Friday, May 28, 2010

Support the "Ground Zero Mosque"

(I've written a partial retraction of this piece which can be read here.)

I have never before used this blog to endorse a specific public policy in this manner, but there's a first time for everything.  I'm writing to express my support for the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" or "World Trade Center Mosque", although those terms and what they imply miss the mark.  The mosque (actually a cultural center called Cordoba House) is planned for a building which is two blocks north of the World Trade Center site, and has been in operation at another site farther north in the neighborhood for 29 years.  I worked in that neighborhood from 1985-1986 and 1989-2002 and know it very well.  I have known people who were members of the congregation. I have heard the imam and other members of the congregation speak.  These are good people who pose a threat to no one.  They promote a sane and compassionate form of Islam entirely counter to the hatred engendered by extremists whether jihadi or anti-jihadi.  They are Sufi by religious orientation, modernist in philosophy and believe strongly in interfaith outreach and participation in the broader community.   The imam heads a group with the promotion of precisely this outreach and participation as its mission.  (Read here.)

I can think of no better Muslim congregation to welcome into a community, although welcoming is the wrong term considering how long they've already operated there in complete peace and brotherhood with their neighbors.  I whole-heartedly support their building of Cordoba House and look forward to attending public events there when they do.  Regardless of my feelings about Cordoba House, there's a little matter of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion to everyone in this country.  The idea that anyone would deny someone else the right to worship as they see fit shows an utter misunderstanding of what this country's all about.  Above and beyond supporting this mosque, I support everyone's freedom of religion.

By the way, in an interview this morning with Brian Lehrer of New York's public radio station  (available here), the congregation's imam and his wife cited Manhattan's Jewish Community Center as the inspiration for their project.

I am not going to bother to link to the opponents of the Cordoba Center project.  If you want to bother, Google them.  My understanding is that the disgraceful campaign of opposition to the project is being led by Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs.  If she has nothing more threatening or offensive than this to fight, the world must be in better shape than I thought.  She should be ashamed of herself for demonizing innocent people in this manner.


Dvar Dea said...

Did you support the Carmelite Sisters operation in Auschwitz as well? It was back in the 80’s if you remember?
There are differences between the two crimes but Auschwitz is the accumulation of centuries of incitement, of which the Catholic Church was the main agitator for the greater part of history, and moderate Christians failed to stop. Ground Zero is a product of centuries of incitement against non-Muslims, which moderate Muslims failed to stop. Both are places of pain. There is a time and a place for healing, the more the better, healing the Jewish catholic rift, and the Muslims non-Muslims rift, but not where the wound is forever open. If they are Sufis, moderate and engaged interfaith for the sake of interfaith and not missionary, they should have known that.

Adam Holland said...

Thanks for your comment.

No. I certainly opposed the building of a convent at Auschwitz.

The differences between a religious institution in a city and one at the site of death camp are pretty clear. This site doesn't currently operate as a shrine as the anti-mosque advocates would have it. Besides being the home of City Hall and Wall Street, the area is filled with the usual sort of businesses in a NYC neighborhood: post office, Century 21 department store, J&R electronics, fast food and other restaurants, offices, gyms and, increasingly, residential apartments. It also houses strip clubs, porn shops, bars, and other places where people misbehave in the way people will. Other religious institutions currently there include Trinity and St. Paul's protestant churches, and St. Peter's Roman Catholic church. (A small, old Greek Orthodox church building, which somehow survived the construction of the World Trade Center within one of the city blocks the WTC occupied, was crushed and completely destroyed in the attack.) The site of the planned cultural center is two blocks north of the WTC, blocked from plain sight by the Church Street post office and an office tower. We're not talking about putting a mosque into a shrine at ground zero, as non-New Yorkers may imagine. The use of the name "Ground Zero Mosque", which serves as a sort of red flag here, may be part of the problem.

Auschwitz, on the other hand, operates today as a memorial and museum dedicated to one of the worst crimes against humanity in history. That it was a crime largely committed by Christians against Jews is an unavoidable truth. The idea of turning that site into a sort of Christian shrine is an insult to Jews who were essentially killed by the Christians of Europe. That is why the Catholic Church decided, after being lobbied by Jewish groups, not to put a convent there.

So that's three distinctions: 1) city site with multiple uses vs. country site with dedicated purpose, 2) shrine located at the site vs. cultural center near the site and 3) lobbying the church hierarchy to change their mind vs. using the local development regulations to force the matter.

That last point raises the fundamental problem with preventing this project by legal means: it is an attempt to discriminate on the basis of religion. That's unconstitutional and repugnant to most people. If the opponents of the mosque want, they can try to change the minds of the congregation and ask them to leave.

As to the question of incitement, it seems clear to me that this in not that. If anything, some of the opponents of the mosque are doing the inciting here, by shouting and interrupting at meetings, by slandering the imam of the mosque as an extremist, by raising the issue of the mosque being used to promote extremist ideologies. That's not to say that the debate should be silenced --opponents should express their grievances and have them addressed. It's a worthwhile debate, and one that should happen without demonizing.

A personal note: I lived for 12 years one block from the mosque in Jersey City which was led by the blind sheikh, Sheikh Rahman. That was where the first World Trade Center bombing was planned. If I felt in any way that this group was like that one, I would vocally oppose them, in spite of all the arguments to the contrary that I've cited here. Let me reassure you that this group is not at all like that. Let me also reassure you that, most likely, the operation of this Islamic center will not be obtrusive in the neighborhood. I get the sense that those opposed to this will move on to some other issue as time goes on and forget completely about this, it will be inoffensive to even the most delicate sensitivities. (continued below...)

Adam Holland said...

Saving the most difficult issue for last, the question of Muslim responsibility for 9/11, I don't accept the analogy to the Christian responsibility for the Holocaust. We are talking here about 9/11, a single incident undertaken by a small group of people, not a massive campaign involving millions of people over several years. Painting with too broad a brush and blaming all Muslims for 9/11 blames the innocent for crimes of which they aren't guilty. It also blurs the real issue here. It doesn't help anyone to campaign against all Muslims in an effort to fight against the violent extreme.


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