Daisy Kahn, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, has headed the effort to get permission to build Cordoba Center in Lower Manhattan, two blocks away from the World Trade Center site which was reduced to rubble in the terrorist strike of Sept. 11, 2001.
Daisy, as her first name silently testifies, is an American who is also Muslim.
She was quoted by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson as saying that the complex, which would include a fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, bookstore, performing arts center and food court as well as a worship area, would have “a real community feel, to celebrate pluralism in the United States … and serve as a major platform for amplifying the silent voice of the majority of Muslims who have nothing to do with extremist ideologies. It will counter the extremist momentum.”
The center was conceived by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, an American cleric who, as The Economist reports, has spent years trying to promote interfaith understanding. He says his model is New York’s 92nd Street Y, a Jewish community center that reaches out to other religions. He chose the site precisely so that it might heal some of the wounds opened by the felling of the Twin Towers, he said.
Imam Feisal said he chose the name, Cordoba (a city in Spain), “in recollection of a time when the rest of Europe had sunk into the Dark Ages but Muslims, Jews and Christians created an oasis of art, culture and science.”
With the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights in mind, President Barack Obama said Muslims “have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in the country” and that this “includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”
The president made this observance at a White House dinner marking Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, a fact that prompted Robinson to observe that the first White House observance of Ramadan was hosted in 1805 by President Thomas Jefferson.
THE CORDOBA center has been politicized. Rather than celebrating the project as a shining example of America’s religious tolerance and political freedom, extremists have attacked it in an hysterical frenzy. Sarah Palin called on “peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate’ (a word she made up for the occasion) the “ground-zero mosque” because it would “stab” American hearts. Newt Gingrich went her one better with this nonsequitur “there should be no mosque near ground zero so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”
Which is to say that America’s values should be determined by Saudi Arabia — and the Bill of Rights be damned.
Other U.S. politicians have, to their discredit, pandered to the ugly intolerance spawned by Gingrich, Palin, talk show bigots and their fellow travelers.
What can they be thinking? The United States of America is an exceptional nation because of its diversity, because of its freedoms, because it promises every citizen the right to worship as they please, or not to worship at all; because it is a nation of laws and of established rights that are guaranteed to every citizen.
If, warped by fear and panic, we abandon these fundamental principles, believing we must in order to win — then we will have lost.
— Emerson Lynn, jr.
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