ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Dale Carnegie wrote “How to Win Friends and Influence People” in the 1930s. The American writer’s compilation of practical advice for improving personal and professional relationships was an instant hit and remains popular today.
About a year after Carnegie published his most famous work, a lesser known spoof was released by Irving Tressler titled “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.” Tressler’s book comically contradicted Carnegie’s in every way possible.
If those who make up the Cordoba Initiative and the members of Westboro Baptist Church were ever exposed by Carnegie’s book, it is clear they were not won over or influenced by it. And while neither group may have ever heard of Tressler’s spoof, their actions personify the title.
Based in New York, The Cordoba Initiative is the group seeking to place an Islamic cultural center, including a mosque, in lower Manhattan two blocks from where the World Trade Center towers stood on Sept. 11, 2001 — a site referred to as “Ground Zero.”
The Westboro Baptist Church, according to its website, is located in Topeka, Kan., and describes itself as an “Old School (or Primitive) Baptist Church.” Westboro is known for picketing the funerals of American soldiers.
Westboro contends the military member’s deaths are a judgment on the United States for the country’s toleration of homosexuality and other sins. During the pickets, the church mocks the death of soldiers by holding signs that express gratitude for improvised explosive devices that kill many U.S. military personnel.
The Cordoba Initiative, via its website, says that it wants to “cultivate and embrace neighborly relations between all New Yorkers.” However, a majority of New Yorkers — some polls suggest 70 percent — object to the center being built only two blocks from “Ground Zero.”
Families of those killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 are especially offended by the planned center. Some moderate Muslims in New York agree with them.
“This is not a humble Islamic statement,” M. Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, told the internet new site The Daily Caller. “A mosque such as this is a political structure that casts a shadow over a cemetery, over hallowed ground.”
Despite overwhelming opposition, the group is moving forward with its plans for the center and it is even reported that the groundbreaking is planned for Sept. 11, 2011, although an official with the center denies it. Doesn’t sound very “neighborly” does it?
Westboro Baptist Church says it wants to call America to repentance. It believes God’s judgment is being visited upon the United States and that God has removed His hand of protection from the nation. They want to persuade people to turn to God.
It would seem that the insensitivity of the Westboro funeral pickets does little to advance its cause. At a time when families are dealing with indescribable and inconsolable grief, the last thing they need is strangers mocking their family member’s death.
For the record, the U.S. Constitution does afford the Cordoba Initiative the right to build its center wherever the New York planning commission will approve for it to be built. The Constitution also affords the Westboro Baptist Church the right to picket whatever it wishes. However, having the right to do something is not the same as something being right or appropriate.
I am opposed to the plans of the Cordoba Initiative and the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church for the same reason — I believe both are wholly inappropriate. I think both groups should reconsider how they are operating.
Most New Yorkers are not opposed to the Cordoba Initiative constructing a new Islamic cultural center, mosque and all; they only object to building it two blocks from “Ground Zero.”
If the Cordoba Initiative would build its proposed center elsewhere, it would signal a sign of respect toward New Yorkers, especially to the families of those killed during the Sept. 11, 2001. It would also help advance Muslim public relations both in New York and around the U.S.
While I loathe the tactics of Westboro, I can understand its concern about the current moral climate of America. However, mocking anyone’s funeral is more than inappropriate. It is not only distasteful, it is hateful. It also does nothing to win converts to the Westboro cause.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Jesus taught. Additionally he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Apply these principles to these two situations and both groups change their modus operandi.
While the Cordoba Initiative and Westboro Baptist Church stubbornly believe they are correct in how they seek to achieve their goals, the manner in which they currently conduct themselves is wholly inappropriate and only results in both groups losing friends and alienating people.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.