Friends have been annoyed by my insistence that bigotry is at the root of the anti-Cordoba protests. And yet, I see no other explanation. Not every person who opposes the mosque is a bigot, but they have allowed themselves to be led by bigots. The facts admit no other interpretation. Below I’ve listed five reasons why the outrage over Cordoba House, publicly encouraged by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, among many others, is illegitimate:
1. Muslims are already praying there, and have been for months.
One of the buildings at the future site of Park51 is a former Burlington Coat Factory which has been used as a prayer hall by Muslims for nearly a year. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf leads Friday prayers and reads in Arabic from the Qur’an. Worshippers kneel and pray in the direction of Mecca. Everything that critics of Cordoba House claim to find so offensive has been taking place without controversy since September 2009.
Speaking of suddenly deciding something you’ve long tolerated is unforgivably insensitive . . .
2. Muslims have prayed inside the Pentagon since a month after 9/11.
Cordoba opponents claim that the former World Trade Center is hallowed ground, and that the very idea of an Islamic presence at the site of a horrific act of Muslim terrorism is insulting. But the Twin Towers weren’t the only targets on September 11, 2001. The Pentagon was also attacked that morning. A month after the attacks, a memorial service was held at the Pentagon. Speaking at that service was Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, a Muslim Army chaplain who read from the Qur’an. The Pentagon has also hosted regular Ramadan celebrations, which feature uniformed American military personnel kneeling on prayer rugs and chanting prayers to Mecca. All of this occurred without controversy, as witnessed by this uncritical story on the Pentagon Ramadan celebrations from the right-leaning Washington Times.
3. Contemporary, moderate mosques like Cordoba House discourage terrorism.
Many of the protestors have claimed that Cordoba House will be a “victory mosque,” a shrine to the extremism of the al-Qaeda terrorists who committed the crimes of 9/11, which will encourage more radical Muslims to act out and attack the United States. Yet, a study published in January by Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and supported by the National Institute of Justice, shows that mosques like Cordoba House actually discourage the radicalization of young Muslims. Modern, moderate mosques like Cordoba not only preach a more spiritual, peaceful form of Islam, and denounce the acts of violence committed by their fundamentalist co-religionists, they also encourage a sense of community and acceptance, making young Muslims less vulnerable to extremist groups that recruit from the alienated and disenfranchised.
4. Outrage over Cordoba House is emboldening anti-Muslim bigotry across the country.
Opponents of Cordoba House have largely tied their objections to its proximity to Ground Zero, but their outrage has spread to other communities that can’t cite 9/11 as an excuse. Planned mosques have been protested and denounced in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Temecula, California, and Sheboygan, Wisconsin since Cordoba House became a national story. These protests have nothing to do with reverence for the victims of September 11, 2001. They are displays of religious intolerance, pushed by fear, ignorance, and bigotry, and the Cordoba protests only encourages them.
5. Cordoba Initiative leader Feisal Abdul Rauf is our ally, not our enemy.
Conservatives like National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy have spent a lot of time and ink to insinuate that the imam who leads the Cordoba Initiative, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is a radical who supports terrorism. McCarthy insinuates because he has no facts with which to argue. Rauf is one of the principle promoters of a peaceful, contemporary, ecumenical form of Islam. He has repeatedly denounced terrorism, and worked to encourage friendly relations and cooperation between Muslims, Jews and Christians. Rauf describes the Cordoba Project as being modeled on the YMCA and YMHA. He is one of the good guys.