Let’s Move Forward With Park51

BY Bill Love

I believe the time has come for Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to make an unequivocal commitment to build the Cordoba House / Park51 community center at the proposed location on Park Place. It is time to end all speculation that the project may be moved elsewhere.

Indeed, any decision to relocate Park 51 would be viewed (accurately, in my opinion) as a victory for the extremists who have spread lies and misrepresentations about the project and used it to provoke anti-Muslim hysteria by appealing to fear, hatred and religious intolerance.  Such a victory would encourage these homegrown fanatics to oppose Muslim projects in other locations around the country.  A decision to relocate the project at this time would also send a message to the rest of the world that Muslims in the U.S., no matter how moderate, are second-class citizens who are subject to intimidation when they attempt to exercise the most basic constitutional rights others take for granted.  

There is strong support for Park51, including its proposed location, in our local community.  In addition to the inspirational leadership of Mayor Bloomberg on this matter, Community Board 1 has voted overwhelmingly in support of the amenities that the project would provide and that would be open to all members of the community, not just Muslims.  Our local elected officials, with one exception, have stood firmly with Imam Rauf and his congregation that has been a part of this community for 27 years.

Recently, an umbrella organization comprised of dozens of civic, religious, civil rights and other community groups was formed to offer visible support on a more structured basis.  Organized by Common Cause, New York Neighbors for American Values (which includes a 9/11 family group representing about 250 survivors of 9/11 victims) held a candlelight vigil on the evening of September 10th that resulted in participation by more than 2,000 Park51 supporters.  In addition, the two major downtown political clubs, Lower Manhattan Democrats (of which I am the President) and Downtown Independent Democrats, have each adopted strong statements favoring the Park51 project and welcoming it to our neighborhood.

 There is no logical reason for local Muslims to compromise away their rights under our Constitution to build Park51 wherever they choose, including two blocks away from the World Trade Center site.  Those who say it is “insensitive” to build the project at that location are themselves being insensitive to our local Muslim community because they are effectively saying that all Muslims are tainted by, and bear responsibility for, the actions of the 9/11 terrorists.  The latter conclusion is wrong and unacceptable and must be rejected by our community.  The best way to reject it is to ignore such irrational statements and proceed with the development and construction of the project on Park Place.

 Finally, one of the catalysts for the civil rights movement over 50 years ago was the fact that black Americans fought and died in World War II, and those who returned found it increasingly unacceptable to be treated as second-class citizens in their own country.  Muslim Americans should refuse to be treated this way as well.  Muslim soldiers serve today in our armed forces and many of them have died fighting for their country against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is one reason that no one in the armed forces complains when Muslim prayer services are held less than 100 feet from the location of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.  Dozens of Muslims died at the World Trade Center on 9/11 as well, and Muslims were among those volunteers who worked at the site following the attacks. 

 So there is every reason for the organizers of Park51 to fully exercise their rights to build the facility on Park Place and no reason whatsoever for them to “compromise” (read capitulate) by relocating it, especially when such a “compromise” could be interpreted as a sign of weakness and thereby encourage additional attacks on Muslim activities by anti-Islamic extremists. Other outreach efforts by Park51 have been discussed, including inter-faith programs and possibly even a separate prayer space for non-Muslims that involve no compromise of principle – indeed, the project has been envisioned from the start as one that would reach out to engage non-Muslims.  But moving the location of the facility in reaction to the irrational fears of some and the religious intolerance of others would send the wrong message to the world.  If the facility is built at the proposed location, I have no doubts whatsoever that in ten or twenty years people will be amazed to learn that a controversy once existed over the project, because it will have become an accepted and integral part of the fabric of our community.

Bill Love is a member of Community Board 1 and President of Lower Manhattan Democrats