Regarding the Ground Zero mosque, based on the information provided by the two partners in the project, we know very little about who will eventually be its directors, or who will fund it. It is the answers to these questions that will determine whether the Ground Zero mosque will be an “affront to extremists everywhere,” or, alternatively, whether it will threaten our homeland security by hindering our war against a dangerous idea that has “corrupted” Islam.
It is not “Islamophobic” or disrespectful to seek answers to these questions. Transparency is one of our best defenses in this ideological war. At the August 5 briefing for the rollout of this year’s Country Reports on Terrorism, the coordinator of the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism, Amb. Daniel Benjamin, noted that, in addition to realizing that al-Qaeda has the capacity to strike our homeland, Americans have “learned something else important in the last year.” He went on to explain: “The assumption that Americans have some special immunity to al-Qaeda’s ideology was dispelled. While our overall domestic radicalization problem remains significantly less than in many Western nations, several high-profile cases demonstrate that we must remain vigilant.” This is a warning we would all do well to heed.
The Obama administration has not stated where it intends to draw the line on the continuum of radical Islamist ideology. Such limits will likely emerge on a case-by-case basis. The stream of American Muslims from Minnesota who have been inspired to join Somalia’s terrorist group, for example, could prompt the administration to take further measures in this regard. Ultimately, it will be up to the courts to decide how to balance religious freedom against national and homeland security. In fact, the ACLU is already challenging the administration’s action on al-Awlaki, arguing that the government has disregardedthe standardthat the violence be “imminent” setby the Supreme Court for limiting speech that incites violence in the landmark 1969 Brandenburg case.
Our Constitution rightly protects the building of houses of worship, even when public sensibilities are offended — unlike, for example, Egypt, which uses just such a standard to limit the building of churches. The possibility that the Islamic center could be a propaganda gift to the enemy by the mere fact of its proximity to Ground Zero (the site was close enough that the building there was damaged in the 9/11 attacks) has been deemed by authorities not to clear the high bar of the First Amendment as a reason to permit its banning. Whether Park51 (or any other American mosque) will become a center of radicalism to an extent warranting its closure for the sake of homeland security — either under the new al-Awlaki standard or under some future standard necessitated by compelling reasons emerging within the ideological war at large — will remain to be seen.
– Nina Shea, a lawyer, is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and director of its Center on Religious Freedom.