Area 51, Manhattan Branch
The reactions to this have been very diverse, and generally along the expected intelligence curve from "AAAAGGGHH! AAAGGHHH! AAAGGGHHH!" through "Not there! Anywhere but there!" to "How about a few more blocks away?" to *shrug* "Okay."
It's perfectly understandable for people to have an emotional response: for many, it was as if aliens had come to Earth, and they were the ones from Independence Day instead of E.T. These strange creatures that no one knew about had done terrible things for no known reason, and now they want to make a holy shrine right where they did those terrible things!
This, as it ends up, is not exactly true. Pointing out that it's not true doesn't often help, but maybe -just maybe - it could be possible to show where some of the worst arguments are a touch inaccurate:
"It's on Ground Zero!" Well, no it's not. It is fairly close - two blocks away at 45 Park Place - but there are no plans for building on the Twin Tower site other than those already in place. As it is, the planned site is as close to City Hall as it is to Ground Zero: lower Manhattan isn't a big place.
"It's a MOSQUE! A big, onion-domed MOSQUE!" Not really; or at least not just a mosque. One of those wouldn't fit very well for starters, what with requiring a lot of space to get a dome built and space being at such a premium on the island. The primary reason for the facility is the mosque, certainly: but there are also plans for a community centre involving a fair amount of rental space (available to any group), a permanent 9/11 memorial, auditorium and classroom spaces... Currently, the largest community centre in lower Manhattan is in a basement.
"There shouldn't be any more mosques in New York!" There are more than 100 in New York right now, and of the two mosques in Manhattan one holds about 450 people, and another about 60. This isn't anywhere near enough for the number of Muslims that are in the area. The community board in charge of the area already approved of the plans well before it became the national and international spectacle it is now. Now, if you want the federal government to step in and tell local communities how to plan out their towns, shouldn't you just say so? Plus, the building is currently being used as a mosque right now: Muslims gather there to pray. It is, in every sense, a mosque.
"It's an insult to America!" Americans want to build the site. There are approximately a million Muslims in New York City right now: they are Americans.
"Okay, it's an insult to the Americans who died in the 9/11 attacks!" Presumably that includes the 300 or so Americans who were Muslims who died directly in the attacks and the others who have suffered along with all the other rescue workers who were at the scene trying to save lives and care for the survivors, yes? Unless you are saying that those people killed themselves by having other people fly into building they worked in, then you're dividing people into "Good Americans" and "Bad Americans" based on their religion.
"But Islam is so violent!" The Koran often makes references to violence and war, it's true. As does the Bible. You do remember your Bible, don't you? Comparing the two is a bit unfair, as Christianity has 600 more years of historical violence behind it. Islam has a ways to go if they want to catch up!
"Christians only follow the New Testament!" Sure they do! Right up until it's convenient for them to bring out the Old Testament to prove their moral superiority. Or have you forgotten the fights over race relations and women's rights in North America? Heck, look at any group that is protesting gay marriage and count the signs with Leviticus quotes on them. But this does bring up the good point that treating any group with more than a billion members as a single, homogeneous blob is ludicrous. Pretending to believe that the Muslims in America all get marching orders from Saudi Arabia is just as insane as pretending all Christians get marching orders from the Vatican. Know who turned in those idiots in Toronto? Other Muslims.
"It (is/going to be) funded by extremists in the Middle East!" First off, the funding isn't in place yet because they want to apply for tax-exempt status. If that succeeds, then the funding is going to have to be transparent. Second, the funding is likely to come from Muslims themselves; meaning yes, some is probably going to come from the Middle East. You know what else? A huge amount of funding for the terrorist group the Irish Republican Army came from the United States, specifically from Boston and New York. And yet Americans are allowed into England - why do you think that is?
"Look at the terminology: Muslim World Visionaries aren't even called 'extremists': they're called 'Islamists'! That proves their vision of a world dominated by Islam is accepted as normal!" Why, yes: and those who see the world being overcome by Christianity are called 'Christians'! The very reason behind the largest groups of Christians is to 'spread the word' as commanded by God. I like to think of this point as just being spectacularly non-self aware rather than deliberately misleading. See also: missionaries.
"They put up mosques whenever they conquered new lands, and now they're doing it here! It's historical fact!" *Le sigh* That is a tiny little bit of an historical fact. Here's the rest of it (and this holds true for every single religion in existence): when members of a faith go to a new land, there isn't going to be a place of worship already there. Really. It's not like a native tribe in Ecuador suddenly thought to themselves, "Hmm, we had better build a church for when Christians arrive!" No, the church gets built after the missionaries get there and bring the faith with them.
It's unlikely any of these arguments will sway anyone's mind, of course: folks have to overcome their prejudice on their own. But maybe seeing that there is an answer to their "unbeatable" arguments could get the opponents of the New York mosque proposal thinking about why they feel the way they do and asking themselves whether their opposition as logical as they believe.
Oh, and welcome to the second day of Ramadan!