Aside from the Constitutional issues involved here, the fact has been lost that there is community and interfaith support for the cultural center and mosque which is taking property that was destroyed during 9/11 and since abandoned (no one else wanted it) and attempting to create a neighborhood center that all can use. Yes, there will ultimately be two floors of the building that will be a mosque, because the mosque that exists a few blocks from the WTC is far too small to serve the current Muslim population in the area.
Park51 will grow into a world-class community center, planned to include the following facilities:
•outstanding recreation spaces and fitness facilities (swimming pool, gym, basketball court)
•a 500-seat auditorium
•a restaurant and culinary school
•cultural amenities including exhibitions
•a library, reading room and art studios
•a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park51 but open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community
•a September 11th memorial and quiet contemplation space, open to all
The planning for this project has been going on for years. But it is summer, Congress is recessed until September, and just as John Kerry was swiftboated in the lead-up to the 2004 election in July/August 2004 and the Tea Party had it’s fun last summer with Health Care Reform and marches against anything that sounded ‘bad’ to them, guess who is behind this suddenly “divisive” issue? None other than (now former) Tea Party chair, Mark Williams.
Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, Council Member Margaret Chin, other elected officials, and community and religious leaders, today stood together outside the proposed location of the Cordoba House in a show of unity against the racist comments made by Tea Party Express Chairman Mark Williams. They were joined by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative, Dhalia Mahmoud of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and representatives of Community Board 1.
Borough President Stringer responded sharply to a statement posted yesterday on Williams’ web site that the planned Cordoba House facility would “consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god.”
And now the Right is trying to tie this community center to terrorism. (*See update below)
Booga booga!!! When all else fails, play the terrorist card. Nothing new here, I fear. And once again, the Dems are falling for it.
Valerie Elverton Dixon, Founder JustPeaceTheory.com; former teacher of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton (Mass.) Theological School and United Theological Seminary in Ohio, writes in the WaPo:
Does Obama’s hedging show a lack of ethical convictions? Does Hamas’ endorsement change the debate? What is behind public opposition to the site? Can you believe in religious freedom but not believe the mosque is appropriate?
I have seen this movie before.
A few years back, while I still taught ethics at Andover Newton Theological School, I also sat on the board of the Interreligious Center on Public Life (ICPL). This is an organization that started under the auspices of Andover Newton and Hebrew College to bring together religious scholars, clergy and lay leaders to think about how religion impacts our public life. Its mission and goal was to provide a space for respectful dialogue and problem solving.
One problem we faced in 2006 was the controversy at that time over a proposed mosque to be built in Roxbury. The Islamic Society of Boston planned a mosque and cultural center. However, questions around the propriety of the land agreement with the city of Boston along with concerns about whether or not leaders of the Islamic Society of Boston had ties to terrorist groups and concerns about its sources of funding resulted in lawsuits and counter lawsuits. The problem was causing animosity between the Muslim and Jewish communities.
[. . .]
The difference between this present controversy over the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center and the case in Boston is that politicians stayed out of the Boston dispute. Religious leaders took the initiative to find the facts and to mediate the dispute. The goal was reconciliation. The political goal is not reconciliation. The political goal is to keep people angry enough about this issue so they will go to the polls to cast a proxy vote against the mosque. Thus, we see politicians of both parties who have to face the voters in November issuing statements against the mosque. A candidate for governor in Florida has put his opposition in a campaign commercial. This is a crass exploitation of people’s genuine emotion and pain that is beneath contempt.
Politicians who are using this issue as a wedge issue deserve nothing but our utter disapprobation. The philosopher Immanuel Kant gave us the categorical imperative as a moral guide. It says: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Kant also argued that one ought to treat others not as a means to an end, but as ends in themselves. The people who are saddened and angry about September 11, about the loss of their loved ones and/or about the assault on this nation are being used as a means to an end, and that end is the election of this or that candidate.
To answer the questions: I do not agree that President Obama hedged his position on the mosque. As president of the United States, he is sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States and that is what he did in his initial remarks on this subject. When he said the next day that he would not comment on the wisdom of building the mosque, that too was appropriate in my opinion. Such a statement would have been a step too far for the president of the United States to take. There are enough others to comment on the wisdom of building the mosque. Hamas’ endorsement of the project is neither here nor there. To give it too much weight either way is to fall into the logical fallacy of guilt by association, or to judge a proposition wrong because someone we do not like thinks that it is right. Moreover, in my opinion, the mistaken idea that Islam attacked the United States is behind public opposition to the mosque. To return to a question this panel addressed several weeks ago, terrorists are criminals and not religious leaders or heroes. They do violence for the sake of politics and economics, not for the sake of religion. God does not want, need, or require human violence.
This is a complicated issue. It is possible to believe in religious freedom and to think that the mosque is not appropriate. Some people say it is a matter of time, that after more time has passed, people will be willing to see a mosque and a community center near ground zero. I do not think this is true. I know that for me, more than a century after the Civil War, I still do not want to see a confederate flag flying on state property. When I see it on someone’s personal property, I wonder what the symbol means to them. I know what it means to me.
Thus, it is imperative to disconnect Islam from terrorism. And that is why the building of this mosque is not only wise but necessary. We need the space for interreligious dialogue. We need to know more about Islam because we do not fear what we know. We fear the unfamiliar. But, most importantly, we need to demonstrate to the terrorists that they have not sown seeds of fear and hatred in our hearts nor in our country. America’s values of pluralism, acceptance, respect and radical love remain intact, and if anything are growing stronger.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve got no use for religion, but I have plenty of use for the Constitution. As Ian Welsh puts it:
Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value.
If you are against a mosque near the World Trade Center you are against freedom of religion. That means you are anti-American. You are a person who does not believe in the freedoms many Americans fought and died for.
There. I said it.
UPDATE: For those who want to claim that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is some kind of wild-eyed terrorist:
And yet Park51′s main movers, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, are actually the kind of Muslim leaders right-wing commentators fantasize about: modernists and moderates who openly condemn the death cult of al-Qaeda and its adherents — ironically, just the kind of “peaceful Muslims” whom Sarah Palin, in her now infamous tweet, asked to “refudiate” the mosque. Rauf is a Sufi, which is Islam’s most mystical and accommodating denomination.
Since 9/11, Western “experts” have said repeatedly that Muslim leaders who fit Rauf’s description should be sought out and empowered to fight the rising tide of extremism.
Huh. Isn’t that just the kind of person we’d want the State Department to send as our envoy to the Middle East?