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"Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion?"
      --New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

The commission voted 9-0 in favor of American religious freedom 2010 Aug 3.

FCNL Petition

Below LINKS are
Vern's comment   1st Column  2nd
Mayor Bloomberg's address
KC Muslim son near GroundZero
Greater KC Interfaith Council

LINKS -- info and various views
Links *starred especially worthy

Antidefamation League Statement
New York Times page 1
Cordoba House
Republican Opposition
The Debate
Refudiate Sarah Palin
WashPost Editorial
NYTimes Editorial
ADL's Sugerman to NYTimes
Thomas Friedman: Yes!
Interfaith Youth Core Etc
Rabbi Michael Learner
* Mayor BLOOMBERG's Speech
* Fareed Zakaria to ADL
* ZAKARIA on video
ADL to Fareed Zakaria
A National Issue
Burn a Qur'an Day
* Mary Sanchez (KC STAR)
Imam Bush Favorite
Charles Krauthammer
Charles Krauthammer 2
President Obama
E Thomas McClanahan (KC STAR)
GOP piles on
Politics (NY Times)
Politics (Washington Post)
Ross Douthat
Foxman (ADL)
Carmelite Narrative (WSJ)
Obama Needs to Lead
Mosque Debate History
Grand Old Panderers
Ground Zero Strip Bars, Peep Shows
Jon Stewart
Mosque Needed There
Morning Joe via TP
*BILL TAMMEUS 8-19-2010
KC Muslims fearful
* RevThom: REZA ASLAN Aug 18, 2010
AP-ABC Fact Check
Calling George Bush
Kathleen Parker
New Yorkers' views
Keith Olbermann
Joan Chittister (NCR)
Michael Kinsley
Andrew Sullivan
Greg Sargent
* Most Faith Leaders (Time)
National Security
* KC Muslim native near GZ
Mosque and MLKing
Obama flinched
Pentagon Mosque
From Geo Washington to Gingrich
Ground Zero Wounds deep
thru May 13
Imam: I am a Jew
GOP Jihadists
About Imam Rauf
Karen Hughes
National lunacy
* Greater KC Interfaith Council
Mamilla cemetery
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain
Sen Jeff Merkle
Ron Paul
* Mary Sanchez (2)
Imam's Good-Will Tour Abroad
Blind hysteria
Imam was Bush Partner
World debate
US Mosques since 1731
Slave grave near GZ
Protests=Taliban Recruiting Tool
Individuals or Culture?
Dismaying polls
Christian irony
US history
America: Ugly / Noble
Petraeus Warns
Mosque Opportunity
Explosive Intolerance
Imam Rauf's statement
KC Minister's Sermon (Th Belote)
Moving "mosque" dangerous
Jews divided; Israel an issue
ISNA Interfaith
SP Law Statement
ReligionLink Resources
Prayer Room In WTC before 9/11
Is this America? (Kristof)
Fair's history of the dispute
Michael Berenbaum


Vern's KC Star columns Aug 18  Aug 25


Vern's summary

"The attacks of Sept. 11 were not a religious event. They were mass murder. The American response, as President Obama and President George W. Bush before him have said many times, was not a war against Islam." --NYTimes

I WRITE with reverence  for the American tradition of religious liberty which protects you and me and must also protect the Muslims in our very own community who feel threatened now, especially during this month of Ramadan. Unless we stand together, the precious gift of the First Amendment will be (already is) distorted by short-term political interests. Example. The growing hysteria about Islam will actually endanger our national security. When one church has announced its plans to burn Qur'ans on September 11 and other communities are protesting the building of mosques on otherwise indisputed land, Americans need to think carefully about the questions raised below.

THE NAME. Some say that the name proposed for the mosque/community center, Cordoba House, was a way of celebrating Islamic victory over others, incredibly insinuating a celebration of 9/11, condemned by Muslim leaders around the globe and Muslims before the press here in Kansas City the morning of 9/11. During much of the “Golden Age of Islam” in Adalusia, Christians and Jews were treated with toleration and respect, some elevated to high positions. I prize a photo taken of me with the statue of one of the great residents of Cordoba and one of the great figures of Judaism, “Rambam,”  Moses Maimonides, who was born there and honored today. More recently, Cordoba, named a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1984, has been the site of several interfaith conferences. 

In response to misunderstandings about the name, the organizers have renamed the building simply Park51, the address of the building. From the street other tall buildings obscure any view of Ground Zero.

President George W Bush repeatedly called Islam a "religion of peace" during his presidency.

THE SITE. Would opponents of the mosque also ask for the removal of St Paul’s Chapel (Episcopal) one block away from Ground Zero? Prohibit the rebuilding of the destroyed St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church across the street from the former World Trade Center site? What about the sleaze shops nearer Ground Zero? Why are they permitted but a Muslim house of worship excluded? Should the Muslims be denied because Ground Zero was created by terrorists who hijacked their faith?

From the street other tall buildings obstruct a view of Ground Zero. 

SENSITIVITY. People used to be sensitive about Jews living in Leawood. A covenant prohibited them from living in the city. And people were sensitive about Jews in the Kansas City Country Club. Sensitivity kept Jim Crow in place. Do you want to drink from a fountain used by one of those? Or have lunch sitting next to one of those or work along side one? 

How does one distinguish sensitivity from prejudice? 

The ADL says we must bow to even irrational sensitivity.  Isn't that what the Germans did? Where does that end?

While politicians and others have twisted a project intended to build interfaith understanding into a statement of Islamic triumphalism, the most moderate objection is based on sensitivity to the (non-Muslim) victims.  The argument paralleling Auschwitz to 9/11 with the question of the Carmelite convent is astonishing in its reach. Material about the proposed convent from an outside group implied  the intention to convert. 

Understanding, not conversion, is the intent with Cordoba House. And how far do the Muslims living and working there have to go to please the objectors? Would one more block away from Ground Zero remove the “sensitivity”? Two blocks? Five? A mosque has been in the area for 20 years. Muslims have been worshipping on the disputed site for months. New York Christian and Jewish organizations endorsed the project. Almost 400 Muslims were murdered on 9/11 and one of the project leaders was himself injured in assisting first responders.

The ADL statement, which really initiated this controversy, is especially astonishing because it says “regardless” if the questions, which I regard as smokescreens, about funding and ideology were answered satisfactorily, sensitivity must govern. It seems as if some people are entitled to be sensitive, but dehumanized Muslims are not. “Feelings” is a code for acceptable prejudice. Surely you see where this is leading.

As the Washington Post says the  the Muslims who want to build a community center are no more responsible for, or supportive of, the attacks of Sept. 11 than any other Americans, and asks, "how can their plans be 'insensitive'? The hurt feelings must reflect misunderstanding or prejudice on the part of the objectors, and the right response to misunderstanding and prejudice is education, not appeasement."

While many Americans now complain about "sensitivity," how often to we consider the world's Muslims who perceive a hegemonic designs on Muslim lands" and its  "supporting corrupt and autocratic regimes . . . ."  I presume the writer refers to countries like Saudi Arabia, but his solution, while ideal, is not presently realistic. Nonetheless, the perception is powerful and we show little awareness, much less sensivity to it, and thus endanger our own security.

HOLY GROUND.  The argument that Ground Zero is holy ground so Muslims should be kept out of it begs the question, who gets to control holy ground? Charles Krauthammer? The ADL? AIPAC or the Israeli government? And does holy ground reach two blocks beyond Ground Zero? Why not have a Muslim community center dedicated to interfaith understanding as an answer to terrorists who call themselves Muslim? And why are strip clubs allowed in the area but not this particular place of worship? No group was hurt more by 9/11 than American Muslims. For anyone to claim Muslims should be excluded from the vicinity of holy ground, two blocks away, is thoughtless at best. Intentional or not, it smells of rank and vicious prejudice.

THE IMAM.  Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was so vigorous in condemning the 9/11 terrorism that former President George W Bush repeatedly invited him to the White House for advice. Some of his statements are taken out of context (we’ve seen how easily this can be done) instead evaluating his decades of community building. The Dallas Thanks-Giving Square is a multi-faith center, but the stated intentions of these thoughtful Muslims in opening their center to the community seems similar in the mission to deepen interfaith comity. What a recruiting tool for Bin Laden to be able to say that mosques are treated differently than synagogues and churches in America! But if America is true to itself, the terrorists will see instead a model of the best of Islam fulfilling American ideals. He gave a moving eulogy for Daniel Pearl, the Jewish reporter killed by Muslims by Muslim terrorists in Pakistan.

Imam Rauf, "has spent years trying to offer a liberal interpretation of Islam" and "argues that America is actually what an ideal Islamic society would look like because is it peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic. His vision for Islam, in other words, is Osama Bin Laden's nightmare," says Fareed Zakaria, a widely respected Newsweek editor. 

Bill Tammeus  (8-19-2010) writes, "one of the complaints about Rauf is that, after 9/11, he was quoted as saying that in some way the U.S., while not responsible for the attacks (an outrageous claim made by some American conspiracy theorists who decided -- against all evidence -- that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration), was in some way an accessory to the crime because of some of its policies and actions. It's necessary to be extremely careful about how one thinks and talks about this. The last thing you want to do is blame the victim -- and clearly on 9/11 the United States was the victim. That said, American foreign policy decisions in almost every administration starting with George Washington's have created some enemies or at least people who thought those policies were wrong (including some Americans). My reading of Rauf's comments then is that he was simply acknowledging the reality that some American policies and actions stirred up some anger in the world. If that's what he meant -- and I think it is -- he was right. That in no way justified the terrorists' actions, of course, nor did Rauf claim it did. But given Rauf's long record of thoughtful writing and speaking about public matters, it's a bit unfair to focus on one phrase uttered in the white-hot aftermath of 9/11 -- a phrase that was, in any case, well within the bounds of reasonable debate at the time."

STOKING. Stoking this controversy does not help to bring America of all faiths together, as we were after 9/11. Nor does it  model pluralism or neighborliness, Instead it gives precedent and permission for discrimination against Muslims when folks are making attacks and inventing excuses against Muslims indiscriminately. In this context, lending support to those who question a basic American liberty can be a slope on which we do not want to slip. Muslims, along with soldiers and sailors of every faith, are fighting and dying for freedoms for all Americans. 

Some of us who for years have worked against anti-semitism and other forms of religious bias (I chaired Jackson County’s 9/11 Diversity Task Force for the 5-county area) worry that opposition to the mosque is largely for political advantage. There should be no special consideration or impediment given to any religion institution regarding its buildings in the US so long as zoning and other regular requirements are addressed, which apparently has been done in this situation, indicated by the latest 9-0 affirming vote and the inspiring address of Mayor Bloomberg, below.


   1. Local zoning and other requirements, including community consultation, have approved the project. To make a local issue national and international endangers our security these ways:
   1a. Muslim soldiers and sailors in nation-building roles are now subject to taunts from the very Muslim populations we seek to help. About 3,500 Muslims are in the services protecting our liberty and lives.
   1b. Domestic tranquility is threatened by encouraging other locales to raise religious objections to mosques in their communities and encourages plans such as the Sept 11 Burn a Qur'an Day.
   1c. It damages the image of the United States most with the very groups whose help we need to succeed in building security against terrorism.As Frank Rich put it, "So virulent is the Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right — abetted by the useful idiocy of the Anti-Defamation League, Harry Reid and other cowed Democrats — that it has also rendered Gen. David Petraeus’s last-ditch counterinsurgency strategy for fighting the war inoperative. How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?"

   2. Criticism defames Muslim leaders who have worked for decades for interfaith understanding,  Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf himself has been used by both the Bush and Obama administrators to build understanding abroad and was a frequent guest in the Bush White House. He appears in such popular books as The Faith Club, one of the three writers of which is from the KC metro area. His own book, What's Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, has been widely praised. The criticism conflates Islam with terrorism.
   To ask Muslims to build elsewhere (while allowing Jews, Christians, strip clubs, betting outlets, liquor stores, and such to build there) is to blame all 1.5 billion Muslims for the acts of a few who violated the laws of their own faith. 

   Specious arguments perpetuate ignorance and oppression.
   3a. Giving too much weight to "sensitivity" begs the question of "being sensitive to whom?" This is like saying to Jews (as was said) we have folks who are sensitive about Jews, so they can't buy in Leawood, or be members of the Kansas City Country Club. It is like saying We have white folks who are sensitive to riding the buses with black folks up front, so they have to sit in the back of the bus. No group has suffered more since 9/11 than Muslims. Muslim slaves are buried nearby. The demand that the mosque be moved is a geographic parallel to the "wait" temporal demand made on Martin Luther King, Jr, who said, "I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was 'well timed' in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity."
   3b. The "defiling Holy Ground" argument is weakened by strip clubs, porn shops, bars, gambling outlets, and other sleazy enterprises closer than the 51Park Place. Further, the Pentagon was also hit on 9/11 and the chapel 30 steps from the very place where the airplane nose cone demonished the building is regularly used by Muslims for prayer, with an imam each Friday. No complaints about violating that Holy Ground. 
   3c. The charge of Islamic triumphalism  belies ignorance of the nature of the building, both appearance and context, and the project mangers have already compromised by changing the name from "Cordoba House" (uses as a weapon be people ignorant of its meaning) to "Park51," its address.
   3d. Muslims, like folks of other faiths, work in the area. There are, within the immediate neighborhood, sites for several Christian Churches, several synagogues, a Buddhist Center. The Muslims have been praying on their private property for some time already; they need an expanded facility which would be open to the community, like the Y. 
   3e. Questions about financing for the project, raised as if there are no answers, exemplify McCarthyism and presumptive questions like "When did you stop beating your wife?"


Early Example. On the Aug 5 PBS “McLaughlin Group,” Monica Crowley (who was MC for a fundraiser earlier this year for Friends of the Israeli Defense Force at the Waldorf-Astoria, and on Fox News said that Obama is "willing to throw Israel down the stairs") said that the name, Cordoba, was a way of celebrating Islamic victory over others. She did not mention the Christians who later  conquerored Cordoba and threatened Jews and Muslims in 1492 and after. As the links above show, Sarah Palin, Newt Gengrich and others have demagogued a civic right into political issue.


Mayor Bloomberg Stands Up For Mosque
   Mayor Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and 10 religious leaders of various faiths journeyed to Governors Island this afternoon to show their support for the proposed mosque and community center near the World Trade Center site. With the Statue of Liberty in the background, the mayor gave what sure sounded like one of his most heartfelt speeches ever. He's usually a technocrat, and often comes across that way, but today's speech was a stirring declaration of principle. He even got choked up at one point. Here it is.

   We've come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that more than 250 years later would greet millions of immigrants in this harbor. And we come here to state as strongly as ever, this is the freest city in the world. That's what makes New York special and different and strong.
   Our doors are open to everyone. Everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it's sustained by immigrants -- by people from more than 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here or you came here yesterday, you are a New Yorker.
   We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That's life. And it's part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11, 2001.
   On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn't want us to enjoy the freedoms to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams, and to live our own lives. Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that even here -- in a city that is rooted in Dutch tolerance -- was hard-won over many years.
   In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue, and they were turned down. In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies, and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.
   In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion, and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780s, St. Peter's on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site, and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.
   This morning, the city's Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted to extend -- not to extend -- landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building.
   The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
   Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.
  This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
   Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.
   For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.
   On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, 'What God do you pray to?' (Bloomberg's voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.) 'What    beliefs do you hold?'
  The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.
   Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation, and in fact their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. But doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together, and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any ways consistent with Islam.
   Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.
   Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God's love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.

KC Native Writes 
from Near "Ground Zero" 

By Sameer Ahmed

Despite the widespread hysteria from politicians and the media, there is no mosque being built at Ground Zero.  I should know; I work a few blocks away.   What is being built is called Park51, a Muslim community center located on Park Place, a busy street in lower Manhattan blocks away from (and not in) Ground Zero.  Park51 is modeled after the YMCA, and will have a gym, swimming pool, auditorium, culinary school, and yes, a prayer room.  It will be open to members of all faiths who live, work, and visit lower Manhattan.

The opposition to Park51, including E. Thomas McClanahan’s op-ed “Building a mosque at Ground Zero is distasteful,” is based on the false and hurtful premise that Islam and America’s 7 million Muslims are inextricably linked to the 9/11 terrorist attacks carried out by 19 extremists.  However, this could not be further from the truth.  In fact, Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than members of any other religion.  As an American and a Muslim, Al Qaeda is my enemy as much as or even more than any other person in this country.  There are over 1 billion Muslims around the world.  Why should we be held responsible for the heinous acts committed by a crazy and despicable few? 

As founders of the Crescent Peace Society, my parents have worked for years throughout the Greater Kansas City area to enhance the understanding of Muslim cultures and dispel connections between Islam and violence and other misunderstandings of our faith.  It is people like my parents and me who represent the vast majority of Muslims in the United States, and we strive daily to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors.

Why do I support the construction of Park51? Because it serves a need for thousands of Muslims, like myself, who work and live in lower Manhattan, and do not have a proper place to practice our faith.  Muslims have a long history in lower Manhattan.  Arabic-speaking Christians and Muslims from Ottoman Syria have lived there as early as the 1880s.  Many African Muslim slaves were buried at the African Burial Ground just blocks from Ground Zero.  And on 9/11, hundreds of Muslims working in the area died in the attacks, and hundreds of more Muslims, including members of the NYPD and Fire Department, volunteered to help the injured and the needy. 

Before Park51, two small mosques have served Muslims in lower Manhattan without controversy for decades.  I have attended both, and during Friday prayers and Muslim holidays like Ramadan, these mosques are packed, very cramped, and routinely turn away congregants.  Park51 will offer us an adequate, peaceful place to offer our prayers and contemplate our relationship with God.  As a community center, Park51 will also serve a huge need for people of all faiths who live and work in the area, with its variety of services and activities (all of Manhattan’s YMCAs and Jewish Community Centers are located further north).  That is why the local Community Board’s Financial District Committee voted unanimously to support the project.

E. Thomas McClanahan says that Muslims should “accept an alternative site” to build the community center.  But I ask him, how many blocks does he want me to travel so I can practice my religion? 

Sameer Ahmed, a Kansas City native, is currently a civil rights attorney working in lower Manhattan.


August 23, 2010
Shannon Clark, Executive Director
Greater Kansas City 
Interfaith Council


KANSAS CITY, MO – The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council's (GKCIC) vision is to build"the most welcoming community for all people.” One specific goal of the GKCIC is to "work with  educational, spiritual, and religious leaders and the media in promoting accurate and fair portrayal of the faiths within our community."

Our community is threatened when any faith is misrepresented. The hysteria involved in the controversy over a new Islamic community center, which includes a mosque, in a commercial zone near Ground Zero in New York City requires us to reaffirm the American tradition of religious liberty.

As our Muslim neighbors celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, we recall with appreciation their daily contributions to medicine, business, education, public service, and other dimensions of our community life. They need to know that we claim them as fellow Americans and cherish their part in the religious liberty that makes our community and our nation strong.

The terrorists did not commit a religious act on 9/11; it was murder. Overwhelmingly Muslims locally and worldwide immediately spoke out against the defilement of their faith on that day.

Our citizens still feel the pain of 9/11. Even as we grieve with the victims' families, we continue to support the principles of freedom and religious liberty upon which our nation is built. The GKCIC honors and embraces our community's religious differences and strives to ensure that all faiths are welcome to build and grow their places of worship.

The GKCIC, founded in 1989, brings together fifteen vital faith communities of the Kansas City area. The council meets on a monthly basis to work toward its mission of growing a sustainable pervasive culture of knowledge, respect, appreciation, and trust amongst all people. Membersof the following faith groups serve on the council: American Indian, Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Christian Orthodox, Christian Protestant, Christian Roman Catholic, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Sikhism, Sufism, Unitarian Universalism, Vedanta, and Zoroastrianism. The members of the GKCIC believe that by raising awareness of our differences and similarities, by building relationships, and through education, the community can learn to respect and value its neighbors of many faiths. The GKCIC offers education about the fifteen faith groups through the GKCIC “Speakers Bureau.” Please contact the GKCIC at or 913-548-2973 for information on how to arrange for a speaker at your place of work, your school, or your place of worship and to learn about our other interfaith programs.

America The Ugly, 
America the Noble
© by
Anton K. Jacobs
scheduled for publication 2010 Sept 9
in The Record, serving the
Argentine, Armourdale, and Turner 
areas of KCK

The Scottish philosopher, David Hume, in a book in 1758, argued that no matter how much we promote rational thought, the reality is that most people prefer the easy and the superficial over the accurate and the abstract. Even the philosophers themselves, he pointed out, live in ways that have little to do with their highfalutin philosophies.

 The reason people prefer the easy and superficial, said Hume, is that we are motivated, not by rational thought, but by “the feelings of our heart, the agitation of our passions, the vehemence of our affections.” Hume’s argument comes to mind as I think about the furor over the Islamic community center proposed and approved for construction near Ground Zero.

 I don’t know who started this brawl. But if it hadn’t gone public, the center would have been built, and few people would have thought about it. In fact, most people would not have noticed it even when visiting Ground Zero. In the downtowns of large cities, there is often something noteworthy a block or a few blocks away, and you never know it. Among the towers of the metropolis, you can’t see very far, no matter what.
 But the issue, as we say in this age of the internet, went viral. Enormous amounts of air time and ink have been given to a debate about something that should have been ignored.

 There is of course much truth to Mr. David Hume’s argument, but I wish we weren’t providing so much evidence for it.

 There is an ugly America and a noble America. The ugly America enslaved Africans, broke treaties with Native Americans, invented Jim Crow, lynched African-Americans, interned Japanese-Americans during World War II, bombed civilians in that same war, spawned McCarthyism, and has invaded countries for misguided reasons.

 The noble America ended slavery, separated church and state, established universal suffrage, helped the world overcome Nazism and communist totalitarianism, sponsored the Marshall Plan, expanded civil rights, and has promoted international efforts toward peace and understanding through institutions such as the United Nations.

 The ugly America is evident again in the opposition to the Muslim community center, as well as the vandalism against mosques in Tennessee and California and the scheduled burning of the Holy Qur’an in Florida.

 Most Americans who are not Muslim know extremely little about Islam. (Actually most Americans don’t know a lot about their own faiths either, whatever they are.) Americans know little to nothing about Islam’s divisions, its history, its practices, or its ongoing internal debates over every conceivable issue.
 Ignorant of Islam and still enraged over 9/11, many Americans are displaying a prejudice toward Islam similar to that exhibited in earlier periods toward “redskins,” “commies,” and “Negroes.”

 The combination of ignorance and prejudice leaves Americans vulnerable to politicians and TV and radio pundits who would exploit our emotions for votes and popularity. High-profile Republican leaders vying for support, some scared Democrats, and the right-wing media, dominated by FOX, are stirring the pot of ignorance and prejudice with innuendo, misinformation, distortion, and plain old demagoguery.

 There was a major reaction against the community center when people thought the center was actually at Ground Zero. It’s two blocks away. That doesn’t sound like much, but two blocks mean a lot more in an urban downtown than in a suburb or small rural town. And sensible people have asked, “How close is too close? Three blocks? A mile? Ten miles?”

 As a child, I learned from noble America that prejudice is an unjustified negative attitude toward whole categories of people. In recent decades, atrocious acts of terrorism have been committed by Islamic extremists. So what?

 Just a little rational thought would remind us that our men and women in uniform are fighting alongside Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. It does not help our troops if we project an attitude of hatred and intolerance toward Islam as such.

 There is the pseudo-patriotic rage that simply wants to prevent the building of the center by any means, and then there is the pseudo-reasonable request that we be sensitive to the offended feelings of people who object to this construction. In either case, it would be a deviation from America’s historic role of religious liberty, thus neither patriotic nor reasonable.

 We have uniquely and nobly guaranteed religious liberty since the founding of this country. In that spirit, we couldn’t even imagine blocking the building, say, of a Catholic church in a town overwhelmingly Protestant or a Synagogue in a town overwhelmingly Christian on the grounds that it would offend people.
 Here’s hoping we come to our noble senses.

[Anton is a retired clergyman, a lecturer in philosophy, sociology, and religion, and the author of Religion and the Critical Mind. He can be contacted at]

Published October 13, 2010, issue of October 22, 2010

Shedding Light on the Legacy of Ground Zero
By Michael Berenbaum

I am not presently a New Yorker — though as one who was raised in New York it pains me to say so — but I am a student of history, so I must address two issues that have come up in the debate over the proposed Park51 Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.

One, a cultural center with a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero will have little to no impact on visitors to Ground Zero.

Two, the idea that a precedent for moving the center was set by contemporary Auschwitz — “a Catholic convent was going to be built nearby, and it was moved in consideration of Jewish feelings” — is contorted at best.

On the first point, let me explain. An elaborate memorial museum is currently under construction at Ground Zero that will shape visitors’ experience at the site. Filled with enormously powerful artifacts from Ground Zero, its planning team is highly competent (I worked with many of them in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and exhibitions elsewhere) and its design will be visually moving and emotionally compelling. It
will tell what happened, what was lost, who was lost, who perpetrated the deed and why, who came to the rescue of the victims and the price that they paid for that rescue.

It will have to deal with the paradox of the site: the presence of absence and the absence of presence.

It will have to deal with the anomaly of the site where new buildings will arise from the ashes, new workers will enter the buildings and an extensive office and retail complex will take form on the site of the twin towers.

The museum will only be able to pose, but it will not be able to answer, the most important question: What is the legacy of 9/11? The reason is simple. Nine years later, we still do not know. There are two ongoing wars whose outcome is uncertain, and a larger war against Islamic extremism and Islamic extremists whose outcome is also unknown.

The meaning of an event of this magnitude is not found in the event itself, but in its aftermath, in what is done with the memory of the event.

Most who enter the rebuilt Ground Zero will be coming on business, entering its buildings day by day. All too soon, they will pay little attention to what was there before and much more attention to the tasks of the day. Only the visitors coming to the memorial and the museum will be paying specific attention to the events of September 11, 2001, and their attention will be shaped by the memorial and museum and not at all by what is happening two blocks away.

On the second point, a number of people, including my respected friend Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, have offered an analogy to Auschwitz in opposing the mosque. This analogy is inappropriate.

A Carmelite convent stands near Auschwitz. It was in fact moved back from its close proximity to the camp after Jews objected. But it was not the simple proximity Jews minded, but the likely amplification of already existing errors of history perpetuated at today’s Auschwitz. My friend Foxman omitted from his analysis the fact that for 45 years, the history of Auschwitz was misrepresented by the creators of the memorial museum. Under Communism, the identity of the Jewish victims was obfuscated. A false history was created. They taught that four million people were murdered there — two million Jews and two million Poles. The actual figure is between 1.1 million and 1.3 million people, 90% of them Jews. National exhibitions were created for France and Belgium, Holland and other countries under German occupation as if the nationals of these countries were murdered because of their nationality, not because they were Jews. Even the recently constructed exhibition on the Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) at Auschwitz I is misleading, because the so-called Gypsy Camp was actually at Birkenau.

There were — and are — strong forces within Poland and within the Catholic Church who wanted to use Auschwitz to spur Polish national memory and to obliterate the memory of the Jews. That is the context in which opposition to the convent at Auschwitz was voiced — and the building was duly placed at a remove.

Meanwhile, the German-sponsored International Youth Meeting Center stands near the Auschwitz concentration camp at roughly the same distance that the Islamic center would be from Ground Zero. It has been in place for decades without a murmur from the Jewish community. In fact, Jewish groups use the center, sleep there, study there, convene there and eat there. Kosher food is served on request.

Near Auschwitz, there is also a Centre for Dialogue and Prayer, built under the leadership of the late Pope John Paul II, situated roughly the same distance from the camp that the Islamic center would be from Ground Zero. Jewish groups sleep there, study there, meet there and eat there. Kosher food is also served there on request.

There is no analogy to Ground Zero, where a brilliant memorial and a moving museum will rise and will in turn shape the experience of those who visit the site. There is no danger that an Islamic Cultural Center can overwhelm the power of the sacred site. I suspect that without this invented controversy it would have hardly been noticed.

Still, there is every danger that the opposition to the Islamic Cultural Center will distort and vulgarize the legacy of 9/11 that is still being shaped.



Muslim condemnations of 9/11

Canadian Imam Council

WorldWide condemnations

Kansas City condemnations

CRES Archive: Religon and Terrorism

under construction

The USA says we favor democracy, but in 1953 we (with British urging) overthrew the democratically elected civilian Iranian government of Iran led by Mossadegh in order to protect Western oil interests. 

Osama bin Laden attacked the US interests on several occasions, most horribly on 9/11 2001, with the express complaint that the US bases in Saudi Arabia violated the sanctity of the Prophet's land -- evidence of US continuing support of that nation's corrupt regal dictatorship. Mohamed Atta, who led the 9/11 attack, was Egyptian. Most of the others from Saudi Arabia, the autocratic, corrupt kingdom whose leaders President Bush kissed and the nation whose oil supply has us over a barrel because we refuse serious ecological measures.

The costly effort (lives, dollars) to change the Iraqi regime, one of the most secular and advanced in the region, with rights for women, while removing a dictator we had armed against Iran, has made its citizens cry against the US presence as an occupation and the new government, friendly to Iran, insists we leave, though how much access US interests will have to the oil is undetermined. And the war bred terrorist recruits around the world. "In many ways, you can argue that the Iraq war set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East. It’s more legitimate in Arab eyes when it happens from within than when it’s externally driven,” says Richard Haass, now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who was in George W Bush's State Department during the first term.

The high ground of pushing for democratic elections in the Occupied Territories became our shame when we disavowed and condemned those who won the very elections we sought.

One reason we have supported the autocratic and wicked government of Egypt is because Israel, which nation receives more US aid than any other, has supported Egypt which made peace with Israel. But democratic governments can also be wicked, as the continued expansion of Israeli settlements into Occupied Territories in violation of US policy and international law demonstrates.

January 30, 2011
The Devil We Know
As the world ponders the fate of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak, Americans should ponder this: It’s quite possible that if Mubarak had not ruled Egypt as a dictator for the last 30 years, the World Trade Center would still be standing.

This is true even though Mubarak’s regime has been a steadfast U.S. ally, a partner in our counterterrorism efforts and a foe of Islamic radicalism. Or, more aptly, it’s true because his regime has been all of these things.

In “The Looming Tower,” his history of Al Qaeda, Lawrence Wright raises the possibility that “America’s tragedy on September 11 was born in the prisons of Egypt.” By visiting imprisonment, torture and exile upon Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak foreclosed any possibility of an Islamic revolution in his own country. But he also helped radicalize and internationalize his country’s Islamists, pushing men like Ayman Al-Zawahiri — Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, and arguably the real brains behind Al Qaeda — out of Egyptian politics and into the global jihad.

At the same time, Mubarak’s relationship with Washington has offered constant vindication for the jihadi worldview. Under his rule, Egypt received more American dollars than any country besides Israel. For many young Egyptians, restless amid political and economic stagnation, it’s been a short leap from hating their dictator to hating his patrons in the United States. One of the men who made this leap was an architecture student named Mohamed Atta, who was at the cockpit when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center.

These sound like good reasons to welcome Mubarak’s potential overthrow, and the end to America’s decades-long entanglement with his drab, repressive regime. Unfortunately, Middle Eastern politics is never quite that easy. The United States supported Mubarak for so long because of two interrelated fears: the fear of another Khomeini and the fear of another Nasser. Both anxieties remain entirely legitimate today.

The first fear everyone understands, because we’re still living with the religious tyranny that Ayatollah Khomeini established in Iran in 1979, in the wake of a spontaneous revolution not unlike the one currently sweeping Cairo and Alexandria.

The second fear is less immediately resonant, because Gamal Abdel Nasser is now 40 years in the grave. But the last time a popular revolution in the land of the pharaohs overthrew a corrupt regime, the year was 1952, Nasser was the beneficiary — and Washington lived to rue the day he came to power.

Nasser was not an Islamist: he was a secular pan-Arabist socialist, which in the 1950s seemed to put him on history’s cutting edge. But under his influence, Egypt became an aggressively destabilizing force in Middle Eastern politics. His dream of a unified Arab world helped inspire convulsions and coups from Lebanon to Iraq. He fought two wars with Israel, and intervened disastrously in Yemen. His army was accused of using poison gas in that conflict, a grim foreshadowing of Saddam Hussein’s domestic tactics. And his pursuit of ballistic missiles was a kind of dress rehearsal for today’s Iranian nuclear brinkmanship — complete with a covert Israeli campaign to undermine his weapons programs.

The memory of Nasser is a reminder that even if post-Mubarak Egypt doesn’t descend into religious dictatorship, it’s still likely to lurch in a more anti-American direction. The long-term consequences of a more populist and nationalistic Egypt might be better for the United States than the stasis of the Mubarak era, and the terrorism that it helped inspire. But then again they might be worse. There are devils behind every door.

Americans don’t like to admit this. We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don’t meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.

But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.

Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.

The only comfort, as we watch Egyptians struggle for their country’s future, is that some choices aren’t America’s to make.