Park51, a k a Cordoba House, won’t be a mosque; it will be a $100 million, thirteen-story cultural center with a pool, gym, auditorium and prayer room. It won’t be at Ground Zero; it will be two blocks away. (By the way, two mosques have existed in the neighborhood for years.) It won’t be a shadowy storefront where radical clerics recruit young suicide bombers; it will be a showplace of moderate Islam, an Islam for the pluralist West—the very thing wise heads in the United States and Europe agree is essential to integrate Muslim immigrants and prevent them from becoming fundamentalists and even terrorists. "It’s a shame we even have to talk about this," says Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of the project.
Apparently we do, because the same right-wingers who talk about the Constitution as if Sarah Palin had tweeted it herself apparently skipped over the First Amendment, where freedom of speech and worship are guaranteed to all. "America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization," claims Newt Gingrich, who argues that the United States can’t let Muslims build a "mosque" "at Ground Zero" because Saudi Arabia doesn’t permit the building of churches and synagogues. For a man who warns that Sharia law is coming soon to a courthouse near you, Gingrich seems strangely eager to accept Saudi standards of religious tolerance. Isn’t the whole point that ours is an open society and theirs is closed? "This is a desecration," says former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "Nobody would allow something like that at Pearl Harbor. Let’s have some respect for who died there and why they died there. Let’s not put this off on some kind of politically correct theory." I’m not aware of any Japanese-Americans trying to build a Shinto shrine at Pearl Harbor, but what if they had? Why would that be so terrible? (Oh, and "politically correct theory"? Would that be the First Amendment? Giuliani never did have much fondness for pesky old free speech.)
And then there’s Sarah Palin, America’s Tweetheart: "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing." Yes, peace-seeking Muslims, just crawl back into your cave and leave us real Americans alone so we can get over the terrible crime committed by people who are not you! Thirty-three years ago, the language of healing wasn’t powerful enough to keep the National Socialists of America from marching in Skokie, Illinois—home to many Holocaust survivors—and kudos to the ACLU for defending the freedom of assembly even of those worst of the worst, a position that was not at all obvious at the time. But we’ve been thoroughly bathed in psychobabble since then, so it’s not surprising that sophisticated opponents like Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, have adopted that cloying lingo: "strong passions…keen sensitivities…counterproductive to the healing process." As Foxman wrote in a statement, "ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. 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."