Fear may compromise American ideals

August 22, 2010


The debate over the “Ground Zero mosque” has evolved into something much bigger than whether a Muslim center should be built two blocks from hallowed ground.

This debate is really about whether Americans still have the self-confidence to stand up for our Constitution’s principles — or whether we’ve become so fearful that we’re eager to junk them.

I say this although I believe the idea of building a mosque in this place at this time is unwise. And I sympathize with the families of 9/11 victims who are uncomfortable with the prospect (although some of the families support it).

But this issue has been so shamefully exploited by political opportunists — and those who believe America is at war with all Muslims — that it’s becoming a national scandal. It’s time we all took a deep breath and considered what’s really at stake.

Contrary to the hysteria in the blogosphere, the site would not be a mega-mosque but a community center-cum-prayer space two blocks from Ground Zero. It would not have a minaret.

The imam spearheading the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, already leads a mosque 12 blocks away. He frequently engages with Jewish and Christian leaders, and writes widely on the compatibility of Islamic thought with Western democracy. The State Department just sent him to tour the Arab emirates and talk about religious tolerance in the United States. And Rauf is a member of the Sufi Muslim sect, which is despised and attacked by radical Islamists for its willingness to draw from other cultures.

That said, some of his statements blaming U.S. foreign policy for inspiring the 9/11 attack are jarring given his desire to lead a mosque near Ground Zero. The same goes for his advocacy of sharia law for American Muslims in personal matters like inheritance and divorce.

And there are legitimate concerns about where he will raise the $100 million needed to build his center, and whether it will come from Mideast sources.

However, there is zero evidence of any link between Rauf and Islamist terrorism.

So why has the hysteria over this community center risen to a fever pitch?

The answer lies in the willingness of politicians, mainly Republicans, to hype the mosque controversy before elections. Leading the pack, Newt Gingrich says approving the mosque “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust museum.” All Muslims are Nazis — get it?

New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has called the proposed community center “a monument to those who attacked our country.” All Muslims are terrorists — get it?

For Sarah Palin, it’s a “knife to the heart” of 9/11 families. Never mind that al-Qaida wants to broaden America’s fight against Islamist terrorist groups into all-out war between the West and Islam. Gingrich and Palin eagerly play into al-Qaida’s hands.

This demagoguery stokes anti-Muslim feelings around the country. Republican pols claim they don’t oppose religious freedom. But have any of them stood in solidarity with Muslims in Murfreesboro, Tenn., or Temecula, Calif., or other locales where local Republicans and tea partyers have opposed the building of local mosques? No way. (Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, pressed by his Republican opponent, also opposed the mosque, but at least he didn’t pile on more anti-Muslim slurs.)

Have these politicians totally lost sight of what America stands for? Given Europe’s problems integrating large Muslim communities, I’m always grateful our system has enabled so many Arab and South Asian immigrants to become full citizens. That’s one reason we haven’t had more terror attacks here.

Yes, there have been some imams who preached hate in U.S. mosques; that’s a law enforcement problem. In many more cases, Muslim community leaders help alienated young Muslim immigrants find their way.

Yes, it would have been easier if Rauf had chosen a different locale. He could still defuse fears by being more transparent about funds, more modest in scale, or more willing to consider New York Gov. David Paterson’s offer of another site.

But if Rauf chooses to go ahead, he is entitled to do so. As President Obama said last week: “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.”

And as Mayor Michael Bloomberg eloquently stated: “We do not honor them (the 9/11 dead) by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting.” Have we become so fearful that we can’t recognize that?

— Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. trubin@phillynews.com


cato_the_elder 7 years, 9 months ago

It's interesting to note how many on the left, including certain posters on this site, have come out of their holes to rant about the alleged "political exploitation" of this issue only after Obama's cowardly support/non-support backtracking last weekend created yet another serious embarrassment for Democrats. It's been a while since we've observed this many Democrats with their panties in a bunch all at the same time.

independant1 7 years, 9 months ago

On one hand I don't give a $h1t ain't my town/city on the other... fairness (it is my country). Staunch Muslim countries are not the least tolerant of religious freedom. One does not find incidents like arrests/deportation for owning a bible or prostheletizing here, or in the west like say in Saudi Arabia. One can find few incidents here where women and children have special status (cultural chatel.) We have our own gulash religious, secular and pop cultural equal opportunity freedoms. We don't brand women of ill repute anymore with A.

The hoopla over the moderate, sufi collaborator imam's isamic center is ginned up over 'fairness'. We are men of laws and planned visitors center is on firm legal ground but the court of public opinion has been nullified. A large number of americans don't think it's fair now that it is in the news.

At a base level when the various sects of islam stand the same scrutiny the other american religions enjoy (fallwell a-hole of month, crucifix in jar) like speaking out loud the name and publishing editorial cartoon pictures then we would have fairness.

I don't have to like the way we drag stuff through the mud but nothing is sacred here in usa (oops, islam has a sacred aura and is not treated equally.) The overwhelming response to this news story o'day isn't any different than christian bashing in the peculiarly american culture, blogs and in media.

When the culture gets over it's oversensitivity to islam and equally bashes their god and prophet then the field will be level. And we won't make a big deal over a building permit. We are just to far from assimilating islam and islam isn't ready to be assimilated into the american fabric.

Welcome to america islam the best is yet to come. The aura of respect don't last here. When the field is level the christians, jews, snake handlers and all the others will cover your back. You just haven't updated your tenets and doctrines or been degraded enough yet. Maybe when you change your call to prayer to english and throw some folk beat or rap calls to your youth you'll fill the pews with americans.

Islam needs to stand the scrutiny under the microscope, get their beleif system bashed enough, be party to dissembling in the publlic square, get humiliated and insulted enough. Stop with the fatwahs against authors, artists, intellectual muslims et al and we'll call you bro.

Until then, you're odd here and scary because of your fanatics fanatical methods. Come out unequivaclly against them, don't rationalize what they do.

Then everything will be swell.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 9 months ago

Indie, I'm afraid you've got a real grain of truth there--I'm just trying to get a handle on what it is that any religion has got that shouldn't go through the grinder--and I mean no disrespect in saying that. I was raised Methodist, and John Wesley's English brand that was brought over has certainly evolved quite a bit since hitting these shores, and I might say that's the case with pretty much every other Protestant version of Christianity that was kicked out of Europe as being heretical to either the King's Church or the Pope's. Same is true with the King's and the Pope's, for that matter.

I'd venture to say that the American experience has breathed new life into many of those versions of Christianity as well--it's been a two way street, without which the European denominations would have dried up a long time ago. I could extend the same statement to America's influence on Buddhism and Hinduism, for that matter.

So I guess what I'm saying is that having a venue in a free religious market has brought new insights for the religious world in the same way that the free market economics has brought new life into the economic world. It seems to me that having an Islamic moderate building a major religious center in such a prominent place in America has the potential to help revitalize the moderate wings of Islam just by creating a clear path that shows that it can live side by side with the other religions of the world in a more peaceful way. Those who are getting their panties in a wad are the right wing fundamentalists, not the progressives, Cato, and by causing such a ruckus, they are undermining the very tenants of religious tolerance that give us the best hope of working our way through the minefield of religious differences and acceptance of those differences.

The Muslim extremists will be saying to the moderates: you see how they treat us? They are hypocrites who tolerate only their own kind! We should not tolerate them any more than they tolerate us! And how exactly should the Islamic moderate reply? Hopefully they'll be able to say that the initial uproar died down, bridges were built, and healthy relationships were nurtured, even in the place where it was most difficult, due to the extremist attacks. If they can do that in the US, we need to do that amongst ourselves.

independant1 7 years, 9 months ago

knew I'd stub my toe on a grain of truth sooner or later, will have to jot that down in the old diary - it was just a matter of time.

not the progressives? don't know about that

I just don't get the cloak over islam, would'a thought after all the muslims that came here for education in 60's/70's there'd be a gulash mosque long before this one.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 9 months ago

DougCounty, you're apparently not aware of the extent to which Islamists in this country are beginning to show their resentment at what the backers of this project are doing. In addition, two prominent Canadian Islamists publicly stated their opposition to this project just a few days ago. There's nothing "moderate" about this project at all - it's a slap in the face promulgated by a man who has publicly stated that 9-11 was caused in part by America itself and has publicly refused to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization. As the article itself points out, this guy also favors legislation that would authorize Islamists in this country to employ "Sharia law" in matters of inheritance and divorce. Does he agree that Islamists in this country must abide by our system of secular laws or not? If Pat Robertson were to advocate a legal system in which divorce were prohibited because in his view divorce is against God's law, what would be the media's response? How about yours? Would that have any impact on your view of Robertson's overall credibility?

You've got it backwards: If this project is built, radical Islam will be energized. You can take that to the bank.

By the way, the word is "tenets." Look it up.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 9 months ago

I base my understanding not on the opinions of a man, but of a denomination of Islam, namely Sufism. And I'm not talking about the Americanized version of Sufism, which is quite different than the Sufism of the Middle East. It's my understanding that your depictions about fundamentalist Islamic beliefs simply is incorrect as it regards the Sufi sect of Islam. I base this on what they say about themselves, in publicly available websites that predate this firestorm of controversy. For example, for the Sufi position on women, check out: http://www.ias.org/articles/Women_in_Islam.html

They point out that it's a religious obligation for women to be educated, to be able to choose their husbands, be able to divorce them, be able to own and sell property without asking their husbands, and on and on. Seems to me that this is the kind of positions that are the mainstream of Islam that we are wanting to strengthen. I think that the accusations about this guy are distortions to sell papers/talk shows, or, if they are true, do not represent the Sufi sect in general and if this guy is really out to lunch, the order will replace him, like most religious sects of any religion do every day.

I maintain that if this guy is going back to the middle east to tell folks how religiously tolerant the American people are and we maintain our outright opposition, then who are we playing into the hands of? It certainly isn't the moderates. Bush said not to play into the hands of the extremists and change the way we lead our American lifestyle, and yet it is the right that is asking--no, demanding--that we do just that.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 9 months ago

Why not allow the mosque to be built?

Muslims did not destroy or attack per se! It was a few terrorists who did not represent Muslims,Iraq,Afghanistan,Pakistan,Iran,Yemen etc etc.

It was a few terrorists who camped out a few blocks from NSA headquarters in Maryland for at least two years under the guidance of one General Hayden. Gen Hayden is still there which raises my eyebrows.

It was a few terrorists who after two years of living a few blocks from NSA headquarters got by not only Gen Hayden but Bush,Cheney,Rice and Rumsfeld(Rummy). I'd say it was this group that dropped the ball. Did they know they know the terrorists were living in the motel/hotel? Yes they did.

I'd say the mosque should be allowed to move forward. Muslims were not the power behind the 9/11/01 attack.

tbaker 7 years, 9 months ago

Building a Mosque near Ground Zero in 2010 is tantamount to erecting a Shinto Shrine next to the USS Arizona in 1950. For a lot of people, feelings are still raw. The average person does not take the sophisticated view, and take the time to parse the difference between the peaceful practice of a benign belief system, and the ugly manifestation of the extremist perversion of that belief system – the phenomena responsible for both Pearl Harbor and 9/11. They forget the founding principles the country was built on and focus on the fact the people responsible for the attack on our country think and believe in things that are different from most native-born Americans. Being different is not bad right up to the point where what makes you different is also perceived to be what makes you bad. The 9/11 attackers gave Islam a bad reputation with average Americans. This is a fact, and their behavior over this construction project is clear evidence of it. Personally, I do not particularly care for a belief system that commands followers to “submit” instead of “chose” but I don’t judge people by what house of worship they attend. Americans should take a deep breath and remember the most singular expression of the freedom we have (left) in America is private property rights. This building is being built on private property.

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