Since I don't think I have ever had occasion to praise New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and may never again, I will seize the opportunity to say that he is taking exactly the right position in the controversy over the proposed mosque and community center near the site of the World Trade Center. Yesterday (as Radley Balko noted this morning), Bloomberg gave what seemed to be a heartfelt speech on the subject of religious tolerance. Here is part of what he said:
This building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.
This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.
By contrast, the Anti-Defamation League, which is supposed to stand against unreasoning bigotry, is following the lead of jingoistic dimwits like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich by opposing the mosque. "It's the wrong place," says ADL National Director Abe Foxman. "Find another place." Why? Here is Foxman's explanation:
Asked why the opposition of the families [of 9/11 victims] was so pivotal in the decision, Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said they were entitled to their emotions.
"Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational," he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, "Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted."
That's not a bad argument. It's not an argument at all. Obviously, the survivors of people killed in the attack on the World Trade Center are entitled to their feelings. But they are not entitled to enlist the government's assistance in forcing other people to accommodate their feelings. And while the principles at stake here would be the same no matter what variant of Islam the mosque represented, it is worth emphasizing that the people behind the project are not exactly Al Qaeda enthusiasts:
Those who support it seem mystified and flustered by the heated opposition. They contend that the project, with an estimated cost of $100 million, is intended to span the divide between Muslim and non-Muslim, not widen it.
Oz Sultan, the programming director for the center, said the complex was based on Jewish community centers and Y.M.C.A.'s in Manhattan. It is to have a board composed of Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders and is intended to create a national model of moderate Islam.
"We are looking to build bridges between faiths," Mr. Sultan said in an interview.
So Foxman is right that the positions of the mosque's opponents look "irrational" and "bigoted." Because they are.
Steve Chapman refudiated Palin's position on the mosque in a column last month.