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Off the Reservation: Behind the Mosque

It seems the greater the physical distance from Ground Zero, the greater the influence a politician has on the future of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” Sarah Palin brought the debate to the national stage when she weighed in on Twitter by infamously encouraging “Peaceful Muslims” to “pls refudiate” the proposed mosque in downtown New York City. Her tweet was a heartfelt plea to New Yorkers from people like her in Alaska, or as she refers to it, “the heartland.” Perhaps on Palin’s planet, Alaska is somewhere other than the vast frontier between Siberia and the Yukon—either that or my subconscious has refudiated the location of America’s heartland. Personally, I don’t trust this woman to operate a rotary phone let alone tweet the Muslim world. But as we wait breathlessly for her next Shakespearian tweet telling warmonger Muslims to self-combobulate, other national figures clamor for the spotlight.

In this Aug. 14, 2010 photo, pedestrians walk past the 19th century building on Park Place in Manhattan where Muslims plan to build a mosque and cultural center in New York. (AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)

The commotion surrounds the proposed construction of a Muslim recreation and education center a couple of blocks from Ground Zero. The development, named Park51, is headed by a local imam named Feisal Abdul Rauf. The notion behind Park51 is to establish a Muslim community center in the spirit of the Cordoba Initiative, a project Rauf chairs that seeks to “heal conflict between Islamic and Western communities by developing youth leadership, empowering women, and engaging Islamic legal scholars in addressing the implications of contemporary Islamic governance.” Rauf, who has been called upon by organizations such as the FBI since 9/11 to be the face of moderate Islam in America, is a scholar who dreams of improving Muslim relations in America and regularly denounces terrorism.


His biggest mistake is not in proposing the center, which will indeed have a room for prayer. Rather, it is in proposing it during mid-term elections. Republicans are having a field day. From Alaska to New York, they are loving this as a wedge issue to win hearts and minds by evoking fear in the electorate. Conversely, Democrats are trying to play both sides of the fence. Hard to believe, I know. Our own Reps. Steve Israel and Tim Bishop courageously recognize Abdul Rauf’s “Constitutional right” to build here but think it’s insensitive to build at Ground Zero. Except it’s not at Ground Zero. Nevertheless, they are hedging their bets by playing to mass sentiment while appearing to back the Constitution. This eliminates the embarrassing step of being for it before they were against it.

Meanwhile, pugilist Rep. Peter King offered his own middle ground in a TV interview stating, “Muslims have the right to practice their religion but the fact is just because you have a right doesn’t mean you have a right to exercise that right anywhere.” Um, OK. As to where it’d be acceptable to build a center such as Park51, King eloquently went on to say, “We could always, you know, get a GPS or a ruler and say this is where it should be. The fact is where it is now is clearly wrong.” I see. It reminds me of the classic Mickey Rourke line in Charles Bukowski’s Barfly. When asked by Wanda (Faye Dunaway) if he hates people as she does, Rourke’s character Henry responds, “No. But I seem to feel better when they’re not around.” It’s not that King, Palin or even Newt Gingrich hate Muslims, they just feel better when they’re not around. And if they have to be around, maybe they can stop being so, you know, Muslim-y.

What is completely mystifying is how some of our other leaders are choosing to weigh in on the issue. Or why they’re weighing in at all. Take President Barack Obama. He had to know this was a non-starter. With everything else this guy has to deal with, he’s going to put this on his plate? Perhaps a (non-alcoholic) drink on the White House lawn with Sarah Palin and Feisal Abdul Rauf would get the job done. Better still, and closer to home, Governor Paterson decided to offer Park51 group state land. What does that even mean? I imagine Paterson’s side of that phone call going something like this:

“Feisal! Dave….. Dave Paterson…. The Governor….. Right, yes, of New York. Listen, I have soooooo much land in the Catskills that I was going to offer to the oil companies for hydrofracking but apparently that’s like really bad for the environment, blah blah blah. Not to mention no one will let me give a no-bid contract to my buddy who has all of these video lottery terminals sitting in storage doing nada. So I was thinking… howzabout moving that mosque thingy up there? I’m told the autumn foliage is not to be believed.”

One of the most difficult things to accomplish in New York City is to get a new development approved by a local community board. This one was passed overwhelmingly by 29 out of 30 board members and was endorsed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That’s good enough for me. Let us regain control of our senses and refrain from turning this into a misguided crusade against the entire Muslim population. Blocking this project is undemocratic, intolerant and unconstitutional; therefore it is a grave dishonor to the memory of all those lost on 9/11.

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