No American owns this tragedy more than any other American, and no one gets to speak for the rest of us. We are all entitled to our opinions on this very controversial mosque matter, and that’s what seems to be getting lost in all the political posturing. While I did not lose a family member on that fateful day, I did lose a friend. And I live five blocks from Ground Zero, as I have for the last eighteen years. I breathed that polluted and potentially toxic air for months, and I have a very vested interest not only in affairs of national scope, but of those in my backyard as well. Does my voice not count? Does my opinion not count? Am I, and countless others like me, expected to yield to the forces of anger, revenge and bigotry simply because I did not lose a family member to terrorists?
Barbara O’Brien, on Andy McCarthy’s “thought experiment” that suggests we don’t have to respect the religious freedom of Muslims because countries like Saudi Arabia don’t respect the religious freedom of Christians or Jews:
What disturbs me about this analogy … is the unspoken assumption that Americans shouldn’t be expected to value religious liberty and tolerance toward Muslims if Saudis don’t value religious liberty and tolerance toward Christians (the Western default religion). Since when do we look to Saudi Arabia as the arbiter of what is virtuous?
What the righties don’t get is that the Cordoba House/Park 51 controversy is not about Islam, but about America. What are our values? What are our principles? What does America stand for? And do we maintain those values and principles through thick and thin, or do we chuck them under the bus whenever something frightens us?
I realize there is much less religious tolerance in most Middle Eastern countries than there is supposed to be in the United States, which is one of the many reasons I’m glad I was born in the United States and not the Middle East. But either we value religious liberty and tolerance, or we don’t. And lately the Right has been saying, we don’t. What we value is paranoia and vindictiveness. If Muslims in the Middle East don’t tolerate us, then we won’t tolerate them. Nyah nyah nyah.
Prof. Darren Hutchinson on why religious tolerance is the issue in the controversy over the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan (emphasis is mine):
Many of Obama’s critics cited a Fox News poll, which shows that 61% of Americans believe that the Cordoba House proponents have the “right” to locate the building near Ground Zero. Although the poll shows that more than 1/3 of Americans do not recognize the constitutional rights of the Cordoba House proponents, Obama’s critics argue that this poll proves that religious freedom is a nonissue.
The assumption of these commentators is plain: Americans widely support religious freedom and equality, but they split on the wisdom of the Cordoba House. The rhetoric of opponents of the religious center, however, reveals that many of them actually do not support religious freedom.
There is absolutely no evidence that links planners of the Cordoba House with the World Trade Center or terrorism. Indeed, the proponents say that they want to construct the center as a gesture of goodwill.
Nonetheless, large numbers of Americans believe that the mere presence of a center dedicated to Islam would constitute further harm to the victims of 9/11. Only a prejudicial view that associates Muslims with terrorism could explain this belief. Many people who claim that they support the rights of the Cordoba House planners, but who feel that the project should not go forward, likely harbor biases against Muslims.
Critical readers should not take general polling data on religious tolerance at face value. Instead, they should analyze the public’s views on specific questions related to tolerance. Emerging polling data suggest that while large numbers of Americans claim to support religious freedom, they also hold stereotypical views of Muslims.
Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn in the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” column, marshal plenty more evidence that the opposition to the Park 51 project has very little to do with the “sacredness” of Ground Zero and much more to do with a vicious stereotyping of all Muslims as terrorists:
For more than 30 years, the Muslim community in this Nashville suburb has worshipped quietly in a variety of makeshift spaces — a one-bedroom apartment, an office behind a Lube Express — attracting little notice even after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But when the community’s leaders proposed a 52,900-square-foot Islamic center with a school and a swimming pool this year, the vehement backlash from their neighbors caught them by surprise. Opponents crowded county meetings and held a noisy protest in the town square that drew hundreds, some carrying signs such as “Keep Tennessee Terror Free.”
The Murfreesboro mosque is hundreds of miles from New York City and the national furor about whether an Islamic community center should be built near Ground Zero. But the intense feelings driving that debate have surfaced in communities from California to Florida in recent months, raising questions about whether public attitudes toward Muslims have shifted.
In Tennessee, three plans for new Islamic centers in the Nashville area — one of which was ultimately withdrawn — have provoked controversy and outbursts of ugliness. Members of one mosque discovered a delicately rendered Jerusalem cross spray-painted on the side of their building with the words “Muslims go home.”
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro became a hot-button political issue during this month’s primary election, prompting failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey to ask whether Islam was a “cult.”
Another candidate paid for a billboard high above Interstate 24 near Nashville that read: “Defeat Universal Jihad Now.”
Evangelist Pat Robertson weighed in Thursday, wondering on his television program whether a Muslim takeover of America was imminent and whether local officials could be bribed. (The mayor of the county where the Islamic Center is proposed called that idea “ridiculous.”)
Also in the Washington Post:
- Karen Hughes opines that opponents of the Park 51 project should support the Islamic community center in its currently planned location “as a sign of unity and respect” supporters of the Park 51 project should agree to move the Islamic community center “as a sign of unity” and to “set a powerful example” of the “respect that has not always been accorded to them.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr., took a different view when faced with similar demands in 1963:
Sadly, minorities have long shouldered the burden of proving to the majority that they pose no threat, that they are not inferior and that they, too, deserve everything the majority takes for granted as its due — while patiently enduring misunderstanding and even abuse. They do all this in the face of demands that they are going too fast, pushing too hard and making life too uncomfortable for others.
That was the case in 1963 when white ministers in Birmingham, Ala., accused Martin Luther King Jr. of exacerbating racial tensions by leading protests against the city’s segregation laws. They called his actions “unwise and untimely.” Dr. King responded with his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he wrote: “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.'”
early 50 years later, it is Muslims who are being told to wait, to go away and remain out of sight until their presence can be tolerated by others. While much has changed in the past five decades, the drumbeat against the Islamic center echoes the calls of the well-meaning but misguided Birmingham ministers. Following in the footsteps of those who called for King and his “outsiders” to retreat, opponents of the cultural center urge that it be banished to another neighborhood because its presence near Ground Zero is unsettling and potentially dangerous.
But forcing the Islamic center out of sight will only allow ignorance and fear to fester and grow. It will keep more Americans from learning a lesson that King shared with the ministers: “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
And in Staten Island, two months ago:
“Wouldn’t you agree that every terrorist, past and present, has come out of a mosque?” asked one woman who stood up Wednesday night during a civic association meeting on Staten Island to address representatives of a group that wants to convert a Roman Catholic convent into a mosque in the Midland Beach neighborhood.
“No,” began Ayman Hammous, president of the Staten Island branch of the group, the Muslim American Society — though the rest of his answer was drowned out by catcalls and boos from among the 400 people who packed the gymnasium of a community center.
“I was on the phone this morning with the F.B.I., and all I want to know from you is why MAS is on the terrorist watch list,” said Joan Moriello, using the acronym for the Muslim American Society. Her question produced a loud, angry noise from the audience.
Mr. Hammous, a physical therapist who lives on Staten Island, exchanged a puzzled look with two other Muslim men who had joined him on the podium, both officers of the society’s Brooklyn branch, which operates a mosque in Bensonhurst and faces opposition to opening another in Sheepshead Bay.
“Your information is incorrect, madam,” he replied. “We are not on any watch list.” The other men, Mohamed Sadeia and Abdel Hafid Djamil, shook their heads in agreement.
The State Department maintains a terrorist watch list for foreign organizations, and the Justice Department has identified domestic groups it considers unindicted co-conspirators in various terror-related prosecutions. The Muslim American Society is on neither of those lists.
But more than a dozen speakers, including Robert Spencer, a writer whose blog, Jihad Watch, is widely read in conservative foreign policy circles, said that the society and its national director, Mr. Bray, had ties to Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. The first two are on the State Department’s list.
“Will you denounce Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations?” Mr. Spencer demanded. “Yes or no?”
Mr. Hammous said he denounced “any form of terrorism, any act of terror — by individuals, by groups, by governments.”
The tenor of the inquiry became so fraught that the meeting eventually collapsed in shouting around 11 p.m., prompting the police and security guards to ask everyone to leave.
But just 20 minutes earlier, as Bill Finnegan stood at the microphone, came the meeting’s single moment of hushed silence. Mr. Finnegan said he was a Marine lance corporal, home from Afghanistan, where he had worked as a mediator with warring tribes.
After the sustained standing ovation that followed his introduction, he turned to the Muslims on the panel: “My question to you is, will you work to form a cohesive bond with the people of this community?” The men said yes.
Then he turned to the crowd. “And will you work to form a cohesive bond with these people — your new neighbors?”
The crowd erupted in boos. “No!” someone shouted.