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US Politics & Religion: A Way Forward on and beyond the Islamic Cultural Centre (Ezell)

Darrell Ezell, who recently completed his Ph.D. on US foreign policy and inter-faith dialogue, writes for EA:

Over the summer, protestors listing a series of emotional grievances have attempted to halt the building of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s 13-story complex, The Cordoba House at Park 51, 2 1/2 blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. These grievances include the timing of theCordoba Initiative, coming almost nine years after the attacks of 11 September 2001, the site of the cultural centre, and claims of forced assimilation with Islam and Muslims in Lower Manhattan.

If you are watching this debate from abroad, you may ask: is America really ready to move forward in peacemaking and reconciliation with the religion of Islam? In this case, doing so will require firm public support from Washington and moderate Islamic voices within America.

New York’s Proposed Islamic Cultural Center: Information & Comment (Olbermann)
New York’s Proposed Islamic Cultural Center: The Daily Show’s Investigation

Speaking last Friday at the White House’s annual Iftar dinner to commemorate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, President Barack Obama cited religious freedom and the need to support moderate conceptions of Islam within America. He affirmed:

As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.  This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.  The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure.

Anchoring this argument in the US Establishment Clause in his short address, the President set a new tone in the chaotic debate. The 1st Amendment to the Constitution, crafted by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” To prohibit Muslims from gathering within the public sphere or on private property would be akin to setting the nation back a half-century or more to an era marked by Jim Crow and legal segregation.

However, moving in this unjust direction is being lauded by anti-Islamic organisations such as Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) and Pam Geller and Robert Spencer’s Freedom Defense Initiative (FDI).  With emotions boiling over throughout America, a sensible conversation as to why exactly the Cordoba House is pertinent to peacemaking is being shrouded by misinformation and xenophobic rhetoric.

Take, for instance, the recent interview with New York gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, and the director for the Center of Islamic Pluralism, Stephen Schwartz, with MSNBC’s Chris Jansing. Neither Paladino nor Schwartz were able to articulate a logical position for their opposition to Park 51. Schwartz admitted the current furour is insensitive to some Muslims, as well as the victims of 9/11. But what he failed to realise is that reconciliation is --- or should be --- a part of America’s post-9/11 healing-process and that the time is always right to explore it.


Currently, a xenophobic strand in American society is making headway by capitalising on an opportunity to promote subtle forms of religious and racial difference, scoring political points with some voters before the autumn elections. FDI and SIOA have begun planning  a joint  protest on 11 September outside Park 51.  Headlining the rally will be conservative blogger, Andrew Brietbart,  former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Dutch  parliamentarian Geert Wilders.

With an anti-Islamic movement gaining ground, led by ambivalence,  cheap shots, and even slander of Muslim audiences,  it is vital that Washington steps out front to present continued, firm public support for moderate Islamic organisations in America which are sincere about preventing the spread of radicalism.

Fareed Zakaria writes, “Ever since 9/11, liberals and conservatives have agreed that the lasting solution to the problem of Islamic terror is to prevail in the battle of ideas and to discredit radical Islam, the ideology that motivates young men to kill and be killed. Victory in the war on terror will be won when a moderate, mainstream version of Islam—one that is compatible with modernity—fully triumphs over the world view of Osama bin Laden.”  To assure that this radical Islam is discredited within a context that does not offend the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, US officials must take seriously inter-religious cooperation and socio-political discourse to engage moderates. Washington should consider the following:

  • Establishing a national bi-partisan interfaith commission (comprised of religious and political leadership) to address domestic issues related to religious freedom;

  • Allowing this commission to pursue a peacemaking and reconciliation agenda aimed at supporting moderate organizations and voices in America;

  • Ensuring that feed-back loops are created to garner community-wide support and trusted relations with moderates; and

  • Engaging moderate Muslims from the centre, rather than relying on indirect methods as public diplomacy to reach them.

As Washington considers its next move, its imperative that concerned liberals and progressive conservatives consider the value of applying post-secular approaches to combat both radical Islamic and xenophobic extremism in America. "Post-secular" acknowledges that America has entered an era where widespread religious issues are presenting new challenges to US domestic and foreign relations. The approaches includes interfaith dialogue, sensitivity training, religious-political analysis, and sacred-secular engagement to handle America’s new set of concerns.

Reader Comments (10)

Hmmm - why is this mosque associated with /named after the word/place Cordoba?? Is it purely co-incidental that Cordoba was the centre of the Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain and the place of the huge Great Mosque of Cordoba. I cannot see on their website any explanation why this "initiative" is associated with Cordoba.

Or am I being too sensitive ? Freedom of religion is one thing - shoving religion into people's faces is another. Perhaps there is a reason over and beyond 9/11 to have some concern about this centre??



August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBaz


I have had the chance to visit Cordoba, where the Grand Mosque was reduced to a limited space --- it narrowly escaped complete demolition --- within the Cathedral when Spanish Christians took over the city.

The 1st Daily Show clip that we posted in a separate entry has a nice little commentary on this....


August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScottLucas11


yes- I have also been there. It certainly is a magnificent building and an interesting piece of history.


August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBaz

How did this all get started? This is what I learned from CNN's 17 Aug edition of Anderson Cooper 360:

Apparently it was Pam Geller who stoked the early flames of the controversy. Eight months ago, the mosque and Islamic community center planned for nearby Ground Zero was hardly on the public radar. In fact, whatever publicity it was getting appeared positive, even from conservatives. On December 21, 2009 even Laura Ingraham of Foz News announced: "I can't find many people who really have a problem with it". In May of this year, Geller titled her blog "Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction." She called it "Islamic domination".

A week later, the fires stoked by Geller were igniting mainstream media. On May 13, the "New York Post" columnist Andrea Peyser picked up on Geller's outrage and wrote a column she titled "Mosque Madness at Ground Zero." She described it as a "swift kick in the teeth"." rel="nofollow"> says this is the first time a newspaper labeled the project as wrong and suspect.

Other media picked up on that. Suddenly, the project was being referred to as the Ground Zero mosque, even though the site is two blocks away from Ground Zero and is as much a community center as a mosque.

May 16, the conservative "Washington Examiner" ran the headline, "A Mosque to Mock 9/11's Victims and Families." "The New York Post" assigned a team of reporters to cover the daily developments.

The story was on everyone's radar. By July, it had become a hot political issue. Sarah Palin was tweeting about it. July 18: "Peace-seeking Muslims, please understand, Ground Zero mosque is unnecessary provocation. It stabs hearts. Please reject it, in interest of healing."

A month or so later, August 13, President Obama weighed in with support.

From:" rel="nofollow">


August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

As Washington considers its next move, its imperative that concerned liberals and progressive conservatives consider the value of applying post-secular approaches to combat both radical Islamic and xenophobic extremism in America. “Post-secular” acknowledges that America has entered an era where widespread religious issues are presenting new challenges to US domestic and foreign relations. The approaches includes interfaith dialogue, sensitivity training, religious-political analysis, and sacred-secular engagement to handle America’s new set of concerns.


The interesting thing about this is that the usual suspects who would normally voice their support for a program like the construction of this Cordoba/Park 51 Islamic building are largely silent on the issue. We hear supportive statements from J Street, Pax Christi (Catholic), left-wing academics and Muslim groups, of course. The National Council of Churches leadership has also voiced its support. But what about the NCC's constituency members? Where are the Episcopalians? Where are the Lutherans? Where are the Methodists? Where are the Presbyterians? The liberal Protestant Mainline -- the people sitting in the 'God Box', located at 475 Riverside Drive (Manhattan) -- haven't made a peep. Are they just a little bit wary of something that could inflict more pain on the families of the victims, a project that the Anti-Defamation League has criticized?

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave" rel="nofollow">

Watch the short video. It sums up the whole redevelopment enterprise in lower Manhattan -- both the general incompetence and the Islam-pandering of the multi-cultis.

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Poll: Growing number incorrectly call Obama Muslim

Nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, said they think Obama is Muslim, up from the 11 percent who said so in March 2009, according to a poll released by the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that was conducted before the controversy over whether Muslims should be permitted to construct a mosque near the World Trade Center site.

In a separate poll by Time magazine/ABT SRBI conducted Monday and Tuesday — after Obama's comments about the mosque — 24 percent said they think he is Muslim..
More:" rel="nofollow">

August 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

"With emotions boiling over throughout America, a sensible conversation as to why exactly the Cordoba House is pertinent to peacemaking is being shrouded by misinformation and xenophobic rhetoric." The canard calling those whom object irrational rears its ugly head again. Well lets put that aside for momement and consider the following facts to contextualize the whole affair.

1) Its not all about 9/11: 9/11 is only one issue while the bigger issue is the fact 9/11 finally opened up the West's eyes to what was happening in the Islamic world. To say the least it was far from pretty and we all got to see why bar none the Islamic World is literally the world's worst human and religious rights abuser.

2) The projects real objective: This project is not about NY or interfaith dialogue. It is about one thing that being Islam and specifically calling people to Islam. If you take the time and read Imam Rauf's book you will note it has an Arabic title "a call to prayer from the world trade center rubble: islamic dawa from the heart of america, post 9/11." Well that is exactly what this project is for that being calling people to Islam. Ironically his wife even verified this when she said a goal of the project is to "integrate non Muslims" mind you integrate the majority not the minority Muslims. It should also be noted these folks never even considered a memorial as part of the original plans really bringing into question their motives--a two year old would have known to include a memorial to the victims. Sadly the authors of the project didn't most likely because they feel its all are fault fitting quite nicely into the victomology endemic across the Islamic world.

3) Will the Islamic world reciprocate?: To date they have not and in fact missionary work is banned in all Islamic states, non Muslim religions are banned or severely restricted throughout the Islamic world, and the majority of Islamic states have dual legal systems institutionalizing discrimination of religious minorities. These restrictions are all sourced from Sharia and mandated with the authority of Allah. It is why the OIC can bleat on and on about Islamophobia while its very memebers are all on the who's who list of the worlds worst human and religious rights abusers.

4) Is Islam compatiable with a liberal Western Democracy?: The short answer is no. Why? Because Islam mandates death for apostates, does not grant equal rights regardless of faith, demands death for homosexuals, still views slavery as legal, even rejects critical thought in favor of the divine, and most importantly categorically rejects man made laws(democracy) in favor of Allah's laws! Its why the Islamic world would not ratify the Universal Decleration of Human Rights. They could not but instead authored their own(The Cario Decleration) because Islam does not believe in freedom of religion or equality of all regardless of faith. Simply put Sharia law is not only mandated for Muslims but their scripture mandates Muslims must implement this worldwide even for us. They need not convert us but we need to be under its rule because our unbelief is the sources of all the evil, oppression, and injustice as explained in the Quran.

The reason Islam is in the spot light is because of all the points above and the breath taking hypocrisy it often partakes in. Yes objecting to the Mosque, the Burqa, and the Swiss minarets fly in the face of values of western civilization. However the point everyone is missing is the common thread often cried out "we are tired of tolerting the intolerant." The Islamic world expects us to bend over backwards and accomdate their every religious demand while at the same time continuing to abuse and persecute our coreligionists in Islamic states. Enough is enough the Islamic world has to reciprocate and start treating us as equals. We in the West have shown we will accept Islam but the message we are getting from the Islamic world is we will never accept you until you submit. It is why they felt the need to put up a giant Islamic center near ground zero in a provocation of epic proportions demonstrating the decadence, intolerance and insensitivity of those whom claim to be leaders in the Islamic world. For pete's sake no other demographic or faith based group would ever consider doing something like this leaving most objective people with the conclusion these people truly don't even care about us--we are already the guilty in their eyes.

I'm sure some will see this as a rant but I would encourage all to read the Quran, a Hadith source, the Sira, and some other works like Reliance of the Traveller for some perspective. For when you read it you will come to startling realization the scripture of Islam is not mostly about Muslims but about non Muslims. To boot it is mostly negative and clearly defines us as guilty and concealers of the truth. Simply put we have been judged wanting because of our unbelief and when you realize that everything starts to come into focus. The problem is not us it is Islam. Harsh but the objective conclusion I came to after spending three years studying their scripture and linking it to how the Islamic world operates today.


August 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwdavit

Fareed Zakaria, August 22, 2010

I first wanted to draw your attention to something else that's been going on in Pakistan in recent months. This is an al Qaeda triple suicide bombing from July, killing 42 and injuring 175. What's strange is that the attack took place at a site of Muslim prayer -- you might call it a mosque -- just before prayer time.

Why would al Qaeda attack a holy place at a time of prayer? Because it is a Sufi shrine, part of a sect that al Qaeda despises and regards as a deadly foe in the real battle it is fighting, the battle within Islam.

The Sufis are a sector of Islam originating in South Asia. They're all about mysticism, love, brotherhood and devotion, with very little attention to dogma. They believe in saints, shrines, music, dance, and follow a very liberal interpretation of the Koran.

Sufi poets routinely extol the virtues of wine and song, both forbidden in the purer versions of Islam. Sufism has always believed in tolerance towards other people and religion, and in peace. You can see why al Qaeda views it as its mortal enemy. The more Muslims accept some version of Sufi Islam, the more dangerous for al Qaeda and its extreme jihadist philosophy.

So the West should encourage Sufi Islam and its imams when we get a chance, right? Well, that's certainly what George W. Bush believed, which is why the Bush administration found some prominent Sufi imams in America and sent them abroad to spread their message of tolerance and pluralism in 2007. And chief among them, of course, was Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Cordoba Initiative, the cultural center with a prayer room to be built in the old Burlington Coat Factory that is two blocks from Ground Zero.

People have asked all sorts of questions about Imam Rauf. I don't know him personally. I have read some of his writings. But I'm struck by this simple fact -- if al Qaeda wants to blow up people like him, isn't that a pretty good indication of where he stands in the world of Islam?" rel="nofollow">

August 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

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