Thursday, August 5, 2010

Peddling cheap and thrilling fear . . .

If you go to the website of the Cordoba Initiative (founded in 2003) you find this mission statement:
Cordoba Initiative (CI) aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, steering the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect and away from heightened tensions.
The CI's proposed center, until recently known as Cordoba House and now known as Park51, has generated enormous controversy, first and foremost for its Ground Zero proximity. (Location circled in red above.) It may or may not be appropriate to locate it where it is to be located, and that is a subject for legitimate debate.

As for the stated purpose of Park51 (again according to the CI website):
This proposed project is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture.  Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form - compassion, generosity, and respect for all. 
 I lifted this description of Park51's physical plant from the ever-convenient Wikipedia:
While the media widely described the center as a mosque, the Initiative's official blog portrayed it as a community center with prayer space, making comparisons to the YMCA or Jewish Community Center.[54] The plan is for it to have a Muslim prayer room, 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare services, art exhibitions, bookstore, a culinary school, and a food court serving halal dishes.
This certainly makes it sound like a welcome addition to any city, yet Cordoba's director, Imam Faisel Abdul Rauf, has yet to disclose how Park51 is being funded. And this has caused understandable concern. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said, "It's a house of worship, but we are at war with al-Qaida.  I think the 9/11 families have a right to know where the funding comes from; I think there are significant questions."

Independent (and erstwhile Democratic) Senator Joe Lieberman, said recently to Don Imus:
"I'd say I'm troubled by it [Park51], but I don't know enough to say that it ought to be prohibited. But frankly I've heard enough about it and read enough about it that I wish somebody in New York would just put the brakes on for a while and take a look at this. If the people building this large Islamic center are just looking to build a large facility — a house of worship and center — in New York, why so close to 9/11, with all the sensitivity associated with that?"
Honest questions about the project's funding sources and location are one thing; questionably vague and inflammatory allegations about Islam are another. Take Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey's suggestion that Islam might be a cult instead of a religion.

And New Gingrich's controversial and loosely sourced speech "No Mosque at Ground Zero" in which he denounced "creeping sharia" (Islamic law) in America, and closed  by saying:
Building this structure [Park51] on the edge of the battlefield created by radical Islamists is not a celebration of religious pluralism and mutual tolerance; it is a political statement of shocking arrogance and hypocrisy.

We need to have the moral courage to denounce it. It is simply grotesque to erect a mosque at the site of the most visible and powerful symbol of the horrible consequences of radical Islamist ideology. Well-meaning Muslims, with common human sensitivity to the victims’ families, realize they have plenty of other places to gather and worship. But for radical Islamists, the mosque would become an icon of triumph, encouraging them in their challenge to our civilization.

Apologists for radical Islamist hypocrisy are trying to argue that we have to allow the construction of this mosque in order to prove America’s commitment to religious liberty. They say this despite the fact that there are already over 100 mosques in New York City.

In fact, they’re partially correct—this is a test of our commitment to religious liberty. It is a test to see if we have the resolve to face down an ideology that aims to destroy religious liberty in America, and every other freedom we hold dear.
And it was Park51 that Sarah Palin, ever alert to the threat of Islam, famously called upon peace-loving Muslims to "refudiate."

It is undeniably true that the 9/11 terrorists were Muslims. It's also undeniably true that most Muslims are as peace loving as most Christians, most Americans.

Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon were American politicians who gained political power by fanning Americans' fear of the Red Menace. They built their arguments around a kernel of truth: Americans were dealing with a world power whose values and goals and intentions they didn't understand. The sad part was that a lot of us preferred fearing to understanding. Fear is much easier. Understanding takes work

It's seeming more and more like deja vu all over again. Only this time it is Islam about which we have vague fears and little understanding.

There are certainly questions about the funding of  Park 51, and about the suitability of its location. And Americans are certainly uneasy about the presence of terrorists in our sweet old world. But are we really ready to make the leap to the full throttle anti-Muslim cry that some of our politicians seem to be calling for?.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your piece. I invite you to visit our website,, to learn more about this project and to receive answers to some of the questions you've raised above. We appreciate fair-minded journalism and commentary and encourage all your readers to contact us through our website.