Volume 79, Number 50 | May 19 -25, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Mos(que) hysteria

We’re having trouble understanding the hyperbolic outrage over the plan to open a community center and mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center. There has been a mosque in Tribeca four blocks away since before 9/11 and we’ve heard no objections to it, nor have we noticed any problems there.
So two blocks is an outrage, but four blocks is appropriate. Is three in the permissible zone for this misguided group of protesters in the media and on Facebook, or should the Islamic-free area they apparently desire extend another block?

As we go to press Tuesday, there are almost 50,000 people who have joined a new anti-Islamic Facebook page set up to protest the opening of Cordoba House. The uproar is likely to get louder with reports this week that the Tribeca mosque, Masjid Manhattan, has raised most of the money it needs to open a permanent home close to the W.T.C.

One of the reasons Cordoba House’s privately owned building, to be built on the site of the old Burlington Coat Factory at 45 Park Place, supposedly should not house a mosque is that 9/11 debris hit the existing building. Well, W.T.C. dust also blew across the East River, so will the next move of the opponents be a call to padlock all of the mosques in northwest Brooklyn?

There is much truth in the 9/11 cliché that Islamic terrorists “attacked our way of life.” The Cordoba Initiative and its partners bought the building for a reported $4.8 million. In America, building owners have rights. Do the opponents long for an Iranian-type system where religious arbiters are the real powers who can subjugate rule of law, property rights and constitutional guarantees of religious freedom?

Another irony: Cordoba’s stated purpose is to oppose the violent streams of Islam by reaching out to others. “Ultimately a center like this will become a counter against Muslim extremism,” Daisy Khan, Cordoba’s executive director, told our sister publication, Downtown Express, last week. “We’re taking the tragedy of 9/11 and from the ashes of that, building a better place...a place that will be open to everyone.”

That is the message we have not heard nearly enough from Islamic leaders and institutions.

The group voluntarily presented its plans to Community Board 1 a few weeks ago. We commend the board’s Financial District Committee for backing the project, and we hope the full board shows the same wisdom and courage by passing the committee’s advisory resolution. We are disappointed we have not yet heard from other local leaders and politicians who normally would have no trouble opposing religious prejudice.

If Cordoba can raise the money to build the center, it will have amenities for our whole community, including a pool, auditorium, bookstores and exhibition spaces. But it doesn’t really matter whether we like Cordoba’s message or not, whether it will have worthwhile programming for all Downtowners or not. There is no legitimate reason to deny it a home in our home, Lower Manhattan.

Even if the group danced near the line of tolerating murderous rhetoric — which it doesn’t — we would of course be disturbed, but our outrage would not be enough to call for an arbitrary decision to prevent it from opening, unless its leaders were aiding terrorists or breaking the law in some other way, such as inciting violence.

Cordoba is doing no such thing as far as anyone can see. So, we have only one word of welcome for the group. It’s the Hebrew word for “hello” and “peace” and is also similar to the traditional greeting between Muslims. Shalom.


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