08/17/2010 07:29 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Call to Conscience

Sometimes, events occur in our country that provide an unexpected opportunity for us to reaffirm the core values of who we are as a nation. The current controversy surrounding the proposed construction of a Community Center with a Mosque two blocks from the 9/11 World Trade Center is such an opportunity.

When George Bush launched a counterattack against Al Qaeda and the Taliban for their airplane sponsored bombing of the World Trade Center, he was explicit that our military action was not against Islam, but Islamic terrorists. The objections to the construction of the Mosque in the proposed Community Center suggest directly and indirectly that we are at war with Islam. As a consequence, those who oppose the Mosque are demanding that American citizens who are Muslim and whose religion is Islam forfeit and relinquish their constitutional right to freedom of worship. Opponents contend that the exercise of such a right would offend families who lost loved ones on 9/11.

In other words, Americans citizens who are Muslim are not "first class" citizens, only "second class." Where have we heard this before in our history about efforts to make some citizens "second class," not because of whom they worshiped, but based on the color of the skin or their national origin?.

In a speech on August 3, 2010, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gave a speech defending the proposed building of the Mosque. His remarks constitute an eloquent statement on our freedom to worship. He said that on 9/11,

3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn't want us to enjoy the freedoms to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams, and to live our own lives. Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish...

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here...

Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that...

On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, 'What God do you pray to?' 'What beliefs do you hold?'

The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

In previous blogs in the Huffington Post, I have written about two of the principal challenges confronting our country during the post 9/11 and Iraq invasion years. The first is the challenge for us, especially American Jews, but not exclusively, to reach out to initiate ongoing dialogue with leaders of the Muslim Community in our country to encourage and foster cooperation on any number of issues of mutual business and political interests. The second is to leaders of the Muslim Community in America and throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world to publicly and unequivocally renounce the perpetration of violence against Israel and the United States.

Addressing these twin challenges is essential if we are to successfully rebut the "Narrative" that New York Times' columnist Tom Friedman describes and which I have cited before in previous articles.

The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books -- and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes -- this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand "American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy" to keep Muslims down.

Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny -- in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan -- a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.

Those opposing the building of the proposed Mosque or playing right into and validating this "Narrative" in the eyes of Muslims not only in the United States but around the world.

So, now we have a former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich compare the proposed construction of the Mosque to being similar and equivalent to the Nazi Swastika being erected at Auschwitz. Many leaders in the Democratic and Republican parties have become afflicted by the disease of political opportunism. This "disease" has damaged and weakened their spine of moral leadership.

They all seem to be more comfortable by signing from the same hymn book whose verses read: "Oh, yes, we acknowledge your Constitutional right to worship in a Mosque, but not at this place, at this time. Prudent 'wisdom' and sensitivity dictate that you forgo you're acknowledged right to worship because to exercise such a right will make some people uncomfortable, even angry. So, please be reasonable. In this special instance, won't you forgo your right to build and worship at the proposed Mosque?"

In speaking about his opposition to the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us of the role of moral leadership in times of controversy.

"I'm not a consensus leader... I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of my organization or by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion. Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. On some positions a coward has asked the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question is it right? And there come a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right, and that is where I find myself today."