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ADL's Ground Zero Mosque Opposition Prompts Pushback


First Posted: 08/03/10 01:37 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 06:15 PM ET

Last week, the entire brain-enabled world was dumbfounded when the Anti-Defamation League, breaking with its stated traditions of being against defamation, came out against the Cordoba Center, also known as the so-called "Ground Zero mosque." In a statement, the ADL made its position clear: "freedom of religion" is "a cornerstone of the American democracy," that definitely included the rights of Muslims "to build community centers and houses of worship," that "appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion" -- including those of Cordoba House opponents -- were to be "condemn[ed]" and "categorically reject[ed]," but just this once, the ADL is willing to avert its gaze and allow the policies favored by a tiny rump of bigots to be instituted.

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain - unnecessarily - and that is not right.

At this point, it should have been sufficient to simply recite back the famous statement from Pastor Martin Niemöller, in the hope of getting some proper perspective on the matter, but I guess it doesn't fit on a bumper sticker.

Over the weekend, Abe Foxman attempted to clarify the ADL's position. The end result was basically an admonishment -- everyone who criticized the ADL's position was wrong and couldn't read and had just mischaracterized its position. Foxman then pressed ahead and restated the previous position, under the assumption that a second recitation of something shameful would somehow imbue it with legitimacy.

The reaction was immediate, and in most cases we were maligned, and our position was mischaracterized and deeply misunderstood. The main charge was that an anti-bigotry organization had joined with the bigots. That false accusation was extremely painful and served to diminish and obscure the fact that our position on the Islamic center was carefully considered, clearly stated and consistent with our values and mission.

I suppose that, rather than suggest that the ADL had joined with the bigots, we should just say that the fact that its unprecedented decision to not support religious freedom or categorically reject appeals to bigotry is an entirely independent idea of the ADL's, that just happens to completely line up with the bigoted take on this Islamic community center as a matter of pure and unintended coincidence.

Foxman goes on to say, "There are legitimate differences of opinion regarding the building of an Islamic cultural center at Ground Zero." That may be true but, darling that ship has sailed. There is already a place of worship for Muslims at Ground Zero. The Masjid Manhattan is located on Warren Street, between Church and Broadway. It's been there for years. So it's possible that there are "differences of opinion" on whether an Islamic cultural center should be built at Ground Zero, but they are not legitimate ones.

At any rate, by Foxman's own admission, there's no practical reason to oppose the building of the Cordoba House His opposition is purely based on "sensitivity."

To us, after much discussion and debate it became clear that the overriding concern should be the sensitivities of the families of the victims that dictated finding another location for this massive, $100 million project.


At its essence, our position is about sensitivity. Everyone -- victims, opponents and proponents alike -- must pay attention to the sensitivities involved without giving in to appeals to, or accusations of, bigotry. Ultimately, this was not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center would unnecessarily cause some victims more pain. And that wasn't right.

I suppose that there's no reason to be concerned over the "sensitivities" of many New Yorkers who the ADL feels aren't worthy enough as Americans to pray two blocks from the World Trade Center!

And I really cannot believe that Foxman committed himself to these sentences:

Indeed, ADL supports the building of mosques, like churches and synagogues, just about anywhere in the country. That is a religious freedom perspective.

I'm sorry, but no: "just about anywhere in the country" is not a "religious freedom perspective." It is mealy-mouthed spittle. Imagine the ADL's response to this statement: "I support the building of synagogues in most parts of the country, except where it may not fit in well with the prevailing sensitivities." There are still parts of this nation where being Jewish is seen as "alien" or "different," and I've known Jews who've grown up feeling the sting of bigotry. Should they have all just moved to some other part of the country, where the sensitivities of bigots would not have been so inflamed?

I could go on, but at this point, I think I'll turn this over to Eat The Press founder Rachel Sklar, who responds to Foxman over at Jewcy:

Last week the New York Times reported on the Anti-Defamation League's decision to oppose the building of the Islamic Community Center, the Cordoba House, near Ground Zero. You were quoted comparing the anguish of the 9/11 victims' families to that of Holocaust survivors and their relatives. "Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted," you said.


We can relate to these "irrational" feelings. We are a diverse group of Jews, many of us from New York. Many of our families lost members to the Holocaust. Some of us are lucky enough to still be able to spend time with parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts who made it through the Nazi death camps. We remember how uneasy many Jews felt about the Christian crosses placed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a situation with many parallels to that of the Cordoba House.

And yet we believe that your position on the Cordoba House is wrong and that it goes against the ADL's description of itself as an organization that fights "all forms of bigotry."

Cordoba House is not a mosque, it is an Islamic Community Center,similar to a Jewish Community Center, with a board comprised of members of different faiths. The center is not "at" Ground Zero, as certain politicians looking to exploit this divisive situation have stated. It is well-documented that the Cordoba initiative and its head, Imam Faisal Abdul Raouf, have done much to promote tolerance and interfaith relations. This, we feel, is something to celebrate. Seeking transparency from it is fine and right, but saying, as the ADL does, that "questions have been raised" about its sources of funding or its ideology is a form of scaremongering that obscures the issue. We should welcome a Muslim leader who has worked hard to overcome hatred.

There are other reasons not to oppose the project. We agree with you that some victims of 9/11 are entitled to "irrational" feelings as a result of their loss. But being less tolerant will not help us heal, and it is not wise for America to alienate millions of its own citizens,let alone the hundreds of millions of Muslims in countries that Americans visit around the world. Remember, there were Muslim victims on9/11, too, Muslims that worked in the World Trade Center, or were part of the rescue crews that bravely entered the buildings that day.

[You can read Rachel's entire letter, and see the signatories, by clicking here.]

Meanwhile, the news today is that the Landmarks Preservation Committee has cleared the way for the Cordoba Center to be built. I think Spencer Ackerman puts the appropriate capper on this issue:

So look: unless someone's prepared to make an argument that a straight line runs between Cordoba House and Usama bin Laden, no objection to Cordoba House's location makes any sense. That's the only sense in which the Cordoba House could actually offend the reasonable sensibilities of those victimized by 9/11. No one can make that argument without sounding like bin Laden himself. Everything else about this debate is just ugly noise. Those who sincerely believe that Cordoba House is offensive need to tell a Muslim serving in the U.S. military precisely how far from Ground Zero he may acceptably practice his religion.

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