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If you read no further, know this: RedState supports the Anti-Defamation League in its opposition to the so-called “Ground Zero mosque.” The ADL is right on all counts: in its rejection of bigotry, its affirmation of American religious freedom, and its declaration that common decency demands the end of this effort. As the ADL notes, this is “not a question of rights, but a question of what is right.”
The “Ground Zero mosque” is not right. It’s important to understand why.
PART I: A “GROUND ZERO MOSQUE”?
A primary talking point in defense of the “Ground Zero mosque” these days is that it is not, in fact, at Ground Zero. Sharif el-Gamal, its lead developer, is now giving interviews in which he emphasizes, “We are not at Ground Zero.” Saudi-funded Georgetown academic John Esposito informed CNN’s readers that it “is not at Ground Zero but two blocks away.” Huffington Post editor Matt Sledge devoted a rather long essay, complete with maps, to explaining that “it’s not at Ground Zero.” Liberal pundit Matthew Yglesias, typical of the apologist commentary emanating from the repetition of this point, has been having a field day asking where the New York City “Mosque Exclusion Zone” should be. (That Yglesias is reentering what for him has been the challenging field of geography is surely a credit to his moxie.) The list could go on: it is by now the near-universal apologia for the project, deployed by nearly everyone defending it.
To begin with, you have to wonder where some of these people were on September 11, 2001. The entire area west of Broadway, south of Chambers street and north of Wall Street was a front-row seat to mass murder that morning, and much of that area was showered with pulverized debris (mixed among it the bodies of the dead). Few of the national parks and monuments commemorating America’s historic battlefields are so narrowly drawn as the defenders of the mosque would now define “Ground Zero.” Nobody who stood within that area that day would say that 51 Park Place is not within the location of the September 11 attacks.
But more fundamentally, the narrative here, assiduously and actively promoted by the “Ground Zero mosque” supporters, is that the project — originally to be called Cordoba House, now re-branded Park51 after massively negative publicity — is merely an Islamic-themed development project that is meeting opposition due to bigotry and a wholly unjust and unwarranted, happenstance linkage, perpetrated by its enemies, to the hallowed site of Ground Zero.
This is a lie.
The fact is that the groups behind the “Ground Zero mosque” / Cordoba House / Park51 chose the site explicitly for its proximity to Ground Zero, and then spent months boasting about it in the press. Those groups are the Cordoba Initiative (run by Feisal Abdul Rauf, the “Ground Zero mosque’s” imam-to-be); the American Society for Muslim Advancement, or ASMA (run by Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan); and SoHo Properties (run by the aforementioned Sharif el-Gamal, its CEO). Just a few brief but illustrative examples from the principals:
- A December 8th, 2009, New York Times article stated, “The location [next to Ground Zero] was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims,” and quoted Rauf as noting that they got a property “where a piece of the [9/11] wreckage fell.” ASMA then touted the piecein its 2009 Year End Report.
- A simple Google search of the Cordoba Initiative’s websitereveals the phrase “Ground Zero” to be seeded throughout as a rather inept 1999-era SEO tactic to bring people looking for information about Ground Zero to the mosque promoters’ website.
- On May 5th and 6th, ASMA’s Daisy Khan was on her Twitter account, boasting first that the “new muslim center near ground zero gets unaminous vote of approval from community board one in downtown nyc,” and then that she had a “Media blitz day for ASMA / Cordoba [on the] muslim commuity center near ground zero.”
- On June 15th, Daisy Khan told the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn that “a divine hand” led to the Ground Zero proximity.
Following the eruption of popular anger over their plans, the “Ground Zero mosque’s” proponents are attempting to rewrite history. El-Gamal, as seen above, now tells interviewers that there’s no “Ground Zero” at the “Ground Zero mosque,” and Khan’s tweets have the same phrasing, but a rather different emphasis. From July 28th: a “muslim community center NEAR ground zero.”
This list could go on at some length, but this is sufficient to demonstrate that the “Ground Zero mosque’s” stewards aren’t unfairly tarred by the phrase: they wanted it. Everyone discussing this issue should face this fact squarely and honestly. It’s the “Ground Zero mosque” because it was conceived and intended as the “Ground Zero mosque.”
Live by “Ground Zero,” die by “Ground Zero.” It’s difficult to get an accurate count of mosques in New York City — Google’s map ludicrously omits the mass of storefront mosques on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue alone — but we do know that there are many mosques in the city, including some within reasonable walking distance of Ground Zero. Why are there no protest movements against them? Why does the ADL not denounce them? Why do we not oppose them, but in fact welcome them as part of the glorious tapestry of American life and the world’s greatest city? Why is it only this project that generates public disgust, hostility and opposition?
The arrogant and insensitive “Ground Zero” branding of Rauf, Khan and el-Gamal is why.
PART II: WHY IT’S WRONG.
To grasp exactly why the “Ground Zero mosque” / Cordoba House / Park51 is so objectionable, it is useful to consider a range of hypotheticals, in which a site of an infamous slaughter is appropriated by promoters of the group that perpetrated that slaughter. Ask yourself whether any of the following would be morally acceptable, if not simply rejected by an outraged world:
There are undeniably good and laudable things about the cultures and faiths of the Southern United States, Turkey, Japan, Serbia, and European Christianity in general: yet promoting them at the very sites of their historic crimes is rightly repellent. These sites ought to be places of apology and repentance — not promotion.
Rauf, Khan, and el-Gamal don’t grasp this, and in their failure to do so, their pretensions to be peacemakers, bridge-builders, and conciliators are laid bare as propagandistic frauds.
History-minded readers will note that the final “hypothetical” in this list is not actually hypothetical at all: there actually was an effort to establish a Catholic convent outside of the Auschwitz death camp from the late 1980s through the early 1990s. The parallels between this episode and that of the “Ground Zero mosque” are striking — and the differences are instructive. Roman Catholics per se were not the perpetrators of the Holocaust — to put it mildly, if you truly understand the history of Nazism and the Catholic Church — whereas Muslims acting in purported glorification of their faith were the perpetrators of 9/11; yet the late Pope John Paul II, in 1993, ordered the Auschwitz convent closed not because he felt Catholics were culpable for the Holocaust, but out of sensitivity to Jewish concerns. He understood that for Jews, this ground had been consecrated by the suffering of the victims of Auschwitz and rightly should be sacred to them and to their faith. This precedent was noted by ADL national director Abraham Foxman just last week, and indeed the ADL was involved in the controversy when it was current.
In this light, the ADL’s opposition to the “Ground Zero mosque” is not a departure from its tradition or mission, but a fulfillment of both. The number of liberal pundits ignorant of this history is simultaneously remarkable and unsurprising. Again, just a representative sample:
- Joe Kleinwrote that the ADL is “making a mockery of its original mission.”
- Jonathan Chaitwrote that the ADL “is no longer supportable.”
- Adam Serwerwrote that “the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.”
- Jeremy Ben-Amiwrote that the ADL “[gave] in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians.”
- Jay Rosenwrote that his “alienation from and disgust with the ‘organized Jewish community’ (and the polity of Israel) is close to complete.”
- Paul Krugman wrote that the “ADL has apparently forgotten” “that they need to be advocates of universal rights.”
Every one of these liberal pontificators is showing himself deeply ignorant not merely of the ADL and its history, but of the working of a free and democratic society. The idea that rights are tempered by responsibilities, and that civic life must not be an exercise in rights for their own sake, would have struck America’s Founders as not merely uncontroversial, but utterly necessary. From Benjamin Rush’s affirmation that “without virtue there can be no liberty,” to John Adams’s declaration that “[o]ur Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people, [and] is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” the Founders knew that our liberal republic would last only if its public square was a place of consideration and reasoned restraint.
Interestingly, American liberals understand this when the offender is a dumb, picayune, publicity-seeking Florida pastor who’s planning to burn Korans in public. Then we get DailyKos front-pagers and Gawker writers telling us that rights should be tempered with responsibilities. They’re right, regardless of what the First Amendment may allow; the law is not the sum total of our conscience. But their moral inconsistency reveals the sad truth: they’re not opposed to the Koran-burning because they believe in a healthy American civic life, with decent people and public consideration. They’re opposed to it because they think the Koran-burner is right-wing. The same goes for the cross-burner.
By stark contrast, our opposition to the “Ground Zero mosque” (and a Koranic bonfire) is not rooted in any partisan sentiment, except a plain and forthright love for America’s founding principles.
A “Ground Zero mosque” — even if only near Ground Zero, even if a “community center” rather than a mosque — is the opposite of reasoned restraint. It tramples upon the principle of a public square marked by democratic consideration. It displays a grotesque lack of generosity, while demanding extraordinary generosity toward itself. It insists upon rights — which no one disputes — and ignores responsibilities. It is, in short, a bitter vindication of the critics of American democracy at our nation’s Founding.
We may assume this “gaming” of American liberties is deliberate, if tacit, on the parts of the “Ground Zero mosque’s” stewards. Its liberal defenders, though, are simply demonstrating their ignorance, again, of what this country is all about. If we have talked ourselves into a belief that American liberties demand social toleration, or worse, approval of an Islamic site explicitly branded with “Ground Zero,” a mosque clothing itself in the respect accorded to the victims of that atrocity, then we must sincerely question whether our national life and purpose is damaged beyond repair.
We at RedState will not now or ever give that approval.
PART III: ISLAM IN AMERICA.
Feisal Abdul Rauf, Daisy Khan, Sharif el-Gamal, and their liberal apologists want you to understand this: they represent Islam in America, and rejecting their plans means rejecting that. Worse, it means a win for the terrorists. Worse, it means you’re a horrible bigot. Worse, it means “extremism” wins, and more 9/11s are inevitable. Because the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA are the sole legitimate representatives of “moderate” Islam, and this project is their only hope.
None of these propositions are logically defensible, but they are effective emotional and intellectual blackmail. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent spoke for most “enlightened” opinion in the media elite when he wrote:
[O]pposition to this mosque appears to be all about insidiously linking the mosque builders with the 9/11 attackers, and by extension, to revive passions surrounding 9/11. To oppose the mosque is to capitulate to — and validate — this program. On this one, you’re either with the bigots or you’re against them.
There you have it: according to our liberal-media betters, there are no legitimate grounds for opposing the “Ground Zero mosque,” because there are bad people who also oppose it. (This is largely the same group that will become irate when one points out that the Taliban share their foreign-policy goals.) If you’re against it, you’re on the side of every civic sin imaginable, and the word “bigot” will come up in the first sentence.
Aziz Poonawalla, who supports the “Ground Zero mosque,” actually asked Sharif el-Gamal about this just over a week ago. See question 7 here: “Do you concede there are genuine, valid concerns about this project which are not derived from Islamophobia or racism?” One may read el-Gamal’s response for oneself: he avoids answering the question, and thereby does not concede any such thing. Nor do he or his colleagues ever intend to. He’s already denouncing the fracas over this as manufactured by the media — instead of, as demonstrated, by Cordoba’s and ASMA’s own media strategy — and his allies will assuredly be turning up the heat in coming weeks.
It must be clearly understood that the aim is to render support for the “Ground Zero mosque” an inescapable bona fide of polite mainstream sentiment.
We must aggressively reject this bullying from the outset. Fortunately, the facts are on our side. First and foremost, they demolish the contention that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in particular is a “moderate” to whom we should extend unique consideration. Karl at the Hot Air Green Room has a good exposition of his problematic past and present:
Imam Feisal Rauf, the central figure behind the mosque project, has a public image as a devotee of the “contemplative” Sufi school of Islam, but his writings directed at Muslims are full of praise for Wahhabi fundamentalism. He has refused to “repudiate the threat from authoritative sharia to the religious freedom and safety of former Muslims,” a pledge issued nine months ago by ex-Muslims under threat for their “apostasy.” He refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist organization, and will not talk about the Muslim Brotherhood. He is an open proponent of integrating sharia into the law of Western countries. When speaking to Arabic audiences, he discounts the idea of religious dialogue. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Rauf said, “The Islamic method of waging war is not to kill innocent civilians. But it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima, neither of which were military targets.” Many people convincingly argue that Dresden and Hiroshima were military targets, but more important in this context is that neither was ordered on the basis of Christian theology. Regarding 9/11 specifically, Rauf told 60 Minutes in September 2001 that “United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.”
It’s certainly arguable that Rauf is a “moderate” in the context he hails from (he’s Kuwaiti-born, with American citizenship, and spends most of his time in Malaysia), but in America, a refusal to denounce Hamas is rightly nothing less than loathsome extremism. That’s the context that matters: contrary to the arguments of Rauf, et al., Americans should not feel compelled to surrender their hallowed ground — nor even its invocation — to help them in an intra-Islamic contest. Without dismissing the significance of that contest, “supports Hamas” versus “doesn’t not support Hamas” is not much of a choice if you’re enthusiastic about basic freedoms and our Constitution.
Add to this toxic mix the deliberate opacity behind the “Ground Zero mosque’s” funding, and the narrative that holds this project to be a boon to “moderation” becomes flimsy indeed. El-Gamal wouldn’t forego foreign funding, nor even pledge funding transparency, in his interview with Poonawalla; nor did the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’s Clifford May get a direct answer from the Cordoba Initiative on foreign money.
Let us state forthrightly that the “Ground Zero mosque” stewards are evasive on foreign funding because the project would almost certainly collapse without it. Let us further say directly that they refuse to commit to public transparency in their funding because public knowledge of their funders would eradicate their pretensions to moderation and American identity both.
We will not be coerced into pretending that this group has somehow proven itself representative of Islam in America. We know that there are plenty of American Muslims who love our country, and who oppose the “Ground Zero mosque.” M. Zuhdi Jasser served America in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. He is now president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and has written movingly of his opposition to the “Ground Zero mosque”: “The World Trade Center site represents Ground Zero in America’s war against radical Islamists who seek to destroy the American way of life. It is not ground zero of a cultural exchange.” Stephen Schwartz converted to Islam at age 49, and is the Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. Of the “Ground Zero mosque,” Schwartz has gone on record saying that “Cordoba House comes across as ‘grossly insensitive.’” Still other American Muslim leaders, like the Iraqi-born Zainab al-Suwaij of the American Islamic Congress (who went from guerrilla fighter against Saddam Hussein to American citizen), offer us a model of Islamic leadership that affirms American principles without the obfuscation and inept manipulation that is the hallmark of Rauf, Khan, el-Gamal, and the rest of the “Ground Zero mosque” crowd.
Let’s be clear on this count: Islam has a future in America, but that future doesn’t lie in the self-promoting “Ground Zero mosque” set. It lies in American Muslims who actually understand their country — and hat, we are optimistic enough to believe, is most of them.
On a personal note: if we at RedState are confident in rejecting the arrogant pretense of the Cordoba and ASMA clique, and the preening hysterics of their liberal allies, it is because we have no small experience with Islam ourselves. Our editor in chief spent much of his childhood in the United Arab Emirates. One of our founders has traveled across the Muslim world, from east Africa to the Middle East to south Asia. We count among our friends American Muslims of sterling reputation and unimpeachable patriotism. Some of us have married Muslims. Others of us have gone to war alongside Muslims.
With this collective experience, and with the assurance that we join the majority of Americans in rejecting the “Ground Zero mosque” as the cheap, foreign-funded publicity gambit it is, we are proud to join the Anti-Defamation League on this issue. The ADL stated that this is “not a question of rights, but a question of what is right.”
What is right is this: Ground Zero is a battlefield, and the “Ground Zero mosque” is an affront to its hallowed dead. If it is built (and that is, sadly, likely to happen) Americans walking past it will assuredly be reminded of that affront, why we’re fighting — and who.