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Politicians muddy the waters in Muslim purchase of coat factory

 By J. Zel Lurie

J. Zel Lurie

DELRAY BEACH, Florida — I am prejudiced in favor of peaceful Muslims.
Mention Muslims to most Americans and they will think of the nineteen young terrorists who committed suicide in a carefully planned attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center which killed almost 3,000 office workers.This terrible tragedy happened ten years ago and is memoralized in Ground Zero.
Mention Muslims to me today and I’ll think of 21-year-old Marim Higazi who charmed me in Chautauqua last month. Marim is a graduate of the Lurie School  for Jewish and Arab children at Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, the Oasis of Peace in the Judean Hills.
Like her father, who heads a department at the Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Karim, Marim is a devout Muslim who prays five times a day.
The Higazi family is  what  makes me prejudiced in favor of peaceful Muslims. They represent to me the Muslim citizens of Israel who number over a million. Like most Israelis, Jews, Muslims and Christians, they love peace.
I am also prejudiced in favor of the owners of the Burlington Coat Factory on Park Place in Manhattan even though they are speculators who bought a closed factory from its Jewish owner.
They had a prime location, they thought.  Park Place bordered on City Hall Park, an oasis of green in the jungle of office buildings and fast food parlors  on the narrow streets of lower Manhattan. Pace University is a short stroll  and one could almost peek into the palatial office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
They watched as luxury condos were built and sold a few doors down the street. I wonder whether Ground Zero, a few streets to the west, was considered an attraction by the developer of the luxury condos.
And then came the deal they had long awaited. The Cordoba Initiative, led by the charismatic  Faisal Abdul Rauf, “one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufiism,” the mystical Muslim sect.
I don’t begin to understand mystics. Sufism to Muslims might be similar to Kabalah to Jews which I don’t understand either.   But I know that Mr. Rauf’s widely distributed videos preach love and understanding of other faiths and of Islam’s glorious past in Cordoba and elsewhere.
William Dalrymple, who understands Sufiism wrote about Rauf  in the New York Times of August 16:
“In the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate.”
The Cordoba Initiative planned to tear down the old factory and build a 13-story Islamic Cultural Center modeled on  the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan. A 13-story building is not a mosque as the media and politicians are calling it. There will be a large auditorium for cultural and theatrical events and a smaller section for prayer.
No one thought about Ground Zero  separated by over a hundred old office buildings and a couple of narrow streets. But anti-Muslim Republican propagandists jumped in furiously. Newt Gingrich  said that Cordoba’s stated aim of “improving Muslim-West relations and interfaith dialogue” was “deliberately insulting.”
Sarah Palin joined in.  And then came a disappointing surprise. The Anti-Defamation League, which has spent decades fighting “unjust discrimination” all over the world, sought discrimination against an Islamic Cultural  Center two and a half blocks from Ground Zero.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg could not resist the temptation of muddying the waters by putting on a show for TV.  Standing on Governor’s Island with the Statue of Liberty holding up her torch behind him he made a stirring speech in defense of religious freedom.
He could have calmed the dispute by simply pointing out to a reporter that this was a private transaction and the city had no jurisdiction other than  legal items. He might have added: “Personally, I find the views of Gingrich and Palin to be obnoxious.”
As for the ADL, Bloomberg might have reminded Abe Foxman that despite the Bill of Rights synagogues were forbidden by local laws in Connecticut and elsewhere until the middle of the 19th Century. The first Connecticut synagogue was dedicated in New Haven in 1843.  On the same day, the New Haven Register attacked it as a “public defeat for Christendom…The Jews have outflanked us.”
And then President Obama continued to churn the waters. On Friday the 13th he grasped the occasion of a Ramadan celebration at the White House to strongly endorse the right of Muslims “to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan. This is America and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.”
The next day Obama backtracked slightly. He refused to comment on the wisdom of putting a mosque here. He said; “I was commenting  specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”
On Sunday the talk shows had a field day. But throughout the controversy, Faisal Abdul Rauf was unavailable.”He is abroad.” his office kept repeating as if he was in a Sufi enclave without radio or phone to disturb their mystical rites.
That’s what I imagine. But he will return and state his case. His community center will be built.
What is his case? Listen  once again to William Dalrymple, writing from New Delhi, in the New York Times of  August 16th:
The Sufis are in “the front line against the most violent forms of Islam. In the most radical parts of the Muslim world Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs… Sufism is the most pluralistic incarnation of Islam — accessable to the learned and the ignorant, to the faithful and to the unbelievers — and thus is a uniquely valuable bridge between east and west.”
The  radical violent Taliban, who protected the bombers of the twin towers a decade ago, recognize the challenge offered by the tolerant Sufis. On July 2 in Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan, the Taliban organized a double suicide bombing of a  crowded Sufi shrine. They killed 42 and 175 were injured.
Lurie is a freelance writer based in Delray Beach, Florida. His articles appear in the Jewish Journal of South Florida

  1. Carol Ann Goldstein
    September 6, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you Mr. Lurie, I totally agree with you.
    It is very unfortunate that many people in the US are easy to sway by using fear and hatred. I believe this is a political issue because of the 2010 mid term elections for those who wish to use fear and hatred to get votes. We all need to get along and work together and not let others make us feel afraid of and hatred for others. We do not know exactly who was responsible for the 911 attacks on the trade center, the pentagon and the PA plane crash. President Bush and VP Cheney refused to testify under oath and in public about the attacks and the President and the VP got their way. There was never a full investigation of exactly what happened and what led up to the 911 attacks, so we do not know exactly who was responsible. Since everyone, including the alleged suspects- 19 Muslim men, died we can not put them on trial or interview them; it is easy to blame dead people for a crime. I studied in history what led to the rise of Hitler and the Jewish holocaust and I see similarities in the current anti Muslim and anti Arab rhetoric and actions since 911. The US is supposed to be a democracy and land of equal rights for all including freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but we should not use the right of freedom of speech to attack others. There is an old saying “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

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