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A Muslim Community Center? Why Not?

Why Should Jews Care?

by Robin Podolsky with Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak,, September 7, 2010

(Page 2 of 8) Print version

Khan, the Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, was heroically gracious in the face of Ms. Ingraham's trademark crass provocations. (Ingraham wanted to know, if a new Mosque is allowed near Ground Zero, what would be the chances of building a new church in, say, Lebanon? We can't speak to the church question, but as it happens, this August the government of Lebanon announced the completed restoration of the Magen Abraham Synagogue in Beirut.)

Khan's husband, Imam Abdul Rauf, the spiritual leader of the Cordoba Initiative, has conducted trainings for the FBI and gone on speaking tours throughout the Middle East under the aegis of the U.S. State Department as a spokesperson for American Islam. He preaches an inclusive form of Sufism, an inward, spiritually rich Muslim tradition.

One would be justified to expect that for those who have been calling loudly for moderate, pro-American Muslims to raise their voices against terrorism, this group and their project would look like a Godsend. However, such an expectation would have been mostly disappointed.

In May, after the center won the unanimous approval of a local zoning board, a group called Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), led by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, launched a campaign against the project. (SIOA's sister web site, Stop Islamization of Europe, features articles sympathetic to the genocidal Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic). It was they who characterized the center, inaccurately, as the "Ground Zero Mosque." Actually the proposed center is on the grounds of a former Burlington Coat Factory, two blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center, in a neighborhood bustling with fast food restaurants, "adult" entertainment arcades and other commercial enterprises.

Between May and September, the echo chamber has grown in volume. Right-wing political figures, such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have added their voices to it, Palin famously tweeting her hope that "peaceful Muslims" would "refudiate" the center. Although New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Jewish Republican, speaks out eloquently in favor of the center as an example of the United States' religious freedom, former Mayor Rudolph Guliani, whose failed run for president was based, almost entirely, around his leadership during the 9/11 attacks, has condemned it. Franklin Graham (pictured at right), son and successor to Billy Graham was quoted in Time magazine, saying, "It wasn't Islam that built America; it was the people of the Christian-Judeo faith that built [the U.S.]. We've given freedom to other religions to come, and now you have other religions coming that want to bring America down." Read more. This use of the phrase "Judeo-Christian" exemplifies the ways in which some conservative Christians seek to simultaneously court American Jews and annex us as auxiliaries to their project. There is of course no single faith called Judeo-Christianity. Judaism is an independent religion, not a modifying adjective. This phrase is often tacked on to the word, Christianity when the user wishes to assert Christian prerogatives without appearing to ignore Jewish allies and also without abandoning the centrality of Christianity which is the heart of their argument.

Pajamas Media's Andrew Klavan, whom we can only assume to be both hip and cool due to his shaved head and tieless red shirt, confronts us with the ever-so-edgy question, "Does Islam Suck?", the answer to which question, he tells us, depends on whether the Cordoba Initiative accedes to whatever proper Muslim-free zone its critics designate. Imagine the howls of victimization if any mainstream commentator appeared on cable news to ask "Does Christianity Suck?" and to assert that an answer would depend on whether a single church agreed to conform to a set of rules laid out by the interrogator. Such a person would not only lose their job, they would expose themselves and their employer to a barrage of retaliation, including a likely lawsuit from the ACLJ.

The ACLJ, the American Center for Law and Justice—was formed, according to its mission statement to, "protect religious liberty and safeguard human rights and dignity." However, its work is almost exclusively dedicated to expanding the presence of Christianity in such institutions as the public schools. The ACLJ has filed a lawsuit against the construction of the center. (For more on the involvement of this group, please see our Why Now? section below.) In addition, such figures as the Reverend John Hagee, who like Sarah Palin, has connections to the more apocalyptic strains of right wing Christianity, has attached his name to this cause (also more below) as has the Reverend Pat Robertson of the 700 Club.

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The general argument against the construction of the community center, which will contain a mosque, is that it would be insensitive to the feelings of the survivors of people murdered at Ground Zero. Certainly, this was not the intention of the Cordoba Initiative, which sought to make the statement that Muslim Americans will not be deterred by terrorists from practicing their religion in their own country.

The center was originally to be called Cordoba House, in honor of that place and time remembered by Jews as Al-Andalus, where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived, traded and studied together. Incorrectly, as we will demonstrate, that name has been characterized as an expression of triumphalism. However, in sensitivity to a that concern, the project has been renamed Park51.

It cannot be emphasized enough, in this context, that there are Muslims included among the 9/11 dead and among those first responders whose heroism provided Americans with inspiration and hope at that terrible time. Among them are: Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New York City police cadet and part-time ambulance driver, whose family was questioned by law enforcement officials about his post-9/11 disappearance until six months later when his remains were identified near the North Tower, along with with his EMT medical bag; and Rahma Salie, a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11, who died seven months pregnant with her first child, whose family members were barred from taking flights to her memorial service.

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Essay on the Park51 Muslim Community Center
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