THE BLOG
09/14/2010 09:43 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Feisal Abdul Rauf's New York Times Op-Ed [With Annotations From an Agnostic]

"As my flight approached America last weekend, my mind circled back to the furor that has broken out over plans to build Cordoba House, a community center in Lower Manhattan [in a building that was damaged by plane debris on 9/11, to be precise, but I'll be downplaying that connection here]. I have been away from home for two months speaking abroad about cooperation among people from different religions. Every day, including the past two weeks spent representing my country on a State Department tour in the Middle East, I have been struck by how the controversy has riveted the attention of Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels.

We have all been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community center has become. The level of attention [has made me famous and] reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship.

Many people wondered why I did not speak out more, and sooner, about this project. I felt that it would not be right to comment from abroad. [Also, the State Department told me I couldn't do fundraising for this project during the trip, which they paid for.] It would be better if I addressed these issues once I returned home to America, and after I could confer with leaders of other faiths who have been deliberating with us over this project. My life's work has been focused on building bridges between religious groups [and, as CEO for the American Society for Muslim Advancement, growing the business] and never has that been as important as it is now.

We are proceeding with the community center [and mosque, though it's more strategic to stress the "community center" angle], Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community [the majority of whom oppose its location], government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons.

Above all, the project will amplify the multifaith approach that the Cordoba Initiative has deployed in concrete ways for years. Our name, Cordoba, was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims. Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures.

Our broader mission -- to strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology [such as that which yielded the suicide bombings on 9/11] -- lies not in skirting the margins of issues that have polarized relations within the Muslim world and between non-Muslims and Muslims [though when a radio interviewer asked me in June if I condemn Hamas, a group that sponsors suicide bombings, I skirted the issue and said I "avoid the issues" because I'm a "bridge builder"]. It lies in confronting them as a joint multifaith, multinational effort.

From the political conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians to the building of a community center in Lower Manhattan [which, as I'll go on to say on CNN, absolutely must be built a fuselage's throw from Ground Zero and not anywhere else in Lower Manhattan], Muslims and members of all faiths must work together if we are ever going to succeed in fostering understanding and peace.

At Cordoba House, we envision shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children. There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims [but definitely not a mosque], Christians [although I'm guessing the vast majority of Christians would rather go to their own churches than to a separate prayer space in a Muslim center], Jews [ditto Jews and synagogues] and men and women of other faiths [they'll be in the separate prayer space "Other"]. The center will also include a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

I am very sensitive to the feelings of the families of victims of 9/11 [whether or not I showed it in a couple of statements on certain "issues," just days after the attack], as are my fellow leaders of many faiths. We will accordingly seek the support of those families [even though I claimed in an interview back in May that we already had their support], and the support of our vibrant neighborhood [even though I said above that we already had its support], as we consider the ultimate plans for the community center [which we're building whether you like it or not]. Our objective has always been to make this a center for unification and healing [which is why my wife labeled those who oppose its location - i.e. 9/11 families, the majority of New Yorkers, and the majority of Americans - as being "Islamophobes."].

Cordoba House will be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord our creator with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength; and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. [We should overlook the other stuff that teaches us to hate our neighbors.] We want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions.

I do not underestimate the challenges that will be involved in bringing our work to completion. (Construction has not even begun yet.) [But it will. I'm just trying to blunt my message by hinting, shucks, there's a chance it might not even happen...even though, as I said above, it will.] I know there will be interest in our financing, and so [because we'd have to do so to maintain our status as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization] we will clearly identify all of our financial backers. [Just not yet.]

Lost amid the commotion is the good that has come out of the recent discussion. [For instance, everyone knows my name now.] I want to draw attention, specifically, to [myself...and to] the open, law-based and tolerant actions that have taken place, and that are particularly striking for Muslims.

President Obama [who then backtracked a little] and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both spoke out in support of our project. [I forget what the governor of New York said, but I heard he was trying to reach me.] As I traveled overseas, I saw firsthand how their words and actions made a tremendous impact on the Muslim street and on Muslim leaders. It was striking: a Christian president and a Jewish mayor of New York supporting the rights of Muslims [and the rights of Christians and Jews! Almost forgot this is going to be an interfaith center, not a mosque. Not a mosque.]. Their statements sent a powerful message about what America stands for, and will be remembered as a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations [for which it's already done wonders].

The wonderful outpouring of support for our right [I mean our legal right, of course; whether it's the right thing to do has been a bit of a gray area] to build this community center from across the social, religious and political spectrum seriously undermines the ability of anti-American radicals [who will recruit young, impressionable Muslims regardless] to recruit young, impressionable Muslims by falsely claiming that America persecutes Muslims for their faith [which they will claim no matter what we do]. These efforts by radicals at distortion endanger our national security and the personal security of Americans worldwide. This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. [See how I've spun the Ground Zero mosque Lower Manhattan interfaith center as something that will protect homeland security?] If we do, we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides [even though Hamas has publicly endorsed the completion of the project, so we're basically ceding to radicals either way]. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. [See?? Not only will America be unsafe if we move this interfaith center to another location in Lower Manhattan; the entire world will be at risk.] It is a paradigm we must shift.

From those who recognize our rights [but who say that others who practice free speech in opposing the planned location are being "unconstitutional"], from grassroots organizers to heads of state [who exploit this for political gain], I sense a global desire to build on this positive momentum and to be part of a global movement to heal relations and bring peace. [And this global movement just might need a leader...] This is an opportunity we [my wife and I] must grasp.

I therefore call upon all Americans to rise to this challenge. Let us commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 by pausing to reflect and meditate and tone down the vitriol and rhetoric [which I've helped flame] that serves only to strengthen the radicals and weaken our friends' belief in our values.

The very word "islam" comes from a word cognate to shalom, which means peace in Hebrew [and which sounds less threatening to agnostics and atheists than the Arabic-to-English translation]. The Koran declares in its 36th chapter, regarded by the Prophet Muhammad as the heart of the Koran, in a verse deemed the heart of this chapter, "Peace is a word spoken from a merciful Lord."

How better to commemorate 9/11 [and to raise my professional brand as a bridge builder...did I mention I'm a bridge builder?] than to urge our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians and fellow Jews to follow the fundamental common impulse of our great faith traditions?"

(Mr. Kirkpatrick wishes to make clear that he supports initiatives, whether secular or faith-based, that strive for peace, charity, and education without indoctrination while also affirming the rights and freedoms of the individual. He also feels it's important to scrutinize the rhetoric of religious leaders, especially those given high-profile media forums.)