President Obama, after saying that building a mosque at Ground Zero fit our “commitment to religious freedom,” backtracked, saying he wasn’t commenting on the ‘wisdom’ of building it so close to ‘hallowed ground.’
A Fox News poll showed that while 61 percent of Americans believe that Cordoba House has a constitutional right to build near Ground Zero, 64 percent believe it is not appropriate to do so.
Does Obama’s hedging show a lack of ethical convictions? Does Hamas’ endorsement change the debate? What is behind public opposition to the site? Can you believe in religious freedom but not believe the mosque is appropriate?
The Park51 controversy has brought many dark elements to the fore. To my mind the foremost danger is the mainstreaming of a pernicious partnership between prejudice and politics. Come December, the politicians will abandon the issue and the bigots, strengthened and empowered by their political salience, will continue to spew their venom against the mosque.
But sadly until November, we will be forced to witness an ugly and hateful vulgarity on display, as the GOP uses hate as a political strategy. It is also rather shameful that prominent Democratic leaders like Harry Reid have joined the “I am a bigot now, be sure to vote for me” bandwagon. What is the point of having values, if we will not live up to them, when the polls dip?
President Obama’s downsizing of his moral stand to a politically expedient position was disappointing. It seems that the President’s instinct is to do the right thing and then when he thinks about it for a while, he resorts to political tap dancing. One of the principle elements of his grand strategy was to improve ties with the Muslim World and change America’s perception in the hearts and minds of Muslims. He won on that strategy but is finding it difficult to govern on it. Islamophobia has reached its zenith on his watch.
The position that a majority of Americans are taking – we respect their constitutional right to build a mosque, but they should respect our sensibilities not to have anything Muslim at our sacred places – is fascinating. It allows prejudice to prevail while simultaneously alleviating guilt. It is this ethical fiction – this not about rights but about what is right — that is allowing so many to oppose the project and enabling mainstream politicians to traffic in intolerance.
Imam Rauf, the principle force behind the center, is a very good example of a moderate Muslim. A leader in interfaith relations and a teacher of tolerance and love, he belongs to the Sufi traditions of Islam for whom the love of God is paramount. But now his project to build bridges with America has inadvertently become a lightning rod for hatred. If he succeeds in building his center, it will be a triumph for America and its values. But American Muslims will have to pay a big price for it.
The tidal wave of Islamophobia that has been unleashed will not disappear easily or quickly. The anger could manifest in myriad forms of discriminatory behavior towards Muslims. We must not forget that the fundamental reason behind the anger towards the mosque is an inability or an unwillingness to distinguish between ordinary American Muslims and Al Qaeda.
It is frightening that so many Americans are blinded by prejudice and mistaking a bridge for a beachhead. Prejudice is also fungible. Even if it is nurtured only against Muslims, it will turn against every one else eventually.