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A Muslim Community Center? Why Not?

Why Should Jews Care?

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

(Page 3 of 8) Print version

In an article for, Osman Adnan writes,

I am a lifelong resident of Middletown, N.J., the town that lost more victims per capita on 9/11 than anyplace in the state, and the second hardest hit city after New York. Almost 50 of our neighbors died that day, in a town of 60,000. Most of those who died worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. Although I was only 18, I was an enlisted medic with the New Jersey National Guard on that day, and I wound up on many Homeland Security missions in my four-year stint after the attack. My older brother commissioned as a U.S. Army officer after Sept. 11, and was awarded a Purple Heart during his service in Iraq. To this day he has shrapnel lodged in his body from the IED that blew up his convoy.

Adnan, who has served as an American aid worker in the Middle East and is well-informed about actual extremists, is convinced that the Cordoba Institute is dedicated to articulating an American Islam and wants to establish the center to celebrate our democracy's religious freedom—thus denying violent Islamic fundamentalists a victory.

On September 11, 2010, Christians at the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida will ceremoniously burn Qurans. According to Pastor Terry Jones, Islam is "of the devil." (The same group plans to protest Gainesville's openly gay mayor, Craig Lowe.) Mosques and construction sites for mosques in Texas, in northern and southern California, Tennessee, Connecticut, Washington DC and in New York, where an attacker yelled "terrorist" and urinated on a prayer rug, have been vandalized and subject to ongoing harassment. In New York a cab driver was slashed across the neck and face by a customer who asked his religion and attacked when the driver said that he is Muslim.

From Pat Robertson, television pastor to millions, and anonymous internet trolls alike, we hear the same accusations: Islam is not a "real" religion. It is an international conspiracy of conquest. The center was only going to be called Cordoba House in order to signal a victory over those Westerners too ignorant to realize it. Muslims will smile at your face and lie behind your back. (Where have we heard this before?) For a grass roots movement, this grouping is astonishingly on-message.

If the details of this conspiracy theory aimed at all Muslims seem familiar to Jewish readers, they should. We have heard this before and we know where it leads.

We too have been painted as alien, a fifth column, a conspiracy. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fantasy concocted by Czar Nicholas II's secret police, portrays Jews as a worldwide, secretive cabal, owing loyalty only to one another, no matter what nation, class, social movement or other outside group they may situate themselves in. According to the Protocols, Jews are simultaneously behind all capitalist and all communist conspiracies; and the more patriotic they seem, the more blatant is their perfidy. In this perfectly closed system, there is no way for Jews to escape categorical suspicion. Now this trap is being woven for Muslim Americans.

Looking deeper
We have been told that Islam is not a religion but a political ideology because it has a holistic system of laws for daily living. Shall we then call Judaism a political ideology because of the system of Halachah? Daniel Pipes, a conservative academic specialist in Islam, asserts that the comparison is unfair, because "Islamists aspire to apply Islamic law to everyone, while observant Jews seek only to live by Jewish law themselves." Indeed. Perhaps Dr. Pipes has not been to Jerusalem lately. There he could find Jews who are willing to throw stones at anyone who drives within their neighborhoods on the Sabbath, physically assault other Jews whom they deem to be immodestly dressed and stab, bomb and shoot (without inquiring about their religion) people they encounter at gay pride events. On the other hand, the vast majority of religious Jews are indeed observant without compelling other people to join with them. The same is true of Muslim communities.

There are countries where Islamic law is threaded through the system, some of which are very exacting and some of which are relatively laissez-faire. Like the State of Israel, such countries are laboratories where new forms of government, accountable to worship and enjoy common to religious and to parliamentary law, are being grown.

In the United States, observant Muslims, like observant Jews, often live close to one another in neighborhoods where they can enjoy the food at restaurants in which their rules regarding food will be observed (uh-oh--creeping Halachah!), find places recreation. Are such people "clannish?" On the left, right and center, American Jews who participate in elections and social movements are often motivated by values and imperatives they derive from Judaism. Are such people attempting to "impose" Jewish law?

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