I hate to say this, but whoever came up with the phrase “mosque at Ground Zero” was a political genius. The phrase is not just an exaggeration; it’s a lie. But in today’s America, it’s a very effective lie — a horribly brilliant piece of demagogery.
I could show you what’s actually planned, but that’s not the point (okay, the plan’s at the end of this post). I could point out that the Park 51 Islamic center’s peace- and love-preaching imam is Sufi, part of the mystical branch of Islam (see the medieval Persian poems of Rumi, the best-selling poet in the US), as hated by hardline Saudi- and Taliban-type Islamic bigots as by fundamentalist American Christian and Jewish ones. I could explain, as William Dalrymple does so eloquently on the Op-Ed page of today’s NYT, that
a 2007 study by the RAND Corporation found that Sufis’ open, intellectual interpretation of Islam makes them ideal “partners in the effort to combat Islamist extremism.”Sufism is an entirely indigenous, deeply rooted resistance movement against violent Islamic radicalism. Whether it can be harnessed to a political end is not clear. But the least we can do is to encourage the Sufis in our own societies. Men like Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf should be embraced as vital allies, and we should have only contempt for those who, through ignorance or political calculation, attempt to conflate them with the extremists.
I could explain and point out and be as rational as you like, but bigotry demands blind ignorance. It demands the simplistic view, in which Islam is a destructive monolith. And just as the patriotism of scoundrels wraps itself in the flag, so the bigotry of Islamophobia wraps itself in the deaths of others — those Americans who died on 9/11 (except, of course, for the American Muslims among them).
The idea of Ground Zero as “hallowed ground” is another ghastly piece of framing, veiling bigotry in the holy. “Too close to hallowed ground,” say the bigots. “Move it further away.” But not to the suddenly hallowed ground of Staten Island, where they’ve organized in opposition to a proposed new mosque. Or that of Murfreeesboro TN, ditto. Or Wilson, WI, ditto. Or Temecula CA, ditto. Three thousand miles from Ground Zero is clearly just too close for delicate bigoted sensibilities.
We need to re-frame this issue, and quick. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg started the path toward re-framing (read his full speech here, an object lesson in integrity). President Obama then set an all-too tentative foot on the same path, only to immediately back-track — an object lesson, it saddens me to say, in the lack of integrity:
“I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.
“No comment”? Thanks, Mr President.
It’s time to stop pussy-footing around. Time to talk not just about the right to build the Park 51 Islamic center, but the need for it to be built. Yes, right there, close to Ground Zero, as a magnificent stand of Islam — of all of us — against the crude distortions of murderous extremists, of those who love only their own bigotry, and of cynical political operators now determined to make the “mosque at Ground Zero” a central issue in the mid-term elections.
This is not solely a matter of constitutional rights, Obama, and you know it. You need to speak out — clearly, forcefully, and eloquently — not just for the right to build Park 51, but for the necessity of it as a major step toward healing this ghastly rift in both the national and the international body politic.
Don’t you remember? Yes, you can.