09/08/2010 10:52 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The "Mosque" Debate Exposes Bias - Let's Move Beyond 9/11 as Public Policy

Don't get tired of the cultural center/mosque
uproar because, actually, we're getting somewhere.

Given that the next 72 hours mark the
end of Ramadan, start of the Jewish New Year, anniversary of 9/11 and
first public comments from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, it's a good moment
to have an exchange, not a diatribe.

Last week I posted a piece that generated
an avalanche of comments, pro and con.
. It argued that we cannot allow the sensitivities
of 9/11 families -- or even a majority in a poll -- to veto the right
to freely exercise one's religion. "There's no 'but' in the very
first amendment."

Below are a few representative, condensed,
critical comments and my responses. With an astonishing 85% of Americans
saying that they're following this issue closely, heated
exchanges are sharpening and narrowing disagreements. Louis Brandeis was right
-- "Sunlight is the best of disinfectants."

Mr. Green, you miss the point. What the opponents of the mosque
ask is that it be moved to a different location. The refusal of the
developer to even consider an alternative site shows an insensitivity
to the families of the 9/11 victims.

One could just as logically ask about
insensitivity to Muslim families who want to pray. And why do many outspoken
9/11 families just assume that the motives of those behind the center/mosque
are bad? How do they know? Indeed, why would we allow any emotionally
aggrieved group to nullify the rights of others? Imagine this letter
42 years ago: "Dear Dr. King, While we respect your desire to march
for voting rights, it would be appreciated if you would move your march
a few miles away from Selma since many white residents are worried about
their property values and the risk of increased crime. Thanks for your
sensitivity to the caucasian majority. The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce."

Ok Mark, then why aren't you defending
my right to speak out against the mosque with the same zeal you defend
their right to build it? Do you REALLY believe your own words or not?

Each side has a First Amendment right.
But while your side seeks to deny Muslims their rights, our side allows
Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich to exercise theirs. Liberalism means tolerance;
those conservatives stand for intolerance. Big difference.

Only radical Muslims believe in
jihad and abide by "Sharia" law, even in their own homelands.
Believing that all followers of Islamic theology worship under those
"old" practices is like believing that all Christians live
by the "Old Testament" of the Bible. People who make accusations
that "they're going to impose Sharia law on us..." are either
ignorant or have another agenda.

Sean Hannity on Fox night after night takes the most medieval statements
from Sharia law and then, boom, assumes that it's literally practiced
by all Muslims-Americans who then want to impose it on the rest of the
U.S. Sure, 2 1/2 million of them are all going to stone women and convince the other 307 million of
us to go along. Catholics at the Eucharist symbolically eat the body
of Christ; Orthodox Jews segregate audiences by gender
- I guess both religions could theoretically force everyone else to
follow their religious rituals. Not going to happen.

According to polls, a majority of
New Yorkers oppose the mosque's current location by a wide margin.

So? The right to use your right to
pray, speak or assemble is a right, not a possibility, not something
that can be negotiated away during legislative horse-trading. When President
Truman integrated the armed forces, only 7% of white soldiers favored
the move. The 1st and 14th amendments are not
popularity contests.

What about Nancy Pelosi's statement
that we should investigate where the opposition to the Mosque is getting
its money! Also, how is that Imam a 'moderate'? Saying that 'America
has more blood on its hands than Al Qaeda,' and that 'we brought on
9/11 ourselves'? Thanks Mark for your piece. You have a very good heart
but are naive.

comment was silly and political. But wrenching a couple of quotes out
of context over decades from the Imam behind the project
is not convincing. His 'blood on hands' comment was about Bush's unjustified
invasion of Iraq, which has led to the deaths of over 150,000 civilians.
His observation about "brought on 9/11" is not something I'd
say but Glenn Beck also said it in 2001 about our Middle East policies.
Neo-Cons often wonder why more Muslims don't denounce those who engage
in terrorism in the name of Mohammad. That's exactly what the imam has
done. If he's not a moderate Muslim, who is?

(see his New York Times op-ed that breaks his silence on the Cordoba House,

Hi Mark.
Many of our 9/11 families have a very different picture of the mosque
than the Mayor
is attempting
to paint! Here's a sarcastic email that's going around that makes
the point
: "As liberal elitists, we choose to conveniently
ignore the hangings of gays, stoning of women and the regular and continued
slaughtering of infidels worldwide because labeling a movement of 1.5
billion people worldwide an 'Islamic Crusade' is....well
sort of politically incorrect. It
's truly unfortunate that Winston Churchill
perhaps never had an opportunity to enjoy cocktails in similar surroundings
with Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. WW II might have had a far different
ending and perhaps more Brits and Americans would now be speaking German."

As a still grieving 9/11 family member, you rail against Bloomberg and
basically all of Islam. Although the Talmud
has a passage that one does not disagree with a widow, you leave me
no option. Yes Bloomberg periodically exaggerates something to make
his point knowing that few if any will call him out on it. So I assume
that some 9/11 family member(s) said something supportive to him and
then, boom, he exaggerates it into "all"
support the Cordoba House/Park51. But on the larger issue, the Mayo has been thoughtful and courageous
in his outspoken defense of the project.

Your assumption that Islam is a violent
religion analogous to Nazism is a real dead end. Obviously, there is
a "narrative" among many young Muslim men that the West, especially
America, hates them and invades them, so they're going to
get back at us. That surely describes the mind-set of the
Ft. Hood and Times Square crazies. But if you and other
sympathetic 9/11 families simply assume that therefore all of Islam
is murderous, then you're playing right into their hands...then logically we shouldn't allow this mosque or any mosque in

All those in the Klan were white southerners
and many in the mob Italians --
does that make all white southerners racists and
many Italians mobsters?

America's been through this before.
Take a look at Nicholas Kristof's New York Times column laying out how synagogues and Catholic churches were barred by local hysteria in earlier
eras. If the 9//11 families are the deciders for
Ground Zero, should they too decide
"whether Muslims should be among those constructing the new World
Trade Center which actually is on the sacred Ground Zero site or be
cabbies entering and exiting the site," as another
commenter wrote me?

Until and if you can show that the
folks behind this center/mosque are
fronts for terrorism -- which is against federal law --
it should be built as a monument to freedom in America
and as a signal to one billion plus Muslims around the world watching
this controversy to see if we do hate them.

I draw three conclusions from the hundreds
of comments I reviewed.

First, as the continuing debate exposes
the wrong-headedness of group guilt, Muslim-Americans will be increasingly
seen as, well, Americans with rights. Democracy is working. Second,
self-proclaimed "constitutional conservatives" will have to
admit that the document they tout protects Park51. It's time for them
to speak up. Like Bush. Like Murdoch.

Last, since local government authorities
have approved the 14 story Islamic Center (and two-floor Mosque) if they receive lawful funding
-- the Community Board voted 29-1 in favor and the Landmarks Commission
9-0 -- 9/11 families should resist using their private grief to
make public policy.