The objections to an Islamic centre near Ground Zero should give Muslims pause for thoughtby Aatish Taseer / October 20, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
When, in early September, the New York Times published a poll in which two-thirds of New Yorkers described themselves as uncomfortable with the location of a Muslim centre downtown, only a few blocks from where terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Centre, I thought the message was clear: even in the most diverse city on the planet, a place that has made room for every language, faith and ethnicity, people are uneasy about Islam.
I would have thought, given that New Yorkers need no lessons in tolerance, that this message, painful as it is, might give Muslims pause. Even as the whole affair has cooled—now that the imam behind the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, appears to have agreed to shift his Cordoba centre a few blocks away—I would have thought that Muslims, and their allies on the left, might take time to reflect.
But I was wrong. Not only did the poll prompt a tide of screaming liberal criticism, citing freedom of worship and the peacefulness of Sufi Islam, but accompanying it was an unsigned New York Times editorial scolding New Yorkers for their squeamishness about a religion that, for all its claims to love and peace, has in modern times offered a basis for some spectacular displays of violence and rage.
The question of the downtown mosque is not about freedom of worship. As the triangulations of Barack Obama on this issue have underlined, Muslims, like everyone else, have the right to worship and Americans know they have that right. Nobody in New York is denying it; in fact, 72 per cent of those polled acknowledged that people have every right to build a “house of worship” near the site. What this affair is about is the mistrust of a religion and religious culture that has shown itself to be singularly scornful of these rights. And which, even among its most moderate adherents (Rauf included), has thrown up alarming historical and political opinions that are incompatible with the source of these rights: America’s libe…