On September 11th, I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker for an event hosted by Unity Productions Foundation, Americans for Informed Democracy
9/11 Unity Walk and the Society for Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs at American University. The event took place at Theatre J, housed in the DC JCC. It brought together Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others in an act of unity to remember and commemorate the victims of that day nine years ago.
The act of talking to each other to understand each other is the best monument in honor of those who so tragically died on 9/11. It is in that spirit that I contemplate the controversy that has enveloped the so called ‘ground zero mosque” -which we know is neither on ground zero, nor a mosque.
Like millions in America, I saw Imam Abdul Rauf finally break his silence his silence on the Larry King show several nights ago. I have always been impressed by his calm demeanor and his sense of purpose in being a bridge builder and a man of peace. I would always support a project which plans to bring together the different faiths at the Islamic center he has in mind. I applaud the spirit in which he works to create unity and friendship. (Editor’s note: Abdul Rauf elaborated Sunday on This Week, telling Christiana Amanpour that he believes moving the mosque would “strengthen the radicals.”)
But as a man who has been an administrator in the Muslim world I am also aware of the sociological laws of cause and effect. I am conscious of the cultural context of the debate around the Ground Zero mosque. I am aware that there is so much intense hatred being built up around the Muslim community that if it were to go ahead it would attract constant attacks. Some are already threatening to physically prevent in construction. In the end, confrontation, pain, distrust and hatred, which are a consequence of the virulent debate around the mosque, are exactly the opposite of what the imam intended. If that is the case, then surely the imam needs to give us a way out of the impasse.
For the imam to say that the national security of the US “hinges” on the building of the mosque makes little sense to me. He must plan for the immediate future regarding the mosque in the context of the United States and not link it to some theoretical or remote ideas of foreign policy and international relations. The problem is squarely situated in the United States and needs to be resolved here. Whether he shifted or changes his structure or comes up with any other solution, little will change in terms of the implications for American national security.
However, to many Americans, the imam’s insistence on linking the construction of the mosque with “national security” appeared almost like a veiled threat. He seemed to be saying to those Americans “give me the mosque or else, your national security is threatened.” When 75% of Americans are already against the mosque, this tragedy to me is counterproductive. We need to be building bridges and friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims. I believe that is the imam’s intention. If that is the case, the imam has to rethink, radically, his present strategy. Otherwise, he has dug himself into an impasse and unfortunately dragged the rest of us Muslims in America into that same hole. To go forward with his plan is to face trouble; to back away is also trouble, as it will upset many Muslims. Therefore, we need the imam’s wisdom, compassion and boldness to come up with a legitimate solution. We should not talk of vague and strange links with national security but resolve the issue of the Islamic center in New York once and for all.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the name of American University’s Society for Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs.