Today’s 9-0 vote by New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission against granting historic landmark status to the building near Ground Zero where a Muslim group wants to build an Islamic cultural and community center is a victory for the First Amendment and a rejection of religious bigotry:
That decision clears the way for the construction of Park51, a tower of as many as 15 stories that will house a mosque, a 500-seat auditorium, and a pool. Its leaders say it will be modeled on the Y.M.C.A. and Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.
The vote on Tuesday was free of much of the vitriol that had been part of previous hearings. One by one, members of the commission debated the aesthetic significance of the building, designed in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style by an unknown architect.
Later in the day, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has forcefully defended the planned mosque, praised the landmarks commission’s vote.
“To cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists,” he said, standing with religious leaders in front of the Statue of Liberty.
The forces of hatred are out in full force in response to this decision, as they have been from the moment plans to build the community center were announced. Barbara O’Brien does an inspired job of tearing their argument to shreds:
There’s a lot of squawking about how the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan would cause pain to the families of September 11 victims, so it should not be built. But some of those families are Muslim. And notice that most of the people presuming to speak for the families of September 11 victims do not belong to families of September 11 victims, who as far as I know have not been polled for their opinions.
I realize some individuals who lost family members on September 11 have vocally opposed the Islamic Center, but it’s a leap to assume that they speak for anyone but themselves. So I say again to Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and the rest of the buttinskys who don’t live in New York and have no personal connection to those who died there — MYOB.
There have been plenty of times in American history that big majorities of Americans supported causes and policies that would appall later generations. Slavery and Jim Crow come to mind, and so do Wounded Knee, much of the Philippine–American War, and the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II. Opposition to the Islamic center obviously fits into the same shameful, hateful category.
So sometimes a majority are wrong, which is why the Founders did not establish a purely majoritarian government. Stopping Muslims from doing something lawful just because they are Muslims obviously violates the First Amendment and is something that government has no power to do, even if it’s the will of the majority.
Toward the end of her post, Barbara takes the gnat swatter to Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:
My nominee for Flaming Useless Idiot of the Hour … I started to say of the Week, but the Right cranks ‘em out way faster than that … is Jennifer Rubin, who writes for Commentary –
The left continues to feign confusion (it is hard to believe its pundits are really this muddled) as to the reasons why conservatives (and a majority of fellow citizens) oppose the Ground Zero mosque. No, it’s not about “religious freedom” — we’re talking about the location of the mosque on the ash-strewn site of 3,000 dead Americans.
No, Jennifer, the center will not be on the ash-strewn site of 3,000 dead Americans.. It will be two city blocks away and hidden from view behind two larger buildings. It will actually be much closer to the New York Dolls topless bar and “gentleman’s club” than to Ground Zero.
And we’re not at all confused about why you righties are hysterical about the Islamic Center. It’s because you’re a pack of bigoted cowards who are so fearful of a few moderate Muslims you’d sell out every value this country stands for to keep them out of your sight.
It is interesting that the word mosque is not employed by those excoriating the mosque opponents. As a smart reader highlights, why is it described as a “cultural center”?
Because it’s going to be a cultural center and not a mosque. A mosque is a particular kind of building that conforms to a specific format, and the cultural center will not be that. Instead, it will be modeled after the 92nd Street Y, a Jewish cultural center that nobody ever calls “synagogue.”
Jeffrey Goldberg, for once, is on the side of the angels:
This seems like such an obvious point, but it is apparently not obvious to the many people who oppose the Cordoba Initiative’s planned mosque in lower Manhattan, so let me state it as clearly as possible: The Cordoba Initiative, which is headed by an imam named Feisal Abdul Rauf, is an enemy of al Qaeda, no less than Rudolph Giuliani and the Anti-Defamation League are enemies of al Qaeda. Bin Laden would sooner dispatch a truck bomb to destroy the Cordoba Initiative’s proposed community center than he would attack the ADL, for the simple reason that Osama’s most dire enemies are Muslims. This is quantitatively true, of course — al Qaeda and its ideological affiliates have murdered thousands of Muslims — but it is ideologically true as well: al Qaeda’s goal is the purification of Islam (that is to say, its extreme understanding of Islam) and apostates pose more of a threat to Bin Laden’s understanding of Islam than do infidels.
I know Feisal Abdul Rauf; I’ve spoken with him at a public discussion at the 96th street mosque in New York about interfaith cooperation. He represents what Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country. Bin Laden wants a clash of civilizations; the opponents of the mosque project are giving him what he wants.
Steve Benen adds the closing thoughts:
The anti-Muslim bigotry has been painful and offensive, but the counterproductinve idiocy of conservative leaders railing against the Cordoba House has often gone overlooked.
Feisal Abdul Rauf isn’t some dangerous extremist for Republicans and Tea Partiers to fear; he’s a longtime local imam, active in the Manhattan community, and committed to fighting radicalism. Indeed, he considers it a personal mission. The proposed building is intended to be a monument to tolerance and respect.
For folks like Gingrich, Cheney, Giuliani, et al, Feisal Abdul Rauf is exactly the kind of American ally who should be embraced. Instead, the right is going to genuinely ridiculous lengths to isolate, offend, and ostracize him, signaling their belief that all Muslim Americans should be treated as second-class citizens.
If Osama bin Laden were to write a script for what he’d like to see happen here, it’d be identical to the one Gingrich & Co. are following. This isn’t intended to question their patriotism, but rather, their sanity.