In a benumbing turn of events, Abe Foxman, chief of the influential Anti-Defamation League and opponent of Park51 -- the so-called Ground Zero Mosque -- gave a speech this week decrying the rising culture of anti-Islam bigotry. Addressing the Boston chapter of the ADL, Foxman spoke passionately about the need to stem the prevailing tide of intolerance toward American Muslims and to promote interfaith outreach.
"It is evident that this surge [of anti-Muslim sentiment] is taking place with greater force now than at a time when one might have expected it, immediately after 9/11. At that time we were worried about an explosion of hatred against American Muslims, particularly after there were a few serious incidents following the terrorist tragedy. As things turned out, anti-Muslim bigotry did not explode. Yes, there were incidents, and even one is too many, but dire predictions did not materialize." Foxman said, adding, "But now, nine years later, we are seeing a surge of incidents. I believe it is related to the broader trends in America -- the lack of civility, the tendency to see enemies all around and the reinforcement of prejudicial views rather than diverse views."
This is, of course, two months after Foxman buckled under the influence of the exact same fervor he now denounces. As the story of Park51 gained its diversionary traction, many in favor of the community center looked to the leadership of politicians and NGOs alike to stand behind the project as an emblem of American strength and pluralism. The Anti-Defamation League, which built a sterling reputation as an advocacy group against racism and discrimination, offered this incoherent moral palliative:
"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."
Foxman's decision was met with consternation in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Fareed Zakaria, the Newsweek writer and CNN host, returned an award given to him by Foxman and the ADL and made an on-air address about the decision:
"I have to say I was personally and deeply saddened by the ADL's stand because five years ago, the organization honored me with its Hubert Humphrey Award for First Amendment Freedoms. Given the position that they have taken on a core issue of religious freedom in America, I cannot in good conscience keep that award... I hope this might spur them to see that they have made a mistake and to return to their historic robust defense of freedom of religion in America, something they have subscribed to for decades and which I honor them for."
In the aftermath of the controversial decision, Foxman did not reconsider his position. An ensuing intolerant mania rode roughshod over the initiative's mission of interfaith goodwill. With the story of Park51 retreating under a cloud of Tea Party witchcraft and midterm election white noise, Foxman's crucial reaffirmation of the need for tolerance arrives at the exact moment when it is least needed. In other news, Jackass 3D, the newest installment in the Jackass film franchise, will premiere this Friday in most major cities.