Robert Wright, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and author of The Evolution of God, on the campaign to demonize Park51, a proposed community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan:
Bin Laden would love to be able to say that in America you can build a church or synagogue anywhere you want, but not a mosque. That fits perfectly with his recruiting pitch — that America has declared war on Islam. And bin Laden would thrill to the claim that a mosque near ground zero dishonors the victims of 9/11, because the unspoken premise is that the attacks really were, as he claims, a valid expression of Islam.
Rep. Peter King (who, Wright points out, raised money for the Irish Republican Army when it was carrying out attacks throughout the UK that killed hundreds of civilians), and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio are leading the campaign against Park51:
One thing Peter King and Rick Lazio demand is that Rauf unequivocally denounce Hamas. In other words, they want him to go beyond just not being a professed supporter of Hamas and, in effect, criticize everyone who supports Hamas in even the “soft” sense.
No doubt Osama bin Laden, if apprised of the situation, would hope that Rauf will cave in to these demands and ritually denounce Hamas. Because the Muslims who are most vulnerable to bin Laden’s recruiting pitch are, it’s safe to say, at least somewhat sympathetic to Hamas. And if moderate Muslims like Rauf can be pressured into adopting Israel’s position, and thus be depicted by truly radical Muslims as Zionist tools, that will make them less effective in their tug of war with bin Laden for the hearts and minds of the vulnerable.
Pathetically, Rick Lazio seems to have made his demand for an “investigation” into Park51 the centerpiece-du-jour of his gubernatorial campaign. Happily, Mayor Bloomberg has shown true moral leadership and opposed Lazio’s demands in clear language. “Government should never — never — be in the business of telling people how they should pray, or where they can pray,” Bloomberg said last week. “We want to make sure that everybody from around the world feels comfortable coming here, living here and praying the way they want to pray.” Amen.
The discussion thread on Wright’s piece is well worth reading. There are a few knee-kerk reactions, but many comments recognize and explore the complexity and nuance of this issue. Decisions based soleley on emotional reaction to a horrific terrorist act, while understandable, are not the best means to preserve our most closely held democratic values.