigated wholesale torture, enslavement, theft, and genocide over all native peoples he imposed his rule."

The proposed Cordoba House near Ground Zero involves religious freedom and property rights. On the other hand, the Jackson $20 bill and the innumerable Columbus designations are government sponsored. Putatively these men represent the finest heroes and models for U.S. citizens to appreciate and emulate. Yet, isn't the prominence given these men but blind insensitivity to Native Americans? I suggest there are plenty of deserving heroes for a renamed $20 bill -- and a better way to understand October 12.

Allen Johnson is co-founder of Christians for the Mountains.

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