Tag Archives: Manhattan

60 Minutes On the Park51 Project

27 Sep

Not many stories about Park51 include interviews with both Pamela Geller and Imam Rauf, but 60 Minutes’ does.  It’s well worth the almost 13 minutes.


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.

Michael Bloomberg on Freedom

3 Aug
World trade center new york city from hudson c...
Image via Wikipedia

Neither puking hatred or semi-informed emotion – it is words like these that remind us what it means to be an American.

“We have come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We’ve come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that, more than 250 years later, would greet millions of immigrants in the harbor, and we come here to state as strongly as ever – this is the freest City in the world. That’s what makes New York special and different and strong.

“Our doors are open to everyone – everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it is sustained by immigrants – by people from more than a hundred different countries speaking more than two hundred different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here, or you came yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

“We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life and it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11.

“On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn’t want us to enjoy the freedom to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams and to live our own lives.

“Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that, even here in a City that is rooted in Dutch tolerance, was hard-won over many years. In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in Lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue – and they were turned down.

“In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal, political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies – and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

“In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion – and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780’s – St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.

“This morning, the City’s Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted not to extend landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building. The simple fact is this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship.

“The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right – and if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.

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.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. 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.

“For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime – as important a test – and it is critically important that we get it right.

“On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to?’ ‘What beliefs do you hold?’

“The attack was an act of war – and our first responders defended not only our City but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights – and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

“Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation – and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our City even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam. Muslims are as much a part of our City and our country as the people of any faith and they are as welcome to worship in Lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for the better part of a year, as is their right.

“The local community board in Lower Manhattan voted overwhelming to support the proposal and if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire City.

“Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure – and there is no neighborhood in this City that is off limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us today can attest.”