by H.B. Koplowitz
My replacement had just showed up
for the midnight shift change. "Anything I should know?" he
muttered as I headed toward the door. But something else was
on his mind. "You don't think it's racist for someone to
question, for any reason, the propriety of putting a victory
mosque at ground zero, do you?" he asked rhetorically.
I wasn't in a rhetorical mood. "Since you put it that way,"
I said, "yeah."
"Well, I disagree," he erupted. "I have lots of questions
about the mosque that I don't think are racist, like why
does it have to be at ground zero? What's it symbolize and
what do they want to do there? If they're going to recruit
terrorists, the opposition is about more than racial
profiling or freedom of religion. But the way it's being
reported, anyone who doesn't support the mosque is just a
"I don't think you are racist to have questions about the
mosque," I said. "But I do think you are being duped by
certain people and groups who are pushing a nativist,
anti-immigrant agenda. First of all, the Islamic Center
would not be at ground zero, but two city blocks away. And
the term victory mosque started with right-wing bloggers,
not Islamists. As for what they wanted to do there, think
YMCA, except with an I instead of a C."
"And that's another thing," my coworker segued. "Whatever
one thinks of the mosque, I didn't appreciate my president
taking sides, because he's alienating everyone who feels the
other way. No wonder a quarter of the people think he's a
Muslim. He spends more time defending Islam than he does
Christianity, which happens to be the most persecuted
religion in the world. And the only example of his
Christianity is that crazy reverend in Chicago."
I rolled my eyes at the mention of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright,
and would have taken the time to defend his honor as a fire
and brimstone preacher, had his own congregant not already
thrown him under the bus. "Look," I said, "let's remember
that the president made his statement about freedom of
religion at a Ramadan dinner at the White House, where he
wanted to say something nice to his guests. And what he said
was something we can all be proud of, which is that America
is a free country. You know, he's trying to build bridges
with moderate Muslims to cooperate in the war on terror, and
it doesn't help when his fellow Americans try to tear those
"Well, I still have questions about why they have to build
it there," he said. "Where's the money coming from and who's
behind it? And what about the feelings of the victims'
families and everyone affected by the terrorist attacks?"
"Their feelings are very important," I said. "Including
those of the families of the 60 or so Muslims who died in
the Twin Towers. People from 90 countries were killed in the
attack -- remember that feeling of 'we're all New Yorkers'?
"The money for the center is probably coming from the same
places that other big religious facilities get their
financing -- wealthy believers, not all of whom have
spotless reputations. But let he who is without sin cast the
first stone. Besides, the guy in charge -- Imam Feisal Abdul
Rauf -- has a pretty good rep, I mean, the State Department
sends him on good-will missions."
"I'm not so sure," he said. "I heard he blamed the United
States for 9/11."
"Yes, like a lot of people, he has made the obvious point
that in some ways U.S. foreign policy, like its support of
the Taliban and Osama bin Laden during the first Afghan war,
"Yeah, well, I'd feel a little better about him if he didn't
support outfits like Hamas."
This time he'd found a soft spot. "Don't talk to me about
Hamas," I said. "Until you show me a Muslim who believes in
Israel's right to exist, I find the term moderate Muslim
problematic. And the Dome of the Rock? Now that's a victory
mosque. But Muslims and Arabs do love their Palestinians,
and if rejecting Palestinian freedom fighters were the
litmus test for permitting mosques near ground zero or
anywhere else, there just wouldn't be any.
"Oh, you're Jewish," he said, slightly taken aback. I think
his next argument was going to have been that saying all
people who oppose the ground zero mosque are racists is like
saying anyone who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic. To
which I'd probably have replied, "good point."
"Well, I was born Jewish," I said. "But I consider myself
more of a Bob Dylan Jew -- before he became a Jew for Jesus,
"Ha," he said. "I'm not that religious myself. But now that
the mosque has become so politicized, there's just no way
they can put it there, don't you think?"
I sighed, imagining abortion clinic protests on steroids in
the Big Apple. "You're probably right," I said. "But here's
the thing. We accuse moderate Muslims of not doing enough to
fight Islamic extremists. So isn't it hypocritical not to
stand up to nativism or discrimination in our own country?
"I think a multicultural coalition should rise up in support
of the Islamic Center. There ought to be a million Muslim
march, with everyone wearing ribbons saying, 'we are all
Muslims.' That way, if it were ever built, it would truly be
a victory mosque -- a victory for fundamental American
values like equality and liberty."
"Bite me," he said.