The controversy over building a mosque and Islamic center within two blocks of Ground Zero has brought out the worst in our ritualized confrontations between “conservatives” and “liberals.” Listening to Fox News one gets the impression that Muslim terrorists are about to violate the most sacred site on this continent.
Supposedly this is a national issue that cannot be left to a zoning board or to a city council but must be taken into every home with cable TV. Recently I learned in the New York Post that the Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has been raising funds for the project, favors a “one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, an outcome that some say could lead to the disappearance of Israel.” One was also reminded for several weeks by Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, that Rauf views the U.S. blockade of Iraq as a contributing factor to al-Qaeda’s assault on the Twin Towers. Although Rauf’s attribution of blame may be overblown, I’m not sure that by itself it should disallow him and his friends from putting up a house of worship, even near Ground Zero.
A faulty historical comparison that I’ve encountered in National Review and on Fox is that the Muslims should behave like the Carmelite nuns, who in 1990 obligingly moved a convent from the grounds of Ausschwitz somewhere else. This situation had nothing to do with what is now being debated. The Carmelites, who were praying for the souls of Nazi victims, had a moral right to be where they were. They were praying for Jewish and Catholic victims alike, and the Carmelites belonged to a nation that had lost more than 2.6 million Catholics to the Nazi occupation.
In a flagrant act of bullying, the New York Times editorial page, the Anti-Defamation League and other forces allied with the left attacked the Carmelites, the Catholic Church and Poland as co-perpetrators of the Nazi Holocaust. Rather than addressing these charges frontally and standing their ground, the ecclesiastical authorities chose discretion or withdrawal as the better part of valor.
I suspect, although I can’t prove it, that some of those who participated in this campaign of vilification are now happily supporting the imam and his plan to put a mosque near Ground Zero. Such people don’t dislike religions in general; they just can’t stand the Western ones. But those who cite the Carmelite incident as an example of a mutually satisfactory settlement have either weak historical memories or exceedingly poor debating skills.
The “liberal” side has exploited the mosque issue just as shamelessly and stupidly. One learns daily from its commentators that those who question the appropriateness of putting the Islamic project so close to Ground Zero are religious bigots, and if the government urges the fundraisers to move their buildings even a few blocks further from Ground Zero, we are showing ourselves to be at least as religiously intolerant as Saudi Arabia, which is contributing funds for the project.
There is of course the usual blather from academics that Islam, unlike Christianity, is a “religion of peace.” Although all world religions seek to convert non-believers and sometimes do so by force, that practice has been generally far more belligerently pursued in the Islamic than in the Christian world. And if religious founders tell us anything about particular religions, then one should contrast Jesus, who urged forgiving one’s enemies and shunning violence, to the warlike conversionary career of Mohammed.
It is also hard to ignore the double standard that I continue to see on the social-cultural Left. The same people who would force practitioners of Western religions to accept gay lifestyles and to cooperate in providing abortion services, become champions of traditional religion once they move over to the non-Western world. These tolerance experts don’t even complain about non-Western religion that abuses women and executes gays, providing that religion is non-Western. Their tolerance has squat to do with Islamic theology or with any particular sensitivity for religious traditionalists. It is an expression of the anti-Western attitude that thrives on the contemporary Left.
There is a solution to this controversy. Let the elected officials in New York City decide. If the local population is unhappy with their mayor’s commitment to the project, let them vote him out of office. And if the zoning board changes its collective mind and votes against the imam, then so be it. Where houses of worship are placed should be subject to local control. By the way: although it’s not my call and New York is not my place of residence, I am personally against putting the project anywhere near Ground Zero. I am appalled by the hypocrisy of those who are funding this enterprise and who claim to be standing for “interfaith understanding.” Let them put their buildings in Saudi Arabia, where both visitors and residents are forbidden to keep or read Bibles.