THE SPINE AUGUST 23, 2010
The folk who planned the mosque at the World Trade Center could not have expected but that their project would be much resented, not just in New York but across America. And so it happened: as soon as it became clear that the municipal elite, spearheaded by Mayor Bloomberg who hasn't a single democratic cell in his brain, would act as if a Muslim religious center in the very orbit of Ground Zero was an ordinary happening a groundswell of sensitive men and women -a large majority of Americans, actually- believe that it isn't.
And I don't mean the bigots who are phobic of all strangers and who see President Obama himself as a Muslim. Actually, there are probably more of these paranoids in the country now than I would like to think. But paranoia comes with the times and with the territory. The deep deep economic crisis in which the U.S. now is in and the failure of our foreign policy to score even one hit since January 20, 2009 is understandable cause for panic. This is especially so since the media have not evoked the financial terror in which literally millions and millions of Americans are actually living. Though maybe not many of our fellow citizens can actually calibrate the decline of national power in the world most can feel it and feel it vividly. This they see as a consequence of the president's own soft and stinting view of where the country stands and should stand in the world. Given that he has not stood up for any genuinely suffering people in the world they see his unique fellowship with Arabs and Muslims as idiosyncratic. Inexplicable. Even suspicious, which it is not. It is, after all, the chosen trope of many on the Left and in the liberal constellation...but tellingly in rapid decline among Europeans who know with whom they are dealing.
So with whom are they dealing? Alas, this is an international population in which there was barely one manifestation, as the French put it,(if there was one) against the enormity of the attack on the W.T.C. and the Pentagon and the single aircraft in which its passengers brought it down in rural Pennsylvania rather than add more victims to their own lost lives. And, speaking of protest, where are the daily Muslim protests against the daily massacres of Arabs and others who pray to the prophet? This is the accounting that one needs to hear because the disputed place is where the world of religious revenge made its most stunning declaration.
This is not a matter of the First Amendment which covers the right to worship (or not to worship) as anyone pleases. (By the way, there is no right not to worship in Saudi Arabia where the mutaween will whip your behind if you don't fall to your knees and bend your head to the street at prayer time.) I was wrong when I wrote in a Spine that there are 1000 mosques in America; there are actually just shy of 2000, and none of them is threatened. The Cordoba Initiative, so-called, would also not be challenged if it were trying to establish itself anywhere else on Manhattan Island.
I have an inkling that Mr. Rauf, however tolerant he may or may not be (there is mixed evidence on the question), and his comrades knew this. I also have an inkling that they chose Ground Zero precisely to invite the protest against it. This is a skirmish in a very long contest with historic resonance. If the elite's indifferent to the reasonable emotions of a society win this one they will ultimately have lost much more than chalking up a sterile and merely circumstantial reading of the First Amendment.
P.S. Here's a wager I'd make with anyone. My side: if the W.T.C. mosque cannot be built but another site is agreed upon, my guess is that the builders will not build. If I am wrong, anybody who has written in and sent a response to this spine saying they would build and why will receive from me any book about the Middle East of their choice. If that person (or persons) has no choice I do the picking. If I win this bet my prize is the satisfaction of knowing that I was right.
Anyway, who's paying for this $100 million project?