"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Friday, September 3, 2010

Re: NYC and the "mosque" controversy

Shame on America, Jews & the ADL

by Rabbi Bruce Warshal

To begin, the mosque controversy does not involve a mosque. It is planned as
a 13-story community center encompassing a swimming pool, 500-seat performing
arts center, gym, culinary school, restaurant and, yes, a prayer space for
Muslims, which already exists in the current building. A formal mosque would
forbid eating or the playing of music on the premises. I guess that we are
now at the point in America where Jews can have our JCC’s and Christians their
YMCA’s, but Muslims are not wanted.

There is also the controversy over the proposed name, Cordoba House. The
hate-mongers have described this as a reference to Muslim designs to attack
western culture, hearkening back to the Muslim-Christian wars of domination in
medieval Spain. The name was chosen for precisely the opposite reason. In
the tenth century Cordoba was the center of the most liberal and sophisticated
Caliphate in the Islamic world. All religions were not merely tolerated but

The caliph, Abd al-Rahman III, had a Jew as his foreign minister and a Greek
bishop in his diplomatic corps. He also had a library of 400,000 volumes at a
time when the largest library in Christian Europe numbered merely 400
manuscripts. There were also 70 other smaller libraries in Cordoba. The very
reference to Cordoba reflects the sophistication and liberality of the Muslims
behind this project. They have changed the name of the center to the address
of the building, Park 51, to deflect criticism. This was unfortunate, since
nothing will quiet a hate-monger.

Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam behind the proposed community center, has been
attacked as an Islamic terrorist, even though he is a practitioner of Sufi
Islam, which reaches out to all other religions as manifestations of the
Divine. My God, the conservative Bush administration utilized Rauf as part of
an outreach to the Muslim world. You can bet your life that he was thoroughly
vetted by our government. He is currently being used by the Clinton State
Department as well in the same capacity. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek and CNN
succinctly put it, “His vision of Islam is bin Laden’s nightmare.”

And what is Rauf’s sin? He will build a Muslim community center two blocks
away from Ground Zero, variously described as a “hallowed battlefield,” “holy
ground,” and a “war memorial.” Even President Obama in his defense of
religious freedom commented that, “Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.” I
beg to differ.

If Ground Zero is holy ground, then the railroad station in Madrid, the
Underground in London, the federal building in Oklahoma City, the Pentagon
(where there is presently a prayer space for Muslims – yes, patriotic,
religious Muslim Americans work at the Pentagon) and every other physical
location that has been the object of terrorism is holy ground. If Ground Zero
is holy space why plan for it to be developed with office buildings (in which
the object will be to amass money – obviously a holy pursuit), a shopping
center (in which consumer goods will be peddled to continue to gorge the
American appetite for material possessions), and with a theater for modern
dance (a project to which I personally look forward as a devotee of the Joyce,
the modern dance Mecca of New York)? I’m sorry, but someone has to tell
America that this designation of holy space is merely part of a mass hysteria
that really scares me.

The question which must be asked is why this hysteria? The impetus comes from
a triumvirate of right-wing Christians, Jews and politicians. Fundamentalist
Christians are still fighting the crusades, still vying to convert the world
to their truths. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, to the
distress of these Christian proselytizers. What better way to win this battle
than to brand all Muslims as terrorists?

Right-wing Jews think that they are doing Israel a favor by painting Islam as
a terrorist religion thereby proving that Israel need not negotiate with the
Palestinians. The idea is to project the concept that we are civilized and
they are not. This theme is picked up in the right-wing press of Israel.
Commenting on the New York proposed “mosque,” a columnist in the Jerusalem
Post declares that “Islamism is a modern political tendency which arose in a
spirit of fraternal harmony with the fascists of Europe in the 1930’s and
‘40’s.” Ground Zero isn’t Israel’s “holy ground.” Why would he be involved
with this discussion? Simply because right-wing Jews in Israel as well as the
United States believe that demonizing the religion of 1.3 billion people is
good for Israel. God help us.

Right-wing politicians join the fray. On Fox News Newt Gingrich compares a
mosque at Ground Zero to Nazis protesting at the United States Holocaust
Memorial. The Democrats are cowed by the American outpouring of hate and
even Harry Reid voices disapproval of the Park 51 site. It’s a perfect storm
of hate.

Periodically we go through this in America. The anti-Catholic No-Nothing
party ran ex-President Millard Fillmore in the presidential election of 1856
and garnered 27 percent of the votes. We deported over 10,000 people during
the First World War because they opposed our entry into that war and we
incarcerated loyal Japanese Americans during the Second World War. Now during
this “war on terror” I shudder to think where we are headed.

The tool used in this hate campaign is the concept of collective guilt. Based
on that, all Jews are traitors since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg sold out this
country. All Christians are terrorists since Timothy McVeigh attacked the
federal building in Oklahoma City. Neither are all Muslims traitors nor
terrorists. Islam is not monolithic. Its forms are as varied as Judaism or
Christianity. I do not practice Judaism the same as a Satmar Hasidic Jew. A
Catholic does not practice Christianity the same as a Jehovah Witness. Imam
Rauf does not share the same Islamic beliefs as bin Laden.

Of all people Jews should beware of collective guilt since we have suffered
from it for millennia. Yet the organization that started this hysteria is
headed by a right-wing Jewish supporter of Israel by the name of Pam Geller.
She is quoted in the mainstream media (including the Jewish Journal) as if she
is a legitimate political voice. Yet on her blog, Atlas Shrugs, she has
declared that “Obama is the illegitimate son of Malcom X.” She has written
that we have “an American-hater for president.” She has proposed that devout
Muslims should be prohibited from military service. She asks, “Would Patton
have recruited Nazis into his army?” To all of the rabbis quoted in the
Jewish Journal urging that the “mosque” be moved, know who is pulling your

Finally, to the role of the Anti-Defamation League and its director, Abe
Foxman. The world was literally “shocked,” that’s the word used by the
Associated Press, by ADL’s call for the mosque to be moved. Fareed Zakaria
called it a “bizarre decision.” Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said,
“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational.”
Referring to loved ones of the September 11 victims, he continued: “Their
anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational
or bigoted.”

How dare Foxman use the Holocaust to justify prejudice. He does blasphemy to
the memory of Jews and other oppressed minorities whose lives were sacrificed
on the altar of bigotry. Zakaria responds: “Does Foxman believe that bigotry
is OK if people think they’re victims? Does the anguish of Palestinians,
then, entitle them to be anti-Semitic?”

Five years ago the ADL honored Zakaria with the Hubert H. Humphrey First
Amendment Freedoms Prize. Incensed over ADL’s succumbing to bigotry, he has
returned the award with the $10,000 honorarium that came with it.

The last word was recently written by Daniel Luban, a doctoral student at the
University of Chicago, in Tablet Magazine: “While activists like Pam Geller
have led the anti-mosque campaign and the broader demonization of Muslims that
has accompanied it, leaders like Abe Foxman have acquiesced in it. In doing
so they risk providing an ugly and ironic illustration of the extent of Jewish
assimilation in 21st-century America. We know that Jews can grow up to be
senators and Supreme Court justices. Let’s not also discover that they can
grow up to incite a pogrom.”

Rabbi Bruce Warshal:

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