Mayor Michael Bloomberg deserves credit for sticking up for the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion.
He was passionate as, standing on Governor’s Island facing the Statue of Liberty at a site picked as a photo op, he affirmed the right of every American, Muslims included, to religious freedom. He spoke of the controversy over the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. “I believe,” the Mayor declared, “that this is an important test of the separation of church and state, as important a test as we may see in our lifetime, and it is critically important that we get it right.”
But the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to build, regardless of other factors. Indeed, the same amendment that promises religious freedom guarantees freedom of speech. The Anti-Defamation League, a strong advocate of religious freedom, spoke out, giving strong reasons for not building the mosque at that location.
The Mayor was surprised when reporters apprised him of the ADL’s position. The Mayor said he concurred strongly with the decision of the Landmarks Commission not to grant landmark status to the building that must be torn down to build a community center that will include the mosque.
But the ADL statement said, “There are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site. We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there.”
It’s not, the ADL added, “a question of rights but a question of what is right. In our judgment building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain unnecessarily -and that is not right.”
The ADL is right. The World Trade Center site is a cemetery. In that area nearly 3,000 people were killed. Seventy two human remains were just discovered there in June.
The killers were fundamentalist Muslims. It’s understandable that the families of many of the victims might regard the building of a mosque here as a desecration of the cemetery.
To build the mosque at another site would simply ensure that some tender feelings would not be exposed to new trauma. Nothing would stop the people who are planning to build the mosque from constructing it somewhere else. But why risk hurting the feelings of the bereaved?
In confronting issues like this, there must be a regard for decency, respect for the feelings of other human beings. It seems strange that the people behind this project are not more sensitive to that. That they are constructing this mosque right near Ground Zero seems like no accident. There is a tradition in Muslim history to build mosques near the site of great victories. I hope that has nothing to do with this.
Imam Rauf said: “I’m not a politician. I try to avoid the issues. This issue of terrorism is a very complex question. …I’m a bridge builder…”
You don’t have to be a politician to decide whether or not to condemn Hamas for its acts of terrorism. That’s not a complex question. It’s quite simple. Hamas’s goal is to tear down bridges between people, fomenting conflict between militant Muslims and other people.
And Rauf is rather vague about where the estimated $100 million is coming from to build this 13-story tower. The imam said the money would be raised here. But he told a London newspaper that Muslim nations would also fund this project.
Malcolm Hoenlein, leader of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, is highly skeptical. He pointed out: “Imam Rauf refuses to condemn Hamas. And why is it being built here? Is it to celebrate a victory against the United States, as some militant Muslims may see it?”
The unanswered basic questions are: “where is the money coming from?” and “why build it here?”
The lack of answers to those questions speaks volumes for why this mosque belongs elsewhere in our city, not in the cemetery of the victims.