As the wife of a 9/11 survivor, I found Monday's speech by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf at the Council on Foreign Relations to be deeply disturbing. Not because he proposes to build an Islamic Center or mosque near the Ground Zero site of the attacks in New York City. As a constitutional scholar, I'm a fervent advocate of the First Amendment's protections of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. But, in the imam's own words, his choice of location for the Cordoba Institute was opportunistic. And in that way, he profoundly disrespects the memory of the thousands who died in lower Manhattan. You don't put a billboard on a graveyard, regardless of the message.
Here's how the imam described his purpose in selecting a site near Ground Zero:
The important part of what I'm trying to do and my work, is that I need a space, I want a space, where the voice of the moderates can be amplified. It's not good enough to teach where no students will hear you. We need to create a platform where the voice of moderate Muslims will be amplified. . . .
In a paradoxical sense, or maybe in a poignant sense, this is an opportunity that we must capitalize on so that those who teach moderation will have a megahorn [sic] to preach and teach the voices of moderation.
But no one, moderate or otherwise, should be promoting a location near Ground Zero as a platform for anything--that's the same objectification of the victims that their murderers made. Instead of discrete lives with individual purposes, each precious and none to be conscripted for a cause, these honored dead became slogans or "platforms" for ideas to which they did not subscribe, much less agree to sacrifice their lives. To call Ground Zero a megaphone is blasphemous.
In his speech, Imam Rauf argued that the real estate in question was not "hallowed ground" because of a strip club and betting parlor nearby. But at least those businesses are not trying to use 9/11 victims to promote their own agenda.
The irony of this controversy is that Imam Rauf already leads a mosque that is only a few blocks farther away. Why not build the Cordoba Institute there? Why not bear witness to the Muslim presence that was already located in that neighborhood long before 9/11? Why not build on that platform? To create instead a fundraising campaign designed to secure a site closer to Ground Zero from which to promote a particular message is self-aggrandizing at best and venal at worst. Objections to such action are based in civility and respect, not merely religious discrimination. Would a Zionist Center that used Ground Zero to promote Israel be received any differently?
Imam Rauf, the message to you should be clear: This space is not for rent as a "platform." Whatever your purposes, do not use the graves of 9/11 victims to achieve them. One can believe, as I do, that Islam is one of the world's great religions, without believing that anything done in the name of Islam is a good idea.