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How to get past the zero-sum debate over planned mosque near Ground Zero

The planned Islamic center near New York City's Ground Zero is trapped in forces far larger than the project itself. All sides in this debate would do well to read President Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo about US-Muslim relations.

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A prime piece of Manhattan real estate is trapped in a confluence of disputes far more significant than the site’s intended purpose: to stand as the future home of an Islamic cultural center.

Can the project escape from the whirlwind and fulfill its purpose as a place of peace between religions?

Controversy over the planned “Ground Zero mosque” that is two blocks from the destroyed World Trade Center is being fueled by several powerful forces:

1. America’s hurt – in every way and at every level, as a country and as individuals – resulting from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which were carried out in the name of Islam.

2. Americans’ generally negative view of Islam: A January Gallup poll shows 43 percent of Americans admit to feeling at least “a little” prejudiced against Islam, while a third say their opinion is “not favorable at all.”

The temptation is to lump all Muslims together as intolerant and violent, or potentially so. Sadly, the Muslim world of about 1.57 billion people has not done enough to help dismantle this stereotype. Indeed, based on this year’s annual report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal body created in 1998, many Muslim countries have far to go when it comes to religious freedom and tolerance. The report cites Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, and Sudan as countries of particular concern, while placing Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, and Turkey on its “watch” list.

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