Saturday, August 28, 2010

About that Mosque

Imam Rauf is the cleric who is leading the effort to construct a new mosque within two blocks of Ground Zero.  Now that his motives have become known, those who opposed the mosque from the start seem to have been more than prescient.  Far from being a genuine effort at reconciliation, the project appears more provocative the more we learn about it.  Thank goodness, it seems increasingly likely that, for one reason or another, the mosque will not be built.  If so, then the whole episode will remain valuable as a testament to how well most Conservatives articulated a pragmatic and sensitive position.



At the outset, it is worth noting that no one who opposed the mosque did so on legalistic grounds.  All the objections were made on grounds of sensitivity to those who lost people on September 11, 2001, when the suicide terrorists destroyed both towers of what had been New York’s greatest landmark—in the name of Allah.  To their credit, no one who opposed the mosque was prepared to abuse the court system by trying to obtain an injunction against the project.  Rather, they concentrated on moral persuasion.  Naturally, those in favor of the mosque argued off point, making an entirely irrelevant Constitutional case.  Their embrace of the project seemed to grow tighter as public opinion, moved by moral persuasion and the discovery of the apparent motives of the Imam Rauf, shifted more and more strongly against the building.

At this point, it is by no means sure whether the mosque will be built, though it seems less likely by the day.  Assuming the project is derailed, perhaps it is time to think of what might have been.  There are over a billion Muslims in the world, and hardly any of them are terrorists.  Our Republic, and indeed the whole of the West, clearly needs the goodwill of the moderate Muslim majority.  A true gesture of reconciliation, at or near Ground Zero, could have been a powerful demonstration of Islamic courtesy and Christian forgiveness.  Such a gesture, perhaps an inter-faith prayer center replete with stone-carved denunciations of the 9/11 murderers, endorsed by moderate imams, would have had great potential to find some common ground at Ground Zero.  Sadly, the people pushing the project appear to have been more interested in provocation than reconciliation.  The only proper response to such a challenge is exactly what we have seen:  consistent, sustained moral arguments against the project.

There is a further irony.  In making such a provocative gesture, rather than one of true reconciliation, the Imam Rauf and his allies have answered American tolerance with discourtesy.  Shortly after the original al-Qaida attack, and before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden.  The Taliban refused, citing the obligations of a host to a guest.  How ironic that the Imam Rauf, many of whose congregants are recent immigrants, seems deaf to the obligations of a guest to a host.

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