Abdul Rauf is a Kuwait-born Muslim Sufi of Egyptian origin and a self-proclaimed peacebuilder. He is the principal organizer and the imam of the proposed mosque next to the site of the 9.11.01 attacks that brought down the towers in NYC. It is almost beyond belief that he could lack the sensitivity it would take to avoid the appearance of building the mosque right there in a gloating, triumphal gesture to America and the world. "We are here where our successful and righteous actions struck a victory blow for Islam!" He has said, "I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy,"
Too late. His tin ear for what the average American feels and his sole focus on gaining for Muslims--his other international efforts have put him in league with various Muslim organizations, from moderate to terrorist--these factors make him a poor representative for Islam in the US, and yet he claims that is precisely what he and his mosque mean to do.
From the predictable Newt Gingrich tongue flames and Rudy Giuliani outrage--or the risible Sarah Palin weigh-in for Rauf to 'refudiate' Hamas--the opposition to the mosque is great and growing. Most Americans oppose it.
NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg is the most credible voice in favor. He is mayor of the town with most of the surviving family members from the terror attacks, after all, and he simply says that this is America and that we have this amazing freedom and we have a pluralistic culture that accepts and doesn't discriminate against or for any particular religion. He is the most gracious prominent voice and there are many other, less visible, people and organizations who have far more reason than Sarah Palin to express outrage at the planned 13-storey Islamic center, and yet they support the mosque. Indeed, quite a few surviving family members of police and firefighters stand in support, as a testimony to tolerance and desire for a renewed American image of acceptance. President Obama has flipped and flopped on the issue, waiting judiciously until the city decided if the project was legal and then proclaiming apparent support for it--until the inevitable rain of rightwing rage blew his ship of state into the Sea of Disclaimers. Suddenly, he was saying he simply said it was legal, not necessarily a wise idea.
Sigh. What can we take from this kerfuffle? What can nonviolent people do with such pomposity, posturing, and predictable political preening? I would say at least one of our opportunities here is to simply note the old Bob Dylan line, "How does it feel?"
Some of the surviving firefighters and others are angry at the very notion of this mosque. Are they then more sympathetic toward, say, Iraqi firefighters who might have opposed US Shock and Awe bombings and the subsequent occupation of their country by hundreds of thousands of armed troops and mercenaries? Abdul Rauf only wants to build a mosque, not shoot his way to Washington DC to depose the leadership who orders drone attacks that continue to slaughter Muslim children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US leadership from Bush to Obama and all their subordinates all the way down to the grunts with guns in the streets of Baghdad or Kabul all claim, as does Abdul Rauf, that they are there to help, to promote peace, out of goodwill and that they all despise and denounce terrorism.
Let's carry this empathy that is part of the heart of nonviolence to the American people and ask, "How does it feel?" If we don't like the notion of a mosque at the World Trade Center massacre, even when the imam promoting it claims he is doing it in the name of peace and understanding, can we support the armed occupation of other peoples' lands in the name of democracy? If Americans are understandably repulsed by a mosque at Ground Zero, how can we not see the general revulsion and rejection of foreigners with guns telling Iraqis and Afghans how to live for their own good? It doesn't track for us to say that Abdul Rauf is wrong and our occupations are right. He isn't bringing guns to New York, just a place of worship. We aren't bringing churches to Iraq or Afghanistan, but we are killing anyone who opposes our decisions about how they need to govern themselves. How does it feel? If this absurd mosque proposal can show more Americans that they need to think about how Iraqis and Afghans might feel, perhaps it can do some good. (pictured: US soldier murdering unarmed injured man in Iraq mosque)
Abdul Rauf needs to listen to American Muslims who oppose his idea because it is flatly offensive on the face of it.
All of us need to listen to Iraqis and Afghans who reject our violent takeover and ongoing control of their countries. In the end, the US will leave both countries and those societies will almost certainly experience reactionary fundamentalism and every so-called gain we've shoved down their throats will burst into flames. We've wasted so many lives and so many resources; we cannot reconcile until we have no more arsenals there, and even then it will take a great deal of time. From the Crusades to Napoleon to the British empire to US imperialism in Saudi Arabia, Iran with the Shah, and in all places that have oil, the West has been massively insensitive, to euphemize our history. If the misplaced mosque project can give us a relatively harmless feel for some small part of that, it will be a worthy lesson.