Sept. 11 lives for downtown residents of New York. The World Trade Center site is a constant reminder of human malevolence. It also speaks to political incompetence, of politicians compromised by double dealing and arrogance.
While the site shows signs of rebirth and a tribute will be built to remind Americans of the 2,800 innocent people who lost their lives one crystal clear morning in September, an insult deep and penetrating is being launched two blocks away on Park Place with the building of a mosque that will overlook the World Trade Center site.
Mayor Bloomberg and the Downtown Community Board (by a vote of 29 to 1) approved of this religious center citing freedom of religion arguments.
What they overlook, however, is far more persuasive then First Amendment defenses.
Freedom of religion like any freedom is not absolute; freedom is defined by limitations.
Indians are not free to use peyote indiscriminately in religious services since drug use violates the law of the land. And religion that promotes hate or is an incitement to violence should be and can be curbed.
In the case of the downtown mosque several questions remain unanswered.
If a mosque can be built anywhere, why is it being constructed adjacent to the former World Trade Center?
Although denials abound, the name of the mosque, Cordoba House reveals a great deal. In Cordoba, Muslims built a mosque on a Catholic church as a symbol of their triumph in Spain. That symbolism may be evident at the New York site as well.
It is also instructive that the provenance of the $100 million for the project remains unknown. My guess — based on many global examples — is that Saudi petro dollars are behind the underwriting. If true, this mosque could be used to promote Wahhabist beliefs — the most radical brand of Islam.
The promoters of the mosque contend they are Americans who love their country and eschew violence of any kind. Yet they refuse to condemn Hamas and refuse to recognize it as a terrorist organization.
What this episode demonstrates is a form of liberal myopia, an unwillingness to recognize the optics in this situation.
For Muslims around the world who deplore the West, specifically the “great U.S. demon,” this mosque is the symbol of victory. It shows that America doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to resist its enemies.
It is as if a Shinto temple were to be constructed at the Arizona Memorial or a Nazi cultural center were built at Auschwitz. There are lines to be drawn on the matter of taste, patriotism and appropriateness that transcend reflexive adherence to the First Amendment.
As far as I know, no one is arguing against the construction of mosques albeit when a radical form of a religion promotes hate against other faiths, believes apostates and other believers are less than human, argues against the separation of church and state, and is eager to undermine the Constitution, an argument can be made that this form of the religion engages in sedition and should be banned or, at least, censured.
At this point, the pols have spoken. The mosque most likely will be built. But for those of us who reside downtown that building will not be an expression of tolerance, but rather a wound on the city and the nation.
It will represent despair; it will serve as a permanent insult to those New Yorkers who lost their lives a decade ago.
In the midst of sacred territory there will be a constant reminder that those who despise our way of life and everything this republic stands for can use our hard fought liberties to desecrate this land.
No matter what Bloomberg says, this is what New Yorkers will be reminded of whenever they pass the mosque on Park Place. As significantly, this is also what radical Muslims will see whenever television cameras pan to this religious edifice. What a shame; alas, what a disgrace.
Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction).
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