| Lost in Cyberspace | Next

Victory Mosque

© 2010 by H.B. Koplowitz

Park51My 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 racist."

"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 bridges down."

"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."map

"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, has boomeranged.

"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, that is."

"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.
| Lost in Cyberspace | Next