Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Second Thoughts on the GZ Mosque

In yesterday's NY Daily News, the chair of CB#1 expresses some second thoughts about the Board's original support of the GZ mosque-and the re-thinking makes sense: "The lower Manhattan community board 1 chair, Community Board 1, voted overwhelmingly to support the Islamic cultural center to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero when the project was presented to our board in May. I stand by my vote. That said, the project has now become a symbol of discord and dissidence, the white hot emotional center of a volcanic shouting match. Raw nerves have been exposed on both sides of an ugly religious and ethnic divide - and the gulf between supporters and opponents has only grown with each protest, each argument, each accusation."

That said, perhaps Ms. Menin should have taken into consideration how this mosque site would effect folks before casting a vote in the affirmative-but the reconsideration is still a welcome one, because it reflects the fact that the mosque has become a lightening rod for exactly the kind of interfaith acrimony that it's founders claimed it was supposed to allay.

As Menin tells us: "Now it is very clear that something must be done to address this dissension and to move to heal, not divide. I believe it is still possible to bridge the gap without compromising the core principles of what this project is about - not by moving the mosque further away from the site of the attacks, but by bringing other faiths in. The mosque and community center near Ground Zero should not be enshrined as a battleground of discord, but rather be transformed into an inter-faith center for reconciliation and peace-containing nondenominational houses of worship to be shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews. Its purpose - to bring us closer together, not split us further apart - could be reaffirmed in modified plans."

Who would have thought that a lowly community board chair would exhibit more sense than the city's richest man? Well, a great many of us are certainly not surprised-and the mayor is continuing to take it on the chin, this time from 9/11 family spokesperson Debra Burlingame who lays into Bloomberg for his usurpation of the views of 9/11 families: "It's bad enough that Mr. Bloomberg covers himself in the memory of the heroes who died on 9/11 in order to silence legitimate criticism of the mosque project, it is even more shameless of him to do it while misrepresenting the position of their loved ones. Mr. Bloomberg cited that his chairmanship of the memorial board made him privy to what family members think. Mr. Bloomberg knows full well that family members on the memorial board have grave concerns about this project, and that some of us have publicly opposed it. If he really cared what we think, he would have come to us and asked. We're still waiting for the call."

Don't hold your breathe Debra, we have witnessed the ongoing hubris for the mayor for eight long years, and have yet to see him exhibit anything but arrogance-but his exploitation of the family members for his own political posturing is way beyond anything we've seen from him up until this point. And his charge that others are using the issue  for pure political aggrandizement is a classic case of projection. Burlingame nails Bloomberg's pot and kettle routine: "He has the audacity to go out and stump for the mosque all over the media, while at the same time calling other political leaders--who reflect the position of 70% of the public--"shameless" or suggesting they don't really care--like him. We have said over and over that this isn't a challenge to freedom of religion. We are appealing to the mosque developers as a matter of decency. Bloomberg sticks his fingers in his ears; he will have none of it. Instead, he is causing grave injury to 9 /11 family members, while painting this insensitive, arrogant imam as a victim. Mr. Bloomberg is casting himself as a principled champion of the first amendment even as he is telling the rest of us to shut up. The mayor is pulling out all the stops to bully New Yorkers into falling in line with his politically correct nonsense at the last place in America where there should be any pretense about what happened on 9/11."

But she's not through with the man whose true colors are finally shining through-an arrogant disregard for the sensibilities of the little people (remember his Con Edison comments after the black out? We got a tiny glimpse then): "Mr. Bloomberg has now crossed the line from merely supporting the mosque to participating in a public campaign aimed at silencing its critics. He has improperly invoked private conversations of 9/11 family board members who, unfortunately, are all too aware of his power, both as chair of the foundation which will memorialize their loved ones and as mayor of a city where that memorial will be built. He is recklessly wreaking havoc among families, running from media event to radio interview to photo op to Comedy Central gagfest, shamelessly hawking this narrative that we, those whose family members were the true victims of religious intolerance, must also carry the burden of proving we're not intolerant. He's a disgrace."

And Bloomberg's invocation of Danny Pearl-citing that Imam Rauf spoke at his memorial-is given a thoughtful rejoinder from, of all people, Pearl's father Judah-someone who truly understands what the GZ mosque would symbolize. And Pearl understands the issue, effectively deconstructing the mayor's faux tolerance position: "A more realistic explanation is that most Americans do not buy the 19 fanatics story, but view the the 9/11 assault as a product of an anti- American ideology that, for good and bad reasons, has found a fertile breeding ground in the hearts and minds of many Muslim youngsters who see their Muslim identity inextricably tied with this anti-American ideology.The Ground Zero mosque is being equated with that ideology. Public objection to the mosque thus represents a vote of no confidence in mainstream American Muslim leadership which, on the one hand, refuses to acknowledge the alarming dimension that anti-Americanism has taken in their community and, paradoxically, blames America for its creation."

So, if the MSM wants us to believe that opposition to the mosque will exacerbate radical Islamic movements, it needs to be alive to the extent to which the choice of this site was purposely provocative-although the developer/front man tells CBS News that he gave no thought to the possibility. But there is one thing that the mayor forgets-or perhaps misrepresents; that the underlying anger here is not going to go away, and is not driven by temporary political posturing.

If a more sensible compromise is not reached-along the lines that Julie Menin suggests-than this issue will continue to fester. And just as the mosque builders have constitutional rights, so do everyone else. Mark Helprin makes this point in yesterday's WSJ: "The proponents of the mosque know that Americans will not and cannot betray our constitutional liberties. Knowing that we would not rip the foundation from the more than 200 years of our history that it underpins, they may imagine that they have achieved a kind of checkmate. Their knowledge of the Constitution, however, does not penetrate very far, and perhaps they are not as clever as they think. The Constitution is a marvelous document, and a reasonable interpretation of it means as well that no American can be forced to pour concrete. No American can be forced to deliver materials. No American can be forced to bid on a contract, to run conduit, dig a foundation, or join steel."

Can you imagine the picket lines? Helprin can: "And a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that the firemen's, police, and restaurant workers' unions, among others, and the families of the September 11th dead, and anyone who would protect, sympathize with and honor them, are free to assemble, protest and picket at the site of the mosque that under the Constitution is free to be built. A reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that no American can be forced to cross a picket line in violation of conscience or even of mere preference. Who, in all decency, would cross a picket line manned by those whose kin were slaughtered—by the thousands—so terribly nearby? And who in all decency would cross such a line manned by the firemen, police and other emergency personnel who know every day that they may be called upon to give their lives in a second act?"

Mike Bloomberg has a tiger by the tail-and he should heed Menin's suggestion so as not to have his entire political reputation devoured in the aftermath of this battle. If that were to happen, however, it would be the ultimate example of poetic justice. After all, Mike Bloomberg would not have been elected if it weren't for the attacks on the Twin Towers. For his reputation to be torn down by this mosque fight would, in our view, restore a sense of equity to the understanding of an undeserved political ascension.