Thoughts on the Park 51 Community Center

I typically do not weigh in on political matters here unless the pertain to the meetings and events industry and the more that I think about it, the more I am thinking that the controversy over the Park 51 Community Center does indeed impact our industry.

I notice that our industry associations are quite quiet on the issue, probably waiting to see which way the wind blows rather than take a stand on something that will have profound repercussions on the United States as a country. They really should consider coming out with a statement on the issue.

Most people who read this are American, most are meeting and event professionals. As meeting and event professionals, we deal with all races, religions, orientations and personality types in our roles and we are the great integrators. I like to think that we treat all of our attendees equally and with respect, putting everyone on the same pedestal. Where are we now that this is happening, what is wrong with us.

First, lets get a few things straight:

  • This is not a Mosque, it is a community center that will have a pool and basketball courts.
  • It will have a prayer room, much like an airport has a chapel. Get this straight, it is not a Mosque (although, that is irrelevant).

Second, lets talk about the people that are building this center and do some simple math.

  • They are Muslim, not al-Qaida
  • Being Muslim does not = al-Qaida, just as being German does not = Nazi

Newt Gingrich and his wonks are going around spouting how you would not allow the Nazi’s to build next to the Holocaust Museum and I agree, that would be inflammatory, rude and disgusting.

Go back to my equations and hold that they are true:

  • If you would not allow the Nazis to build next to the Holocaust Museum (which we all agree on), it would then stand that you would not allow al-Qaida to build next to the World Trade Center Site.
  • It would also stand that if a fine group of Germans wished to build a Church a couple of blocks from the Holocaust Museum that would be fine because German’s are not Nazis, Nazi’s are Nazi’s… although they intersect.
  • Therefore it should stand that al-Qaida is al-Qaida, Muslims are Muslims and the two, while intersecting, are not the same.

Muslims were among the first responders on 9/11, they were among the dead on 9/11 and they are certainly among the people that were outraged by what happened on that tragic day.

Some will argue that Muslims were seen cheering after the attack…..of course, there were people who stood and cheered that day, there were also Germans that cheered on the day that Poland was invaded, there were Russians who cheered after the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Japanese who cheered the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The difference is CNN, CNN was not at all of these events.

What we quickly forget is that there were also Muslims who cried that day, just as there were Germans that cried, Russians that cried and Japanese that cried.

If we continue down this path, we are becoming less American, we are becoming what we despise most, we are becoming wrong and that I cannot stand for. Just because you do not agree with it, does not make it wrong.

I am an American. I am an American with Christian Friends, with Muslim Friends, with Jewish Friends, with Gay Friends, with Straight Friends, with German Friends, with Black Friends, with White Friends, with Japanese Friends, with Italian Friends and even friends that I think are idiots. All types can be welcome in my world. All of my friends can even be in the same room together and have great conversations because we respect each other.

I am not friends with Nazis, I am not friends with al-Qaida and I am not friends with any one who would spit on the spirit of America and say that one peaceful group has less rights than another. Wake up people, this is UN-American.

Our troops fight for precisely these rights, they fight for the rights of a minority to not get squashed by the majority. They fight for the 1st Amendment and all of the other amendments that we hold dear and are so proud of. They fight for the memory of all of the lives that were lost on 9/11, even the Muslim ones.

What are we to do as meeting and event professionals if this spreads. What are you going to say when someone will not sit at the same table with a Muslim, just because they are a Muslim. What are you going to say when your organization decides to exclude Muslims from speaking at a program and what are you going to say when it spreads to another group….say Jewish people, White people or Indian people. Are you going to sit there and say “I am going to go with the group because that is what they think” or perhaps you will say “This does not concern me”.

The famous quote by Pastor Martin Niemöller regarding the failure of German Intellectuals during the Nazi rise to power sums this situation up perfectly.

“THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

and by that time no one was left to speak up.”



Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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