Abigail R. Esman (Source: Forbes.com)
(Abigail R. Esmanis a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands. Her most recent book is Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West.)
It isn't for the reasons that you think.
She said what? They did what?
As the pandemonium over the project alternately dubbed "the mosque at Ground Zero" or "the mosque near Ground Zero" (depending on your point of view) grows louder and more cacophonous, the stakes grow ever higher--and the outrageousness and outrage more severe. Not only has the project taken over the debate at cocktail parties: It has taken over the political debate as well. And just as has happened in Europe, American democratic principles as a result are now at risk.
Hyperbole? I don't think so.
Some contend that opposition to the mosque is itself anti-American, a violation of the right to practice one's religion--all religions. But that's a false argument. No one has oppressed the practice of Islam. No one has suggested that Muslims may not pray. They have simply argued that this place--this specific place--is not the right place, just as prayer is banned from public schools.
Rather, the attack on democracy has come from those who support the project, beginning earlier this month with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's endorsement of what then was called "Cordoba House." Since when do politicians intervene in religious issues in this country? (Some have argued that President Obama also expressed approval, though I disagree: Rather, he observed the legal right of the prospective founders to build it but wisely stopped short of offering an opinion.) Subsequently, other politicians, both Republican and Democrat, both for and against, have entered the fray. None of them belong there.
More recently, the politics grew even more appalling: Last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed investigating the funding of those who oppose the project--including, I suppose, private citizens like me. I can almost hear Joe McCarthy cheering from his grave. Has Pelosi spent so many years in politics that she cannot imagine people holding viewpoints nobody has paid for? Who has paid for hers?
Here's one possibility: Sheikh Al-Waleed bin Talal. After 9/11, Al-Waleed offered $10 million in aid to New York City--but only after first blaming Americans themselves for the attacks, a viewpoint Feisal Rauf, Cordoba House's leader and the imam of the mosque-to-be, evidently shares. (Then-mayor Rudy Giuliani refused the gift.) After all, Al-Waleed, who has donated $27 million to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and sponsored telethons for their cause, appears to share Pelosi's view: He has given $305,000 to the project. (Yes, I know Al-Waleed is also a primary shareholder of Fox News; I'm disgusted by that too.)
Also last week, Imam Rauf began a tour of the Middle East on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Yes, a religious leader is now an official representative for the United States. Could the State Department really not find another Muslim for the job? Should U.S. taxpayers really be subsidizing the travels of a cleric? Has the U.S. ever sent a rabbi, say, to Palestine or Israel, or a Catholic priest to Britain or Ireland? (This last is a sincere question: I honestly don't know.)
Officials insist that Rauf will not be soliciting funds during this trip, and therefore that the American taxpayers are not funding his fundraising. But let's be realistic. Fundraising is not done in a single meeting. It is done by building relationships. And while in the Middle East, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, Rauf will be meeting people he would not otherwise have met. And he will be building relationships with them, because that is what he has been sent over there to do. Inevitably, one if not more of these people will offer to subsidize his project, either now or in the very near future. So unless the U.S government prohibits everyone Rauf meets during this trip to send monies to the project--which it cannot do--then yes, the U.S. government--or rather, you and I--has funded this trip, which is, indeed, a fundraising mission for Park51 aka Cordoba.
Let's talk about that "Park51" moniker for a moment. Until a couple of weeks ago, when people started recognizing the implications, the project was called "Cordoba." Then Rauf and his wife, Daisy Kahn, went on a PR binge, and the name magically changed overnight into one worthy of a top ad agency campaign: Park51. It has the allure and cachet of "Park Avenue," of course, and the chic of a nightclub like Studio54. But a mosque by any other name is still a mosque, and a bad idea is still a bad idea no matter what you call it.
And it is a bad idea--one that just keeps getting worse. For Rauf and his entourage, there is no backing down: As Muslims, they have their all-important "honor" to preserve. They will not give. They will simply force their will. Meantime, those opposed remain opposed, and many increasingly find Rauf's intractability aggressive, even threatening. Chances are, if or when Cordoba/Park51 is built, confrontations will flare. Someone will get hurt. We can nearly guarantee it.
So yes, Speaker Pelosi: I think it is a terrible idea, a catastrophic idea that has already infiltrated the very freedoms you and others who support this operation claim to be defending. And it will get worse.
And before you violate my personal affairs on this, let me reassure you: No one is calling for a ban on Muslim worship. Some of us simply are insulted. Others are afraid. No one paid us to feel that way. They only had to live their lives: make a film, like Theo van Gogh; write an article, like Steven Vincent, or a book, like Salman Rushdie; draw a cartoon, like Kurt Westergaard; ask a question, like Daniel Pearl; or simply be: in the wrong place, at the wrong time, on a certain sunny September morning.