Wilder: Park 51 controversy is heinously un-American

I am losing faith in America.

For over a month, this country has been embroiled in a debate between freedom and oppression, constitutionality and fear, goodwill and ignorance. It is a debate that, in a perfect world, wouldn't be taking place at all. But on Sept. 11, 2001 this world became less perfect as a result of the heinous acts of terrorism committed against America by 19 radical Islamists. Hence, in recent weeks, Americans across the country have been trying to suffocate plans for a Muslim community center and mosque - the "Park 51" project - near the site of the World Trade Center.

If the remaining Islamic extremists are keen on U.S. current events, they're thrilled to see that the terror they impacted on this country is still in full force. Opponents of the mosque continue to promote baseless fear of Islam, their justification always boiling down to "9/11." In a more rational, pre-9/11 America, such arguments against religious freedom were limited to a lunatic fringe. Now they're gaining credence nationwide as citizens feel obligated to weigh in on whether the core American value of religious freedom is still applicable to Muslims.

It sickens me to see what Muslims in America have to deal with now, living as constant scapegoats for the actions of violent extremists who live by an alien set of Muslim ideals. They are normal human beings practicing a peaceful religion. Yet in a recent Quinnipiac University poll of 1,497 New Yorkers, 53 percent said that Muslim developers shouldn't be allowed to build near ground zero. America, we have some learning to do in the fields of mathematics, logic and constitutional law.

Mathematically speaking, even if there are 150,000 ruthless, freedom-loathing fringe members of Islam worldwide, that amounts to just one terrorist per 10,000 Muslims. Logically speaking, saying "all the terrorists on 9/11 were Muslim, therefore all Muslims are terrorists" is in the same ballpark of sanity as declaring that every baseball player in the world plays for the Boston Red Sox. And constitutionally speaking, the First Amendment clearly states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …"

It's discouraging to think that citizens have failed to learn anything about Islam - their supposed "enemy" - in the nine years since America was attacked. It's upsetting that Americans are trying to force the relocation of Park 51 in spite of the fact that it won't even be visible from ground zero. More than anything, I'm disheartened that ignorance and fear in this country have conspired to create such widespread hatred for an innocuous religion. Islam is becoming a very noticeable lump in the "melting pot" of American acceptance and diversity.

It's up to all of us as decent, rational Americans to end the senseless suffocation of Muslim-American liberty. If religious developers get a building permit for any property in this country - whether it be in the middle of a Nebraskan corn field, on the rim of a caldera in Hawaii or at the very center of ground zero in New York City - they should be able to build their church, mosque, or synagogue without opposition. When the towering, 13-story Muslim community center finally does rise in lower Manhattan, it won't be a "victory mosque," as some opponents have called it.

It will be a symbol of American freedom.