The mosque near Ground Zero has stirred controversy around the world. And the contrasting words of two men should have special meaning to New Yorkers.
You have to hand it to Mayor Bloomberg. He is passionate about his defense of the guarantee of religious freedom in this country and, despite an avalanche of criticism of the planned mosque at Ground Zero from people throughout the country and New York, the Mayor sticks to his guns.
His viewpoint is worth examining even as we consider the words of another man who has an emotional stake in what happens. He is Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was beheaded by Muslim extremists seven years ago. And he wants the mosque moved.
Bloomberg, at a dinner for Muslim leaders at Gracie Mansion this week, spoke fiercely of his devotion to religious liberty. He declared: “..if we say that a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.”
He said he understood the desire of many people to find a compromise in the controversy, perhaps to build the cultural center and mosque elsewhere. He knew some were hoping for a compromise to end the debate.
“But,” said Bloomberg, “it won’t. The question will then become, how big should the ‘no mosque zone’ around the World Trade Center be?”
It’s a test, the Mayor said, “of our commitment to American values.” He added: “We must do what is right, not what is easy.”
On Thursday, at City Hall, he honored a Muslim cab driver who was slashed a crazed anti-mosque passenger.
Judea Pearl, in an interview with the Jewish Telegraph Agency, recalled that he was “touched” by a eulogy the mosque project’s leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf delivered at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl in 2003.
The slain journalist’s father said he was discouraged, though, that the Muslim leadership had not followed through on what he hoped would come from his son’s death. “At the time I truly believed Danny’s murder would be a turning point in the reaction of the civilized world toward terrorism.”
With an edge of bitterness, the father said the Muslim leadership ”has had had nine years to build up trust by pro-actively resisting anti-American ideologies of victimhood, anger and entitlement.”
"Reactions to the mosque project indicate that they were not too successful in this endeavor.”
“If I were Mayor Bloomberg I would reassert their right to build the mosque, but I would expend the same energy trying to convince them to put it somewhere else,” Judea Pearl told the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
The Mayor seems to have softened his attitude toward those who disagree with him on this issue. Now, the question is: can the Mayor, despite his own strong feelings, assume a new leadership role in the controversy? Can he endeavor to bring the parties together in a solution that honors the views of both sides?
One Israeli scholar, Yossi Klein Halevi, suggests an interfaith center that would include a mosque, a church and a synagogue as well as a common space for people of all faiths and none.
I spoke to Judea Pearl about this. He endorsed the idea wholeheartedly. "It's something Mayor Bloomberg should endorse, putting this multi-religious building under community control. By doing that, you obtain transparency."
As for the mosque and cultural center, Pearl said "Today we have a very enlightened imam, but tomorrow you don't what imam will be in charge."
Leadership doesn’t consist solely of being passionate about what you believe in. It also involves understanding the feelings of all those you lead and trying to bring people together.