The clash over plans to build a fifteen-story Islamic Center adjacent to Ground Zero is heating up. For proponents the entire dispute boils down to a single abstraction: religious tolerance. Thus spoke New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: "Everything the United States stands for . . . is tolerance and openness, and I think that's a great message for the world."
Peter Beinart, former editor of The New Republic, attacked the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman for daring to suggest that even if the sponsors of the project have a "right" to build next to Ground Zero, perhaps they should forego its exercise. Would victims of crimes committed by blacks be justified in preventing the building of a black church nearby, or gentiles bilked by Bernie Madoff in opposing a synagogue in their neighborhood? Beinart asked rhetorically.
That effort to reduce the dispute to nothing more than a question of religious tolerance strikes most Americans as emotionally dead, and perhaps detached from reality as well. To understand why, let us compare the efforts of a group of Carmelite nuns to establish a convent at Auschwitz. The nuns sought to appropriate a place hallowed by the blood of millions of Jews for the purposes of a Church, which had remained shamefully passive to the extermination of those Jews. Every Jewish visitor to the site would have been unavoidably confronted with the symbol of another religion – a religion with which, in the Polish context, Jews had a long and bitter history.
Even if the nuns did not seek to offend, even if the placement of the monastery was intended as an act of penance and contrition, of what good was such penance if it only served to deepen the pain of Jews whose loved ones perished at Auschwitz. Pope John Paul II understood that, and eventually ordered the removal of the convent.
Isn't the case of the Islamic Center similar? Over 3,000 people were murdered at Ground Zero in the name of Islam. Why do the Moslem sponsors of the Cordoba Initiative specifically seek to build their Islamic Center so close to Ground Zero? Lower Manhattan is not exactly a major Moslem population center.
Let us say that their intentions are only positive, and that they want to show a tolerant, peaceful face of Islam, in contrast to the murderous one shown by the 9/11 hijackers. How can they make that point if the building of an Islamic Center adjacent to Ground Zero ignores the pain of the victims' families?
Nor can it be plausibly argued that there is nothing about the proposed Islamic Center that should offend those families. For even if the sponsors of the Islamic were all drawn from the contemplative Sufi branch of the faith (one viewed as heretic by many Moslems), the building of the Islamic Center in that place would be viewed by radical Islamists as a posthumous victory for the 9/11 hijackers.
Islam from its birth was a religion of conquest. Wherever Islam conquered, it either razed existing houses of worship and built mosques in their place or converted the existing houses of worship into mosques. Even in tolerant times, no house of worship of another religion could be higher than a mosque. Mosques were built not only for purposes of worship, but as symbols of conquest and Islam's superiority.
Those Muslims around the world who wildly cheered the destruction of the Twin Towers, the most prominent symbol of the financial hub of the "Crusader-Zionist" empire, would view an Islamic Center in close proximity as a sign of conquest, whatever the intentions of the sponsors. Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, says that the building of the mosque "will certainly be seen as a victory for political Islam." And that too would add to the pain of the victims' families.
At the very least, one would have expected Mayor Bloomberg and the community board that gave its approval to the project to have shown some curiosity about its sponsorship and how it is being marketed to potential sponsors. The Cordoba Initiative, headed by Imam Feisal Abdel Rauf, received $100,000 in 2008, hardly the type of money needed for a $100,000,000 project.
Bloomberg says he could not care less who is sponsoring the Islamic center and mosque, or (by implication) why wealthy donors from places not known for their tolerance might wish to sponsor a mosque at Ground Zero. Others, however, might be curious as to whether the money is coming from Saudi Arabia, birthplace of 15 out of the 19 of the 9/11 hijackers. Saudi petrodollars already sponsor mosques all around the world promoting the xenophobic Wahhabi branch of Islam.
NOR IS THE MODERATION of the Project's sponsors a given. What is known about Imam Rauf, the public face of the proposed project, is not entirely reassuring. Rauf presents himself as a promoter of religious tolerance, and even wrote a book entitled What's Right with Islam is Right with America.
But a non-commercial edition of the same book with the less soothing title A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post 9/11 was published abroad with the assistance of the Interfaith and Community Alliance of the Islamic Society (INSA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Both organizations were unindicted co-conspirators in the U.S. government's successful terrorism prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), as a front for raising $36,000,000 for Hamas. HLF once shared offices and a bank account with INSA.
Rauf himself is the son of a prominent figure in the Moslem Brotherhood, the ideological movement that spawned both Al Qaeda and Hamas. According to Andrew McCarthy, the senior prosecutor in the first World Trade bombing case and author of the The Grand Jihad, Rauf has described the Moslem Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Yusuf Qaradawi, a proponent of suicide bombings and holy war against America, "as the most well-known legal authority in the whole Muslim world today." He has also praised the "rejuvenating" spirit of of Muhammad bin Abdul al-Wahhab, the 18th century founder of Wahhibism.