Blogger face-off: New York City writers on the mosque and 2010 implications

The Hill invites two established bloggers from either side of the political spectrum to sound off on a designated topic in original commentary each Saturday. This week, two New York City bloggers were asked about the controversial mosque project near Ground Zero and whether it will be a campaign issue heading toward midterm elections.


An issue of respecting sensitivities in a free America

by Karol Markowicz

“As a general rule, when people feel they’ve been humiliated, when people feel they’ve been frustrated, when people feel they’ve been ignored, when people feel that justice is not meted, then they feel the need to conflagrate.”

This is Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the future Cordoba House mosque, explaining away terrorism as simply a reaction, a last resort of desperate people. This is the "moderate" Imam, whom we all must accept or be branded anti-Muslim.

In the years since 9/11, though, it is increasingly Americans who have been humiliated, frustrated, ignored, and certainly made to feel that justice has not been meted. We have been made to feel stupid for living in a free country, for allowing our enemies to use our freedom against us. They used our planes to hit our dazzling buildings, full of people living productive, free lives who didn't know they were at war. And yet, no real conflagration from Americans toward Muslims in America followed. The feared backlash against Muslims after 9/11 never came. The middle name Hussein did not stop Barack Obama from becoming president. As a country we accepted that Islam is not our enemy, despite the will of the terrorists to force an us vs. them war.

The mosque, though, so close in proximity to a place where so many people were killed in Islam's name, has seemed to many as the last straw. Americans watched as the Muslim world raged over cartoons and successfully shut down freedom of speech in America. We watched bars threatened for being too close to a mosque, and cab drivers refuse to transport people to bars and liquor stores in America. We watched the Fort Hood attack, the D.C. snipers, and the failed bomb at Times Square and dutifully noted, all together, that it's not all Muslims who want us dead. And all the while we are assured that any complaint about American values not being upheld is the height of insensitivity, and that those values must sometimes be subjugated so that no one feels a little uncomfortable.

Now it's those values which are being used by proponents of the mosque to stifle criticism. But it's simply not true that we have a constitutional right to build whatever we want wherever we want. The constitution allows for freedom of religion, specifically from the government, not for freedom to build your place of worship wherever you please and face no criticism for it. Putting aside that those who oppose the mosque have, for the most part, never requested government intervention in this matter, no one is trying to take away a Muslim's right to be a Muslim. A Muslim can stand at Ground Zero and worship Allah. A Muslim can stand anywhere in America and worship Allah. Freedom of religion does not translate to freedom to put your mosque anywhere and have everyone silently accept it.

Our options should not be support the mosque or hate Muslims. It's clearly true that not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Muslims support jihad. But it's just as true that most Southerners never owned slaves, and that many Northerners did, and yet the confederate flag no longer flies over the South Carolina State House. It's a matter of sensitivities and the idea that just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. Build it elsewhere.

Karol Markowicz blogs at www.alarmingnews.com and can be followed at www.twitter.com/karolnyc


Anti-Muslim fervor will be front and center in November

by Jill Filipovic

Alvy Singer was probably right when he said that the rest of the country looks at New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers – that’s why a lot of us transplants moved here in the first place. But Republicans have made it clear that they don't find that characterization nearly as charming as many of us do. When election time rolls around, New York is the GOP's favorite punching bag: We’re not “real America;” we’re elitists; we’re latte-drinking arugula-eaters. For 364 days a year, Republicans are happy to characterize us as Sodom to San Francisco’s Gomorrah.

And then there’s September 11th. Any mention of that day and all of a sudden we’re a city so important, and of such hallowed ground, that local zoning laws and the decisions of our community boards should be issues of national debate.

The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque, was catapulted into the national spotlight by anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller as evidence of the supposed “Islamicization” of America. President Obama responded to the media frenzy by benignly declaring that "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country" -- a comment met with frothing hostility from the right.

Should this be a hot campaign issue as we head into the midterm elections? Of course not. But will it be? One in five Americans thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim, which is roughly the same number who report having otherworldly interactions with ghosts. Of course it will be.

September 11th was a national tragedy. The World Trade Center site absolutely must be treated respectfully. But even putting aside the fact that a community center is not disrespectful, the proposed Park51 – which includes classrooms, a gym, a pool, a 9/11 memorial, a restaurant, galleries, an auditorium, and a prayer room – is two blocks away and not visible from the site itself. An actual mosque already exists four blocks from the World Trade Center site. Also two blocks away from the World Trade Center? Sex shops, bars, hot dog vendors, T-shirt and bumper sticker stands, a few bodegas, and two strip clubs. The community center is set to be built in an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory. That isn't "hallowed ground" so much as your average New York block.

As the midterms approach, Republican candidates are demanding that their opponents denounce the "mosque," and Democrats up for reelection in states as far from New York as Nevada are parroting right-wing talking points. The real debate, though, isn't about a community center in lower Manhattan; it's about the Republican message that conservative Christian white people are Real America, while Muslims, like Japanese Americans before them and Jewish Americans before them (and on and on) are the face of un-America. That's why, one conservative blogger explained, so many Americans think Obama is a Muslim -- "he certainly isn't one of us."

Of course, Muslims died in the Twin Towers along with other Americans; Muslims serve in New York City’s police force, fire department and emergency services; Muslims live and work in lower Manhattan, and were killed, injured and displaced by 9/11.

But even if Park51 goes forward, the mosque debate may just torpedo the election chances of Democrats who don't get in line with anti-Muslim fervor. This national siding with intolerance and bigotry over openness and the very principles our country was founded on -- as New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg pointed out, the very principles that were attacked on 9/11 -- does far more damage to the legacy of September 11th than one community center ever could.

Jill Filipovic is an attorney and writer in New York. She blogs at Feministe.