by Sheldon Richman
If a YMCA or a YMHA were planned for 51 Park Place in Lower Manhattan, two blocks from the Twin Towers’ former site, who would have noticed?
Instead, the equivalent of a Muslim Y (without the implied male exclusivity) is to be built there. What’s the big deal?
There can be only one answer: Consciously or not, a majority of Americans believe all American Muslims are associated with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Although the U.S. government position is that the attacks were perpetrated not by Islam but rather by fanatics who warped the religion, the opposition to Cordoba House, now known as Park51, shows that most Americans don’t believe it. They hold all Muslims responsible. That’s disgraceful collective guilt based on religion.
Just when one thinks that politics can’t sink any deeper into the sewage, conservatives and Republicans come along to prove one wrong. Who cares what Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and their ilk really think about the Islamic cultural center (not a mosque) located two vision-obstructed blocks from (not at) Ground Zero? What counts is that they are eager to exploit Americans’ ignorant fears for political advantage. Gingrich, ever the pseudo intellectual, suggests that Nazis would not be permitted to build a center near the Holocaust Museum. He hopes you’ll not realize that (1) the developers of Park51 aren’t Nazis or supporters of al-Qaeda, and (2) they own the property on which the center is to be built.
Fanatical Christians and Jews have killed many innocent people, believing they were doing God’s will. Reasonable people do not hold Christianity and Judaism culpable for those crimes. Why the double standard with Muslims? Several million Muslims live peacefully in the United States. What more needs to be said?
It takes only minutes on the Internet to learn there are different Muslim traditions. Feisal Abdul Rauf, director of Park51, is no bin Ladenite. As William Dalrymple writes, Rauf “is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists. His videos and sermons preach love … and reconciliation…. But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.”
Moreover, Rauf’s mainstream credentials are indisputable. President Bush used to send him on goodwill missions to the Middle East. President Obama continues to so. Rauf was invited to speak at the memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the Jewish reporter for the Wall Street Journal whom jihadists brutally murdered. In his remarks, Rauf said, “We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind, and soul … hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl. If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind, and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.”
This hardly sounds like someone with sympathy for killers of the innocent. He is a conciliator, which makes the location near Ground Zero especially appropriate. We don’t have to agree with everything he says to understand that.
The ignorance displayed in the opposition to Rauf cannot be separated from the general American ignorance of U.S. foreign policy. History did not begin on 9/11. It was the culmination of six decades of violence against and oppression of Muslims in the Middle East, both inflicted and sponsored by American regimes, Republican and Democrat. Predictably, that record provoked a tiny minority to strike at innocent people nine years ago, including many Muslims. Thankfully, not all Muslims hold all Americans responsible for the U.S. government’s continuing aggression. What message does it send when Americans persecute rather than applaud conciliatory Muslims?
The way to prevent another 9/11 is to change U.S. foreign policy. The ugly reaction to Park51 shows that we have bin Laden exactly where he wants us.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) and editor of The Freeman magazine.
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