Monday, August 23, 2010

Religious Center at the Wrong Place?

I continue not to express an opinion on the matter of the Muslim center in southern Manhattan. The debate is clearly not about laws, which can be tricky enough on their own, but rather about values, and from the distance of seven time zones I admit I can't see what's really going on. You'd think that everyone could agree to the right to build a mosque or a community center, but you wouldn't think that almost two thirds of Americans - if the polls can be trusted - are bigots or emerging antisemites. It doesn't make sense.

This letter to the Economist gave me a perspective I hadn't thought of, nor have I seen anyone mentioning it:

SIR – Lexington (August 7th) was correct about the planned building of a mosque near to the Ground Zero site from a legal standpoint: any attempt to stop its construction would be defeated in the courts, but his conclusions are wrong. The issue is not one of law or even morality, but of raw emotion. It is similar to an incident in the 1990s when the Catholic church in Poland wished to build a Carmelite convent near the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Jewish community objected to it because they felt that building a convent near where so many of their friends and relations had died was an act of incredible insensitivity. The matter was brought to Pope John Paul II who withdrew the plans as he did not want its presence to be a source of pain for the Jewish people. How decent of him. How sensitive to the feelings of others.

Those who wish to erect the Cordoba House mosque could learn from the pope’s decision and tell the people of New York that, after reflection, they realise that building a community centre will not foster understanding but is likely to have the opposite effect, and they do not wish it to be the cause of any further anguish to those who lost loved ones at that place on that terrible day.

Derek E. Barrett
Long Beach, New York


Yair said...

Here's someone who talks about it, in the course of a very insightful post on the subject of the mosque:

Sérgio said...

John Kekes in his book "The art of life" mentions the distinction between a right and its exercise, his point being which sometimes a right shouldn´t be exercised. Say, the right to remain silent could be immoral, etc.

The whole affair is ludicrous; however, this talk from the idealizers that they intend the building as a "healing" gesture, it complete bullcrap.

Anonymous said...

what I gather from what I am reading is that there is a difference between a neighbourhood mosque where lots of things may be preached but which is still predominantly a house of worship and any of these big endeavours.
In my country it seems to me the ballyhooing started when the buildings began to seem intended to state something more than just the intent to serve the needs of the pious.

Even community center means in connection with these mosques not what I would expect it to mean.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Yaacov for stating what is obvious to most Americans: That while building a mosque cum community center there may be legal, it is certainly NOT decent. There are over 100 mosques in NYC, and where this one is planned is largely a commercial district, i.e., not full of residential areas in need of a mosque to serve any putative muslim worshippers. The name, Cordoba House, on top of the locale, raises disquieting issues.

Anonymous said...

How good of you not to express an opinion. How brave.

You think there is something a little fishy about 2/3rds of American's being bigots or antisemites. You assume they must have a point, there must be something wrong with this mosque.
But when most of the World is has an anti-israel bias, that's purely antisemitism without any merit or reason, right?

This is not actually a complicated issue. It boils down to whether you are willing and able to find distinctions amongst muslims.
If you can only see them all as one homogenous Islamic unit, forget the mosque.
But if you are willing to take up the extremely arduous task of actually reading something about the mosque and its goals and the person behind it, you might actually not have any problem with it.

Joe in Australia said...

That's the line that Abe Foxman of the ADL took, but I disagree with it. People have all sorts of prejudices, and we cannot afford to elevate them into the realm of public policy. Take antisemitism, for example. In pre-War Europe a lot of people were upset about the (genuinely disproportionate) number of Jews in Hungarian universities. So even though there wasn't a law - at the time - against Jewish admission, it became a sort of accepted thing that there should be an unofficial quota. This reversed the onus of proper behavior: now Jews would be behaving badly by protesting against the unfair admission policies. Jews didn't protest (or at least they didn't present a united front) and the numerus clausus became law.

A similar argument applies to this mosque. I can totally understand that some people associate this mosque with the attackers who were, after all, motivated by the same religion. I can also understand that they might not want the construction to proceed. But their wish is really a desire that Moslems not exercise their legal rights. Expecting Moslems to comply with this prejudice reverses the public duty of tolerance, and it's the first step towards denying them their civil rights.

Laura Beck (Laura SF) said...

Nearly everyone I know who opposes the mosque/community center opposes it for just that reason - it's incredibly TACKY/insensitive to build an Islamic center that close to the site where thousands were murdered in the name of Islam.

Never mind whether or not the imam organizing this construction or the funders of it are radical or moderate (but do we even know for a fact which it is? why don't we know who's funding this?), the fact is that no one has demonstrated an ordinary religious/sociological NEED for this site, and if the goal is "building bridges" then surely the anguished and angry reactions of the majority of Americans should make them reconsider.

Seriously, would we expect the Palestinians to welcome a synagogue at or near the site of Baruch Goldstein's massacre? So why should we expect Americans to welcome a mosque near Ground Zero? Are we supposed to ignore the history of triumphalist mosque-building - e.g., on the Temple Mount? Just because "most Muslims are perfectly peaceful," does that mean no Muslim in America is obliged to respect others' feelings? Why is "respect" and "sensitivity" a one-way street?

Once again - legal issues aside, this mosque is at best a crude and mistaken gesture, at worst a triumphalist statement - and anyone who believes that the only relevant issue is religious freedom is willfully ignorant - & heartless.

Paul M said...

The thing that surprises me about this post is that Yaacov hadn't already considered the perspective presented by Mr. Barrett's letter, nor come upon it elsewhere. It was pretty much the first one that occurred to me. (I'm sorry if that sounds like some sort of boast. It isn't — just the way the issue frames itself in my mind.)


It has nothing to do with turning prejudice into public policy. As Barrett's letter said, the Cordoba Foundation has the law on its side and no one in authority is proposing to change that. Neither am I, but who stands on their legal right to do something that aggravates other people's raw nerves, if their express purpose is to "reach out" and "build bridges" to those same other people? How's that supposed to work? "I'm going to show how much I care for you by planting what you're afraid is a symbol of your attackers by the site of their attack."? Where's the wisdom in that? I'm not asking for the law to be changed or flouted; I'm asking the Cordoba Foundation to show the sort of voluntary sensitivity I would expect of anyone else — including, say, non-Muslims in a Muslim setting. They can choose not to and I can't, and wouldn't try to, stop them. But in that case their Islamic center will drive a wedge between the Muslim community and the non-Muslim one, not build a bridge. It has already begun to (quite predictably).

RK said...

If you do a quick Google search you'll find
tons of people discussing the Carmelite convent analogy -- pro and anti. If you haven't seen any of this, it's because it's the analogue of the cluelessness about Israeli issues you write about all the time.

Philo-Semite said...

Anonymous and Joe have missed an important point:

Islam is not simply a religion but an amalgam of religion with an expansionist, authoritarian political ideology.

As such it is a danger to democratic values and does not automatically qualify for treatment as simple "freedom of religion."

Anonymous said...

Joe in Australia

Numerus Clausus by ethnicity provides no analogy by any stretch of the imagination.
All linking to anti-semitism including the one mind-boggling one by Jeffrey Goldberg are besides the point. To the best of my knowledge there never was a plan by Jews to establish anything resembling a caliphate let alone world-domination. THIS statement is supported by the fact that the only such claim is a forgery.
here is something on the finances of the mosque - very confusing to me - the Imam is said to be Sufi, the "for Peace" in this piece have Ahmadiyya on their website. Could it be that the outfit is meant to promote inner-muslim-community-peace?
Thanks Philo-Semite what you say is what Necla Kelek keeps preaching to us and which the after-flotilla demos originating from the Duisburg Mosque have shown to be true.
I think the sensitivity argument has a hitch. Remember the Danish cartoons? A lot of the same language is to be found there. The difference is of course that "they" went into violence.


Anonymous said...

Dear Joe,
WHERE is it written that anyone has a public duty to toleration? While it might be polite, it is NOT LAW. Muslims are hardly oppressed by not having a mosque at/near the place where 3,000 people were murdered.

Rabbi Tony Jutner said...

I look forward to celebrating Iftar at the WTC Mosque in the near future. I also look forward to the conversion of the old synagogues on Park Avenue, that only serve a handful of congregants, into mosques that serve vibrant communities. Anyone who opposes the WTC Mosque is an old fashioned bigot