Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Today in Mosquedom

A ton of news cropped up regarding the WTC mosque/community center. This post will be about half-substantive, half-roundup.

First, I can't think of a better place to start than Mayor Bloomberg's stellar speech on the subject. It really hits home that the question here is one of our deepest commitments to religious liberty.
“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

“For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ (Bloomberg’s voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.) ‘What beliefs do you hold?’

“The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

Damn the fuck straight.

Meanwhile, I wish I could give a cookie to the AJC for not opposing the building of the mosque, but you know what? I can't. This is such an open and shut case that the mealy-mouthed, ham-handed decision by which the AJC -- after agonizing deliberation -- deigned to give its approval is worth nothing to me. This passive-aggressive "questions have been raised" formulation, wherein any Muslim in the public sphere must carry a punch card indicating the last time they condemned Osama bin Laden, is incredibly pernicious and must be countered at all costs. I bow to no one in opposing radical extremists of all stripes and denominations -- Islamic ones included -- but Muslims don't have an a priori obligation to show themselves to be peace-loving. Like all other persons, we ought to assume they fully buy into the panoply of human rights protections and human values until they, personally, show themselves otherwise. The burden is on those making the allegation that this group is aligned with Islamic radicals. It is a burden they cannot meet.

Of course, that pales in comparison to the contempt I feel for Abe Foxman right now, and the tragic little tears he's crying about how everyone is ganging up on the poor ADL and not recognizing for its "nuance" ... ugh. Gag me. That was decidedly not the lesson Foxman needed to learn. The lesson he needed to learn is that pissing away decades of credibility opposing religious bigotry is going to meet with backlash. As it should.

That being said, I'm not sure the ADL's position on this is fairly traceable to its position on Israel. In fact, I think Beinart misunderstands the proper role the ADL should take with regards to Israel, for the ADL is not a domestic Israeli human rights organization. To be sure, it should oppose religious discrimination anywhere and everywhere, including in Israel. But the ADL, as an international organization, is properly concerned with the way that anti-Israel animus in the global community both inspires and is inspired by anti-Jewish sentiment. I reject the notion that the fact that Israel is a place where Jews have power completely obviates any and all discussion of anti-Semitism in the context of Israel.

The far-right ACLJ has announced it is filing a legal challenge seeking to reverse the decision of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declining to designate the site a "landmark", thus allowing the mosque to proceed. The suit must be for show, because I can't imagine even the ACLJ believes it will win an "abuse of discretion" argument, and effectively their suit can be summarized as haling the NYCLPC into court for not deciding to violate the Constitution (Cf. Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993)).

Finally, the backers of the have publicly thanked their Jewish backers. You're welcome, but honestly? Just doing my duty as an American.


N. Friedman said...


I think you totally misread what Harris wrote. What he was saying is that the community center will have no credibility as a healing agent if it either has ties to Islamists or does not reject terrorism. That point is rather difficult to disagree with, in my humble view. And, it is an important point to make, given the fact that the US is in a war with Islamists who claim to represent Islam and its agenda, all in the name of God.

I also think you totally misread what Foxman is saying. While I have stated my disagreement with him - and you can see it in my 8:49 AM post, the analogy he makes to the nunnery at Auschwitz is a very good one; even so, I think he draws the wrong conclusion.

joe said...

Well said. No society that purports to give a damn about individual rights can demand these "soft" loyalty oaths up front from Muslims, or anyone else.

joe said...

Having just read the entire Bloomberg speech I take issue with a couple of things.

By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam.

I like to think the "refudiate" was a shot across the bow at Sarah Palin. But the problem with this is a we have a public official making a pronouncement of what is and isn't true Islam. Although it takes the form of a compliment, do we really want political leaders going there? (The fact that it's a non-Muslim saying what Islam is and isn't can also raise eyebrows, but I'm more concerned with secular values.)

Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure -- and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off limits to God's love and mercy.

These mentions of God, to say nothing of prayers at inaugurations and in legislatures, have a tendency of leaving out non-believers (and, to some extent, non-monotheists). How would the religious folks like it if an atheist mayor said something like "God would love the hell out of our fair city, if he actually existed"? I'm betting not a lot.

These are comparatively small issues next to the campaign of ostracism aimed at Cordoba House, and Bloomberg deserves a lot of credit for standing up to the bullies, but still, definitely flourishes that mar an otherwise great speech.

N. Friedman said...


You write: "But the problem with this is a we have a public official making a pronouncement of what is and isn't true Islam. Although it takes the form of a compliment, do we really want political leaders going there? (The fact that it's a non-Muslim saying what Islam is and isn't can also raise eyebrows, but I'm more concerned with secular values.)"

We have, since 9/11, had one politician after another saying what Islam teaches. So, why pick on Bloomberg? He is saying nothing new or original.

While, I agree with you, that it is for Muslims to interpret their own religion, if what the Mayor is saying is untrue, then we have a really big problem indeed. So, I see no harm in it.

N. Friedman said...

I just uncovered some information regarding the imam for the Cordoba House which gives me real pause about think the project my support. While I still would not want to ban the project - religious freedom and the like being dear to me -, this connection, below described, is enough to make me want never to go near it and to think that the project is not likely well intentioned. What follows was written by Stephen Schwartz, who is a convert to Islam. He writes:

It has become widely known that Rauf is a leading figure in the so-called Perdana Global Peace Organisation, which is headed by one of the Islamic world's most offensive Jew-haters, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad. Perdana was instrumental in organizing the Turkey-based attempt to run the Israeli naval embargo of Hamas-run Gaza at the end of May. The group's roster of "Role Players & Contributors" begins with Mahathir, listing Rauf as second below him. Incredibly, the same list includes Michel Chossudovsky, a Canadian leftist professor known for his ardent defense of Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serbian demagogue. What could be more Islamophobic than to join in a public enterprise with such an individual?

I note that his article includes other interesting information, most particularly on a topic about which he has written at length, namely, the funding by foreigners of the Salafist/Islamist point of view of mosques in the US. Again, if the project is genuine - which I now doubt -, it will be helpful to the Muslim community, which (while causing pain to many others), is reason enough to think the project a good idea. However, with the noted information, I shall have nothing to do with the project.

joe said...

I mention Bloomberg, N., because features prominently in this blog post. And because, as I said, it's an otherwise excellent speech about religious freedom that is marred by these flaws. But you are correct, that he's certainly not the first.

N. Friedman said...


You might consider answering my posts, directed to you, on the other board. I spent some considerable time creating an argument for your consideration.

joe said...

I'm pretty busy this week, and while I like a good debate, endless argument with you can be pretty depressing. Nothing personal, it's not you, it's the apparently irreconcilable difference of viewpoint.