If people don't understand why building a mosque
near ground zero in New York is a bad idea, nothing I say will
convince them. The rest of us understood the inadvisability of this
plan the minute we heard it, so don't need a debate either.
I'm writing this not to convince anyone of
anything, but to note the broader issues arising from the national
response to the mosque proposal.
One issue is how a simple question is transformed
into a humongous statement by people who don't like the question.
Opponents asked, "Why can't the mosque be built somewhere in New
York City farther away from the site of a deadly attack made in the
name of Allah by Islam's most radical elements?" and were quickly
accused of saying that all Muslims are terrorists.
Newt Gingrich used the analogy that building a
mosque at ground zero "would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the
Holocaust Museum." He was quickly accused of saying, "Muslims are
like Nazis." What-what?
Another issue is the difficulty in getting real
information in the midst of a media frenzy. The first image many of
us saw in our heads was a replica of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia sitting
right where the twin towers used to be.
We were quickly assured that the site was not the
actual hole in the ground, but an abandoned coat factory two,
two-and-a-half, three blocks away, depending on the commentator. We
were told that the intention is to have a mosque that will include a
Muslim community center, or, a Muslim community center that will
include a mosque, or, later, a community center that will have a
little room in it for praying. We were told it a.) will be hardly
noticeable in the densely-packed neighborhood and b.) will be 13
When Christiane Amanpour on ABC's "This Week"
asked the wife of the mosque's Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf if there would
be a neighborhood call to prayer five times a day, she changed the
subject; Amanpour did not pursue it. Has anyone else?
Iman Rauf is described as the Bush and Obama
administrations' moderate emissary to Muslim countries; then someone
shows the "60 Minutes" clip of him stating that America was "an
accessory" to the 9/11 attacks. When asked about that, his wife said
that he was referring to U.S. support for Osama bin Laden when he
was fighting the Russians in Afghanistan.
No, Rauf wasn't.
He said "the attacks were part
of a larger Islamic reaction against the U.S. government
politically," that "we (Americans) have been accessory to a lot of
innocent lives dying in the world" and thus "Osama bin Laden is made
in the USA."
As George Will said later on the same Sunday
morning show, "All adherents of Islam are not terrorists. But all
the terrorists trying to kill us are Muslims." The iman's wife
wouldn't respond to Amanpour's (and others') suggestion about
creating good will by accepting New York Gov. Patterson's offer to
find a nearby but farther site, so Muslims could show consideration
for 9/11 families' pained opposition. She said she had to consult
with "the center's stakeholders."
This reluctance to be considerate, and the
refusal to release information about the financing of the building,
feeds into the dramatic accusations that the mosque is intended to
be a symbol of Muslim victory over the United States. This rumor was
encouraged by the name "Cordoba project," chosen by the
"stakeholders," whoever they are.
It seems that historically, to humiliate its
enemies, Islam built a mosque on the site of its great military
victories; in Cordoba, Spain, it replaced a little Catholic church.
Why not just drop the name "Cordoba" and call it the Peace Mosque or
something? Why continue to insist on the ground zero area and the
Some commentators respond that since resistance
to the near-Ground Zero mosque is an example of Muslim-hating
bigotry, it's the responsibility of the Muslim community to resist
the resistance. Some non-Muslims jump on the bandwagon with
reminders that all Americans have freedom of religion and property
rights, as if a.) anyone is denying Muslims the right to worship
anywhere else and b.) we actually have property rights in the United
I need government permission to build a bedroom
on my house. I couldn't build either a mosque or a Unitarian chapel
in my backyard without approval of the Marblehead zoning board. Chip
Ford's first response to this controversy was to suggest that New
York cite the Kelo decision, noting that religious property doesn't
pay property taxes, and take the coat factory by eminent domain,
finding another commercial enterprise that would bring in higher tax
revenues for the city. The Supreme Court would be delighted to have
its most un-American decision validated.
George Will also said this is a minor issue that
will be forgotten long before the November election. I disagree. It
may not be part of anyone's talking points, but I predict it's now
embedded as part of the American psyche where the "something is very
wrong with our country and needs to be fixed" files are stored.