As those of you who keep an ear to the ground are by now well aware, there is currently a considerable buzz over the Cordoba Institute’s plans to build a mosque and community center two blocks from Ground Zero. The plans, headed by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, are to turn the old Burlington Coat Factory building into a mosque, museum, and Islamic cultural center, costing upwards of $100 million. It seems unlikely anyone would dispute calling the plans to build such a facility so close to the site of the 9/11 attacks “ambitious,” but many would prefer the term “galling.”
The memory of 9/11 is still fresh in the minds of many Americans, particularly those who lost a friend or family member in the attacks, and it seems a blatant insult, a breach of common decency, even, to erect a structure of this nature in such proximity to the place where thousands died at the hands of Muslim extremists (or fundamentalists, depending on who you ask).
Those in favor of the mosque’s construction claim that the First Amendment protects the Cordoba Institute’s right to proceed with its plans. Indeed it does. What the First Amendment fails to do, however, is nullify the ill effects the construction of the mosque would undoubtedly produce. The First Amendment mantra has been so oft-repeated in defense of the most abrasive (abusive?) actions that those touting it have apparently become callous to the grave insensitivity of their words and deeds. This seems as true in this case as in the abhorrent protests of military funerals by the notorious Westboro Baptist Church. There is, in the minds of these “First Amendmentists,” if you will, a sense that “if it’s legal, it’s right.” Of course, for any person who believes in a morality transcendent of law, this is absurd (assuming sensitivity to the feelings of others is considered a virtue), but I digress.
In light of the commonplace over-emphasis on political correctness these days, the amount of surprise I would express in learning that the mosque had been completed in the future would be…well, low. However, there is a not-so-subtle irony in the fact that only in a country where the freedoms of its citizens are valued could an undertaking such as this occur. I’m thinking of something quite different, of course, than the Islamic states in which Sharia law is legally enforced, where even verbal dissent from Islamic doctrines is met with punishments that make a Quentin Tarantino film look tame. Respect for views contrary to one’s own is a virtue seen only Islamic countries in which the fire of liberty has begun to kindle a flame bright enough to scorch the stiflingly oppressive traditions held by Muslims for hundreds of years. Such tolerance is unlikely the product of scholarly exegesis of the Qur’an or Hadith. If it were, it seems Muslims for the past several hundred years must have either failed to get the memo or manifestly ignored it. Yet Mr. Rauf will piggyback on the very principles of liberty and freedom absent in most Islamic states in order to advance a religion that detests them! I don’t blame him (who wouldn’t take advantage of such a great opportunity?), but I can’t decide whether to regard the move as cunning or appalling. I suppose it could be both.
Seeing as the construction of a mosque in this context is only possible under the freedoms protected by our Constitution, it would seem appropriate for Mr. Rauf to encourage the propagation of similar freedoms abroad in Islamic countries as an act of reciprocity. The chances of this occurring, however, are vastly outweighed by the likelihood that Mr. Rauf’s true desire, whether or not it is publicly espoused, is to see the world become an Islamic state, as do most Muslims. It is likely his current proclamations enjoining peaceful interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims are simply the most effective means to advance Islam in the current American context, whether or not there is at the heart of his message a true desire to see views contrary to Islam ultimately protected by law.
Mr. Rauf has been hailed as a moderate for his emphasis on peaceful co-habitation of Islam and other faiths, and he has even attempted to quell the uneasiness by reminding us that the center will house a memorial to those who died on 9/11, but there is nothing moderate about his insistence on continuing with a project that he surely knows will strike many as a barefaced assertion of Islamic power.
In the words of Mr. Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, who is the head of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), “Only in New York City is this possible.”
I hope she’s right.