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.”