The Cordoba Initiative and Manhattan

August 20, 2010

culture / politics

I hadn’t planned on writing anything here about the Cordoba Initiative and it’s planned Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center in Lower Manhattan. Not because I don’t care about religious freedom (I do) and not because I’m not disgusted by the idiotic vitriol that comes from conservatives when they talk about it (I am), but because I really don’t care where they put the center.

Again: I really don’t care where the center is. I’m not a Muslim, although I find much beauty in Islam. I’m also not a New Yorker, although I find much beauty in New York City. So really: wherever they want to put the center is alright with me, and I think that should be the default position for everyone who is not immediately affected by its presence1. Nonetheless, almost everyone who is weighing in on the issue is not affected at all by its presence or its location, and I have to admit at this point that anything that can add or restate intelligent words to this conversation deserves to be there.

If you’ve followed the maddening discussion, you know that there are a number of talking points that folks representing American conservatism are using.

One is, of course, from Sarah Palin, and is the idea that the specific site is somehow hallowed because of its proximity to the World Trade Center. If you’ve taken this statement with any seriousness at all, I’d encourage you to look through these photos of the “hallowed ground”. All of these things are the same distance from the site of the WTC as the Park 51 Center.

Another point that folks have used is that Muslims should be allowed to build a mosque near 9/11 when there are churches in places of various sites that they think are equivalent, from Saudi Arabia to the older Ground Zeroes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As for Saudi Arabia, when Gingrich wants us to model our religious freedom on Saudi Arabia’s, he can run his mouth as much as he wants. If you’re curious about Japan, there are Christian churches within a mile of each of the Ground Zeroes in Japan, one mile in Hiroshima and half a mile in Nagasaki. The Japanese, after enduring disasters massively worse than ours at the hands of a “Christian nation” in an act that is still defended by many Christian theologians, have not decided that a mile is too close.

The other one I’ve seen the most is that the imam who runs the Cordoba Initiative has said things critical of American foreign policy, and stated that U.S. policy was an accessory to what happened on 9/11. Most of the vocal conservatives go insane when anyone who is not one of them says this, whether it be Jeremiah Wright, Ron Paul, or Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf. But the fact is, it’s true. It doesn’t change the nature of the attacks, though it should have changed our response to them.

In any case, I don’t think the point of these talking points is really to have an answer for why the center shouldn’t be built in the proposed location, as the people using them are (I think) well aware that they are just things that sound good to their base, rather than solid logic. But I think it is important to deal with these talking points anyway, simply because if they go away it will become clear that the opposition to the center is based on anti-Islamic sentiment and an inability to separate terrorists from the rest of Islam the same way we can separate Christian theocrats from the rest of Christianity.

That is what needs to go away; not a cultural center on the progressive side of Islam in a neighborhood with strip clubs, Burger Kings, BBQ, and pubs. We can’t afford to keep these sentiments, and to his credit even Bush was willing to admit that.

  1. I don’t think that families of 9/11 victims are immediately affected by its presence. Rather, folks who live and work in that area today are, and the vast majority of them are heavily in favor of the presence of the center. []