Thank you, New York Times, For Your Editorial: A Monument to Tolerance

Posted on August 14, 2010

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Note from Rafik Beekun: Thank you New York TImes.  You got it right in this editorial about the Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan.

It has been disturbing to hear and read the vitriol and outright bigotry surrounding the building of a mosque two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. So it was inspiring when New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9 to 0 on Tuesday to reaffirm one of the basic tenets of democracy: religious tolerance.

Instead of caving in to the angry voices — many but not all of them self-promoting Republican politicians — commissioners paved the way for construction of the mosque and Islamic center. It was not just the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do.

The attacks of Sept. 11 were not a religious event. They were mass murder. The American response, as President Obama and President George W. Bush before him have said many times, was not a war against Islam.

It was not surprising that Republican ideologues like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin came out against the mosque. A Congressional candidate in North Carolina has found it to be a good way to get attention and, yes, stoke prejudice against Muslims. We expect this sort of behavior from these kinds of Republicans. They have been shamelessly playing the politics of fear since 9/11.

Some of the families of the victims of the attacks, who deserve our respect and sympathy, are uneasy about the mosque. But it would be a greater disservice to the memories of their loved ones to give into the very fear that the terrorists wanted to create and, thus, to abandon the principles of freedom and tolerance.

There was simply no excuse for the behavior of the Anti-Defamation League, which eagerly piled on with the opponents of the mosque. It should not be built “in the shadow” of the World Trade Center, the group said, because it would “cause some victims more pain.” It was distressing to see the rationalization of bigotry used by an organization that has been fighting discrimination of all kinds, especially during some of the worst days of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it just right in a speech on Governors Island, within view of the Statue of Liberty. He called the proposed mosque “as important a test of separation of church and state as any we may see in our lifetime, and it is critically important that we get it right.” The plans for the $100 million center should encourage those who want Muslims and non-Muslims in America to find common ground.

Mayor Bloomberg noted in his speech that in the United States and in “the freest city in the world,” the owners of the building have the right to use their property as a house of worship. “The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right,” he said. We agreed with his assessment that the lawsuits being threatened against the mosque should be easily thrown out. The local community board has given the Muslim center approval as well. [Please click here to read the remainder of the NYT editorial.]

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