You are not terrorists. Your religion is not evil. Your project is not a monument to murder. But since some believe otherwise, I propose a compromise:
That is the message adopted by some liberals and their allies in the wake of smoldering conservative rage over the Cordoba proposal.
Nevada Senator Harry Reid, New York Governor David Patterson, former DNC chair Howard Dean, and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan all echo the same theme: Muslims have the right to build a Muslim facility two blocks from Ground Zero—but they would be wrong to do so.
If the argument sounds familiar, that’s because it is. “No one is disputing that America stands for—and should stand for—religious tolerance,” Sarah Palin averred before assailing the proposal through her Facebook megaphone a month ago.
Of course, the official conservative position—“we are tolerant, just not here”—was always a transparent lie.
Almost 50 years ago, Frantz Fanon raced against death to finish his famous indictment of colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth. In that book, he wrote:
“Western bourgeois racial prejudice as regards the nigger and the Arab is a racism of contempt; it is a racism which minimizes what it hates.”
But there was a twist.
The ideology of Western prejudice, Fanon observed, “manages to appear logical in its own eyes by inviting the sub-men to become human, and to take as their prototype Western humanity…”
Today this ideology is once again attracting robust defenders, as conservatives and some liberals arrogate the right to judge which Muslims are worthy of their good graces.
Christopher Hitchens, for one, has recently declaimed that Imam Feisal Rauf of the embattled Cordoba House fails to make the grade. Hitchens mutters that as far as Muslims go, Rauf is “no great bargain.” The more Hitchens learns about him, the more “alarmed” he becomes.
Let me begin by stating what this article will not be doing: it will not be addressing the racist – but also vapid and unimaginative – bigotry coming from far right circles in the ‘mosque’ debate. Rather than attempting to deconstruct that ultimately banal rhetoric, I will focus on an issue that remains largely unaddressed: the troublesome terms and conditions upon which “Park51” has emerged a ‘defensible’ endeavor within — not conservative — but ‘liberal’ discourse.
In the past weeks, we have seen how liberal defenders have responded to the ‘fear and trembling’ that the mere idea of a mosque induces, through a series of disavowals. Instead of challenging the racist assumptions that buttress such rhetoric, many liberals have decided to offer ‘clarifications’. Time and again, the public is being reminded of the fact that Park51 is not a mosque but an Islamic community center that promotes ‘inter-faith’ dialogue.
Daisy Khan and Imam Rauf, the leading figures behind the Park51 initiative, have not only repeated this mantra, but have in fact produced it. When liberal defenders have wittingly or unwittingly referred to Park51 as a mosque, the response from folks at the Cordoba Initiative has been gratitude in the form of this corrective: thank you for your support, but Park51 is not a mosque.
American leaders are always trying to assess Osama bin Laden’s level of influence over Muslims.
They should look at his influence over their own countrymen.
The aversion to a proposed Muslim center near Ground Zero shows that it is Americans, not Muslims, whose thinking the terrorist leader has most successfully recast to his advantage.
The detractors strengthen and draw strength from bin Laden; their hot prejudice bolsters his assertion that America despises Islam and betrays an acceptance of his claim that he embodies the faith.
At first, the proposal to build the 12-story facility two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center aroused scant disapproval. It was even welcomed as an opportunity to reaffirm America as a land of tolerance and reclaim Islam as a religion of moderation.
The group behind the project, Cordoba House, pitched the facility (which would include restaurants, bookstores, art exhibits, a pool, an auditorium, and a prayer space) as a means of bridging divides between faiths. Its board of directors draws from various faiths, and its mission statement promotes intercivilizational understanding.