For a concurring opinion, see Peter Beinart, America has disgraced itself.
See also Michael Kinsley, Cordoba House, Charles Krauthammer, and the First Amendment.
Muslim American citizens have a constitutional right to build a religious and cultural center anywhere in this country that Christians or Jews may build one. This is so clear and obvious that opponents of the planned Muslim center near Ground Zero usually concede or avoid the point. Then they say that the center should not be built at this location anyway. I guess they mean that these Muslims should give up their right voluntarily--or under duress.I also heard a good interview today with Irwin Kula at Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! (I am generally not a fan of Amy Goodman, but she sometimes has really good interviews with people the mainstream press doesn't pay attention to). He's a rabbi who is the head of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, also known as Clal. Here are some of his words:
And why do they say this? Well, the two obvious possibilities are bigotry and political opportunism. Maybe they associate this Muslim center with the perpetrators of 9/11. That would be bigotry, since the only real connection is that both are Islamic. Or maybe, in the case of Republican politicians and right-wing commentators, it is simply a matter of taking advantage of a political opportunity that has fallen into their laps.
Both of these reasons are fairly unattractive. Is there any reason to oppose the mosque that isn't bigoted, or demagogic, or unconstitutional? None that I've heard or read.
RABBI IRWIN KULA: ....But I actually think the distinction between the right to build and the wisdom to build is a very, very, very dangerous distinction. It actually is pernicious, in a way. And I would have liked the President to say something like this: "I reject the premises of the question, because I know where that question is coming from. That question is coming from already a premise that there are these terrorists and these American Muslims, and they’re equivalent. And therefore, you’re asking me about the wisdom of American Muslims, who have been in New York for a long time in a mosque that was twenty—that was within twelve blocks for the last twenty-seven years. And the very fact of the question of the wisdom is actually to presume suspicion. And so, I reject the question. There’s only two—there’s only one wisdom I care about: the wisdom of the Constitution, I care about, and the wisdom of distinguishing between our genuine enemies and American citizens."
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Rabbi Kula, let me ask you about the statement of the Anti-Defamation League. It published a statement opposing the Park51 project, saying, quote, "Ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment," they said, "building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right." The ADL national director Abraham Foxman later defended this position on CNN.
ABRAHAM FOXMAN: Our position basically was an appeal to the imam and his supporters. If you want to heal, if you want to reconcile, is this the best place to do it? Should you do it in face—in the face of those who are saying to you, most of the victims, families of the victims, the responders, are saying, "Please don’t do it here. Please don’t do it in our cemetery." I believe, on this issue, the voices, the feelings, the emotions of the families of the victims of the responders, I think take precedent maybe over even the Mayor’s.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League. Rabbi Kula, your response?
RABBI IRWIN KULA: I mean, I’m just deeply disappointed, and I was, you know, quoted as saying I think the ADL should be ashamed of itself. I think the sad thing here is that Abe Foxman, since 9/11, has been one of the most important advocates to ensure that there was not defamation and not prejudice for Muslims, and the shame here is that he actually knows Daisy and knows Imam Feisal for a long time. And so, what I think what we really have here is tremendous political pressure.
AMY GOODMAN: And Daisy is Daisy Khan, the wife of Imam Feisal—
RABBI IRWIN KULA: And Daisy Khan, I’m sorry, yeah, the wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. And what we have here is tremendous political pressure. And I’m sure the stories are going to come out in the next months of the kinds of pressures that were put on somebody like Abe. And you can see the torturous kinds of statement that he had to make about the feelings, I mean, which—anguish, and I think we need to say something, that the anguish of people does not automatically translate into public policy. And sometimes anguish and really, really personal suffering needs to be disconnected from public policy, because anguish doesn’t allow us to abandon rationality. Anguish doesn’t allow us to abandon kind of first principles about what our country stands for.
And I had two friends who died in the World Trade Center. I was very involved in this for a long time. And to be able to use the sensitivities of people to really—to really stoke fear, there’s something very cynical about that. And there isn’t such a thing as the sensitivities of 9/11 families. There are a lot of different 9/11 families, and there are not only 9/11 families who lost directly people, but there are 9/11 families who were forced out of their homes for years in the neighborhood. So, what do we mean by the "the feelings of 9/11 families"? These are abstractions used to actually stoke fear in the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Imam Rauf, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is headed, by the way, on a State Department mission for two weeks to the Middle East.... How do you know him?
RABBI IRWIN KULA: Well, kind of in the interfaith work that we’ve been doing over the last decade. I was one of the readers of his book, What’s Right with Islam: A New Vision of Muslims in America. We were in Australia recently, at the World Parliament of World Religions. You know, in the interfaith world, there aren’t that many people working at the cutting edge of interfaith. That is what’s so crazy about this story. Imam Feisal has been at the cutting edge of whatever we mean by "moderate Islam." I mean, those words weren’t even used until very, very recently. This is a guy who, well before 9/11, he had two books that are very, very important—Islam: A Search for Meaning and Islam: A Sacred Law. These are things that people need to read. And it’s so easy to take one comment out of context. Any of us who have been in the media, any one of us who have been interviewed, you can take a statement and turn someone into a radical and turn someone into a terrorist. This guy has been at the highest echelons—State Department, FBI. He has spoken in the Aspen Institute. He’s spoken in Washington Cathedral. This is—I mean, it’s really crazy.
And that’s another part of the story that’s very scary. I mean, the community board, before anything, voted this 15-0. There was an amazing conversation. In fact, there was a request from—of Daisy Khan: Could you put a 9/11 memorial inside of the—of what is now Park51? And he said, "Of course. We’re planning on doing that." And it was—this got stoked by a very small group of people, and then—what I would say is an irresponsible national leadership, whether it’s Gingrich and Palin, and then a certain element of the media. And what’s very scary is, what was a local issue that was—that was a non-issue. This is a group of people, led by Imam Feisal, that has been ten blocks from there for the last twenty-seven years. This is a complete non-issue. And so, what it really says is, what’s going on in America?