Abe Foxman, one of American Jewry’s leading Islamophobes, announced the ADL opposed Park51, the new Muslim cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero. The project, also known as Cordoba House, has the strong support of Mayor Bloomberg and all the appropriate community planning boards and agencies. But “outside agitators” (cf. Republicans) have weighed in and turned the issue into a national political football. This is ugly. Truly ugly. It shows the worst face of America. The face of bigotry, fear and ignorance.
The N.Y. Times coverage of the ADL announcement was far too breathless for my taste and accorded the group far too much respect. But what really bent me out of shape was this comment from Foxman:
The issue was wrenching for the Anti-Defamation League, which in the past has spoken out against anti-Islamic sentiment. But its national director, Abraham H. Foxman, said in an interview on Friday that the organization came to the conclusion that the location was offensive to families of victims of Sept. 11, and he suggested that the center’s backers should look for a site “a mile away.”
“It’s the wrong place,” Mr. Foxman said. “Find another place.”
Asked why the opposition of the families was so pivotal in the decision, Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said they were entitled to their emotions.
“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”
Let’s think about this for a second. Foxman attempts to make the serious argument that because someone has endured unspeakable horror this entitles them to be a racist. But does it? What possible reasoning can justify such nonsense? Is morality so relative that it is imperative only for those who have not survived a trauma like 9/11 or the Holocaust? And if survivors are permitted to be bigots, what level of suffering is required? And why can’t anyone who has suffered anything at all come along and claim Abe Foxman said it was OK to be a bigot because I suffered as much as people who survived 9/11?
The actual ADL statement against the Center noted that Muslims have the right to build at the site, but that it isn’t right because it would cause pain to families of survivors. What I’d like to know is where this stops. How much control do we wish to give to a group of survivors and the Republican Party over major decisions like this? Will our guilt at their suffering force us to accede to every wish no matter how irrational? Paul Krugman has called the ADL’s position “Shameful — and stupid.” Time’s Joe Klein said:
…The Anti-Defamation League has gone “from beacon of tolerance to slightly potty geyser of toxic foolishness.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Let us call this campaign for what it is: it is out-and-out Islamophobia. It is vile. It is racist. It should be impermissible. I don’t know what the victims of 9/11 would say about the cultural center project. But my idea of a perfect memorial is to show New York and the world that Islam can, should, and must co-exist in America with all our major religions. And what more fitting place for a tolerant Islam to take root than where a tragedy was wrought by the most hateful forces of radical Islam?
What are we afraid of? Why shouldn’t there be Muslims at (or near) Ground Zero? Do we really believe that every Muslim believes as does Osama bin Laden? If so, can there be any hope of ever living alongside Muslims in peace? There are those strident propagandists who answer “No” to this question. But most Americans know this is the wrong answer. Let’s not give in to hate or to Abe Foxman.
We should stay strong in support of this project. It deserves to be at Ground Zero. My concern is that Mayor Bloomberg’s support will crumble in the face of this onslaught of fear. This is what happened to in the case of the Khalil Gibran Academy and Debbie Almontaser, which he supported till he didn’t. Stay strong, Mr. Mayor. Don’t waver.
My Muslim blogging friend, Aziz Poonawalla has written a defense of the project.