When he announced our war against Al Qaeda, President George W. Bush said that the terrorists "hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." But now members of his party are carrying out a libelous attack against a moderate imam and slandering Islam, which endangers the mission of our troops in Muslim countries and fuels Al Qaeda's propaganda about the West waging war against Islam.
President Bush did not tolerate spineless rhetoric of the kind used against the proposed Park51 mosque and community center in downtown, Manhattan. Rather than cynically echoing the public's prejudices, President Bush exercised leadership by shaping public opinion through careful explanation in the days after the attack.
In his address to a joint session of Congress following the attacks of September 11, President Bush spoke to all Muslims throughout the world and stated the American position: "We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah."
Unlike the Republican mayor of New York City, the leader closest to New Yorkers, a group of prominent outside Republicans have set aside conservative principles for the sake of political expediency by making a fuss about a local zoning decision regarding a proposed mosque and cultural center to be built on private property. Those who are making a party of supposedly voicing people's anger ought to recall Benjamin Franklin's admonition that "whatever is begun in anger ends in shame."
Instead of advocating Park51's vision to be a place "dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, education and empowerment, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet," Mr. Gingrich makes it sound as if the proposed Park51 is a shrine to hijackers. That all of Islam is represented by Al Qaeda hijackers all practicing what President Bush said is "a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics, a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam." To paint all Muslims as terrorists is the same as condemning Reverend Joel Olsteen for being Christian because David Koresh claimed to represent Christianity when he led his followers to a violent death in Waco. What if elected New York officials were being pressed by outsiders to block a synagogue or church?
Some say that they are respectful of Muslims' right to practice their faith, but "they" (the Muslims) should also respect "our" reverence for the WTC site. "They" (the Muslims) should be more sensitive. If building a mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center is too close, how far is far enough? Six blocks? Twenty? Are the Islamic Centers in the Lower East Side and West Village already too close? What about Muslims living and working in downtown?
Are "they" who should be denied a place of worship in downtown worthy of being our NATO ally (Turkey), our investors, business partners and oil suppliers (the Gulf region), or our fellow Americans -- the Muslim-American citizens who serve as doctors, military officers, storeowners, and countless other occupations that strengthen the fabric of American society? If "they" (the Muslims) are so objectionable, why are our brave troops helping them in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo?
By pandering to the prejudices of Americans' fears and frustration, a group of radical Republicans masquerading as conservatives is stirring up hatred and strife at home, hurting our national defense policy abroad, denigrating the noble work of our troops, diplomats, and civilian development professionals throughout the Muslim world, and most importantly, demonstrating that it is not fit to hold public office because it shirks responsibilities of leadership. To lead is not to promulgate popular prejudice -- it is making difficult decisions based on enduring principles that are sometimes deeply unpopular.
By encouraging us to abandon our principles, they do the bidding of the terrorists, who want nothing more than for us to grow fearful, retreating from the world, forsaking our friends, and losing our principles of freedom and liberty. Uncompromising about inalienable rights, Ben Franklin said "they that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty." They do not deserve our vote either. They must be "refudiated," as Governor Palin aptly remarked.