In regard to the proposal to build an Islamic center at the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack in Manhattan, I commend you for saying: “Everything the United States stands for and New York stands for is tolerance and openness, and I think it’s a great message for the world. . . . ” But I would urge you to question whether this project truly represents that idea — or whether it undermines it.
Start with this: Before this project is approved, surely New Yorkers and other Americans should know who will be picking up the more than $100 million tab. Would you not be distressed were it later to be revealed that funds had been contributed by people who also finance terrorism?
You’ll recall that, after the 9/11 attacks, your predecessor Rudy Giuliani turned down a $10 million check from a Saudi prince who had said that America shares blame for the atrocity. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the Islamic center project, has said that U.S. policies “were an accessory to the crime that happened.” How is that different?
By the way, the Saudi royal family embraces Wahhabism, an interpretation of Islam that cannot be said to value “tolerance and openness.” Among other things, in Saudi Arabia non-Muslim houses of worship are prohibited and “infidels” — people like you and me — may not set foot in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina upon pain of death. Newt Gingrich has called on Abdul Rauf to state clearly that he disagrees with such policies. Is that not a reasonable request?
I have an additional suggestion: If this project — also called the “Cordoba Initiative”– is really to “symbolize interfaith cooperation,” if it’s really to be an “inter-religious center,” a 13-story home for “multi-faith collaboration,” should it not contain a synagogue and a church as well as a mosque? I would recommend putting each on a different floor. On the highest floor, let’s put the church — since Christians founded this great nation of ours. One floor down, let’s put a synagogue, since Jews were among the earliest immigrants to find religious freedom in America. And one floor farther down, we’d have the mosque, a place for a newer generation of immigrants to gather and worship freely.
Here’s my guess: If you propose this to Abdul Rauf, emphasizing, as you have in the past, the First Amendment rule that the government “shouldn’t be in the business of picking” one religion over another, he will nonetheless refuse. He will offer all sorts of explanations, but the truth, I suspect, is that he believes that Islam is not “one of the world’s great religions” but rather the only true religion, that others are false and wicked. He will find it blasphemous that you want this center to give equal status to Christianity and Judaism. And he will see putting a church and synagogue on higher floors as symbolizing more than equality.