A mosque near Ground Zero: It's the wise choice

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim clergyman who wants to build a cultural center and prayer room two blocks north of Ground Zero, has repeatedly denounced Islamist terrorism. He admonishes members of his congregation to be, in his words, "both good Americans and good Muslims." He's not an ally of Osama bin Laden; he's an adversary.

Still, it was predictable that some New Yorkers who lost loved ones on 9/11 would object to building a Muslim institution so near the site of their tragedy. They're entitled to their feelings, and a cultural center that hopes to bridge gaps among Muslims, Christians and Jews needs to take those feelings into account. But they're not entitled to make their feelings a basis for discriminatory government action.

The controversy extends far beyond the question of whether a mosque should be built so near Ground Zero. Movements to deny Muslims the right to build houses of worship have sprung up all over the country – from Staten Island, N.Y., to Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Temecula, Calif., as well. (Temecula is 2,407 miles from Ground Zero.)

And they're being abetted by politicians a long way from New York – including two who may run for president in 2012 – who have seized the opportunity to declare themselves defenders of Western civilization against militant Islam.

First came former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who called the planned mosque in New York "a stab in the heart" and demanded that "peaceful Muslims" prove their good intentions by agreeing with her. Then came former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who managed to make Palin sound like a moderate. Gingrich said the Manhattan mosque was a beachhead in a much more dangerous war. "America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization," he wrote.

Islamists, Gingrich warned, want to impose Muslim religious law, or Sharia, on the entire world, including the United States. As his main example, he cited a 2009 New Jersey trial in which a Muslim man accused of assaulting his wife claimed his actions were allowed under Sharia. Amazingly, a lower court judge accepted that defense; an appeals court reversed the decision. A "cultural-political offensive"? Sounds more like a long-shot argument by one criminal defendant and a dumb decision by one lower-court judge. If that's Gingrich's best case, Judeo-Christian civilization has nothing to fear.

Just in case, though, the Oklahoma state legislature has approved a ballot measure this fall to make it clear that Muslim law is not a valid legal authority in the Sooner State. No matter how the war on terror turns out, we'll always have Tulsa.

What's seriously wrong here is this: The soapbox crusaders are turning our fight against a small band of Muslim extremists into exactly what bin Laden wants it to be — a clash between all Muslims and the West.

There's a civil war going on inside Islam, and it's between modernizers like New York's Abdul Rauf, who want to reconcile Muslim life with Western tolerance, and radicals like Bin Laden, who don't.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama don't agree on much, but they do agree that the best way to win the war on terror is to convince Muslim moderates that reconciliation is possible, and to help them win in Islam's civil war.

But the message from those who don't want to allow American Muslims to build their mosques sounds more like this: We don't care how moderate you say you are. If you're a devout Muslim, we think you're part of a fifth column aimed at destroying our civilization.

Back to New York for a moment. Abdul Rauf's less scrupulous critics charge, with no apparent evidence, that he's "linked" in some fashion to terrorists. Do they imagine that the FBI wouldn't have figured that out if it were true? His more scrupulous critics toss out broader political objections: He hasn't specifically condemned Hamas; he supported the seaborne protesters who sought to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip; he isn't a fervent supporter of Israel. One other complaint: Abdul Rauf hasn't revealed who all of his donors are.

It's hard to disagree with that one; who wouldn't like to know where the money is coming from? But even here, there's a double standard at work. Churches and synagogues aren't required to identify their donors. Gingrich doesn't identify his contributors either. ("Our donors have an expectation that we won't disclose their names," Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler explained. "We don't carry the burden of being a mosque that likely is funded by foreign countries.")

For a reality check, I talked with a wise New Yorker: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Hirschfield knows Abdul Rauf and considers him a genuine moderate.

"The rumor-mongering that he's some kind of agent for Islamists is utterly different from everything I know about him," the rabbi said. "With this (cultural center) project, he's proposing a spiritual response to a spiritual problem. This (9/11) was Islamic terror. He's trying to use the tradition to correct itself."

But Hirschfield worries that the process has gone off the rails and that instead of the interfaith understanding that Abdul Rauf hoped to foster, there may be bitterness on both sides.
If Abdul Rauf wants his cultural center to become an instrument of reconciliation, he's got plenty of work to do. The question is whether outside agitators like Gingrich and Palin have made that impossible.

The critics claim that building a mosque at 51 Park Place would be a victory for Islamist extremism. They have it exactly backward.

If American Muslims are allowed to build mosques only where Christians and Jews are gracious enough to allow, we will be proving the Islamists' point that the West is every Muslim's enemy. If this mosque is blocked by popular prejudice or political demagoguery, that's when bin Laden will claim a second victory — in the shadow, as they say, of Ground Zero.

Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.



 's picture


We're all doomed to live under Sharia law! For God's sake, there's a MOSQUE IN THE PENTAGON! And they attacked the Pentagon on 9/11! AND THERE"S A MOSQUE IN THE PENTAGON! Probably paid for with YOUR TAX DOLLARS!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

My 15:38 was in response to

My 15:38 was in response to jeffyd's 10:32. That's what I get for relying on the parrot to type his own messages accurately.

 's picture

i dont get it

im willing to bet there was a mosque that got destroyed in the attack of 9/11. why are we holding the entire muslim community responsible for what 16 men did who happened to be muslim. we dont hold every white person responsible for what the nazies did.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Nice how you threw two

Nice how you threw two distinctly separate issues, religion and race, in the same bag. Neat trick, but no cigar for you, laddie.

 's picture

race, religion, gender,

race, religion, gender, sexual orentation, whats the diffrence? these are all catagories people use to lump others or themselves together into groups. to judge individuals based on the sterotypes of the larger group is what were talking about here. condeming and entire race of people based on the actions of a few is no diffrent then judging people based on thier religious affiliation.

Its wrong no matter how you look at it.

 's picture

No one needs to try to discredit the administration.

The administration is doing a fine job discrediting itself. Jeffyd, of course not all Muslims are terrorists - but on 9/11 all terrorists were Muslims. All you self-righteous, self-proclaimed liberals can't deal with that fact, so you descend into the safe womb of Nazism. Tronnie, you know what's "constantly" appearing on FOX and Rush because you watch/listen constantly. What a pathetic life you lead.

The Empire State Building went from a hole in the ground to a completed structure in just over one year. It's been nine years since 9/11, the GWB administration did nothing, the BHO administration is going backwards with their silly pronouncements that it's their right to build a Mosque but it's a stupid idea to build it there. Barry's covering both sides of a butt that desperately needs covering. Who is this "they", Tronnie, who is supposed to build something there? Given the way the wacko left is shredding America, only the Chinese will be able to afford to build. Maybe they'll put in a Tin-Tin Buffet so we can get something to eat when we visit the hole.

 's picture

then i wont use the nazies.

then i wont use the nazies. there is a catholic church in Jonestown. are you outraged? i doubt it.

 's picture

Take a pill.

So are you claiming the Jonestown problem was caused by Catholics? That's interesting. I'm always outraged when self-proclaimed religious folks use their piety to excuse their atrocities.

 's picture

no im not, but im glad your

no im not, but im glad your getting my point. The Peoples Temple members and jim Jones were catholic, but its not the catholics fault it happend. the same applies to this situation. the terrorists were muslim but its not every muslims fault. thanks for proving my point.

RONALD RIML's picture

If you don't know who the "They" is who is Going to Build It -

Then you obviously don't know you're fouth point of contact from a hole in the ground concerning this matter....

At least do the requisite research to be an informed Intolerant.

 's picture

You're the master of uninformed tolerance.

I must defer to your expertise as a Grand Master Kleagle of the KKK - Kankakee Keystone Kops.

RONALD RIML's picture

Simply defer to my ability to research who's building....

As you found where I had worked. (Even worse than Lewiston.)

But you don't know who the Kleagle is. I'll pass the word along to him. ;)

 's picture

every religion should have

every religion should have the right to build a place of worship wherever they want. those who think different are obviously letting fear of the unknown sway their minds. m.y.o.b. is more like it. denial or not approving a mosque or place of worship is offensive-i know that much.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

No one is denying their right

No one is denying their right to build if, for they have that right. However, their location and timing both suck.

 's picture

Seperation of church and state

The American Constitution......read it, obey it, live by it....
What's next...Germans can not be Jewish!

RONALD RIML's picture

Still "Silence of the Conservative Lambs" from Mainah49

Nothing to back up your allegation yet, eh Mainah.....?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The parrot sez he heard it on

The parrot sez he heard it on AirAmerica and the View

RONALD RIML's picture

I didn't make the allegation.

So you need to provide the proof.

And you've checked both the web sites for "Park 51" and the "Cordoba Initiative" concerning this?

RONALD RIML's picture

Mainah - We were attacked by Al-Qaeda - not Islam

To even think of associating those establishing the Cordoba House three blocks away from the WTC with those who attacked us is tantamount with associating everyday Christians with the Phelps Family Westboro Baptist Church which protests at the funerals of slain American soldiers claiming God Hates Fags and thats why the soldiers died. Like the 'Good Black/Bad Black" arguments of forty years ago.

Religious crazies of every stripe, creed, and nationality have screwed it up for the rest of us decent and rational people. Don't join the "Torch and Pitchfork Crowd."

RONALD RIML's picture

Mainah49 - Do you have a link?

Regarding your statement that they plan to open the Center on September 11th - Do you have a link to a statement from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf?

There's 'chatter' out there, but so much of that is often B.S.

 's picture

The best way for us to honor

The best way for us to honor the lives of those who perished on 9/11 is for the citizens to support the Constitution that so many have given their lives to preserve. This includes asserting the rights of every individual to worship as they believe. We cannot allow fear and stereotypes erode the basic tenants of our country's guiding document. When we change what we believe in response to the actions of others, they have won.


Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...