Let’s start with this: the mosque can be built in New York near Ground Zero. But should it?

Herewith, a gathering of thoughts from a go-’round of recent news stories. Leaving many others aside for now, these caught my attention, for one reason or another (and even an absence of reason).

This New York Times front-page story noted the city “removed the final hurdle for a controversial mosque plan near ground zero,” but after that first half of the first sentence of the above-the-fold piece, you learn nothing more about what New York City did to clear the way for this plan. The second half of the first sentence was the real story.

…Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg forcefully defended the project on Tuesday as a symbol of America’s religious tolerance and sought to reframe a fiery national debate over the project.

This was dramatic.

With the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop, the mayor pleaded with New Yorkers to reject suspicions about the planned 13-story complex, to be located two blocks north of the World Trade Center site, saying that “we would betray our values if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else.”

“To cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists — and we should not stand for that,” the mayor said.

What? So…following the will of a majority of Americans would somehow give the terrorists a victory? How?

Bloomberg didn’t explain that, but he had choice words for those Americans, says the New York Post.

Mayor Bloomberg won’t stop talking about the mosque near Ground Zero, harshly attacking opponents yesterday who “ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Sounding more supportive of freedom of religion than freedom of speech, Bloomberg said, “I just don’t think the government should tell people where they can pray and where they can build houses of worship.

“It is a shame that we even have to talk about this,” the mayor added…

No, that’s not the shame. We should have a healthy debate about it. But not one that impugns the motives of people who bring questions to that debate.

Bloomberg also blasted demands for a probe of the mosque builders’ finances.

“Every time they pass the basket in your church and you throw a buck in, [do you want someone to] run over and say, ‘OK, now where do you come from, who are your parents, where’d you get this money?’ . . . A handful of people ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

This is just flaky distraction. In fact, Bloomberg would enhance the debate by welcoming questions and helping find answers.

 New York Representative Anthony Weiner agrees, which is probably the point of his oddly admiring letter of support for the mayor he normally opposes.

“Dear Mayor Bloomberg,” it began. “I honor you for your powerful statement about the proposed cultural center with a mosque in Lower Manhattan.”

“Your remarks on Tuesday put this controversial issue into context,” he continued.

Then it gets more interesting.

“I feel strongly that the constitutional protection of religion from the overreach of government means that elected officials should endeavor to stay out of the business of deciding where houses of worship may or may not be,” the letter says.

But in a nod to the families of the victims of the attacks, and their vocal concerns about the mosque, Mr. Weiner adds: “I hope that as the issue is considered going forward, there is a process where those other great hallmarks of democracy are respected — transparency and tolerance of all viewpoints.”

He added: “That process can allow fair questions to be raised.”

On this point, Mr. Weiner seems to have differed with the mayor. Those opposed to the project have called for its fund-raising to be as transparent as possible, out of fear that foreign governments with ties to radical Islam will finance the center — an issue that Mr. Weiner, in his letter, appears to be referring to.

Stealth move by Mr. Weiner, maybe. But a smart one. Asking for clarity and transparency is reasonable. Ridiculing those who ask is not.

But I found it surprising that in The Economist, Lexington sounds the same oddly caustic tone as Bloomberg. This lively and intellectually engaging column I occasionally disagree with but always enjoy came out swinging with some sharp rebukes that lacked measure…among other things.

Start from the opening sentence…

WHAT makes a Muslim in Britain or America wake up and decide that he is no longer a Briton or American but an Islamic “soldier” fighting a holy war against the infidel?

Whoa. Wait. If that’s the lede, I respectfully submit that Lexington is building an entire case on a false premise. We know too much about the violent murder/suicide incidents in Britain and America to believe the perpetrators were regular citizens suddenly turned brutal ‘Islamic soldiers’ by suspicious townfolk. In fact, those alarming events made the townfolk ask more questions.

And now questions represent intolerance? That’s the argument Bloomberg and Lexington are making.

The mosque and cultural center planned for the Ground Zero neighborhood is about many things, but the ’religious intolerance’ accusation is meant to be a conversation stopper, to avoid facing them. The ‘Spirited Atheist’ on WaPo’s religion blog gets that.

In my first column, I described it as politically inept to locate a Muslim center within sight of Ground Zero, but I now realize that was a tremendous understatement. Pushing to build a conspicuous Muslim institution near this site demonstrates a profound lack of emotional intelligence and understanding of the raw emotions that are the legacy of the terrorist attacks…

A great many non-Muslim Americans are never going to see this mosque–precisely because of its location–as anything but an in-your-face insult. I don’t know how anyone who lives in New York, from journalists to the mayor to the imam and the real estate developer, can have failed to realize this in advance.

Fox’s Michael Goodwin says it’s as simple as that.

The mosque battle, as I have argued, is a simple matter of location, a land-use controversy writ in raw emotion. The question is not whether there should be another mosque in New York. It’s whether one is appropriate on this site.

USA Today ran an editorial by author Thomas Kidd effectively saying the same thing. But in making his point, he asks whether any other religious group would draw such strong resistance to the building of a worship space, his operative assumption being that the answer is ‘no.’

Actually, it already happened, and William McGurn’s account of it is just about the best response out there, yet.

So maybe it’s time to look beyond the lawyers and landmark preservation commissions and regulatory agencies. When we do, it will be hard to find a better example than the grace and wisdom Pope John Paul II exhibited during a similar clash involving another hallowed site on whose grounds innocents were also murdered: Auschwitz.

Did you know that?

In the 1980s, Carmelite nuns moved into an abandoned building on the edge of the former Nazi death camp to pray for the souls taken there. As with the dispute over the mosque near Ground Zero, the convent’s presence escalated into a clash not only between different faiths but between competing historical narratives. As with today’s clash too, it seemed intractable until the Polish pope stepped in…

So what did Pope John Paul II do? He waited, and he counseled. And when he saw that the nuns were not budging—and that their presence was doing more harm than good—he asked the Carmelites to move. He acknowledged that his letter would probably be a trial to each of the sisters, but asked them to accept it while continuing to pursue their mission in that same city at another convent that had been built for them.

Let’s remember what this means. By their own lights, the nuns believed they were doing only good. They may have had a legal title to be where they were. And it is likely that they never would have been forced to move by local authorities had they insisted on staying.

There’s a lesson here. Even those who favor this new Islamic Center surely can appreciate why some American feelings are rubbed raw by the idea of a mosque at a place where Islamic terrorists killed more than 2,700 innocent people. If feelings in Auschwitz were raw after nearly half a century, it’s not hard to see why they would remain raw at Ground Zero after less than a decade.

Yes, there’s a lesson here. We can learn it by drawing on the wisdom and grace of the Polish pope.

Without doubt Pope John Paul II did not share the more malevolent interpretations attached to the presence of the Carmelites at Auschwitz. By asking the nuns to withdraw, he didn’t concede them either. What he did was recognize that having the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....