Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Moving Away from Ground Zero

The proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero has polarized America. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the would-be Imam of the center, has been demonized by Republicans, Fox News stalwarts and their supporters as a terrorist sympathizer, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Most of them have probably not read the Imam’s book, “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America.” If they had, and were honest about it, the wind would go out of their sails. When the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed by fanatics claiming to be Muslims, Abdul Rauf delivered a moving eulogy in a synagogue in Manhattan in 2003 in which he declared, “I am a Jew.” It was his way of condemning the killers and identifying with the victim.

But now the country is divided and emotions are high. To calm nerves and close wounds, what is needed is for a central figure in this drama to take the moral high ground. I hope Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf will soon give a speech along these lines:

(Disclaimer: I do not personally know the Imam. I only know him through his writings).

“My fellow Americans,

“My colleagues and I wanted to transform a shuttered store near ground zero into a symbol of America’s religious freedom, inclusivity and openness. The planned Islamic cultural center would include a community center open to all New Yorkers, an auditorium, a fitness center, a restaurant, a swimming pool, a basketball court, a Sept. 11 memorial and reflection space, and yes, a prayer room that would function as a mosque.

“Through this center, I wanted to let Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations know that they have failed – and will always fail - in their attempt to portray America as the enemy of Islam and Muslims. I hoped to remove your fear of my faith and to build a vibrant interfaith community of reason, reverence and reconciliation. I wanted to show that we are united as Americans in defeating those who use violence in the name of Islam. To reflect this unity, I made it a condition that our board includes Christians and Jews.

“But now it is clear that the location of the center has become a source of division, anguish and anger in America. While there are some Americans I could never placate, I recognize that there are many of you, with nothing against Islam and Muslims, who still feel that building an Islamic center at this location will be needlessly provocative and hurtful.

“I particularly recognize with humility such emotions coming from the families of the 9/11 victims. Although the loved ones of many of those who perished in the attacks support us, I believe that if the center at this location brings anguish to the family of a single 9/11 victim, it is one family too many.

“I, therefore, have decided not to build the center at 45-51 Park Place, two blocks north of ground zero. My associates and I are confident we can work something out with the city of New York to move it farther away from ground zero.

“Of the many Americans who have defended our right, even the necessity, of building this Islamic cultural center, no one has been more persuasive and passionate than mayor Bloomberg of New York City. His ringing endorsement of our center in the context of American history and the constitution will inspire us for years.

“The mayor asked us ‘not to cave to popular sentiment because that would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.’ But I also believe that removing resentments and uniting Americans transcend any other consideration, particularly as we fight the malignant militancy of terrorists.

"Besides, my vision for the center is unchanged. Wherever it is built in this freest of cities, it will stand as a monument to religious freedom, inclusivity and openness. Those enduring American values are independent of geographical coordinates. They are what have traditionally made America a light among nations. They are what make America worth defending.”

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