Over in New York, an argument is blazing over the Cordoba Initiative, an Islamic cultural and community centre planned for downtown New York. Shrill critics have labelled it the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ and called for the project to be cancelled, due to it offending the sensibilities of the families of 9/11 victims. However, a calmer look at the proposed centre reveals although it is in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre site, its hardly on top of it. Other mosques exist in the downtown area, and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the project, has been praised for his interfaith work.
This controversy has clearly been manufactured by those who seek to polarise American political debate. It is depressing and astonishing that the arguments against the centre have gained any traction at all. One might expect this in Europe, with its muddled and inconsistent relationship with secular ideals. Or in theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Iran, with their blanket intolerance of other faiths. But for a country which explicitly enshrines human rights such as free expression and freedom of religion in its constitution, it is bizarre that the debate has advanced so far. Most ironic is that the Anti-Defamation League, an organisation set-up specifically to combat religious prejudice and anti-semitism, has led the calls for the plans to be scrapped. Their statement prioritises public outrage and ‘offence’ over freedom of expression, assembly, and religion – A dubious position indeed.
Thankfully, the principles of tolerance appear to be waxing. Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently gave a fantastic speech where he reaffirmed the principles upon which the United States was founded. As a Jewish New Yorker, his words have a certain ‘rhetorical authority’ (as David Foster Wallace would call it). Let’s hope this argument becomes another ‘teaching moment’, a step away from the global war that Osama Bin Laden sought to provoke when he planned the September 11 attacks.
“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.
Daily Dish has some great commentary.