It’s always nice when religious tolerance wins the day. Yesterday a New York City historical commission removed the last legal hurdle for the construction of the Córdoba Initiative, dubbed by the mainstream press as the Ground Zero Mosque because it will go up two blocks away from where the World Trade Center Towers used to stand. Of course, some people aren’t happy. To them, Mayor Michael Bloomberg affirmed the place as a victory for the religious freedom that America stands for. I’ve never been the biggest Bloomberg fan, but this is a magnificent speech. If the Republicans had any sense, they’d try to get him to run against President Obama in 2012. Naturally, that won’t happen.
Logically speaking, Ground Zero is probably the best place in the world for a mosque, because it’s the one place where “death to America” Islamic rhetoric isn’t going to fly. Everything that’s said there is going to be carefully scrutinized by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. With all the public pressure, the Córdoba House will be as rah-rah about America as a NASCAR rally. Osama bin Laden is probably seething with rage over the prospect of our country’s most famous place of Islamic worship promoting a peace-loving brand of Islam that he despises. If some idiot were to sabotage the Córdoba House, it’d warm the cockles of his cold, black heart.
That is a legitimate concern about the mosque. It’s going to be a target for violent religious nuts of all persuasions, and there’ll have to be some special security measures in place. Every other objection to the mosque has been based on ignorance and prejudice, and they’ve been raised mostly by people who don’t actually live in New York. (They’re all Caucasians, too, whereas the Muslims running the mosque are not. I’m sure you noticed that, too.) It’s been a field day for right-wing demagogues who make a good living catering to such base impulses. Sarah Palin infamously asked peaceful Muslims to “refudiate” the center. Her vocabulary aside, she’s ignoring the fact that these are exactly who’s running the place, the sort of Muslims who’ll make a Qu’ranically based case for Western civilization, and who’ll tell the extremists in no uncertain terms that killing in the name of Islam is wrong. The armchair pundits have been calling for Muslims like this for decades to come forward. Now that they’ve shown up, it’s amazing that some of those same pundits are calling them terrorists.
It’s particularly regrettable that Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has lent his organization’s good name to the anti-Islam crowd. He protests that while the ADL defends Muslims, the center should be moved elsewhere in deference to the 9/11 victims’ families. It’s a cheap way of pawning off his own anxieties onto other people, reminiscent of that segment of history’s white Americans who said that while they personally favored equality for African-Americans, the rest of the country wasn’t ready for it. Don’t take my word for it; Alan Dershowitz says that Foxman is wrong, though not in strong enough terms. He leaves that to Ha’aretz, where Bradley Burston calls Foxman’s words “refreshing and destructive.” That sounds like a turn of phrase I would use.
Some minor points: I like the center’s name, which comes from the Spanish city that the Muslims made into a world-renowned place of learning while Christian Europe was mired in the Dark Ages. The plans for the center include more than just the mosque — there’s also going to be a performing arts stage, an art museum, a swimming pool, and a restaurant. Something tells me this is going to be the place to get Middle Eastern food in the Big Apple. Here’s a profile of Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the center. Interestingly enough, the Twin Towers were built on a neighborhood that was once so heavily Arab that it was called Little Syria. You might say history has come full circle.