Richard and Linda Thompson: Dimming of the Day
War in the Closed World 24

Let New York Decide

That was my first reaction to the Cordoba House/Park 51/"ground zero mosque" controversy, and after thinking about it and listening to the arguments on both sides for a week or two, I've come down again pretty strongly on the same position.

Last night I was watching the Alabama-Penn State game (24-3, thank you), but I missed the last 10 minutes or so. With Alabama clearly heading for a win, I started flipping channels during a timeout, and landed on a History Channel program which told the story of the 9/11 attacks purely through an assemblage of video taken at the time, by amateurs and newspeople. I had never seen most of it, and I was really struck by the enormous and traumatic impact it had on the city. That program was followed by a re-enactment of what happened on Flight 11, the first plane to strike, and included excerpts from Mohammad Atta's diary.

If a majority of New Yorkers feel, as they apparently do, that this project does not belong so close to the WTC site, I say their wishes should be heeded. Where is the "sensitivity" that we're all cautioned to display in this sort of situation? Some seem to think that it is only toward worldwide Muslim opinion that sensitivity is obligatory. Imam Rauf seems to display almost none toward the people who were the targets of an attack by men who, whether he likes it or not, are his co-religionists. If he'd exercised somewhat more of it a few months ago, this entire ugly controversy, which its rhetorical excesses on both sides, might never have happened.


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This is tangential (at best!), but something that’s always bothered me is Imam Rauf’s choice of Cordoba House as the name for his center. Why pick the city that was the seat of the caliphate in Spain? If nothing else, it makes me think of some of Osama bin Laden’s missives when he spoke of regaining his beloved and lost al-Andalus. Why would Rauf want to associate himself and his center in any way with such a sentiment?

Yes, that's what a lot of people opposed to or questioning the project have said. I think his reason is that he views the seat of the caliphate in Spain as representative of a golden age (!). Presumably having no idea that Christians and Jews might see it differently--well, Christians anyway, I suppose for Jews it might have been Scylla vs. Charybdis. You'd think someone who views his life as building bridges would have realized that. So in a way it's not tangential at all. I think it's now officially being called Park51 as a result of that particular objection. The guy seems nothing if not tin-eared.

Also presumably unconscious of or indifferent to the connection with bin Laden's dreams.

No, it is called the Cordoba Initiative because Cordoba represents the sort of high culture- in science, philosophy, mathematics, architecture, etc- and tolerance- Jews and Christians were prominent members of the society, at least at first- that the Wahhabis despise. I don't think that he realized that it may have other connotations for others. Sort of like Catholic schools naming their teams the "Crusaders", unaware that Muslims and Orthodox Christians and Jews don't think of the Crusades as anything remotely positive.

As for your "let NYC decide", hmmm. Let's see. "If the majority of Southerners favor Jim Crow laws they should decide"? Since when can a majority deny a minority's rights, in this case the right to free expression of religion?

"...because Cordoba represents the sort of high culture- in science, philosophy, mathematics, architecture, etc- and tolerance..."

Right, that's what I meant, not that he intended it as representing Islam's triumph.

"If the majority of Southerners favor Jim Crow laws they should decide"?

Not relevant. No one disputes Rauf's legal right, it's a question of what's appropriate. A better comparison would be to people waving the Confederate flag at places and times certain to offend black people.

Since when can a majority deny a minority's rights, in this case the right to free expression of religion?

Muslims can't worship if this particular not-a-mosque is built?

There was a case here a while back where a street preacher who stood in one of the parks preaching loudly at people was given a cease-and-desist order. He was outraged at this denial of his freedom of religion, but received remarkably little sympathy.

Your analogy is flawed. The only reason to wave confederate flags at black people is to provoke. Clearly, the imam has no intention to do anything of the kind. And you say "let NY decide", then say that no one is saying that it can't be built. But what? "Let New York decide this is a bad idea"? Apparently that has already happened, however wrongheaded: polls show that most New Yorkers don't approve. But even if it was a Wahhabi mosque intended to provoke it would be protected by the Constitution and Bill of Rights (illegal activity is another matter). Like a couple of decades ago, when the KKK marched in heavily Jewish Skokie Illinois. Obnoxious and hateful, yes, but protected speech.
Of course what is being proposed is nothing like that, but is considered by the founders as reconciliatory. The only reason to oppose this is if one is painting Islam with a big brush, seeing it as a unified entity, which it clearly is not (most victims of Islamist violence are Muslims).
Maclin objects when people generalize about southerners, though I am sure he will admit that southern bigots do in fact exist. And he objected when it was suggested by the Left that the Tea Party movement includes racist elements. Yet if one does a Google image search of "tea party racist signs" or "9/12 racist signs" you will find a wealth of evidence that this is true. For that matter if you Google image search "peace movement communists" you will no doubt see evidence of communist presence at peace marches. Every political movement attracts extremist elements, and the Tea Party, being of the Right, attracts racists the way leftist movements attract Marxists.
Islam is tremendously diverse; do not generalize aoout it, however much attention the violent minority attracts.

That's not correct. There are people who wave or otherwise display Confederate flags out of a sort of patriotism. They may realize it offends black people, but that isn't their intent.

I think it was in your first comment on this that you said, in response to my saying reasonable people could disagree about the Cordoba initiative, that in fact reasonable people can't disagree if they're also informed. I've said I disagree with that, and why, and there's no point in my continuing to repeat it.

I know you are tired of this dispute, but I must point out that you said it is analogous to white people waving the confederate flag "at places and times certain to offend black people". Your words, to which I was responding. And "Let New York Decide" certainly implies "decide that the center cannot be constructed there".

This is rather over-analyzing casual remarks, but what I meant was "bound to happen," not "intended."

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