My wide circle of friends doesn’t include one Muslim. I had a Pakistani doorman I got along with so well I would jokingly inform him we were keeping an eye on him, warn him I could have him deported faster than he could say Allah akbar and offer him a cupcake at noon “to celebrate the first day of Ramadan.”
I’ve rubbed shoulders with Muslims throughout the Middle East and at the UN, and rubbed the PLO’s most prominent Palestinian in America, Edward Said, the wrong way. I’ve had better relations with Baha’is, Buddhists and Coptics.
So, when I support the right and the propriety of Muslims to create and maintain a place for prayer, i.e., a mosque, anywhere in The United States, it’s not for them—it’s for us.
I do so with some reserve, even with trepidation. Conceivably, a mosque could be a mask for ill. But we have to take that chance. Not to do so would be tantamount to treason for all we stand for. All we profess to stand for.
That would start and end with freedom. Not freedom in the abstract, not freedom in slogan or song, not even freedom as our bromidic birthright—but the freedom we uniquely enjoy as citizens of The United States, freedom we are granted, freedom we are remarkably entitled to—by right and by law, by tradition, precedent and practice—specifically by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of The Constitution of The United States.
Setting The Constitution, the flag and apple pie aside for a few minutes, let’s examine this polarizing, complex state of affairs in simple English, a language that pols, pundits and some plain fools are cynically unwilling and seemingly unable to speak.
The mosque at Ground Zero that everyone is so emotionally-charged about is only one facet of a 13-story community center containing a mosque. It will also include offices, meeting rooms, a gym, swimming pool and basketball court, facilities for lectures, forums and weddings, and a performing arts center.
Simple. A community center. Not on Ground Zero, but two blocks from Ground Zero. Two blocks from the “hallowed land” self-righteous and self-serving knee-jerks-with-opinions have self-hallowed. Land only the families of the 3,000 victims (victims, not “martyrs”), not politicians or pundits, have any right to sanctify, and, unless they’re entitled to wear vestments, only totemically at that. Not to overlook that in Manhattan, two blocks away is a good distance from anything.
Ten blocks from Ground Zero is a narrow, two-story mosque that has yet to alarm or rile anybody. It was founded 25 years ago by Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam whose American Society for Muslim Advancement intends to build the disputed community center. Even closer, a mere four blocks from Ground Zero, is a basement-level mosque founded 40 years ago. Not only do both mosques predate 9/11 by a great many years, but also, the latter preceded the Twin Towers by several.
Not so simple in the hearts and minds of demagogues and dogmatists. “A mosque steps from Ground Zero,” according to the topography of The New York Daily News. Forewarns The New York Post “…where there are mosques, there are Muslims, and where there are Muslims, there are problems."
An opportunity for an opportunist to weigh in. House Minority Leader John Boehner said the decision to build the mosque wasn't an issue of law, “whether religious freedom or local zoning,” but a matter of respect. So, a man sworn to uphold the Constitution of The United States of America puts “respect for a tragic moment” before law or the Constitution—in an election year.
Not to be out-voiced (in an election year), national Tea Party leader Mark Williams objected to the mosque by declaring that Muslims worship "the terrorists' monkey god." Does anyone care what manqué 2012 GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich had to say? Just as I thought.
Article I, Section 3 of The Constitution of The State of New York declares: “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind…” That is in addition to the inalienable rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of The United States. We have the categorical manifesto of the President of The United States: “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”
I don’t believe you stand for any policy or principle in part. You either stand for something or you don’t. The men who wrote The Constitution put religious freedom first among The Amendments for a reason. It might not coincide with my choice, if given one, but I’ll stand by it confidently, and, come to think of it, proudly.
With similar logic, and passion, I feel I have no choice but to support the right of The American Society for Muslim Advancement to build its mosque where it chooses—in spite of doubts that it may be ill-advised. “This is America…”
"Unshakable" is absolutely right; it can be no other way.