Friday, 6 August 2010

A Jewish Case for the Ground Zero Mosque?

The building of a mosque (actually an Islamic community centre that will also house a place for prayer, i.e. mosque) just two blocks away from Ground Zero has become an explosive issue with adamant proponents on both sides.

Those who argue against allowing the building of this mosque contend that, given the nature of the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Towers and thereby killed close to 3,000 people, this is an affront to those who perished. Those who argue for allowing this construction respond that blocking this building would group all Muslims together as one group -- a form of racism -- and those who wish to build this mosque, who vehemently also oppose the fundamentalist Muslim terrorists should not be grouped together with this latter group. Those who are against respond that, albeit there may be some merit in this argument and indeed it would be wrong to group all Muslims together (after all, Sheikh Palazzi of the Italian Muslim Assembly, a noted friend of Israel is, still, after all a devout Muslim), the reality is that a mosque in such proximity to Ground Zero would still bring forth intense emotional pain to many, especially the families of those who perished -- AND THAT IS THE REAL ISSUE.

The fact is that this is not a Jewish issue. While many leading Jewish organizations have sided with those that oppose the mosque -- and I have a similar initial reaction although I have not investigated the matter thoroughly -- this is not really a Jewish issue. From my understanding, one of the main opponents are the Firefighters of NYC who feel that this building would be an affront to many of their companions who died doing their duty. It is a local issue. It is about the emotions of New Yorkers who felt and continue to feel the pain of 9/11. Is a mosque appropriate within this context.

It is within this context that I direct you to the following
which is a statement by Reconstructionist Rabbi Arthur Waskow presenting what he terms the Jewish case for building the mosque. There are so many weaknesses in his argument that I simply do not have the patience to list them. The one point he makes that is of interest is his contention that the Muslims building the mosque actually have positive relations with the Jewish community and this is something to be noted. I do think, though, that this Islamic group should still understand the sensitivity of this issue and be considerate of the feelings of the families of those who perished -- perhaps finding another way to express the distinctions within Islam and the fact that they should not be identified with terrorists (perhaps even with our assistance in the same way that we assist Sheikh Palazzi). Overall, though, Rabbi Waskow seems to be making this to be a Jewish issue -- and that in itself is a major mistake. This is not his fictional case of Detroit Arabs concerned about how Israel treats Arabs in Gaza. This is a real case of New Yorkers concerned about the memory of other New Yorkers who died in a grievous terrorist action and the feelings of other New Yorkers and others who are family members of those who were killed.

My question is why is Rabbi Waskow doing this? Is it to make the presentation of this liberal viewpoint more powerful because it is coming from a rabbi who is not taking the regular Jewish establishment of this? If he wants to side with those who favour building this mosque, that's his personal decision but to label his argument "A Jewish Case..."?

In the end, it is cases such as this one that further support my contention that it is necessary for us to start using adjectives in connection with our Jewishness (see, further, The fact that this Rabbi Waskow simply can present himself as a rabbi within Judaism implies some connection between me and him, my theology and his theology. It strengthens his position as one that I, as a coreligionist, must take seriously. While indeed there is a connection between me and his as we are both Jews and, I guess, there is some broad connection between me and him in some theological sense (he does quote Rabbi Hillel), the distance between us should also be recognized. In the same way you would not assume that a statement made by a Catholic Priest would have some bearing on the views of a Methodist minister, a statement by a Reconstructionist rabbi such as Rabbi Waskow should not be seen as having any bearing on me, an Orthodox rabbi. In the end, perhaps, this is what offended me the most -- that people would actually think that his presentation of A Jewish Case... must have some weight for me.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


micha berger said...

Off topic, but if you look at the Cardoba Foundation and who is on its board, you find people like its founder, Feisal Abdul Rauf. His take on 9/11: "wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened." And added in reply to a followup question: "Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA." He compared 9/11 to bombing Dresden.

The man wouldn't condemn the use of terror by Hamas or Hizbollah. Guiliani described him as someone aligned with terrorist groups, and showed the money trail from him to these and other terror groups. Rick Lazio (US Representative, NY, Republican) produced documentation of Rauf's actual membership in the Moslem Brotherhood (which he denies.

Then there is Xenel Corporation, a major funder. Also funds al Qaeda.

Given this, one also has to wonder about the name -- is it a reference to the Golden Age of Spain, or to the expansion of Dar al Islam to the West?

While Islam isn't evil, Rauf is no Pallazzi. I have no idea what Waskow is talking about.

And all that said, I don't think there are legal grounds to stop them.

None of this is a Jewish topic, but as a point of information, many of your assumptions are wrong.


Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Micha, thank you for your clarification.

I wrote this accepting Waskow's premises although, while I didn't express this in the post, I did question whether they were true or not. I simply felt that Waskow must have had some basis for his description of Rauf's views and position given that he was making his presentation on such a public forum as a CNN blog. It would seem that this is another reason to also state that I have no idea what Waskow is talking about.

Your questioning of the name, Cordoba, is most interesting. I should have wondered why they chose that name especially given Bin Laden's references to Spain in his video following 9/11.

On my basic point, though, that this is not a Jewish topic, it would seem that you agree.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Garnel Ironheart said...

George Jonas wrote a salient point in last weekend's National Post. He noted that only a fool would not have foreseen the firestorm of criticism the announcement of the locaiton of the centre would unleash. The people running the ICC are not fools. Ergo they knew people would be offended, they knew that emotions would be stirred up and they announced their decision anyway. What does that imply when it comes to their concern for the rights and feelings of others?
Further, remember that the term "moderate" when it comes to the Muslim world means something very different than its usual meaning. For example, in Israel a radical wants to destroy Israel and slaughter its population. A moderate wants to destroy Israel but is willing to give the Jews there some lead time to move to Florida.