Tag Archives: Cordoba House

It Must Be August #Paladino #NYGov #Park51

23 Aug

Late last week, this happened:

Paladino has criticized New York’s rich menu of social service benefits, which he says encourages illegal immigrants and needy people to live in the state. He has promised a 20 percent reduction in the state budget and a 10 percent income tax cut if elected.

Asked at the meeting how he would achieve those savings, Paladino laid out several plans that included converting underused state prisons into centers that would house welfare recipients. There, they would do work for the state — “military service, in some cases park service, in other cases public works service,” he said — while prison guards would be retrained to work as counselors.

“Instead of handing out the welfare checks, we’ll teach people how to earn their check. We’ll teach them personal hygiene … the personal things they don’t get when they come from dysfunctional homes,” Paladino said.

…and this:

Paladino told The Associated Press the dormitory living would be voluntary, not mandatory, and would give welfare recipients an opportunity to take public, state-sponsored jobs far from home.

“These are beautiful properties with basketball courts, bathroom facilities, toilet facilities. Many young people would love to get the hell out of cities,” Paladino he said.

He also defended his hygiene remarks, saying he had trained inner-city troops in the Army and knows their needs.

“You have to teach them basic things — taking care of themselves, physical fitness. In their dysfunctional environment, they never learned these things,” he said

Under normal circumstances, a traditional candidate for governor of the state of New York would have been long ago disqualified from serving, and his campaign would be in tatters. But because Paladino is a self-funded millionaire, the resources are available to him to say and do utterly ridiculous things and continue to plow ahead.

Like when he called Governor Paterson a “drug addict“, Paladino will neither apologize nor walk back his outrageous and offensive mouthshits. He will instead double down on them, patting himself on the back for not being “politically correct”. Regrettably, literally hundreds of people around the state will be pleased by his defamatory “tough talk”.

The Paladino campaign has succeeded in gaining attention and some traction in the polls, but in so doing Carl has made headlines for sheer idiocy. Whether it was sending out racist & pornographic emails, calling the Governor a “drug addict”, trying to out-pogrom Rick Lazio on the Park51 community center in lower Manhattan, and now this – labor camps for the poors.

And I don’t throw around the term “pogrom” loosely.

A protest against the Park51 project (and Sharia law, and Islam in general) was held in lower Manhattan yesterday, and during it, an African-American carpenter who works on the Ground Zero construction project had the misfortune of walking by the protest wearing a white shirt and white do-rag. Some in the energized crowd mistook him for a Muslim, and he came within inches of being an assault & battery victim.

When people like Carl Paladino, who are unmistakably but inexplicably taken seriously as political candidates say that the Park51 center is a “monument to those who attacked our country” on 9/11, that’s calling every single Muslim a terrorist.

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When you put together the entire equation of what’s happening in that video, including the background lies and hatemongering that have whipped that crowd into that frenzy, this is no different from a contemporary anti-Muslim pogrom. It’s not about 9/11 or insulting the memories of those who perished on that day. Contrary to the bigots’ assertions, this isn’t some “victory mosque” or a coded project to force Americans to submit to Sharia Law. This is, quite frankly, what leads to a Kristallnacht or crosses burning on a lawn. That’s not to say that there are honest people who are genuinely offended by the idea of a mosque. But when you have a frenzied mob aggressively accost an innocent passerby because they think (incorrectly) that he’s Muslim, that goes far beyond the pale.

When Carl goes on about jamming the poors into a decommissioned jail so’s they can get their work on in various parts of the state as a sort of nouveau Civilian Conservation Corps, you have a bunch of interesting stuff going on.

Usually, tea party Republican candidates don’t tout modern-day versions of New Deal government jobs. We can make Carl’s CCC stand for “Carl’s Camps of Couth”. The notion that poor people, or people on government assistance can’t keep themselves clean is offensive on its face and needs no further comment. But, like Carl’s platform plank where he would require welfare recipients to be residents of New York State for a year before receiving benefits, he is uninformed about the law. A residency requirement is not legal. Carl’s assumption that welfare queens sit around having kids all day while smellily watching Maury is based on a pre-1996 vision of government assistance.

It’s a shame that these are the issues we’re discussing when it comes to New York and its dysfunctional government. The word for all of this is “laughingstock“.

Diverse Coalitions

16 Aug

The continued general debate over the Islamic Community Center in Manhattan is a fascinating insight into the state of America’s capacity for respectful and meaningful public discourse. It is an intersection of civil rights and civility, and challenges your definitions of tolerance and acceptance. Who’s views and feelings should we be more tolerant of: the continued pain of some families of victims of the 9/11 attack, or the Muslim families who wish a place to worship near their homes in southern Manhattan? We don’t always rise to the challenge.

The predictable arguments on each side reveal deep seated preconceptions. From the Right, anyone for the mosque is inherently naive to the threat of Islamic and Islamist influence and terrorist activity. Oh, and you are un-American. My favorite charges are from Liberals, however, where Racist has been revealed as the reflexive Go To “-ism” epithet of the Left. I’ve never been called a racist so many times in so short a timeframe. That’s as moranic as the healthcare screamers who told the government to stay away from their Medicare. Repeat after me: I’m a racist if I oppose the mosque because it’ll be full of Arabs, not Muslims. If its about Muslims, its religious discrimination, not racial. I mean, goddamn, you’d think latte-sipping lefty intellectuals could get their slurs straight.

Lost in all this is the views of the Muslims in southern Manhattan, or the 9/11 victim’s families. How do they feel? Split, and uncertain, on both counts. This is America.

The frames have been roughly been set: your use of the term “Ground Zero Mosque,” “Park51”, or “Cordoba House” now puts you generally in the same camps as if you use the term “illegal immigrant”, “undocumented worker,” or “alien;” i.e. Conservative, Liberal and Behind The Times. But unlike the abortion and immigration debates, this discussion is relatively new, so the potential still exists for strange bedfellows as the ideologues sort themselves out.

Which is how I, the ADL, Charles Krauthammer and President Obama ended up on the same side.

To state again for the record, I believe there is every legal right for Imam Rauf to build a mosque/cultural center at 51 Park Place, but simply because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The ADL likewise does not dispute the legality, but believes that graveyards are not appropriate places for outreach and understanding, using the now oft-cited case of the Carmelite Nuns at Auschwitz as an example.

Charles Krauthammer, regular right-wing bogey-man of the Left, was perhaps a predictable opponent. But his argument bears some further examination and fleshing out. He correctly notes that most of the supporters of the mosque, speaking out of both sides of their mouth, say that First Amendment rights shown rule here, and freedom of religion should be preserved. . . but, in any case, don’t worry because these are good moderate Muslims who aren’t the bad guys anyway. Which begs the question:

If the proposed mosque were controlled by “insensitive” Islamist radicals either excusing or celebrating 9/11, he [Mayor Bloomberg] would not support its construction. But then, why not? By the mayor’s own expansive view of religious freedom, by what right do we dictate the message of any mosque?

One doesn’t have to buy into a conspiracy theory to ask what this Muslim group being moderate has to do with the mosque being constructed or not. Under the First Amendment defense, should not more radical Islamic views be protected as well? I don’t even mean Al Qaeda, or a front for Hamas providing materiel support (both illegal). I just mean the occasional fiery speech supporting strict Sharia law. Where is the line? If less than moderate Muslims preaching at this site gives you pause, then we are not so far apart.

Krauthammer’s second argument is less persuasive, in my opinion, but amusing because of the current Canalside debates in Buffalo:

America is a free country where you can build whatever you want — but not anywhere. That’s why we have zoning laws. No liquor store near a school, no strip malls where they offend local sensibilities, and, if your house doesn’t meet community architectural codes, you cannot build at all. These restrictions are for reasons of aesthetics. Others are for more profound reasons of common decency and respect for the sacred. No commercial tower over Gettysburg, no convent at Auschwitz — and no mosque at Ground Zero.

Anyone else find it ironic that we debate the historic character of a concrete hole on the waterfront, and want to ensure any construction there follows strict Green and stylistic standards, but its a free for all at the site of the biggest mass murder in our nation’s history?

Krauthammer emphasizes the sacred argument, as does Hugh Hewitt in the Washington Examiner. Both reference a failed American History-themed Disney park outside of Civil War battlefields as an example of trampling on the sacred. An underlying argument made by Park51 supporters is that this site is not really sacred, two blocks from Ground Zero, out of line of sight of the former towers, and not particularly special. On the other hand, the building that sits at the site now, and would be torn down for the mosque, was hit by the fuselage of one of the hijacked planes, and may contain human remains. Note that large amounts of human remains continue to be found all over southern Manhattan.

This definition of the sacred is important. Is there hallowed ground at Ground Zero? If so, how big is its footprint? The site of the old WTC only? Where human remains were found? If the building was hit by a piece of a plane, should it be included? Once that footprint is established, what should be allowed inside of it? I have been trying to research the history of how the “historic district” of the 9/11 site was chosen. The controversy, from 2002 on, seems to have focused on what should be built on the WTC site (Freedom Tower, Memorial, etc), and how slow construction has been, not what the outline of the district is. If that was assumed, it is obvious New Yorkers have very different ideas of how much of the site is sacred. It is, and was, a flourishing business district. Business should certainly happen there. But it seems to me that we are only now, 9 years later, talking about what is sacred and what isn’t, and it was the mosque that finally brokered the conversation, though it is not the end of it.

Which leaves us with the last unlikely member of the coalition, President Obama. “But,” you say, “he supported the mosque!” Well, yes and no. His position, as outlined in speeches Friday and Saturday night, quite clearly states that he supports their fundamental right to build the mosque in that location, but he offers no opinion on the wisdom of doing so. Which is as close as a sitting President can get to saying “Yeah, that’s a bad idea.” Or at least, “Please don’t make me say that’s a bad idea on an election year.” The President understands the difference between Can and Should.

A New Voice on Cordoba House

5 Aug

Last week, Alan and I had a spirited discussion on the construction of a mosque/Islamic center near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan.

Alan’s position, if I may mischaracterize it, was that it is legal to build it, the government should not stop any religious institution from building on private property, and in any case, the Muslims who would worship and study at Cordoba House should not be tarred with the same brush of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. 

My position is that while the government should not stop the construction, and it should be legal for the construction to continue, out of a sense of decency, sensitivity, taste and respect, one should not place a symbol of terrible violence at the scene of that violence. Symbols are complicated, and just as a Christian church now means love, child abuse, salvation, and the Crusades, all in one, so does a mosque (or Islamic prayer center) now mean terrorism and 9/11, in addition to charity, prayer, and peace.

Mayor Bloomberg has had his say on the project moving forward. I’d like to add another voice: Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, who spoke on NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday. I agree with just about everything he says here, and he says it perhaps better than I. The transcript is below, or listen to the interview at the link.

INSKEEP: How has the ADL’s position evolved on this issue?

Mr. ABRAHAM FOXMAN (National Director, Anti-Defamation League): I’m not aware that it’s involved. The ADL opposes bigotry, prejudice, Islamophobia. We continue to do so.

INSKEEP: I guess what I mean is that initially the ADL was expressing concern about the critics of this Islamic center and now the ADL has said that you wish that the Islamic center should be moved somewhere else.

Mr. FOXMAN: Well, no. Again, we will still continue to be critical about critics of the center who are critics from a perspective of bigotry and racism and Islamophobia. The position that we’ve articulated last week was one that deals with location and sensitivity.

We didn’t even say you must, you should, you have to. We basically said that we believe that in this place of tragedy and pain and anguish maybe the best thing would be is if people would step back and consider that if you want to heal, the best way to heal is not to do it in your face. And if the people who you reach out to, those who had suffered the most say please don’t do it in our cemetery, not to do it.

INSKEEP: What about this specific building or its specific location or its specific design makes it seem a little too in your face?

Mr. FOXMAN: Well, it I don’t know about the design. I don’t know about the for me it’s similar to a position that the Jewish community took, oh, about 15, 20 years ago when there was an effort by the Carmelite nuns to build a convent in or around Auschwitz. And we then said we welcome your love, we welcome your prayers, but please don’t do it on this site. This was a controversy for eight years.

We in the Jewish community, we in the ADL got accused of being bigots, that we are opposed to Christianity or the Catholic Church. And eventually the pope understood and said, OK, build it a mile away.

I know this imam and I agree with all those who have said he’s moderate. Well, part of the moderation, if you want to show the moderation, is being sensitive to the people you want to reach out to, to heal.

INSKEEP: You said you met the imam, Faisel Abdul Rauf.

Mr. FOXMAN: Correct.

INSKEEP: Have you had a chance to tell him your concerns?

Mr. FOXMAN: No. I met the imam several years ago. We worked with him. More recently he reached out to me and asked for support of the mosque. He basically said to me, Abe, I’m being attacked, my character is being attacked, I’m being called an extremist, and you know me – will you stand up? And I said absolutely. And I – we have, we’ve stood up as an agency to counter the attacks on his persona, on his character, on him being characterized an extremist. You know, that’s the extent of the conversations we’ve had.

INSKEEP: I wonder if a Muslim who professes to be a moderate Muslim might turn to you and say, why should this cause anybody pain? I may be a Muslim, but I am not the person who flew a plane into the Trade Center. I had nothing to do with it.

Mr. FOXMAN: Well, again, I would say to them neither were the Carmelite nuns. They had nothing to do 50 years earlier with Auschwitz. Again, everything that I know is he’s a moderate. Part of moderation is to be sensitive to those around you who are responding to you out of pain and anguish.

And so, you know, I thought it would have been wonderful – who am I to tell him, but you know, I guess I tell him through this, you know, if he would say, you know what, I do want to heal, I do want to reconcile, I do want to show the American public that there is an American Muslim tradition, that would be a wonderful, dramatic beginning rather than insisting this is where we want to heal, this is where we want to reconcile, in your cemetery.

Facts are Fun

30 Jul

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan:

As a Jewish American, I am offended by Newt Gingrich’s suggestion that use the name of Córdoba by Muslims is insulting to non-Muslims. The height of Muslim rule the Iberian Peninsula, the rule of the Caliphate of Córdoba, was also the height of Jewish culture in Spain. It was the decline of the Caliphate of Córdoba that began the end of tolerance of Jews in the Muslim-ruled parts of the Iberian Peninsula. Nevertheless, it was not until Christian rule was established over the entire Iberian Peninsula in 1492 that there was a concerted effort to eliminate the existence of Jews and Judaism in every part of Spain.

Gingrich seems most offended by the fact that the Mosque of Córdoba was established on the grounds of a former church. He failed to mention that the church in question was purchased for the purpose of constructing a mosque on the site. Those who later converted the mosque into a cathedral were not so kind as to offer payment.

I agree with Gingrich that churches and synagogues should be allowed to operate from within Saudia Arabia. However, I am of the opinion that this should not be a pre-requisite for religious freedom in the United States. I was under the impression that the United States considered democracy and freedom of religion to be core principles, not privileges to be used as bargaining chips.

You’re entitled to your opinion.

You’re not entitled to your own facts.

Feelings.

20 Jul

Brian responds disapprovingly to my post about the anti-Muslim bigotry that seems to be more important to Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino than the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. He says that the Cordoba House “can” be built, but disagrees over whether it “should”.

Pundit starts with a fabulous quote from lightning rod Sarah Palin, and continues with a list of “bigot” politicians. Choosing to start a discussion with a list of the hot-button politicians who support (or refudiate) something is an excellent tactic for missing the point. It gets everyone riled up (39 comments and counting), instantly dividing everyone into camps who can safely retreat to their talking points and name calling, but never gets to the heart of issue. Lazio! Palin! Paladino! Horse Sex! Please. Labeling everyone who opposes the building a Islamic prayer center at that site a bigot or hater of the Constitution is just lazy. Let’s see if we can all take a breath for a second.

Commenting about politics and politicians is what I do. I don’t really care if Joey the longshoreman shows up to the public hearing to rail against Muslims. I do care when people angling to be the leader of all New Yorkers do so. The heart of the issue is the fact that there are, in this day and age, politicians who still feel comfortable exploiting ethnic, racial, or religious differences for political gain. I call it bigotry because if not that, it’s just opportunistic cynicism. Finally, I didn’t mention horse sex, and I didn’t “label everyone who opposes the building … a bigot or hater of the Constitution.” So, who’s calling whom lazy?

Can Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf and his Sufi organization (a very very different form of Islam from even mainstream Islam, much less the hate-filled brand practiced by Al Qaeda and jihadist groups in Pakistan) build a mosque/cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero? Of course it can. But should it? That’s a different question.

In America we focus on the Can and not the Should. The Constitution and (specifically) the Bill of Rights provide us a sturdy six sided box of protections. Within the box, you are free to do as you choose. You can say what you want, be what religion you want, get what job you want, and build what you want, on your own land, within building codes. But why must we thrash about in the box, with no regard for others, as violently as possible? Some say we are our most American when we constantly test the limits of the box. Perhaps, but not the parts we should be most proud of. Let me argue for a bit of temperance, empathy, and taste.

Realizing that Brian isn’t your typical mouth-breathing right-winger, I’ll exclude him from my observation that right-wingers are the first to mock political correctness as bleeding heart liberalism run amok. I don’t understand the objection to what amounts to an Islamic YMCA. As I pointed out in my post, there are myriad religious structures and organizations within a few blocks of what used to be the World Trade Center site. Manhattan isn’t a place that enjoys Buffalo’s sprawl – where you can just get Benderson to cut down some cornfields and build you a brand-new plaza.

If the organization wanted a location in lower Manhattan, which is shaped like an arrowhead, it’s somewhat unavoidable that it will be near the World Trade Center. How many blocks would be acceptable, Brian? If two blocks is too much, would four blocks do? Five? Six? What arbitrary and capricious line shall we draw in terms of not trampling on people’s feelings?

Furthermore, while Brian admits that the Islamic group that wants to build this project isn’t even remotely close to the ideology of the expansionist al Qaeda terrorists who committed 9/11, he backhandedly equates them by stating that it would be better to succumb to ignorance, and choose a different spot out of a concern for others’ feelings. Since when did people’s feelings trump Constitutional freedoms, anyway? Apart from the fact that these people pray to a different God, in a different way, in a different direction, read a different book, and follow different religious rules, what possible objection is there to this?

If we’re talking about showing due respect to 9/11, then I answer (1) Muslims died in 9/11 – why is their faith excluded from any discussion of that tragedy, except as scapegoats? (2) There are several strip clubs within a couple of blocks of 9/11. Shall we close those, too? Is the World Trade Center site to become a downtown Vatican City? Purity cleansing New York’s density and diversity?

What is in bad taste about just another building in a city full of buildings? An Islamic cultural center in a city full of Muslims?

Simply because it is legal and allowable to do something, doesn’t mean it is sensitive to do so. In a civilized society we should be able to empathize with the whole and not just concentrate on what I am able to do now. Placing a symbol of the motivating force behind a terrible act of violence at the scene of that violence is legal, but distasteful. Protestants should not build a new church (even a Unitarian Universalist one) at the site of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Northern Ireland, or on top of the ex-home of a killed abortion provider. The Japanese should not put it’s consulate near Pearl Harbor. Confederate flags should not be flown near sites of lynchings of African-Americans in the South. This project’s organizer’s tin ear is Constitutional, but unfortunate. Someday it would be wonderful if the Carnegie Center for Peace wanted to establish a center for communion and understanding in Baghdad . . . but maybe it shouldn’t be in Abu Ghraib. Such decisions, while not legally binding, show a sensitivity this project lacks.

You see this as a religious provocation. In all of your examples, it represents rubbing one’s nose in. Why didn’t you include a neo-Nazi rally at Auschwitz, or al Qaeda opening up a murder stand in Battery Park City?

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that there are probably tens of thousands of Muslims who live or work within walking distance of this Cordoba House – the group that is proposing to build a cultural center / YMCA two blocks from what used to be the World Trade Center. Do they insult the sanctity of the World Trade Center site by having the constitutional audacity of living their lives nearby? You treat this as if al Qaeda was proposing to build a monument of grenades in the shape of an extended middle finger on the site of the World Trade Center mass murder. Yet you already acknowledged that this group is nothing at all like al Qaeda, except that they all call themselves Muslims.

I protest this development not out of bigotry, and the whole Islamic faith is not a scapegoat here. The 19 hijackers were Arab, but this is not a protest against an Arab cultural center. The 19 hijackers were men, but there is not a protest against the men’s portion of the health club. This is not the cudgel of ignorance seeking a target. Let’s be honest here – could President Bush even spell “jihad” before 9/11? The Islamic faith is the sticking point because the 19 hijackers not only self-identified as Muslim, but they used that faith as sole justification of their horrific actions. They did not attack for money, race, or politics, particularly (though the line between faith and politics is not at all clear in orthodox Islam). Simply calling all terrorists crazy, or extremists, and sticking one’s head in the sand, out of a misguided sense of acceptance or understanding, to ignore that basic truth does a disservice to our understanding of history, and removes a key relevant fact from the story of what happened at Ground Zero to all victims of all faiths. The brand of Islam that motivated the hijackers may bear little resemblance to the Sufi version of the Cordoba House organizers. But a whitewash serves no one. This is why an Islamic Cultural Center stirs such emotion, when other projects would not.

One could argue that the 19 hijackers attacked out of a retarded bastardization of the Muslim faith – one where all Jews and Christians must be eliminated to make way for the next Caliphate. That’s not religion, that’s political. And protest as much as you want, but by making this plea for “empathy” you do equate the Cordoba House with al Qaeda solely because the former is a Muslim human enrichment organization, and the latter is a Muslim terrorist organization.

You don’t link the thread between:

I protest this development not out of bigotry, and the whole Islamic faith is not a scapegoat here … The brand of Islam that motivated the hijackers may bear little resemblance to the Sufi version of the Cordoba House organizers. But a whitewash serves no one. This is why an Islamic Cultural Center stirs such emotion, when other projects would not.

and this:

The Islamic faith is the sticking point because the 19 hijackers not only self-identified as Muslim, but they used that faith as sole justification of their horrific actions.

In other words, even though you’re enlightened enough to realize that the Cordoba House isn’t even remotely the same thing as al Qaeda, and even though all Muslims shouldn’t be relegated to second-class citizen status thanks to al Qaeda, in this particular instance you’re going to lump them all together and make them second-class citizens because people more ignorant than you will be offended, their feelings hurt.

Maybe – just maybe – it’s time for people who aren’t ignorant to stand up for not being ignorant. Maybe it’s time to explain to our less informed brethren that no, not all Muslims are terrorists and Islam didn’t attack the US on 9/11 (neither did Saddam Hussein), but al Qaeda did. And al Qaeda isn’t Cordoba House, regardless of which direction they pray in, or how many times per day.

I protest this development out of a sense of the liberal (small “l”) ideals of tolerance, empathy to the victims and families, decency, and taste. I’m sure there are many Muslims in downtown Manhattan in need of this center. Those Muslims are not to blame, from their faith alone, for 9/11. They did nothing wrong. But that doesn’t mean the new center has to be two blocks from Ground Zero. Build it somewhere else.

There is nothing indecent or distasteful about a religious organization in a dense and diverse city choosing a location for a non-confrontational, non-terroristic cultural/sports facility in that city’s financial district. Part of the beauty of New York and New Yorkers is that they all live side-by-side, not really giving a crap whether so-and-so is Muslim or Jewish or Christian, because the city welcomes everyone from everywhere.

To oppose this project because of the organizers’ faith is to equate them with al Qaeda, your protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. When ignorant politicians rile up the ignorant to score political points, I’m not being lazy. What’s lazy is to argue that we should succumb to the prejudices of the ignorant, rather than making the effort to educate and inform them.

Here’s a video that was produced to inflame the passions and feelings of the ignorant. It includes the line that this “13-story mosque” “on Ground Zero” and that “that mosque is a monument to their victory, and an invitation to war”. It’s got 244 thousand views, and was featured by Andrew Breitbart.

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Now tell me that this isn’t about ignorance and bigotry.

The Difference Between Can and Should

19 Jul

Alan wrote today on the controversy surrounding the building of a mosque/prayer site/learning center/conference hall near Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan, beating me to the punch. Consider our views dissimilar.

Pundit starts with a fabulous quote from lightning rod Sarah Palin, and continues with a list of “bigot” politicians. Choosing to start a discussion with a list of the hot-button politicians who support (or refudiate) something is an excellent tactic for missing the point. It gets everyone riled up (39 comments and counting), instantly dividing everyone into camps who can safely retreat to their talking points and name calling, but never gets to the heart of issue. Lazio! Palin! Paladino! Horse Sex! Please. Labeling everyone who opposes the building a Islamic prayer center at that site a bigot or hater of the Constitution is just lazy. Let’s see if we can all take a breath for a second.

Can Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf and his Sufi organization (a very very different form of Islam from even mainstream Islam, much less the hate-filled brand practiced by Al Qaeda and jihadist groups in Pakistan) build a mosque/cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero? Of course it can. But should it? That’s a different question.

In America we focus on the Can and not the Should. The Constitution and (specifically) the Bill of Rights provide us a sturdy six sided box of protections. Within the box, you are free to do as you choose. You can say what you want, be what religion you want, get what job you want, and build what you want, on your own land, within building codes. But why must we thrash about in the box, with no regard for others, as violently as possible? Some say we are our most American when we constantly test the limits of the box. Perhaps, but not the parts we should be most proud of. Let me argue for a bit of temperance, empathy, and taste.

Simply because it is legal and allowable to do something, doesn’t mean it is sensitive to do so. In a civilized society we should be able to empathize with the whole and not just concentrate on what I am able to do now. Placing a symbol of the motivating force behind a terrible act of violence at the scene of that violence is legal, but distasteful. Protestants should not build a new church (even a Unitarian Universalist one) at the site of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Northern Ireland, or on top of the ex-home of a killed abortion provider. The Japanese should not put it’s consulate near Pearl Harbor. Confederate flags should not be flown near sites of lynchings of African-Americans in the South. This project’s organizer’s tin ear is Constitutional, but unfortunate. Someday it would be wonderful if the Carnegie Center for Peace wanted to establish a center for communion and understanding in Baghdad . . . but maybe it shouldn’t be in Abu Ghraib. Such decisions, while not legally binding, show a sensitivity this project lacks.

I protest this development not out of bigotry, and the whole Islamic faith is not a scapegoat here. The 19 hijackers were Arab, but this is not a protest against an Arab cultural center. The 19 hijackers were men, but there is not a protest against the men’s portion of the health club. This is not the cudgel of ignorance seeking a target. Let’s be honest here – could President Bush even spell “jihad” before 9/11? The Islamic faith is the sticking point because the 19 hijackers not only self-identified as Muslim, but they used that faith as sole justification of their horrific actions. They did not attack for money, race, or politics, particularly (though the line between faith and politics is not at all clear in orthodox Islam). Simply calling all terrorists crazy, or extremists, and sticking one’s head in the sand, out of a misguided sense of acceptance or understanding, to ignore that basic truth does a disservice to our understanding of history, and removes a key relevant fact from the story of what happened at Ground Zero to all victims of all faiths. The brand of Islam that motivated the hijackers may bear little resemblance to the Sufi version of the Cordoba House organizers. But a whitewash serves no one. This is why an Islamic Cultural Center stirs such emotion, when other projects would not.

I protest this development out of a sense of the liberal (small “l”) ideals of tolerance, empathy to the victims and families, decency, and taste. I’m sure there are many Muslims in downtown Manhattan in need of this center. Those Muslims are not to blame, from their faith alone, for 9/11. They did nothing wrong. But that doesn’t mean the new center has to be two blocks from Ground Zero. Build it somewhere else.

When Bigotry Trumps the Constitution

19 Jul

Under the Establishment Clause, if a government bans the construction of a mosque – it’s really not any more a mosque than the YMCA or YWCA or the JCC are churches or temples – at 51 Park Place because of its supposed proximity to the World Trade Center site in New York City, then there can be no religious structures or monuments of any kind within that same radius. (That means you, St Paul’s & St. Nicholas! Bye-bye, Y! And other Y!) That prohibition, however, would be violative of the Free Exercise clause.

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Therefore, Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino think that anti-Muslim bigotry is more important than the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Put another way, to Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino, being a bigot is more important than being an American. It’s good to know that an unemployed woman from Wasilla, Alaska knows what’s best for Manhattan. Refudiate!