Still more on the Ground Zero Mosque

My older son and I walked over to the site this morning to join a Jewish show of support for the Cordoba Initiative; look closely at the picture and you might see us. The great Marty Ehrlich played the clarinet, Rabbis Ellen Lippman, Arthur Waskow (see photo on the right), Marcus Bernstein, and Richard Jacobs gave short speeches (Daisy Khan, the Iman’s wife, said a few words too, but I couldn’t hear her or see her over the crowd). Reporters scribbled in their notebooks, snapped cameras, and thrust microphones in the speakers’ faces. There were at least three TV crews, from NY1, CNN, and I’m not sure where else. The journalists practically outnumbered the demonstrators, but it will probably look different on TV. There’s already some coverage on line–AP , NBC, and NY1.

Standing there in the hot sun, it was really hard to believe that this address has been the cause of so much national consternation. Walking from the Brooklyn Bridge we passed City Hall, banks, restaurants, bars, a gym, retail establishments, apartment buildings, schools, a giant church that looks like a Greek temple, loading docks, and I don’t know what else. The people bustling up and down the street, many of them shouting into cell phones, were of all colors, nationalities, and faiths. Some of the women wore headscarves; some of the men kippahs–this is NYC, after all.

As other writers have pointed out, the site isn’t precisely at or even over-shadowing Ground Zero. The Burlington Coat Factory is close enough to where the twin towers stood to have had a jet engine fall through its roof, it was in the “frozen zone” for several months after the attack–but it’s still a five minute walk away. And Ground Zero itself isn’t like Flanders Field or something–it’s a gigantic construction site, walled off with plywood and chain link fences.

I’m not sure that the people who are so emotional about the disrespect to the dead that an Islamic presence represents understand how many Muslims live and work and pray in New York City–there are at least 600,000 of them. Yes, the terrorists were Muslims, but there were Muslim victims too, and Muslim first responders. It would have been a statistical fluke if there hadn’t been. And do they really hold every Muslim accountable for al Qaeda?

People talk about Islam as if it is monolithic–they don’t seem to realize that there are a billion and a half Muslims in the world, 145,000,000 of them living in Bangladesh, 28,000,000 in Ethiopia, 202,000,000 in Indonesia and 13,000,000 in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, to name just a few countries that aren’t at war with either Israel or the US. How could Jews, a people who have been corporately blamed for everything from the murder of Jesus to the de-monetization of silver, stand by while a whole religion is demonized? Even extreme Zionists who hate Islam categorically (which I fear explains the ADL’s position) should recognize that nothing good can come of diluting the First Amendment, of picking and choosing which religions are deserving of toleration.

Arthur Waskow has a piece on the CNN site today that proposes a thought experiment in which liberal, well-meaning Jewish Americans are told not to build a synagogue in Detroit, out of respect for Palestinian sensitivities. Read it and weep:

The following six paragraphs are not fact; they are fiction. But they have a nonfiction point. Please note your own reactions to this fictional story.

“Two major organizations of Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans today urged the city of Detroit to prevent the building of a new synagogue in the city.

“The two organizations said that while Jews have a legal “right” to build a synagogue there, it was not ethically ” right” to do so in the face of the emotional upset it would cause the Palestinian and Arab residents of Detroit, many of whose families suffered from the Israeli government’s blockade and invasion of Gaza.

“Leaders of the new synagogue pointed out that, while deeply committed to the security and the flourishing of the State of Israel as a country with a special relationship to the Jewish people, they had often condemned specific policies of the Israeli government and had for many years actively supported a peace settlement between Israel and a new state of Palestine.

“They added that they had been active in interfaith work and as a result of coming to understand the deep traumas of many communities in the Middle East, had opposed the Israeli government’s invasion of Gaza in 2009. They said the new synagogue would be a venue devoted to multireligious and multicultural dialogue and peacemaking, and prayer to the One God Whom Muslims also worship.

“The Arab-American and Muslim American organizations responded that this did not matter: Arab-Americans in Detroit were so deeply traumatized by the invasion of Gaza, the continuing blockade against crucial economic exports from Gaza, and by the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem that they could not be expected to pay attention to differences of opinion within the Jewish community. So the repeated traumatization of their community by intruding a synagogue in their midst was unacceptable.”

7 thoughts on “Still more on the Ground Zero Mosque

  1. I do believe it could be the chosen wordage by journalists to whip-up fervor and sell pieces. “In the shadow of” creates an image of proximity, like right next door or across the street. Yes, most people do not have “scale of reference” like you do actually living there. Journalists know this. It is both cruel and stupid in many ways but I am sure there is a “just business, nothing personal” barrier somewhere and also it demonstrates how one can further research any issue by finding a source in the woods/forest boundary like you. This is how I trolled the hoax of laredo. Also on the protests in AZ. I looked at mainstream articles and also the corvette club and pics from from local tea-party members to see both sides of the protest.

  2. I blame demagogues like Pamela Geller for creating the meme and politicians-in-search-of-wedge issues (Gingrich, Lazio, Palin) for perpetuating them. The media is to blame insofar as it provides their poison with a, well, medium to grow in, but a lot of journalists did try to make the same point that I did.

    The idea that Islam itself is intrinsically offensive–and that the US is currently at war with a billion and a half of the people in the world (“just read the Koran,” as so many commentators urge, as though the Old Testament isn’t filled with horrors of its own)–is one that no responsible politician, no responsible religious leader, should allow to stand unchallenged.

    And the idea that there are Jews (like Pamela Geller) who believe that their crusade is good for the Jews… well, that’s just unfathomable.

  3. There was a student from British-Nigeria in a class of mine and I told him that all animals are boring because they do the same stuff. You see it in “niche” after “niche”, epoch after epoch. It is people that are interesting because they wear funny hats and slaughter each other over the abstract. Why I live in the hinterland and take my camera to the city…
    “And over there is a rare three-card-monty dude. Due to social climate change they are slowly going extinct.” (CLICK)
    “Over here is Wallstreet. Now we will call out…HOTDOG HERE!…and see the indiginous puch-cart vendor, as described in The Pushcart War, as respecting the territory of the other. If we bait the ground with enough change we may attract a migratory stockbroker.”
    (CLICK)

  4. It’s interesting that most of the coverage doesn’t bother to tell you where the proposed cultural center / mosque is. The address isn’t easy to find. Oddly, I finally found it buried on one of the most virulently anti-mosque websites. It’s 45-47 Park Place.

    I’ve basically recused myself on this issue because I know that what I went through on 9/11 is affecting my judgement. So I’ll just add that I don’t think the fictional Detroit analogy is a very good one. To me, a better one would be some Christian group trying to build a mission in, say, Afghanistan near to a village that had been mistakenly levelled by U.S. bombs & rockets.

    I’d also add that I think that commentators & politicians who aren’t New Yorkers, or weren’t downtown on 9/11, should just shut up about it. They have no standing on this.

    1. I appreciate your feelings (and I say that in much more than a pro forma way), but what I appreciate the most is the perspective you bring to bear on them. You don’t allow them to direct or trump your reasoning; instead you properly recuse yourself. Strong emotions–sometimes overwhelming, sometimes irrational–are precisely why we have laws and courts and governments and processes. They’re why we have a constitution, and why it’s so difficult to amend.

      Victims of violent crimes almost always suffer from post traumatic stress–we’re afraid to leave our apartments for weeks; we think we see the person who assaulted us everywhere. And then, if we’re reasonably healthy-minded (and perhaps with the assistance of counseling), we move on.

      I had colleagues who were afraid to get on a subway in the weeks after 9/11, or who suddenly regarded the guy manning the fallafel cart outside the office with deep suspicion. It was post traumatic stress, but it was also existential–most of us cope by not thinking too much about our own mortality. Events like 9/11 (or having a gun thrust in your face) rub your nose in it; they throw everything off balance. I remember a few days after 9/11 I went to a business luncheon where it was of course the only topic of conversation. The woman I was sitting next to turned to me and said quietly, “I went through this a long time ago. I’m a cancer survivor.”

      As I’ve said in other posts, it seems to me that people who experienced the event in person tend to be less fearful than those who only saw it on television. That was because we had to process it–we had no other choice.

      Bottom line, prejudice and wholesale demonization are bad things. And the First Amendment is an absolute bulwark of American liberty.

      1. Yeah, I couldn’t get on an airplane for more than a year after 9/11. I didn’t even try. I moved on with my life by getting reacquainted with Amtrak & thoroughly enjoyed it. But that’s another story.

        It’s funny how, since my post above, the intense bigotry in the anti-mosque camp has driven me right into becoming a supporter. I told them they should shut up, they didn’t listen, now look what they’ve done.

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