By Daniel Chejfec
To begin with, there is the issue of what is the symbolism of Ground Zero. On September 11, 2001, Arab extremists attacked and demolished the World Trade Center invoking Islam. Their reasons were the same as those of other extremist elements of the same cultural/religious background who considered-and still consider- the United States as Evil incarnated because of its insistence on the Separation of Religion and Politics and for placing individual freedoms above religious law among other issues. So memorializing the victims of the terrorist attack means not only to honor their memory, but doing so by also reaffirming the values that make this society unique - namely, those very same freedoms and that very same separation that the terrorists attacked.
And here comes Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and asks to build a mosque in what some people considered hallowed ground because of its connection with the day of the attack, and a big controversy erupts. The Imam is one of the leaders of the "Muslims of the Americas" organization and he also has connections to Al-Fuqra. The Muslims of the Americas organization established and supports muslims-only enclaves in various parts of the US, closed to outsiders. The closest to the Hudson Valley is right outside Hancock, NY. These enclaves have been controversial for years because of the suspicions that paramilitary training happens in those enclaves, and because Al-Fuqra has been connected to some terrorist attacks and to the so-called shoe bomber. These allegations of paramilitary training have never been proven nor disproven.
So we have a problem - this Imam, who is controversial because of his connections with extremist groups and because of his declarations in the past supporting allegations of American and Israeli conspiracy in the 911 attacks, asks to build a mosque three blocks from Ground Zero. Yet the same Imam is hailed as a Muslim moderate and an interfaith dialogue partner by government and religious authorities. Confused? just wait...The same Imam has given statements to Arab newspapers supporting the concept of Taqiyah, a concept that allows muslims to misdirect, lie, deceive or equivocate in order to promote Islam. He also stated that "Islamic extremism for the majority of Muslims is an oxymoron" and even allegedly helped the FBI in anti-terrorist activities.
But the issue is even more complicated, because denying anybody (Muslim, Christian, Jew,Buddhist, etc) the right to build a house of worship anywhere in America based solely on distrust or stereotype is in fact denying the very same values we want to see memorialized and promoted at Ground Zero. So how do we take into account the fears of the non-Muslim American public, the need to preserve our values, and the need to prevent extremism, all at the same time? Here's my idea:
The building of a Muslim house of worship anywhere in the US should be subjected to the very same regulations than the building of a Church, Temple or Synagogue if we are to defend the values the 911 terrorists attacked. At the same time no religious nor political leader should be given a blank check by the authorities. Every person must be held accountable to the law. Any leader that promotes the undermining of the Constitution or the Guarantees of individual freedoms should be held responsible in a court of law. Our tradition teaches us that "Dinah DeMalkhuta Dinah", which means that wherever you live you must abide by the law of the land. Those who distrust Imam Rauf should be free to monitor his actions, and if proven illegal to bring up charges based on evidence. That is the way our system works.
Another problem we're facing is the allegation that the funding for the Cordoba House comes from Teheran. This could be very problematic since the Iranian leaders have repeatedly attacked the United States and the West in vitriolic terms. On this account, I believe that the law should prohibit enemies of the United States to establish beach heads on American soil - provided the allegations can be proven in a court of law.
One more issue to think about. America is a multicultural society, and the system works because there is a basic expectation that people will respect the differences and sensibilities of the members of that society; that is why some crimes are classified as "hate crimes". Respecting these sensibilities means to be sensitive to the feelings of others. A large segment of the American population suggested that the Mosque should be built elsewhere, not because they want to deny Muslims their rights, but because so many feel so strongly against it. Being insensitive, however, is not a crime punishable by law and it cannot be used to curtail individual freedoms.
I believe I was sufficiently clear about the complexity of the issue. Now let me tell you how I feel. I distrust Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and I am extremely uncomfortable with his connections with Muslims of the Americas, the Muslims-only enclaves, and the Al-Fuqra movement of his native Pakistan. I also feel strongly about protecting the freedoms of our society, and I also understand that the moment we trample the rights of one individual, we are all stained. I also feel strongly that people should be held accountable to the law and accountable to their word. If the Cordoba House can be proven to be anything other than what they are claiming it to be, it should be closed and the leadership prosecuted for perjury. As for Iranian funding, it should be made clear that the United States will not accept funding of an institution on American soil by an enemy of America and what America stands for. Rudy Giuliani did it after 911 and there is no reason not to do it now. If we don't protect our freedoms, we are making a mockery of generations of American soldiers who gave their lives to defend those freedoms. And that is, in my opinion, unacceptable.