The clearance by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" to be built in lower Manhattan received national coverage amidst a raging debate. Initiated by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich and then weighed in upon by Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama, the debate focuses on whether Park 51, the 13-story Islamic cultural center, should be allowed to be built so close to 9/11's Ground Zero.
Those who oppose Park 51 argue either that the project is insensitive because Ground Zero is unique and a kind of "hallowed ground," as journalist Charles Krauthammer put it, or that it is politically motivated by an anti-American agenda and should not be treated with the same tolerance as a religious institution. Those defending the Islamic center have been quick to label opponents as bigots and claimed the center will be a bridge to cultural harmony by promoting moderation, non-violence, and diversity.
Is this apparent new backlash against Muslims in Western nations a new version of the “culture wars”? While religious freedom has been a consistent part of the Enlightenment tradition, does the increasing antagonism towards Muslims in the West express a feeling that we tolerate what some consider the intolerant at our peril? How should today's American society deal with clashing belief systems? Does the current preoccupation with Islam, whether sympathetic or hostile, reflect a deeper lack of certainty about what Western values are?
Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer, social critic and has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written seven books, including Free for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. She is now a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio.
Alan Miller is Director of The NY Salon. He also is the co-founder of London's Truman Brewery and Vibe Bar.
Miller is also a film director and writer.
As well as being the editor of spiked, Brendan is also a columnist for the Big Issue and Reason. He writes widely for a variety of other publications, including the Telegraph, the Spectator and the Australian. He is the author, most recently, of A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays (2015).
Zead Ramadan is the Board President of the Council on American Islamic Relations-New York.
Kristen Saloomey, a correspondent for Al Jazeera based in New York, has more than 15 years of news reporting experience.
Her career highlights include covering the election of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and the trial of the cell known as "the Lackawanna Six". She holds a master's degree from the Columbia University graduate school of journalism.
Social critic Wendy Kaminer argues that opposition from conservatives over the planned Park51 Muslim community center near Ground Zero is, to a degree, the consequence of liberals who consistently elevate sensitivity over liberty.