I'm appalled by opposition to plans by American Muslims to build a community center in Lower Manhattan modeled after Jewish Community Centers (JCC's) and Y's all over the country.
Tapping into fear, prejudice, and partisanship, opponents of the project are trampling core values on which our country was founded and on which I was raised. On what possible basis do Muslim Americans have less of a right than Americans of another background to develop this communal center?
The rhetoric being tossed around is not only offensive and wrong, it's a propaganda gift to Islamic extremists globally who hope to whip up anger over the treatment of Muslims and threaten both Israel and the United States with violence.
On Tuesday morning, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission votes on whether or not to allow the project to proceed. I plan to attend in person to present a petition of support for the Center. You can sign the petition here.
I am proud as an American and as a Jew that our heritage is grounded in a strong belief in equality, justice, and religious freedom.
And as a New Yorker, this controversy has hit very close to home.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right when he said, "What is great about America, and particularly New York, is we welcome everybody, and if we are so afraid of something like this, what does that say about us? Democracy is stronger than this. And for us to just say no is just, I think - not appropriate is a nice way to phrase it."
I was taught that if freedom can be denied to a single person because of who they are, it can happen to anyone of us.
This is a moment of truth for the American Jewish community and our friends. Will we line up on the side of freedom of religion and respect for all - or give in to the fear and prejudice that have led to the denial of our own rights in the past?
It is time for those of us who share these beliefs to stand up as another religious minority looks to exercise its legal rights in the United States.
Here's what Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg had to say about the group planning this center:
I know the people who run the initiative; they are, for lack of a better term, "peace-seeking Muslims." I spoke at a program co-sponsored by Cordoba last year, and I came to understand that the organization is interested mainly in battling extremism within Islam, and in building bridges to non-Muslim faiths. It seems to me that its mission makes Cordoba an appropriate fit for Ground Zero. One of the ways to prevent future Ground Zeroes is to encourage moderation within Islam, and to treat Muslim moderates differently than we treat Muslim extremists. The campaign against this mosque treats all Muslims as perpetrators. This is a terrible mistake, for moral and strategic reasons.
Of course, we oppose violent extremism and terrorism in all its forms and we believe that the victims of 9/11 and their families of all religions deserve our deepest respect and sympathy.
But let's remember: In the battle against violent extremism, core democratic values like respect for minorities and freedom of religion can be potent weapons in ensuring security and advancing tolerance and understanding.
Or they can be tossed aside at the call of demagogues and fear-mongers.
Let's stand together for the best of America and remember what really makes us strong and will win the day. Our values.
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