The Muslim Mosque New York City

And Freedom of Religion in America

The precise location in New York City of a new community center that includes a Muslim mosque is becoming an important national campaign issue for the Republican Party as the Nov. 2 Congressional and state election draws closer.

GOP politicians, their Tea Party warriors and the right wing in general are livid about plans to situate the facility two blocks from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed in a terrorist attack nine years ago this Sept. 11.

This calculated Republican tantrum over an essentially trivial placement of an Islamic-associated community center seems to have hoodwinked a majority of Americans — over 60% — into opposing a project intended to improve relations between different faiths in the U.S., and “in particular between the Muslim world and the United States,” according to its backers.

Since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious groups to build houses of worship, opponents of the project are focusing their outrage on its intended proximity to the 9/11 attack in New York City’s Lower Manhattan.

Recognizing that the depressed economy and high unemployment are the key issues of the campaign — and that they offer nothing to the voters on that score but complaints — the GOP hopes that the “emotional” issues of an Islamic institution violating the sanctity of “ground zero,” and Mexican immigrant workers illegally crossing the U.S. border will bring in additional votes.

Republican politicians, joined by some Democratic office holders including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, insist the planned community center be moved an unspecified distance from the “hallowed ground” where 2,749 people lost their lives (among them hundreds of Muslims working in the twin towers). Not to do so, they claim, will amount to a grievous affront to the victims and their families.

The implication of the Republican campaign is that the 9/11 attack by a fringe extremist sect of Islam was actually an assault by the religion of Islam against the United States and its way of life. Otherwise, why would the existence of a mosque two blocks away be considered a desecration that would cause pain to victim families?

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, one of a handful of centrist Republicans, is a staunch supporter of the community center project. He declared Aug. 24 that he opposed establishing a “no mosque zone” around ground zero. “There is already a mosque four blocks away,” he said. “Should it, too, be moved? This is a test of our commitment to American values. We must have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy.

“We would send a signal around the world,” he said, “that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.”

President Obama spoke out Aug. 13 in defense of the project. “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion, as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

The next day Obama equivocated: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.”

A few days later, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd criticized Obama’s clarification: “Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning…. Our enemies struck at our heart, but did they also warp our identity?…. The war against the terrorists is not a war against Islam. In fact, you can’t have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam.”

The Cordoba Initiative, as the New York City project is called, is the brainchild of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a leader for the last 27 years of a Lower Manhattan mosque a dozen blocks from ground zero, and his wife, Daisy Khan, Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Rauf is the chairman.

Cordoba House —the name of the planned community center — is to occupy the reconstructed, long-empty 15-story Burlington Coat Factory building in a neighborhood of small and large stores, food venders, businesses, small and skyscraper buildings, tourist stores and attractions, fast food restaurants, strip clubs and the nearby financial district surrounding the 16-acres once occupied by the World Trade Center complex.

When completed, Cordoba House will include an auditorium, library, mosque, daycare space, restaurant, cooking school, swimming pool, basketball courts, and more. According to its backers, who are just starting to raise the $100 million necessary to complete the project, the facility will be “a community center open to all New Yorkers, much like a YMCA or Jewish Community Center (such as Manhattan’s 92nd St. YM-YWHA) with a designated prayer space (mosque) in one area to serve the needs of the large existing community of American Muslims in the neighborhood.” Part of the building has been utilized as a mosque for some time.

Why “Cordoba?” The website explains: “A thousand years ago Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted and created a prosperous center of intellectual, spiritual, cultural and commercial life in Cordoba, Spain.”

Although right wing commentators rant that Imam Rauf supports terrorism and seeks to impose Sharia (the sacred law of Islam) in the United States, he is fastidiously moderate, rarely deviating from the center of the road. Both the Bush and Obama State Departments have sent Rauf on four speaking tours to the Middle East so far to explain America to Muslim audiences. The State Department distributes copies of his book overseas — “What’s Right With Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West.” Rauf has even lectured to an FBI seminar on U.S.-Muslim relations.

The right wing is attempting to keep the mosque issue alive and intensifying until the election — and it is already generating increased hostility to Muslims in several American cities, including an Aug. 24 knife attack on New York City cab driver Ahmed Sharif. The purpose is to stir up anti-Muslim antagonisms to help generate enough votes for the Republicans to weaken or end Democratic control of Congress. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and ex-Republican House majority leader Newt Gingrich are among the public leaders of this effort.

Gingrich believes that Obama is “pandering to radical Islam” and that the Cordoba Initiative feeds into “an Islamic cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.” To build support for halting the Cordoba House project he conflated the Muslim religion with German and Japanese fascist imperialism of World War II: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” he said. “We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”

No reason except the Constitution, that is. No reason except that 9/11 was the product of a small group of religious fanatics, not one of the world’s great religions. But Gingrich — who still harbors presidential ambitions — hopes to create a large enough backlash to catapult his party to power. And if it takes extreme national chauvinism, bellicose “patriotism,” xenophobia and its twin in this case, Islamophobia, so be it.

Nearly all top Republican politicians — such as House GOP leader Rep. John Boehner — emphatically oppose situating the projected Islamic community center close to the lower Manhattan site. New York State Republican candidate for governor, Rick Lazio — echoing former Republican New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — suggests foreign intrigue is involved, demanding: “Open the books! Let’s see who’s giving the money to construct this mosque. Is it foreign governments? Are they radical organizations? We deserve to know.”

The Anti-Defamation League, a prestigious and long established Jewish civil rights organization, astonished the inter-faith community by opposing the Lower Manhattan location and declaring: “We are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.” In suggesting nefarious backing for the project, the ADL is hardly unaware that the rightist Israeli government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is strongly opposed to Obama’s halting efforts to improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

One of the few exceptions to Republican unity regarding the Muslim center by a leading politician was the principled stand taken by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who okayed the project and declared: “We cannot paint all of Islam with that brush. We have to bring people together.”

Most New York State Democratic politicians support President Obama’s position, including Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. — defend the mosque proposal. Democratic Gov. David Paterson, however, suggests moving the project elsewhere, and he has met with Catholic Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan to discuss arranging a compromise. Sheldon Silver, Democratic speaker of the State Assembly, has called for a compromise by moving “to a suitable place that doesn’t create…. controversy.” Four New York House Democrats have so far objected to the location.

In many cases, comments in opposition to the planned center were accompanied by slurs against Muslims and the religion of Islam. For example, Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams, who was deeply involved in opposing the New York City project, described Islam as having a “monkey god,” among other comments. He also was called to task for anti-Semitic and anti-African American comments. Williams was finally expelled in mid-July by the National Tea Party Federation for “clearly offensive” remarks.

According to two national opinion polls, Pew Research Center and Time Magazine, 61% of the American people oppose building the Muslim center near the World Trade Center site.

Time reported Aug. 19 that “More than 70% concur with the premise that proceeding with the plan would be an insult to the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center.” The magazine also stated that “the survey also revealed that many Americans harbor lingering animosity toward Muslims. Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President.”

At the same time, while opposing a mosque just two blocks away form the former Trade Center, the Time poll showed “55% of respondents say they would favor the construction of an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from their home, and an equal number say they believe most Muslims are ‘patriotic Americans.'”

The CNN/Opinion Research survey showed that 68% oppose the plan to build the mosque in Lower Manhattan, compared to 29% who favor it. According to a Marist poll, 53% of New York City residents opposed the location.

Going completely against this tide were the residents of Manhattan, New York City’s most populous and sophisticated borough, where the World Trade Center was located. Another Marist poll showed that 69% of Manhattan’s population supported building the Muslim center as planned. Aside from Mayor Bloomberg, other supporters of the Lower Manhattan location include Democratic Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Democratic Rep. Gerald Nadler, who represents the district that includes ground zero. They view the project as a gesture to heal the wounds of 9/11 near its very epicenter.

Bloomberg , who is Jewish, as are Stringer and Nadler, has supported the project from the beginning. His exemplary stance in the face increasing opposition to Cordoba House has earned him deserved tributes from the Muslim community. The mayor was to meet with the injured cab driver in City Hall Aug. 26.

In early August Bloomberg declared: “We would betray our values if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else…. To cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists — and we should not stand for that…. The attack was an act of war — and our first responders defended not only our city but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights — and the freedoms the terrorists attacked.”

The New York Times, which is housed in Manhattan, published an editorial Aug. 4 titled “A Monument to Tolerance,” which said in part: “It has been disturbing to hear and read the vitriol and outright bigotry surrounding the building of a mosque two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. So it was inspiring when New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9 to 0 on Aug. 3 to reaffirm one of the basic tenets of democracy: religious tolerance….

“The attacks of Sept. 11 were not a religious event. They were mass murder. The American response, as President Obama and President George W. Bush before him have said many times, was not a war against Islam…. There was simply no excuse for the behavior of the Anti-Defamation League, which eagerly piled on with the opponents of the mosque. It should not be built ‘in the shadow’ of the World Trade Center, the group said, because it would ’cause some victims more pain.’ It was distressing to see the rationalization of bigotry used by an organization that has been fighting discrimination of all kinds.”

In addition to leading the campaign to convince the American people that Democratic politicians who support building the Islamic center in downtown Manhattan are disloyal to America and contemptuous to the families of 9/11 victims, the continuing right wing effort to depict President Obama as a Muslim and a non-citizen has been making progress.

The Pew Research Center poll released Aug. 19 reports that 18% of the American people now believe President Obama is a Muslim (it was 12% nearly two years ago), and 43% say they “don’t know” his religion (it was 32% in October 2008). Even though the White House and Obama himself have stressed repeatedly that he is a Christian, only 34% of the people claim to be aware of this fact (it was 51% in the earlier poll).

These figures testify to the ignorance of a not insubstantial sector of the American people — but what explains the increase in false knowledge in the last two years? Evidently it’s due to the success of the continuous right wing media campaign to mislead the masses into believing Obama not only sides with the “enemy” but by supporting the right to build a mosque near ground zero he is actually in league with the enemy.

According to the Pew results, “The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents then among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance.”

Despite a birth certificate showing Obama is an American citizen born 49 years ago in the State of Hawaii, a CNN/Opinion Research poll made public on his Aug. 4 birthday determined that 27% of all Americans think he was “definitely” or “probably” born in a foreign country. Among Republicans, 41% definitely or probably believe he was foreign born, and thus a non-citizen and an “illegal” President. Further, 19% of independents and 15% of Democrats think he’s definitely/probably foreign born.

The right wing will evidently go to extreme lengths to take back Congressional seats on Nov. 2, including untruths, national chauvinism, and anti-Muslim propaganda. Many millions of Americans have been misled about the community center and mosque planned near the former World Trade Center. But millions more average Americans know better and say so in plain terms.

The Wall Street Journal sent a reporter to examine the neighborhood immediately surrounding ground zero where the Cordoba House is to be situated. The reporter noted that there were two strip clubs within three blocks of what some critics of the mosque consider to be a “sacred” space. Without condescension, the reporter interviewed Chris from the Pussycat Lounge, and Cassandra from New York Dolls about the mosque controversy.

Said Chris: “They’re not building a mosque in the World Trade Center” grounds itself. “It’s all good. You have your synagogues and your churches. And you have a mosque.” Said Cassandra: “I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s freedom of religion — you know?”

Americans with a commitment to civil liberties absolutely agree. It’s freedom of religion — you know?

Jack A. Smith is editor of the Activist Newsletter and a former editor of the Guardian (US) radical newsweekly. He may be reached at: jacdon@earthlink.net. Read other articles by Jack.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mary said on August 28th, 2010 at 2:36pm #

    More here on Foxman and the ADL –

    Crazy like a Foxman
    http://harpers.org/archive/2010/08/hbc-90007525

  2. mary said on August 28th, 2010 at 2:41pm #

    I meant to point out this statement within the article which is so ridiculous it negates the criticism of Foxman.

    ‘The ADL has had a long and noble history of championing justice and equality before the law in America.’

  3. John Hatch said on August 28th, 2010 at 4:25pm #

    Those softie Republicans- sooo sensitive to the feelings of 9/11 victims and their surviving family members. It’s touching.

    Perhaps they should be more sensitive to the PNAC peoples’ stated desire for a ‘new Pearl Harbor event’ to catalyze the American people into acquiescing to the loss of civil rights, the abrogation of international agreements and law, and to America’s leaders’ ambition of achieving world domination by land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace.

    Perhaps they should be more sensitive to the fact that after 9/11 Cheney/Bush did everything in their power to deny any investigation into the biggest crime on American soil, even as the crime scene was contaminated and evidence willfully and quickly destroyed.

    Perhaps they should be more sensitive to the fact that Osama did not manufacture or place the nano-thermite, evidence of which was incontrovertibly discovered in the WTC dust, or that a bunch of ‘pilots’ who couldn’t even fly Cessnas managed to slam huge jet aircraft into the twin towers and the Pentagon (although in the latter case all evidence points to a missile attack, with no contradictory evidence released by the Government after almost 10 years).

    Perhaps these big-hearted people should be more sensitive to how false flag operations work, and how they always employ ‘patsies’ to take the blame, a la Oswald.

    It’s a pity that the average American has become so infantalized that it is taken for granted that a bunch of ‘Muslims’ did 9/11 and the ‘mosque’ issue is taken at face value. On whose word? Geniuses like Palin, Beck, Giuliani, Limbaugh et al.

    America is under serious, and perhaps deadly threat; but from not from Islam or some other external enemy. The enemy is America’s own voluntary, quite likely fatal fantasist stupidity.

  4. hayate said on August 28th, 2010 at 7:10pm #

    Not one mention of the word zionist in the whole article. This hype is zionist created, zionist promoted. It is all a zionist pr scam.

  5. Deadbeat said on August 29th, 2010 at 12:34am #

    hayate is absolutely right. Zionism is the big taboo.

  6. mary said on August 29th, 2010 at 4:42am #

    Right on hayate and deadbeat and also John Hatch’s comments.

    One nasty Zionist and this right wing ‘organ’ the Spectator get squashed.

    http://www.middleeastmonitor.org.uk/news/memo-news/1467-the-spectator-and-stephen-pollard-apologise-to-islam-expo-and-pay-damages

    Pollard is the editor of the Jewish Chronicle.

  7. MylesH said on August 29th, 2010 at 6:01am #

    If Israel didn’t exist and 9/11 still happened, (even though its attack was based in part in US support for Israel) the American people would still likely be against the community center. Zionism is a major factor, but the overriding factor is anti-Islam and a near fanatical fundamental Christian control of our society.

    If Israel didn’t exist, we’d still be there for the oil. Our interest in the Middle East long preceded the establishment of a Zionist state. In this case, Israel is a smokescreen. This near fanatical attack on Israel as the cause of all evils is very narrow-minded. Sorry.

    One of OBL’s main contention with the US was our occupation of the Muslim Holy Land, with troops and bases in Saudi Arabia, his home, and home of Islam’s holiest sites. We were there to protect our oil interests in Kuwait and the area. Israel only exacerbated the situation but they played to America’s corporate and imperial interests.

    Bush and his generals made clear that we are on a crusade. The US military looks more like Franco’s army than that of George Washington’s.
    Soldiers are punished for not attending Christian rock concerts on base, here in the US.
    Ammunition and artillery are painted with Biblical verses.
    There is a strong white supremacist presence in the military in Iraq, which are usually based on Christian hate philosophies.

    The Crusades wasn’t just about taking back Jerusalem from the ‘infidels’ but for the natural resources that it had that was lacking in Europe.

    There is no one single reason why shit happens in the ME.

  8. bozh said on August 29th, 2010 at 7:08am #

    All imams, muftis, ulema [body of mullahs] and ?all rabbis, and priests of three major cults are strongly supportive of plutocratic rule.
    That’s all plutocrats care about.
    So winnig hearts of muslim world would be a big plus for US system of rule.
    People of the book or some connection to it are alarmed that islam would be welcomed in US.
    Obviously, this would further diminish importance of israel, talmudism, ‘jewishnes’, and even to some degree christianity.
    But uncle sam wants friends; so, his will be done! tnx

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain said on August 29th, 2010 at 7:50am #

    Marvellous news that The Spectator was forced to swallow its hate-filled words, but the Zionazis will be back. If necessary they will add changing the defamation laws to facilitate Islamophobia to their efforts in various Zionist controlled states to outlaw criticism of Israel, or grant Israeli warcriminals immunity from prosecution. The really crazy thing is that the Judeofascists’ incessant hatemongering, against not just Islam but against China and other enemies of their puppet hyperpower, the US, must eventually lead to global wars wherein Israel will surely not be inviolate. If the truth of Judaic hatemongering were widely known, rather than hidden in plain sight by the Zionist controlled media, then Israel would be justly reviled.
    Unfortunately Zionazis like Netanyahu et al and their ideologues in the West, think that they are divinely ordained to call the shots. They think that their Holy status and their fabulous wealth and political and media control that devolve from it, make them de facto global overlords. Hence the fear and hatred of China. I often wonder what the Hebrew equivalent of hubris is. And do not the events of the last sixty years put all the old stories of Judaic influence behind the scenes, manipulating and controlling the goyim, in a thoroughly different light from how they have been presented heretofore?

  10. mary said on August 29th, 2010 at 9:46am #

    How about this one hiding out in his blog which ostensibly supports the Palestinian cause? Doesn’t fit does it.

    ‘As most people who come to this site know, I’m ethnocentric. I grew up in a Jewish world, in a very tribal culture; and though I’ve become more worldly, *I love my tribe*, and Zionism is the unhealed wound, the triumph of unbridled ethnocentrism. As the signs on the building show, there’s not just a political crisis in Israel, but a war on in the soul of Judaism, and there are many, many Jews on my side. And yes, I know, the only way to win this struggle is to join hands with many many non-Jews.’

    Weiss of Mondoweiss today. I suppose you can only say that he’s being honest about where he’s coming from.

  11. hayate said on August 29th, 2010 at 12:12pm #

    mary

    “How about this one hiding out in his blog which ostensibly supports the Palestinian cause? Doesn’t fit does it….”

    Weiss is married to a non-Jew, but has written several articles there about his own Jewish ethnocentrism, even calling it racism. Sounds like he’s guy working through his own brainwashing as a child, still. He isn’t there yet, though, unfortunately, as there is quite a bit of Jewish chauvinism on that site. Not so much in the article writing, but in the way the site is run. The chauvinism is part of the site’s set-up – from their “about” page:

    “Mondoweiss is a news website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective.”

    Non-Jews are definitely treated differently than Jews and viewed with suspicion. Also, ex-israeli Jews are placed upon a pedestal. My impression is this is a group who still cant let go of the Jewish tribal mentality, even though they realise that israel, and zionism are harming Jews. The site claims to be anti-zionist, and I believe for the most part it actually is.

    Weiss and horowitz host some very good writers, most much better at it and more informed than themselves, but also host pieces by several “special” individuals who comment there who are well below the curve. In fact one of those individuals data mined me when I was posting there. Something that reminded me of the way the sayanim who infest the guardian’s website behave, and something I’ve run into a lot on “Jewish sites”, along with the incessant s.w.a.r.m.ing. I saw a lot of s.w.a.r.m.ing at mondoweiss when one of the “special” commentators was disagreed with, especially if by a non-Jew.

    One of these “specials”, an ex-israeli ultra “special” apparently, wrote some rightwing, cold war type propaganda, and when I corrected him/her, the person went literally berserk in their reply. Then this person denounced me as an antisemite, a genocidal antisemite, in fact ;D, taking a comment out of context about another article in the usual hasbarat manner, and complained to weiss. Weiss sided with the rightwing “special’s” smear job, though I suspect it was more due to political reasons (example: I had posted about the Iran regime change op – see below), than that he actually believed the ludicrous smear.

    It was at that point I did a little checking of the archives of the site to see where they stood on the Iranian “color revolution”, a credibility “litmus test” I should have done initially when I first started looking at the site, and discovered that mondoweiss promoted that mossad/cia destablisation effort as a legit effort of the Iranian people to “throw off a repressive, autocratic, theocratic regime”. I also noticed that several commentators from that time, last summer, who criticised the propaganda weiss and horowitz promoted about this op were no longer writing comments there. Big surprise, eh? ;D

    I know this is off topic, but went into detail because what I saw at mondoweiss seems to be a pattern of behaviour at other sites mostly catering to a progressive or left Jewish perspective and clientele. They have the theories down, but fail in the practice of them. It seems that even when sites are legit anti-zionistsites, they are still unable to let go of the chauvinism. Very disappointing.

  12. franco_american1962 said on August 29th, 2010 at 1:25pm #

    This calculated Republican tantrum over an essentially trivial placement of an Islamic-associated community center seems to have hoodwinked a majority of Americans

    America has never had the kinds of religious persecutions of other times and places, so this notion, that the building of the Islamic-associated center will “cement” inter-faith relations, is rather a strategic notion of the left. The First Amendments does guarantee the right to worship…or not. If the left is keen on invoking the First Amendment, then, I think, its only fair that the “other side” be afforded the same! Has public debate been all but foreclosed?

  13. Rehmat said on August 29th, 2010 at 6:54pm #

    The Cordoba House is not a mosque – it’s a community center. Calling a community center is as if one call a Holocaust Museum a Synagogue – because after all, according the Israeli historian, Holocaust is the new Jewish religion.

    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/holocaust-is-new-jewish-religion/