Editorial of the The New York Times, 3 september edition.
The furor over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near ground zero keeps giving us new reasons for dismay. As politicians and commentators work themselves and viewers into a rage, others who should be standing up for freedom and tolerance tiptoe away.
To the growing pile of discouragement, add this: A New York Times poll of New York City residents that found that even this city, the country’s most diverse and cosmopolitan, is not immune to suspicion and to a sadly wary misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans.
The poll found considerable distrust of Muslim-Americans and robust disapproval of the mosque proposal. Asked whether they thought Muslim-Americans were “more sympathetic to terrorists” than other citizens, 33 percent said yes, a discouraging figure, roughly consistent with polls taken since Sept. 11, 2001. Thirty-one percent said they didn’t know any Muslims; 39 percent said they knew Muslims but not as close friends.
A full 72 percent agreed that people had every right to build a “house of worship” near the site. But only 62 percent acknowledged that right when “house of worship” was changed to “mosque and Islamic community center.” Sixty-seven percent thought the mosque planners should find “a less controversial location.” While only 21 percent of respondents confessed to having “negative feelings” toward Muslims because of the attack on the World Trade Center, 59 percent said they knew people who did.
It has always been a myth that New York City, in all its dizzying globalness, is a utopia of humanistic harmony. The city has a bloody history of ethnic and class strife. But thanks to density and diversity, it has become a place like few others in this country, where the world rubs shoulders on subways, stoops and sidewalks, where gruff tolerance prevails and understanding thrives.
Tolerance, however, isn’t the same as understanding, so it is appalling to see New Yorkers who could lead us all away from mosque madness, who should know better, playing to people’s worst instincts.
That includes Carl Paladino and Rick Lazio, Republicans running for governor who have disgraced their state with histrionics about the mosque being a terrorist triumph. And Rudolph Giuliani, who cloaks his opposition to the mosque as “sensitivity” to 9/11 families without acknowledging that this conflates all prayerful Muslims with terrorists, a despicable conclusion.
As the site of America’s bloodiest terrorist attack, New York had a great chance to lead by example. Too bad other places are ahead of us. Muslims hold daily prayer services in a chapel in the Pentagon, a place also hallowed by 9/11 dead. The country often has had the wisdom to choose graciousness and reconciliation over triumphalism, as is plain from the many monuments to Confederate soldiers in northern states, including the battlefield at Gettysburg.
New Yorkers, like other Americans, have a way to go. We stand with the poll’s minority: the 27 percent who say the mosque should be built in Lower Manhattan because moving it would compromise American values. Building it would be a gesture to Muslim-Americans who, of course, live here, pray here and died here, along with so many of their fellow Americans, on that awful September morning. But it’s all of us who will benefit.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/03/opinion/03fri1.html?hpwA version of this editorial appeared in print on September 3, 2010, on page A20 of the New York edition.