Every once in a while, something happens that is so completely wrong, so inexplicably confused, that it makes you shake your head in utter disbelief. Today was one of those days. The Anti Defamation League (ADL), an organization that has been in the forefront of the battle for religious tolerance for decades, announced that it opposed the building of a mosque near the former World Trade Center site. I find this almost impossible to believe.
The New York Times reports:
The nation’s leading Jewish civil rights group has come out against the planned mosque and Islamic community center near ground zero, saying more information is needed about funding for the project and the location is ”counterproductive to the healing process.”
The Anti-Defamation League said it rejects any opposition to the center based on bigotry and acknowledged that the group behind the plan, the Cordoba Initiative, has the legal right to build at the site. But the ADL said ”some legitimate questions have been raised” about funding and possible ties with ”groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.”
”Ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right,” the ADL said in a statement. ”In our judgment, building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right.”
Please read this carefully. The Cordoba Initiative has an unquestionable legal right to build at the site. But apparently, that’s not the end of the discussion. The right to build the mosque is not in question. No. Something trumps that. ADL tells us that they have questions about funding, as if that were ADL’s business, and then there’s this magnificent urban planning point. Apparently, there is theoretical penumbra around former World Trade Center site in which all of the construction should not be “counterproductive to the healing process.” If the mosque were further away, say 2 more blocks, maybe it wouldn’t impinge on the theoretical penumbra, but as it is now, it’s too close for comfort. What shameful rubbish.
The big question is what the construction of a mosque has to do with 9/11. On any level. Islam is a religion of peace. The people who brought down the World Trade Towers were fundamentalist lunatics. Nobody is saying that the proposed mosque has anything at al to do with those people. Or their views. Or supported the events. Or is subversive. No. There is no arguable connection. The connection, if you want to call it that, is just this: the hijackers were muslim, and the mosque is muslim. You see how that prevents healing? I don’t. You can put all of the whip cream you want on that steaming pile, and it will never, never, never be a dessert.
The Cordoba Institute says it will be transparent and will deal with the Attorney General’s Charity Bureau about its funding. Great. That ought to be the end of that thread of the argument. We can expecct the Attorney General to check the funding. What remains, I am saddened to say, is the bigotry.
And whenever there is collossal bigotry, people line up to justify it. The Community Board, the Mayor, and many others recognize that there is no legal, justifiable basis in a city to say that the Mosque that can legally be built on this site shouldn’t be built. It has a right to be built. Who can abrogate that right? Nobody. And whose against it? Can you guess? Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and a caterwauling mass of rightwing nut jobs. And joining them, to my shock and my great horror, ADL.
ADL’s position has horrified others as well:
The ADL, one of the most prominent groups in American Jewish life, is known for its advocacy of religious freedom and interfaith harmony. Its position on the mosque was met with shock and condemnation by several groups.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of J Street, the dovish, pro-Israel group, said he would hope ADL would be at the forefront in defending the freedom of a religious minority, ”rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers.”
The Rev. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, a Washington advocacy group, said he read the ADL statement ”with a great deal of sorrow.”
”As an organization that for nearly 100 years has helped set the standard for fighting defamation and securing justice and fair treatment for all, it is disappointing to see the ADL arrived at this conclusion,” Gaddy said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations urged ADL to retract its statement.
You can add my voice to those. The ADL is seriously and embarrassingly off course here. It needs to retract its statements. But that doesn’t matter to ADL’s National Director:
Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, defended his position.
In a phone interview, he compared the idea of a mosque near ground zero to the Roman Catholic Carmelite nuns who had a convent at the Auschwitz death camp. In 1993, Pope John Paul II responded to Jewish protests by ordering the nuns to move.
”We’re saying if your purpose is to heal differences, it’s the wrong place,” Foxman said of the mosque. ”Don’t do it. The symbolism is wrong.”
Read that again. It makes no sense whatsoever. If your purpose is to heal differences, you don’t jump into disputes on the wrong side, when religious freedom is at stake, and you don’t attempt to justify your position by incendiarily invoking the Nazis. That is just entirely too much. And it show how terribly wrong ADL’s position is.