The Cordoba House clash

In the immediate wake of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, as black smoke still consumed and choked the skies above Manhattan Island, Rudolph Giuliani, then-mayor of New York, issued an emboldened response to those behind the gruesome acts of terror: [“We will rebuild. We’re going to come out of this stronger than before, politically stronger, economically stronger. The skyline will be made whole again.”][1]

In the most trying of circumstances, Giuliani’s message helped galvanize his reeling compatriots because the symbolism it evoked — that of tenacious courage in the face of evil and of perseverance through tremendous adversity — hearkened back to America’s roots, specifically to the fundamental values and ideals that the nation was once founded upon.
Giuliani emerged from the events of 9-11 as a powerful, influential figure, in part because he managed to remind and reassure the American public that their country, standing as a beacon of hope and liberty, was still the land of the free and home of the brave, and that nothing, not fanatical tyrants, nor the perverted ambitions of Islamist zealots, could ever take that title away.

However, despite the soaring rhetoric from Mayor Giuliani and others like him, in nine years the 9-11 Ground Zero site has undergone only minor alterations, with most of the landmark development having been hamstrung by rancorous debate as to its appropriate design and function. Now, as the ninth anniversary of the attacks passes us by, this debate over hallowed ground has suddenly been re-ignited with a proposal by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder, CEO and executive director of the non-profit Cordoba Initiative to fund the construction of a US$100 million, 13-story, glass and steel Islamic community centre in the area around Ground Zero.

Although the proposed Cordoba House, or Park51 as it is alternatively known, indeed has plans to include space for a prayer facility within the centre, certain opportunistic and intellectually dishonest commentators — Rudolph Giuliani ironically among them — have not only latched onto the “Ground Zero mosque” label, but have often failed to point out that the centre’s intended location is in fact two blocks away and completely out of site from Ground Zero itself. Many of these same Park51 opponents have also neglected to mention that since 1970, and without much fanfare, a second mosque has already existed a mere five blocks away from the World Trade Center site.

Rather than confront these facts, however, a handful of conservative leaders and media outlets prefer to direct their efforts towards much more nefarious pursuits, manufacturing fear by fabricating suspicious ties between Imam Rauf and radical Islamist organizations.
Despite Rauf’s stated goal to “promote inter-community peace, tolerance and understanding locally in New York City, nationally in America, and globally,” and lacking any concrete and irrefutable evidence linking the Imam to the contrary, Giuliani himself initially decried the Cordoba Initiative on grounds that “it’s a mosque, right at Ground Zero, supported by an imam who has a record of support for causes that were sympathetic with terrorism.”

As tensions have mounted, other prominent voices have also joined the fray, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reprehensibly equating Cordoba House backers to one of history’s most villainous and repugnant regimes, stating that the “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington [ . . . ] there’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.” Sarah Palin, ever the linguist, took to her Twitter account, imploring “peaceful Muslims” to “pls refudiate” the Ground Zero mosque.

More recently, Giuliani, perhaps cognizant of liberal kickback to such incendiary and inflammatory dialogue, has shifted his tact a touch, opting instead for a more nuanced and subtle approach. “America’s Mayor” now stands behind a sensitivity argument, suggesting that out of deference to family members of 9-11 victims, the Cordoba House project should not proceed. Thus far, this appeal to the mourning victims’ sensitivities has gained enough traction throughout the United States that leading polls now indicate a majority of Americans oppose the Park51 plan despite the project’s full adherence to New York state and federal law.
In an interview with Matt Lauer of the NBC Today Show, Giuliani even asserted that the Cordoba House proposal only stood to foster increased “division, anger and hatred.”

Rudy is right of course. The division over Cordoba House is undeniable and the anger and hatred is palpable and raw. That being said, Giuliani is recklessly wrong to label project backers as insensitive simply for their support of the initiative. While any decent human being suffers thinking of the innocent lives lost on 9-11, any decent human being also realizes that Imam Rauf and his future Muslim community members are no more responsible for this tragedy than is anyone else living, working or praying around Ground Zero. In reality, it is men and women like Giuliani who, through their relentless pursuit of guilty-by-association and fear-mongering tactics, have been the true architects of the division, anger and hatred reflected in the public consciousness. Worse, Giuliani’s reputation as a champion of American ideals only makes his descent into subversive group blame particularly disheartening, with his pleas for sensitive compassion only serving as a smokescreen for new waves of bigoted Islamophobia.

What these vocal opponents do not somehow understand is that from a strict national security sense, this sort of faltering support for their own set of rights and religious freedoms only acts to further discredit American institutions and give rise to yet more violent anti-U.S. sentiment. As outspoken Park51 advocate and current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg summarizes best: “We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims different than anyone else.” Presented with the historic opportunity to step forward from the shadow of racial profiling and reconcile damaged interfaith relationships, Americans would be wise to follow the direction of New York’s present leader and not its past.

Kevin Schulz is a former Features Editor at the Manitoban.