Ground Zero tolerance: religious freedom and America's culture war

Monday 8 November, 6.30pm until 8.00pm, The Wollman Hall, The New School, 65 West 11th St, New York, USA

Venue: The Wollman Hall, The New School, 65 West 11th St, New York, USA

Tickets: This event is free and open to the public. For further information please email Jean: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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, as to whether Park 51, the 13 storey Islamic cultural centre, 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 Charles Krauthammer put it, or that it is politically motivated, with an anti-American agenda, and should not be treated with the same tolerance as a religious institution. Those defending the Islamic centre have been quick to label opponents as bigots, and claimed the centre will be a bridge to cultural harmony, promoting moderation, non-violence and diversity. The New York Times called the centre a ‘monument to tolerance’.  Similar debates rage in Europe where some governments have moved to ban Muslim women wearing the burqa and minarets have been banned and debates rage on about whether the wearing the hijab, niqab and indeed certain practices of Islam itself represents a challenge to Western values. Some critics cry Islamophobia in response, and demand we respect all cultures and religious regardless. Others argue that such bans and restrictions are an attack on freedom in general, and consider them a gross overreaction.

Is this apparent new backlash against Muslims in Western nations and the arguments around the issue 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 the intolerant at our peril? Is it true that today’s politically correct ‘tolerance’ results in a craven accommodation to radical Islam even when it is antithetical to Western values? How should today’s American society deal with clashing belief systems?  Is this simply a case of religious freedom and free speech? Does the current preoccupation with Islam, whether sympathetic or hostile, reflect a deeper lack of certainty about what Western values are?


Wendy Kaminer
US-based writer on law, liberty, feminism, religion, and popular culture; author, Worst Instincts: cowardice, conformity and the ACLU

Brendan O'Neill
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays

Zead Ramadan
chairman of the board, Council on American-Islamic Relations – New York

Kristen Saloomey
New York correspondent, Al-Jazeera English

Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)

Produced by
Alan Miller chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)
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