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Posts Tagged ‘Park51’

Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

“The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves—and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans—if we said ‘no’ to a mosque in Lower Manhattan. . . . We would betray our values—and play into our enemies’ hands—if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists—and we should not stand for that. . . . there is no neighborhood in this City that is off limits to God’s love and mercy.Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Aug. 3, 2010

“We desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand and fall to his own Master. Wee are bounde by the Law to doe good unto all men, especially to those of the household of faith.Remonstrance of the Inhabitants of the Towne of Flushing to Governor Peter Stuyvesant, December 27, 1657 (alluded to by Mayor Bloomberg)

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. —First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, 1791

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Ordinarily this blog would have no reason to comment on the building of an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan—the subject doesn’t naturally pertain to our core mission of infrastructure, environment, and peace (especially for New Orleans and environs). But these are not ordinary times, and this is no longer an ordinary religious-freedom issue.

The uproar over Park51, commonly known as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” has reached national security–threatening levels of madness. What we find most troubling about the furor is that the hate speech against Islam generally—blaming all Muslims, including the 5 to 7 million Muslim Americans, for the crimes of al Qaeda on 9/11—is making it easier to justify war on the Islamic world, to continue fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and beyond. (Recall the WWII internments of Japanese-Americans and the atomic bombings made politically and morally more palatable by persistent demonization of “the Jap” as subhuman.) Most insane and threatening of all is that the broad-brush insults of Muslims validate Osama bin Laden’s claims that America hates Islam and that therefore all Muslims should fight against “the Crusaders.” Do Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin really want to do bin Laden’s recruiting work for him?

[The manufacture of the controversy cannot be understood without seeing Atlas Shrugs, the blog of author and activist Pamela Geller, executive director of a group called Stop Islamization of America (“a human rights organization dedicated to freedom of speech, religious liberty”) and coauthor of The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America (foreword by John Bolton). Salon’s Justin Elliott explains how Geller pushed Park51 from being unremarkable when announced to being suddenly seen as a dire threat to America.]

The site in question is occupied by a former Burlington Coat factory that was damaged on 9/11. The building dates back to the 1850s. The owners of the property, Feisal Abdul Rauf, a graduate of Columbia University, and his wife Daisy Khan, plan to build a Sufi Islamic cultural center—not a mosque—modeled on the (Jewish) 92nd Street Y, a prominent cultural and fitness center in New York City. (Sufis are well known as the most peaceful and “cosmic” of the varieties of Islam—they are like the opposite of extremist or violent. Think of the Persian poet Rumi.) The Park51 board includes Christians and Jews along with Muslims. The plans call for classrooms, a 500-seat auditorium, a restaurant, a memorial to the victims of September 11 (some of whom were Muslim, as were some of the first responders), a prayer room but not a mosque, and so on. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of a mosque in TriBeCa for nearly 30 years, vice-chair of the Interfaith Center of New York and the author of “What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America,” has conducted “sensitivity training” for the FBI. He is famous as a peaceful moderate. His wife, Daisy Khan, runs the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which she co-founded with Rauf. (When she appeared on Fox News in December 2009 to talk about the center, Laura Ingraham said, “I like what you’re doing.”) Rauf and Khan are precisely the kind of Muslims America should welcome and encourage. Harassing them and demonizing their project, telling them and others of their faith that they don’t belong here sends a very bad signal to the Muslim world and reinforces their suspicion that America is at war with Islam.

Where Is George W. Bush When You Need Him?

This is precisely why President Bush was careful to clarify publicly, repeatedly, that the U.S. is fighting al Qaeda, not Islam. “Islam is peace,” he said. Where is he now? Maureen Dowd writes (almost pleadingly), “W. needs to get his bullhorn back out.” At the time Bush said these things, we were not confident his heart was really in it, but he was right to reinforce the message, and it would do a lot of good for America as a United States if he would resurface to try to cool the hostility. (See Joshua Holland’s disturbing report at AlterNet about an epidemic of anti-Islamic hate spreading across the U.S., nearly 10 years after September 11.)

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