Ground Zero Mosque From A Jewish Perspective

Sfasi Teeftach
Ground Zero Mosque From A Jewish Perspective
August 27, 2010

So I know everyone is tired of hearing about the Ground Zero Mosque, known as Cordoba House. I also know that nearly everything that can be said about this issue has been said. But I want to say a few brief words on this topic from a perspective not normally presented.

Much of the debate has centered on constitutional rights. Those in favor of the mosque have branded those against it as bigots who will violate the First Amendment’s freedom of religion protection. Many against the mosque have accused the other side of being insensitive to the feelings of the families of 9/11 victims.

First, let’s acknowledge that anyone with a basic understanding of the Constitution knows that Muslims, like anyone else, have the right to practice their religion freely in the United States and to build a house of worship anywhere they choose – even two blocks away from Ground Zero. It’s also important to realize that legal does not always equal moral. In this case, it is legal to put the mosque in that location, but hurtful towards the victims. However, the real question we should ask ourselves is whether or not the erection of this building in that location will serve a positive purpose.

Some argue that it will serve a positive purpose on the grounds that it will show the world that America practices what it preaches and lives up to its values with regards to promoting religious freedom. Again, this is not the issue here as most level-headed people would agree there is absolutely no question whether or not Muslims have a right to build their house of worship in this location.

The founders of this mosque or rather, Islamic cultural center, have stated that they wish to build this center with the aim of promoting tolerance and understanding between Muslim-Americans and the rest of American society. I applaud such a noble goal. However, no such understanding will be reached if the builders of this Islamic center do not at least acknowledge the terrible atrocity committed in the name of their religion just a couple blocks away. Of course these Muslims are not in the same ideological camp as those who attacked the World Trade Center, but when others do something horrible – especially if it was done in the name of your religion or belief system – it is your moral duty to condemn it. If other Muslims want to show the world that Islam is not what the radicals make it seem, then they most speak out. As historian Edmund Burke once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This is something decent German people learned the hard way about 70 years ago.

In the case of this proposed mosque/Islamic cultural center, those who had the idea to build it must have known the location would be controversial. To them it may seem silly and insulting to equate their brand of Islam with that of the perpetrators of 9/11. But if they were truly considerate of other people’s feelings they would have met with the families of the victims prior to announcing plans to build. Maybe those trying to build Cordoba House could have even worked together with the families of the victims to erect a monument or museum condemning the attacks as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach suggested recently. This would have been far less controversial and it would have bridged gaps of misunderstanding, promoted tolerance, and lived up to the espoused ideals of those who plan to build this center.

As an observant Jew I shudder to think what I would do if it had been Jews who flew planes into the World Trade Center. For argument’s sake let us propose that the radical, anti-Israel Chassidic sect of Neturei Karta was responsible for 9/11. If I wanted to build a shul two blocks away from the scene of the crime (I wouldn’t, but that’s besides the point), I would meet with the victims’ families and work with them so as to make sure that the building of my shul would cause them as little pain as possible. It wouldn’t make a difference to me that the perpetrators hardly represent my interpretation of Judaism. The perpetrators were Jews and the victim’s families are not expected to know that I do not agree with the act of violence. It is my duty to reach out to the families and teach them more about what Judaism actually is and demonstrate how what a group of evil people did goes completely against Jewish values. I would never dream of brazenly announcing my attentions to build and call all those who raise legitimate concerns anti-Semitic. Such chutzpah is inconceivable! I do not see the builders of Cordoba House reaching out to the families. I have not heard that they were planning to dedicate a floor or monument or placard or anything that shows respect to those who died two blocks away. Instead I’ve heard their supporters label a lot of people ‘Islamophobic’ for even suggesting that the location for the mosque may be inappropriate.

In summation, those who attacked this country may not be a fair representation of Islam, but victims’ family members are human beings with feelings. They’ve been through enough. It’s time for the builders of Cordoba House to grow up and stop acting like children. Pointing fingers and calling every reasonable American who is hesitant to support this mosque an ‘Islamophobe’ is the opposite of promoting tolerance and peaceful dialogue. Also, those in favor of the mosque should stop lecturing the rest of the country on civil rights. Unlike some of them, I was born in the United States and I do not need the Civics lesson, thank you very much. Finally, announcing that they condemn the attacks and stating that they plan to have workshops and classes is not enough. A thirteen-floor building dedicated to Islam two blocks away from a site in which many were murdered in the name of Islam is morally obligated to, at the very least, build something to commemorate the tragedy. To do otherwise is a shameful attempt to sweep the reality of Islamic radicalism under the rug. I may not know a lot about Islam, but I know that Torah teaches that each and every Jew is responsible for one another. We’re all in the same boat. We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. I suspect there is a similar value in Islam. It would be nice if the planners of Cordoba House lived up to it.

Sfasi Teeftach is a regular contributor to Gather The Jews. Please note that the opinions expressed herein are those of the writer only, and do not necessarily reflect those of Gather The Jews.