Park 51, the Pentagon, and Islamophobia

The Park51 Community Center (often referred to as a Mosque although that will be an independent non-profit located in the building) is being built in lower Manhattan.
It has been approved by the appropriate New York City institutions and has significant support from local leaders (see the Park 51 website FAQ's for a list and other important clarifying information).

In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of inappropriate opposition to the Mosque, anti-Muslim demonstrations and violence, and a lot of discussion. At first, I didn't see the point of the commotion. It is legal, appropriate, and in no way connected to Ground Zero. When the section of the Pentagon was rebuilt after the 9-11 attack, a non-denominational prayer room was constructed as a memorial to those who died. According to Abc News, it is used for Muslim prayers without any question raised about the appropriateness of that use. Factcheck.org confirms that the room is non-denominational, built at the crash site, and used for Muslim prayers among many others.

Why is it OK for the United States Government (especially the military) but not OK for Lower Manhattan (even when Community Board approves of it)? Is their any difference except for degree? I think there is a clear symbolic difference due to the number of deaths. For the vast majority of people, 9-11 = World Trade Center and not all three crash sites. I have heard people make a claim that the Pentagon was closest to an actual target (indeed, I raised a similar issue regarding Hamas rockets--the terrorism aspect is the targeting of civilians. If they targeted military bases, it would be a different legal and moral issue). In any case, I do not see any moral issue with building a Muslim community center and Mosque near Ground Zero. If it were at Ground Zero, than it is inappropriate to build a one-religion only prayer location; however, I believe Ground Zero is an excellent location to build an interfaith center or multi-faith chapel (like at the Pentagon). Park51 is not in view of Ground Zero or Ground Zero in view from Park 51 (I take them at their word--again see the organization's website). The response to 9-11 must be increased tolerance and understanding, not increased vitriol and Islamophobia (see an interesting take on the role of Islamophobia in the Jewish community by my teacher Shaul Magid in Zeek. This article is worthy of reading, reflection, and discussion. I hope to write about it at length).

I applaud Amherst alum and former Hillel leader Joshua Stanton for his leadership of Religious Freedom USA which is taking a lead in publicizing the challenges to everyone's religious freedom which accompanies oppositions to Park51.

In the end, the protests seem to come from politicians and the media rather than from the families of the victims (although 9-11 qualifies as a national tragedy to which we are all connected). To me, it is clear that it is an attempt to leverage the continued, mistaken view that President Obama is Muslim to drive votes away from the Democrats. I find it fascinating that the same right-wing groups that made a big deal about his connections with Reverend Jeremiah Wright during the election now try to make him out to be Muslim (full disclosure, there are pictures of me with Reverend Wright when he spoke at Amherst MLK Multifaith Service the day before Obama declared his candidacy for President. He was a masterful speaker).

I look forward to your reactions and comments. Please remember to be civil.

Rabbi Bruce

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