Well, that is clearly a rhetorical question, and blog readers who know me also know what my answer would be.
But the reason I’m asking the question is a report in the New York Times this morning that the Anti-Defamation League is opposing construction of an Islamic mosque and cultural center near the site of the World Trade Center attacks in New York City.
The Anti-Defamation League is the most prominent organization in the American Jewish world focused on fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. They often end up to the right of my own personal politics when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, but I respect their long and distinguished track record speaking out against neo-Nazism, hate crimes and bigotry against minorities. Recently, for instance, they filed a court brief opposing Arizona’s notorious new anti-immigrant law.
But now comes the issue of the New York mosque.
According to the Times, the local Muslim community has been planning a $100 million complex with a prayer space, performing arts center, pool and restaurant. It will be a community center modeled on the 92nd Street Y (the prestigious Upper East Side Jewish cultural center where yours truly went to nursery school and was taught by Anthony Lewis’ mother — how’s that for obscure trivia?).
Organizers say the complex will have a board made up of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders and is intended to be a beacon of moderate Islam.
“We are looking to build bridges between faiths,” organizer Oz Sultan said in an interview with the Times.
New York’s Mayor Bloomberg and the local community board have supported the project. But some relatives of 9/11 victims have denounced it, and national Republican leaders including Sarah Palin have made opposition to the mosque a part of their stump speeches.
The ADL initially had criticized the anti-Muslim tone of opposition to the project, according to the Times. But on Friday director Abraham Foxman said the group had come out against the mosque out of deference to the relatives of 9/11 victims.
“It’s the wrong place,” Mr. Foxman told the Times. “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.”
Okay, so where do I start with how wrong this is?
First of all, just because victims of a horrific crime react emotionally is no reason for the rest of us to throw our normal rational, critical faculties out the window. Respecting someone’s pain doesn’t mean you have to do everything they want or agree with everything they say.
And thinking rationally about this — do we really want to punish the entire New York Muslim community because of the 9/11 terrorists?
Because that’s what the ADL is doing. It’s saying there is no difference between the average tax-paying, law-abiding, family-raising Muslim citizen of New York and the 9/11 terrorists.
It’s saying that because they happen to share the same overarching religion, they should not be allowed to pray, learn, socialize near ground zero.
If this proposal were for a Catholic church at ground zero, no one would be making a fuss. If it were for a synagogue at ground zero, no one would be making a fuss. Another YMCA or YMHA, no problem.
But Muslim moms and dads dropping children off at nursery school or art classes, like my mom used to drop me off? Muslim employees on Wall Street gathering near their offices at lunchtime to pray?
These scenarios are being treated as some kind of insult to the 9/11 victims.
Of course I’ll never know what it’s like to have lost a loved one in 9/11. But my own feeling is that — rather than an insult to the victims — a center that is devoted to moderate Islam and to interfaith understanding would be a fitting addition to the other ways that we are memorializing the attacks.
Heck, at the very least it’s a lot more positive and meaningful than putting a Burger King or Starbucks there.
I could go on and on venting, but I suspect you get my point. I hope Mayor Bloomberg stands his ground. I hope the ADL gets an earful from American Jews who find their position inconsistent, unfair, anti-Muslim and narrow-minded.
Want to let the ADL know what you think? You can email them a comment at this link. I sent them my own thoughts already.
Want to let me know what you think? You know I love it when people leave comments here!