First of all, it's not a mosque, it's a community center. It has a restaurant, basketball court, 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool, theater, a culinary school, a food court, a performing arts center, a fitness center, a childcare area, and a bookstore. Some people call it a mosque because it's prayer room will fit up to about a thousand people, but - so what? By the way, it's already a prayer space. And it's privately owned. Perhaps if Rauf built an OTB on the site that would be okay right? And there are already mosques in the neighborhood.
But the vigilant members of the Patriotic and Most Christian Right have deemed the proposed center to be a symbol of Islamic triumphalism. If so, then it will be with all the impact of a Peter Ustinov taking over the Alamo in "Viva Max!" Insignificant and unreal. So far I've heard nothing more than that freedom of religion must give way to sensibilities of terror conscious Americans, and the hurt feelings of 9-11 survivors. Call it what it is - red lining!
Without even knowing what it is that they are opposing, people have labeled this proposed center, accused it's leader of being an extremist, and demanded that Islamophobia supplant freedom of religion.
Well then, let's get that knowledge - of the center, it's Imam, and then let's take a look at who is opposing it and why.
Well, what about Park51?
It's Imam will be Feisal Abdul Rauf. More on. him later. The plan calls for using 100,000 square feet. The contractor is Soho Properties. Sharif El-Gamal is CEO. It will be 13 stories. The material will be glass and steel.
There will be a theater, a 500 seat auditorium, a fitness center, a basketball court, a daycare center, a culinary arts school, a food court serving halal dishes, and prayer space for 1 to 2000 people.
There is no affiliation with federal, state or local government.
It used to be a Burlington Coat factory before 9/11, until a piece of shrapnel from United Airlines Flight 175 fell on it during the attack. Soho Properties purchased it originally for condominiums. Then Rauf, as head of the Cordoba Initiative, persuaded Soho's CEO, Sharif El-Gamal, that a community center for moderate Muslims would be better.
Another investor is the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), of which Rauf is also CEO and founder. The other half of the property on which they want to build is owned by Con Edison.
Barring unforeseen difficulties, Soho will have the option to by Con Ed out after Con Ed conducts a property appraisal. El-Gamal says that price is no option.
The sale is to be reviewed by the New York Public Service Commission. That worries me be cause Governor Patterson shows no backbone concerning the rights of Muslims to build the center.
Now there is some confusion as to the sources of funding for the project.
Rauf said he would solicit money only from the Muslim American community, but NBC and the New York Post reported that he also told a London based Arabic language newspaper that he would seek funding from Muslim and Arab nations.
Now Mayor Bloomberg declined to comment on this, and anyway, there is enough speculation on the source of funding that is so convoluted that FOX NEWS had better pull in it's claws concerning at least one of it's major funders Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal
Indeed, as none other than Rupert Murdoch's New York Post reported last May, the Kingdom Foundation, al-Waleed's personal charity, has donated a total of $305,000 to Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, a leadership and networking project sponsored jointly by two of Rauf's organizations, the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative. Al-Waleed owns a 7 percent, $2.3 billion stake in News Corporation. Likewise, News Corporation owns a 9 percent, $70 million stake — purchased in February — in Rotana, Al-Waleed's Saudi media conglomerate. Put another way: Rupert Murdoch and Fox News are in business, to the tune of billions of dollars, with one of the "Terror Mosque Imam's" principal patrons
There was just as much confusion over what it's official function will be.
The media describes the Center as a mosque, and the protests were against a mosque. Córdoba House's official website call it a community center much like the YMCA. The Initiative says that some services planned for it such as the restaurant and the Performance Center disqualify it from being a mosque.
The initiative to does not wish to name this a mosque. For a good reason.
Names are every thing. According to Daisy Khan, a prayer space is something that can be controlled by a moderate denomination, but a mosque must be open to all, radicals and moderates alike.
However at the center's site calls it a mosque.
And names are the stock and trade of an uninformed opposition whose midterm elction aim is to deflect criticism from it's own bankruptcy of ideas with a little anti-Muslim hysteria!
Córdoba Initiative says that Córdoba House was meant to invoke Córdoba Spain where Muslims Christians and Jews lived peacefully.
Newt Gingrich called the name an insult because it recalled the Caliphate of Córdoba, recalling the Umayyad conquest of Spain from the Visigoths.
Of course, what Gingrich seems to forget is that the Christian Visigoths conquered Spain from it's previous occupants the very Christian Romans and Spaniards.
After the community board approved the permit, an effort was made to get the Burlington Coat factory declared a historical landmark, but this was unsuccessful.
A firefighter named Timothy Brown who had survived 9/11, supposedly was interested in the Burlington Coat Factory's Italianate style, and brought a lawsuit to nullify this decision. The American Center for Law and Justice filed on his behalf.
The whole idea of defining the function of this project is so delicate and touchy that the board took no position regarding the religious aspects of Park51. Indeed, a board member Julie Menin, was very apprehensive about using the word mosque in the resolution.
The bill by the Lower Manhattan Community Board 1 was 29 to 1 with 10 abstentions. The vote did not have any binding effect.
The blind emotion with which the 9/11 family community has reacted has allowed the Right to poison the atmosphere on this issue serves no one, and only diminishes everyone's rights into mere privilege. That's what happens to a right once someone places unreasonable conditions on it. Such is the case here.
Relatives of the victims of 9/11 feel rather insulted because the fact that the attackers of 9/11 were doing so in the name of Islam is seared into their memories. Some said there wasn't a question of freedom over religion but the sensitivity to the feelings of survivors of 9/11 and relatives of victims.
Debra Burlingame said:
The idea that you would establish a religious institution that embraces the very Shariah Law that terrorists point to as their justification for what they did ... to build that where almost 3,000 people died, that is an obscenity to me.
And the first responder community chimed in:
Former NY Fire Department Deputy Chief Jim Riches, whose son Jim was killed, said: 'I don't want to have to go down to a memorial where my son died on 9/11, and look at a mosque," adding "this is all about location, location, location. It's not about religious freedom ... be sensitive to the families.
Location location location rather than the religious freedom.
What Mr. Riches doesn't seem to remember is that rights do supersede sensitivities, because those are his rights and yours and mine. Riches seems to think that freedom of religion is not the problem but the sensitivity to people's feelings is.
Like maybe the sensitivity of a white person who didn't want to go to the same bathroom as a black person right?
Or maybe the sensitivity of white people did not want to eat with black people in the same lunch counter am I correct?
This devotion to sensitivity took a basic right and turned it into privilege.
The fact is, this argument on it's own is paper-thin, and would not have any force were it not back by a very strong Islamophobia. For example, Ted Olson, another 9/11 family member whose wife, the famous conservative television pundit Barbara, died on Flight 175 that horrible day. He should be at the forefront of the anti-Park51 opposition. Yet he has no problem in accepting Park51:
OLSON: I do believe that people of all religions have a right to build edifices or structures, places of religious worship or study where the community allows them to do it under zoning laws and that sort of thing. And that we don’t want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith. And I don’t think it should be a political issue. It shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat issue either. I believe Governor Christie from New Jersey said it as well, that this should not be in that political partisan marketplace.
Want to see how far the Islamophobia goes?
Take our friend Charles Krauthammer as an example:
He makes the rather National Socialist like argument that the innocuous mosque of today could be the terrorist center of tomorrow. So we mustn't allow innocent Muslims to build near Ground Zero today, in case they turn into bad guys tomorrow! (Of course, you'd think Mr. Krauthammer would want to have his perceived terrorists in one place, where he can watch them, but then, I'll leave his curious thought processes to his analyst.)
Out of whole cloth, Krauthammer manufactures an argument base on an afterthought of Mayor Bloomberg's with a quote taken out of context, namely: "to show some special sensitivity to the situation" as if he and Rich Lowry had detected some form of discrimination in the Mayor's language.
Naturally this gives an excuse for Krauthammer be an alarmist:
Bloomberg's implication is clear: If the proposed mosque were controlled by "insensitive" Islamist radicals either excusing or celebrating 9/11, he would not support its construction.
But then, why not? By the mayor's own expansive view of religious freedom, by what right do we dictate the message of any mosque? Moreover, as a practical matter, there's no guarantee that this couldn't happen in the future. Religious institutions in this country are autonomous. Who is to say that the mosque won't one day hire an Anwar al-Aulaqi -- spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber, and onetime imam at the Virginia mosque attended by two of the 9/11 terrorists?
An Aulaqi preaching in Virginia is a security problem. An Aulaqi preaching at Ground Zero is a sacrilege. Or would the mayor then step in -- violating the same First Amendment he grandiosely pretends to protect from mosque opponents -- and exercise a veto over the mosque's clergy?
Mr. Krauthammer, that falls into the "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." category!
In another article Krauthammer points out that liberals like Michael Kinsley are being hypocritical in their defense of Park51, in that Kinsley refused to take stand on a similar bit of red lining done by Pope John Paul II concerning the closing of a Carmelite convent near the Auschwitz death camp:
The Atlantic's Michael Kinsley was typical in arguing that the only possible grounds for opposing the Ground Zero mosque are bigotry or demagoguery. Well then, what about Pope John Paul II's ordering the closing of the Carmelite convent just outside Auschwitz? (Surely there can be no one more innocent of that crime than those devout nuns.) How does Kinsley explain this remarkable demonstration of sensitivity, this order to pray -- but not there? He doesn't even feign analysis. He simply asserts that the decision is something "I confess that I never did understand.
That's his Q.E.D.? Is he stumped or is he inviting us to choose between his moral authority and that of one of the towering moral figures of the 20th century?"
While I cannot speak for Mr. Kinsley, my take on that matter is that two wrongs don't make a right. Freedom of religion should not be barred from anywhere, as long as the religion does not seek to impose itself as the official faith, and the barbed wires of a Nazi death camp should not be the limit of it's jurisdiction. And no one should be barred from practicing their faith simply because a perverted version of it was used as an excuse for murder. Catholics were killed by Nazis too, as the ghost of Father Maximilian Kolbe could tell you. It is that same principle that applies to Park51.
And then, after looking for terrorists under the beds of America, Krauthammer conveniently forgets that in the war on terror, Muslims are our greatest allies, and fought just as hard as any Marines to bring order to their country in Iraq.
Greg Sargent has explained Krauthammer's dilemma nicely:
Here's the thing: If you believe that it is "provocative" to put a center devoted to the study of all of Islam near the site of the attacks, then you are inescapably legitimizing the idea that all of Islam is somehow responsible for, or should be vaguely associated with, those attacks. If you don't believe that -- if you believe that the attacks were carried out by a group that perverted Islam and wasn't genuinely acting on its behalf -- then you wouldn't have any reason to see the building of a project nearby devoted to studying Islam as "provocative.
Claiming that the attacks were carried out "in the name" of Islam is a transparent way to dodge that simple truth. It's a way for Krauthammer to make an argument premised inescapably on the idea that all of Islam should be somehow conflated with the attacks while claiming he isn't doing that at all.
And then of course, Republican-in-Chief Rush Limbaugh goes further and finds that Republicans are asleep on the job concerning opposition to "the mosque." According .to Limbaugh, Republicans cannot overplay their hand by opposing Park51. He himself has crossed the line, brazenly insulting the President by calling him "Imam Obama," and renaming Park51 the "Hamasque." Enough about the Boss, he's just regurgitating the same old same old the rest of the time. Krauthammer's the one who showed the paucity of the "sensitivity" shtick by adding his mixture of a Nazi-like T4-ish philosophy and the old "some of my best friends are Muslim" cliche
So what are we left with? The same old story. Someone is trying to get something concrete and helpful to the community done, and the Republicans gin up opposition to it purely for their own political benefit!
You can't have freedom of religion with exceptions. That's not real freedom. That's privilege, something the Republicans can understand.