Friday, August 13, 2010

When Indignation Becomes Insensitivity

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek Magazine has announced that he is returning the Hubert Humphrey Prize he received 5 years ago from the Anti Defamation League (ADL). He says that in good conscience he cannot support the position they took opposing a mosque being built at or near ground zero - the site of where the World Trade Center was attacked and destroyed and over 3000 people were killed.

I understand his disappointment and indignation. He feels that by opposing the mosque the ADL does not live up to the ‘animating purpose’ of the organization – which is to fight discrimination in all forms. By opposing the mosque, Zakaria feels that they do the opposite. They are supporting discrimination against Islam.

I can’t speak for the ADL. But in my view his indignation is misplaced. Opposition to the mosque has nothing to do with intolerance or discrimination. Nor does it mean that the ADL does not want to promote good will among people and religions. It has nothing to do with the fact that we must all learn to understand and respect each other.

I recognize that not all of Islam is represented by the fundamentalist ideologues that flew two large fully fueled airplanes into the World Trade Center. I realize that this mosque is an attempt to prove that mainstream Islam is nothing like that. And that mainstream Islam is as opposed to what those fundamentalists did as every other American. I’m sure that the majority of Muslims in America feel the pain suffered by the families of the victims.

Those who are promoting and funding the project have as their goal to do exactly that – to counter the notion that fundamentalist Islam is the true expression of Islam and show instead that Islam is a peaceful religion. That fundamentalist Islam no more representative of mainstream Islam than Neturei Karta’s is representative of mainstream Judaism.

I am personally hopeful that someday Islam will be rid of those fundamentalists that have caused what seems to be irreparable harm to every decent Muslim in the world. If that day ever comes, I believe that Israel will be able to make peace with the Arabs in a heartbeat.

But ground zero is not the place for that. Not anymore than Auschwitz was the place to erect a convent for Carmelite nuns back in the eighties when it was tried. Just like the Muslims who want the Mosque built now for the right reasons, so too did the Carmelite Nuns want to have their convent there for the right reasons.

All those nuns wanted to do was pray for the Jewish souls that were massacred at Auschwitz. I’m sure the Muslims who want that mosque in the vicinity of ground zero are decent people with similarly good intentions. They want to educate the public about what they believe is authentic Islam. And perhaps they even want to show solidarity with the victims.

But not in that place. Islam is too closely associated with the terrorists that flew into the twin towers with a cry of Alahu Akhbar! The pain is too deep and too recent. There should be nothing in or near that place that is even remotely related to Islam – no matter how well intentioned.

Rather than be upset at the apparent disconnect between the ADL mission and their opposition to the mosque -I would suggest that Mr. Zakaria ask what it is that the survivors and their families would prefer. My strong hunch is that the vast majority of survivors and their families are opposed to it. As I’m sure are the first responders of that day. It behooves anyone with even a modicum of sensitivity to consider that first and back away from supporting this project.

On this last point I would add that it is somewhat surprising and disappointed that the mayor of New York City – Michael Bloomberg supports building this mosque in that location. Does he not have any sensitivity for those victims? If I were him I would urge them to build this mosque elsewhere. Any where they want. But not at ground zero. To me that is the height of insensitivity to the victims, survivors and their families. As it is to the first responders and indeed to all Americans. We were all victims on that day.