The Amer­i­can way

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

They want to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. And the ou­trage burns like jet fuel, the ar­gu­ment bil­lows like chok­ing dust, the ques­tions lac­er­ate like fly­ing glass: Is it right, is it de­cent, is it morally de­fen­si­ble, for de­vel­oper Sharif el-Ga­mal of SoHo Prop­er­ties to build a Mus­lim wor­ship cen­ter called Cor­doba House within walk­ing dis­tance of the place where Mus­lim men, act­ing from a per­verse dis­tor­tion of their re­li­gion, dis­in­te­grated thou­sands of lives — Mus­lim, Chris­tian, Jewish, athe­ist and, we may pre­sume, oth­ers.

Sally Re­gen­hard, who lost her son in the Sept. 11 attacks, told The New York Times the idea was “sac­ri­lege.” A man named Scott Wheeler pro­duced an ad ac­cus­ing Mus­lims of build­ing the mosque to “cel­e­brate” the mur­ders. Sarah Palin called on mod­er­ate Mus­lims to “re­fu­di­ate” — pre­sum­ably she meant “re­pu­di­ate” — the idea.

And then, there is Rabbi Yaakov Thomp­son. In an opin­ion piece for the South Florida Sun Sen­tinel, he ac­cused Imam Feisal Ab­dul Rauf, leader of the group that would wor­ship at the new fa­cil­ity, of tak­ing chutz­pah “to a new level,” even though, he added, “I re­al­ize that those be­hind Cor­doba House have no con­nec­tion to ter­ror­ism.”

That bears re­peat­ing. Though he ac­knowl­edges the peo­ple be­hind Cor­doba House are not ter­ror­ists, the rabbi still de­mands New York tell them no. In so do­ing, he blithely le­git­imizes the idea that tribe is destiny, that you and I are each in­di­vid­u­ally an­swer­able for the crimes of those who merely look like, talk like, or pray like, us.

That be­ing the case, one won­ders how far from Ground Zero the rabbi would think it proper for Mus­lims to build? A mile? Twenty? A hun­dred? Or maybe nowhere within the bor­ders of these United States.

We should not be with­out sym­pa­thy for those who cringe at the no­tion of a mosque so near Ground Zero. Me­mory of what hap­pened there is burned into us all. To put a mosque there would be an un­avoid­ably painful and provoca­tive thing.

But the Con­sti­tu­tion does not carry an es­cape clause. We do not get to jet­ti­son our na­tional ideals just be­cause they cause pain or pro­voke. To the con­trary, that is the time they are most se­verely tested and most desperately in need of de­fend­ing.

And frankly we ought to be trou­bled by the easy con­fla­tion of Is­lam and ter­ror into which we have fallen over the last decade. Yes, we have been helped in that fall by man­i­fold Is­lamic ter­ror­ists, from the Fort Hood shooter to the shoe bomber to the man who left a crude bomb in Times Square two months back. But we have also been helped in that fall by that xeno­pho­bic strain that was seem­ingly born in us and that, at some point or an­other in his­tory, has caused us to re­gard Amer­i­cans of Ja­panese, Ger­man, Ira­nian, Ir­ish and French de­scent with the same sus­pi­cion and scorn we now re­serve for Mus­lims.

But this blan­ket an­tipa­thy is now, as it was then, an­ti­thet­i­cal to what we claim to be­lieve as Amer­i­cans. How shame­ful was it that can­di­date Obama had to keep re­as­sur­ing vot­ers he wasn’t a Mus­lim and that no one — not the can­di­date, not the pun­dits — thought to say the ob­vi­ous: What if he was?

Are Mus­lims not Amer­i­cans, too? Is that what we’re say­ing now?

Yes, I fear ter­ror­ism. But I find I fear even more what my coun­try has be­come in re­sponse to it — a nation where a rabbi can blandly con­demn some­one, not for his own crimes but for the crimes of some of his tribes­men.

So, yes, putting that build­ing in that place might be painful and provoca­tive, but it would also be a re­minder of the very val­ues the ter­ror­ists sought to kill.

And we seem to need that re­minder more ev­ery day.

They want to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero? Let them.

Mark Lennihan

In May, a plan for the con­struc­tion of a $100 mil­lion, 13-story mosque and cul­tural cen­ter was backed by a Lower Man­hat­tan com­mu­nity board. The site would be two blocks from Ground Zero, above.

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