'Mosque' Debate Ending -- Will Rudy Join Rauf?

10/19/2010 08:57 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dear Rudy,

While we've often been on opposite sides, I hope that you'll now publicly agree that the Islamic Cultural Center downtown should be built. Although that debate is ending, a larger one on Muslim and minority rights in America -- witness rising protests around the country against the erection of mosques -- could use your valuable voice.

In the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy (not at Ground Zero, not a Mosque), at first you asserted that only a "warrior" would chose that site, imputing a motive to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf that of course you could not know -- and it turns out that he didn't have. Then baited on Fox News, you said that sometimes Rauf was the "good Imam" and sometimes the "bad Iman," again implying that he could be another dangerous Muslim cleric. Cherry-picking statements over a decade, you cited his comment that America had "blood on its hands," without noting that he was referring not to 9/11 but to our disastrous our war of choice in Iraq, which did lead to hundred of thousands of civilian deaths.

Then you argued in the Daily News, well we're all for tolerance and there's a right to build a mosque anywhere. But. But not there because of the "sensitivity" of 9/11 families. "While some are exercising freedom of religion," you wrote with false symmetry, "others are exercising freedom of speech."

You know better.

First, all 9/11 families deserve our sympathy and love but they cannot claim by that fact to have carved out an exemption to the "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment so they can veto another's exercise of religion. It's not speech but suppression that your side seeks.

Second, no matter how you couch it, you are advancing a less blunt version of Newt Gingrich, Bill O'Reillly and Pamela Geller ("Stop Islamization of America") who assume that Muslims = Terrorists. Why else object to this particular religiously-based organization at that location? As O'Reilly rhetorically argued after the contretemps on The View last week, "Were we attacked by Japanese 'extremists' [at Pearl Harbor]?", again equating an attack by branch of al Qaeda with an attack by a sovereign government and country.

Indeed, you've thrown logs on the fire by your constant goading of Democrats to refer more often to "Islamofacism". Obviously, there are too many Muslim extremists who commit acts of terrorism or riot over cartoons. But your loaded word paints with a very broad brush. Imagine our response if people referred to Italian mobsters or Jewish terrorists because of Al Capone and the invasion of Gaza?

Third, it's unconvincing to assert, as Fox's Sean Hannity does frequently, that Imam Rauf wants America to be under a Sharia law that includes some brutal elements in its religious texts. As with Judaism and Christianity, there are different strands of Islam - and he represents the obviously moderate, pluralistic Sufi element. While Jews revere the Torah, that doesn't mean that we adhere to the literal injunction in it to "stone a rebellious son."

What's more likely to reduce terrorism, opposing the Center or supporting it? Lawrence Wright, whose book Looming Tower is the definitive work in this field, understands well the realities. "The best ally in the struggle against violent Islamism is moderate Islam. The unfounded attacks on the backers of Park51...give substance to the Al Qaeda argument that the U.S. is waging a war against Islam. Those stirring the pot in this debate are casting a spell that is far more dangerous than they may imagine."

I'm certain that we shared a similar experience when I was the Public Advocate and running to succeed you as Mayor. Whenever I would visit Muslim-American groups and mosques, I was struck by how these first-or second-generation Americans were eager to fit in, eager to meet public officials, as thoughtful about City issues as any other new group. These memories came rushing back on reading Imam Rauf's comments to the Council on Foreign Relations last month. "We're Americans too. I pay taxes, I vote, I root for the Giants."

Do you have any evidence that this person who was sent by the Bush State Department as an emissary to Middle Eastern Arab countries and who's run a mosque in Tribeca for 27 years is a Manchurian Muslim waiting for the day when he can open a terrorist front on Park Place?

On ABC's This Week earlier this month, Christine Amanpour moderated a Town Hall between three anti-Mosque leaders arguing that Islam was a murderous religion and three defenders who calmly observed that the former were, in effect, bigots. Panelist Donna Marsh O'Connor said, "I lost my daughter on 9/11, I don't want to lose my country...I don't know why on earth you would think that there is an address in America where Muslim people can't practice their religion."

Rudy, help end this phony and divisive debate. It could be your McCain moment. Remember when in the fall of 2008 a woman at an event said she was against Obama because he was "a bad family man, an Arab," and Senator McCain said that wasn't true?

It could be decisive if a Republican of your stature stepped forward to acknowledge that it's time to unite behind an obviously peaceful, interfaith Center, to speak out against the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, to distinguish between extremists and moderates.

You ran on the slogan of "One City" in 1993. It would be strange if the Iman and his wife undertand American values more than American's Mayor. I hope that you'll soon stand with Mayor Bloomberg, not Gingrich and Geller, and again show the exemplary leadership you displayed after 9/11 when you said that we're bigger than their hate and that we were attacked by extremists, not a religion.