Where can the Muslim community center be built in NYC?
To me, the answer is the same as if you asked me where a church, a synagogue, a Sikh temple or any place of worship in the US can be built. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: I say you can build it here or there, by a house or a mouse, in Tribeca by Robert DeNiro or further down by Ground Zero. It's that simple.
It's alarming and disheartening to see the angry, hate-filled rhetoric by some in response to the building of the Muslim community center. To these people, all American Muslims are somehow guilty simply by the virtue of their religion. Some people truly appear to hate Muslims more than they love the ideals of our country.
I don't subscribe to the view that everyone who is opposing the Muslim community center is a bigot. But to those who really have no issues with Muslims but simply object to its proposed location, I say: You might want to take a quick look to your left and right; I'm going to bet that at least one of the people protesting alongside you is a bigot, such as the "Christian" Pastor from Florida who is threatening to burn Korans on September 11 -- the way the Nazis burned Torahs -- and those who are protesting mosques being built in other parts of the country hundreds of miles from Ground Zero and threatening to release pigs on the property to keep the Muslims away. These aren't people I really want to hang with.
On the other hand, this debate has been heartening in one way: It has caused more interfaith alliances between Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups as many have stood together to fight for the right to religious freedom - with the most visible supporters outside the Muslim community being Jewish-Americans such as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, J Street and even the more conservative Ed Koch recently wrote an article adamantly defending the building of the Mosque in lower Manhattan.
So here are my simple responses to the main arguments I have heard in my effort to balance the avalanche of hate coming from the other side:
- Should a sushi restaurant be allowed to open near Pearl Harbor? It's important to emphasize that the Founding Fathers of America did not flee England to the New World because they wanted to make California rolls or sashimi. It was for freedom of religion. You can't compare the sacred right of freedom of religion with the right to sell raw fish.
- The location is the issue. This is frankly the toughest one. I understand fully the visceral opposition by some to the location. I stood about 20 blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and watched the towers crumble before my eyes. I lived in Manhattan then and continue to live there today. But let's also keep in mind that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who will be leading the Muslim community center, is the long-time leader of a mosque that is located 12 blocks from Ground Zero and has been there since 1983. That is where his congregation is located. Should he have to move his congregation because terrorists happen to share the same religion? And how far is "enough" of a move: Is six blocks okay? Twenty blocks? Two miles? And who decides how far is enough: Sarah Palin? Newt Gingrich? Do any of you trust these people to decide the scope of our fundamental Constitutional rights? Can we allow the very right that inspired the creation of our nation to be decided by a popularity contest? If that were the case, do you think in certain parts of the South they would have agreed to allow synagogues or churches that serve African-American communities to be built?
- American Muslims should not build a Muslim center near Ground Zero because the twenty 9/11 terrorists were Muslim. This is like saying that because a handful of Catholic priests molested young boys, Catholic Churches should not be allowed to be built near elementary schools. Or because Bernie Madoff and several others in the recent Wall Street scandals were Jewish, no synagogues can be built near Wall Street. I know these men didn't kill people, but they destroyed many, many lives; however, we would never punish everyone in their religion because of the sins of a few. Even more importantly, the people who are building this mosque and will worship in it will be American Muslims, not members of Al Qaeda.
- This is a "victory mosque" because Muslims build mosques to symbolize military victories. There are approximately 1900 mosques in the US already. Somebody please list the military victories against America that each of these mosques represents. Seriously, I'm all ears.
- Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who will be leading this mosque, is connected to terrorist activity. He has been the imam of a mosque located 12 blocks from Ground Zero for 27 years. If he had been involved in terrorist activity, I think by now he would have been arrested. In fact, he has publicly condemned terrorism, worked to build bridges between the US and Muslim world, and spearheaded extensive Interfaith work bringing people of different religions together to foster understanding. But if you have any evidence whatsoever that he is involved with terrorism -- not "he likes falafel and terrorists like falafel" but credible evidence -- I implore you to turn it over to the FBI or US Attorney's Office. If you don't, then please stop the character assassinations and blood libel against him.
- The Mosque will encourage terrorism. Actually, I believe strongly that the opposite is true. As a comedian, I have performed in the Middle East frequently over the past few years. There are many there who truly believed that during President Bush's term the US was waging a war against all Muslims, not just terrorists. One of the best arguments we had against this assertion was to say look how the American Muslims are treated -- they are free to worship and have the same rights as people from any other religion. Banning this Muslim community center will change that forever and, to be brutally honest, will be used as a tool to recruit terrorists against us by simply saying, "Look how America treats their Muslims!" And what does this message send to young American Muslims who are 15 or 16 and were 8 or 9 at the time of the 9/11 attacks? That you don't have the same rights as all other Americans? That you truly don't belong here?
So why is the Mosque good for America?
Allowing the Muslim community center to be built where it is being proposed represents the best of America, the idea that the United States is a special place in the world, a beacon of fairness that welcomes and protects the rights of all its people. Too many have sacrificed their lives for these sacred rights to say that certain Americans should not enjoy them simply because of their religion.
As our Declaration of Independence famously states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and it is my belief that they should be treated equally, as well.