Has Everyone Weighed in on the Mosque Mess? Have You?
By Jeanette Friedman
NEW YORK — It seems that there isn’t a spin doctor, media pundit, columnist, politician or Jew who hasn’t offered an opinion about the Park51 Cordoba Community Center under development two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan.
In 2009, when the proposal was put forth, there was little or no objection to what is now called “The Mosque at Ground Zero.” There are already many mosques in the city, and a few of them are even in that same neighborhood, with no objections. The location was chosen almost as a matter of chance, after another site on 23rd Street fell through.
So why is this “mosque” different than all other New York mosques? The heat began in May, 2010, and to explain how an interfaith community center morphed into a terrorist center, Howard Kurtz did an admirable job in The Washington Post, as he traced the evolution of a local zoning issue into a national political and constitutional tinderbox.
The match that lit the fires was struck by right winger Pamela Geller on her blog, Atlas Shrugged, which was then picked up by Andrea Peyser in The New York Post, and off went the right wing, into that special land where constitutional rights have no meaning.
Geller says Steve Emerson, Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, claims he has tapes of Imam Feisal Rauf, interim program manager of Park51 and the leader behind Cordoba House—the center for multifaith dialogue and engagement within Park51’s broader range of programs and activities—that will reveal Rauf defending Wahhabism, calling for a one-nation state, meaning no more Jewish State, and defending Bin Laden’s violence.
The Hudson Institute, a right wing think tank, posted The Mosque at Ground Zero: Who Is Behind It? by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury on July 30, in which he implies that there is trouble ahead, and essentially pours gasoline on an open flame.
The issue, a local zoning issue, was then picked up by conservative Republican Party members and Tea Party types in Congress, who ratcheted the fear factor up another few notches. These were the same congressmen who voted against providing health care to first responders who have been suffering since 9/11.
Then cable news shows picked it up, and milked it for all it was worth, never identifying the fact that those opposed to the mosque also opposed helping 9/11 families. The fear factor was so great by then, Fox News pundit Dick Morris said they were building a terrorist training center on the site. President Obama himself stepped in to remind everyone that this is still America, and that we embrace freedom of religion as part of our Bill of Rights. The following day he questioned the wisdom of choosing that particular site for Park51, but still upheld the US Constitution, as he had sworn to do on the day he took office.
After watching all the news clips and finding some unexpected useful footage from days of yore, Jon Stewart then summed up the situation in his own wacky way, last Thursday night, by making a very serious point.
On Friday, Governor David Paterson offered to step in to see if there could be a resolution to the problem and ask if he could help with finding an alternative site. The developers of Park51 said that they had no plans to meet with him.
And what did the Jews have to say about all of this? There were some who said we should stay out of it and let others fight this battle because we ourselves have been in places where it took major battles to get Jewish places of worship approved by zoning boards with agendas of their own.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, head of the interdenominational New York Board of Rabbis, a key interfaith leader in New York City who works with the Police and Fire Departments, lost many friends on 9/11. In a telephone interview he said that he had spoken with leaders at the Archdiocese of New York and the Council of Churches.
“We suggest that the faith communities of New York use this crisis as an opportunity to elevate the conversation among the parties, without staking out positions. We should all gather together in one room and have a serious and substantive discussion that will result in one of two things: either there will be a compromise [accepting Governor Paterson’s suggestions] or the mosque will go forward as planned. Whatever decision will be made, we will know that we will have tried as diligently as possible to have people talk to each other instead of against each other.
“The religious community,” he continued, “has a responsibility to use the best of religion to promote discourse and a workable decision. That also means that probing questions must be asked and answered—and not avoided—by either side.”
Rabbi Ben Rosenberg of Congregation Beth El in Edison, NJ, spent most of last week talking to media about the rash of swastika graffiti that has plagued his community. As a son of Holocaust survivors and a naturalized American citizen, he says, “The Muslims legally have every right to build a community center at that location, but the wisdom of doing so, in light of being considered insensitive, is questionable. It would make sense to accept Governor Paterson’s offer.”
The Jewish Standard, the weekly that serves Bergen and Rockland counties, major bedroom communities that many in Jewish leadership call home (Abraham Foxman of the ADL, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, co-founder of EDAH and Shvil Hazahav; Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; Michael Miller of the Jewish Community Relations Council and Rabbi Jack Bemporad of the Center for Interreligious Understanding, are only a few of the leaders who live there.) Many of them had much to say and laid it out for the editors in this past weekend’s edition.
Bemporad had just returned from bringing eight imams to Auschwitz when it all hit the fan. In his opinion calling Rauf a terrorist is a great travesty of justice.
Everyone has an opinion, all agree there are constitutional issues that must be considered, and many, besides Rabbi Potasnik, want real answers to hard questions.
And finally, there is this article in The Washington Post by Jason Horowitz that pretty much tells the rest of America what New Yorkers think of this whole mosque mess. Basically, whether they for or against, they are telling outsiders to mind their own business.
Jeanette Friedman is New York bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World and co-author with David Gold of Why Should I Care? Lessons from the Holocaust.