Ameinu Contributes Funds to Burned Israeli Mosques

— Haim Simon

Ameinu, the leading progressive Zionist membership organization in the United States, is designating funds to buy holy books to replace those destroyed by arsonists in the northern Israel Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangariyye. “Ameinu unequivocally condemns the mosque burning, the latest in a series of attacks by Jewish extremists in the West Bank and Israel proper,” said Ameinu’s president Kenneth Bob. “This is not Zionism, this is not Judaism and there is no place for this in a civilized society,” he added.

Ameimu joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres in condemning this attack. “This despicable act, which took place during these Days of Awe, should serve as a wake-up call to Israelis and Palestinians alike that a negotiated peace is the only way to silence extremists on both sides,” Bob continued. “It is our hope that Ameinu’s small act can bring some measure of comfort to the people of Tuba-Zangariyye,” he concluded.

A Review of “The Submission”

The Submission” by Amy Waldman, reviewed by Rabbi Jack Riemer

Do you remember what happened a few years ago when a group of Moslems wanted to build a mosque &mdash well, it was not exactly a mosque; it was more like a Jewish Community Center with a gym and classrooms as well as a place of prayer — at Ground Zero — well, it was not exactly at Ground Center, but it was meant to be built a few blocks away? The country went berserk. How dare they desecrate the sacred ground on which Moslems killed several thousand people and destroyed one of America’s iconic symbols? True, the Constitution provides freedom of religion for all, but so what? Does that justify this kind of an insult? Don’t the feelings of the families of those that died on 9/11 have priority over the Constitution?

For weeks, insults flew back and forth, as zealots on both sides called each other names, and the politicians tried to stake out a position that would straddle the conflicting claims of the public with the principle of freedom of religion.

The issue seems to have calmed down, at least for a while, since the people who were planning to build this mosque-or center-or whatever they will end up calling it if they ever build it — turned out not to be able to raise the money for it-at least not yet-and as the media turned its attention to other matters.

Amy Waldman wrote most of this novel before this bruha took place, but it raises the same kind of questions; Are American born Moslems entitled to their civil rights, or are they all to be stereotyped as terrorists out to kill us? Do those who lost loved ones on 9/11 have special claims on the memorial which is being built there, or are professional architects and artists the only ones who are capable of making aesthetic decisions? Are Jews entitled to suspect Moslems, in view of the fact that they have been the special targets of violence by Moslems in many countries, or should Jews be the defenders of civil rights for Moslems, because their own place in this country depends upon civil rights?

These are some of the questions that Amy Waldman deals with in this novel.  She gives no easy answers. Her characters are complex and ambivalent on these questions.

More after the jump.  
The central character is Mo Kahn — short for Mohammed — an assimilated architect whose parents came from India. He submits his proposal for a Memorial Garden to be built at Ground Zero, and, in a contest in which no names are allowed to accompany the submissions, he wins. And then he must justify his claim that his work is simply a work of art, and that it is not motivated by any desire to glorify the killers of 9/11 or even to pay tribute to Moslem Art.

As the issue heats up, Mo gradually changes his own attitude to his work and to this country. He starts out as an urbane, sophisticated liberal, who has no interest in, and no commitment to, Islam, but he is deeply offended that his work is being judged as Moslem propaganda when he believes deeply that he designed it with no such motive in mind. Little by little, in response to the attacks on him and on his work from the zealots, he begins to reconsider his heritage, and to insist on his right to be a Moslem American and on his right to be an architect who draws of many sources including Medieval Moslem Art, if he so wishes. He even goes to a mosque to pray, something that he has almost never done before in his life, perhaps to help determine for himself who he really is, or perhaps in order to defy those who are reviling him.

Another character in this novel is Claire Burwell, who is a wealthy woman, with some knowledge of art, whose husband died in the Twin Towers. She is the one who champions his submission in the first place, and she is the one who gradually persuades  the others on the panel to choosing it. But the more she sees the anger and the hysteria that the choice arouses, the more she is tempted to back down and take away the prize and given it to someone less controversial.

There is Paul Rubin, the politician, who only wants to make the furor go away so that it will not inflame the city and effect the next election. There is Sean Gallagher, a frustrated and angry man, whose brother died in the Twin Towers, and who sets out to lead a rebellion against the choice, so that he may have acquire and some importance for himself. And there is Asma Anwar, an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh, whose husband died on 9/11, and who only wants to stay in this country, and to be inconspicuous so that she will not be sent back, but who gets caught in the center of the controversy..

Amy Waldman brings these different characters, with their different agendas, together in this novel. They bounce against each other like billiard balls ricocheting. Sometimes they attack each other; sometimes they influence each other, and sometimes they seem like people caught in a tinderbox of conflicting emotions and intentions.

Ms. Waldman pits these characters, not only against each other, but also against their own inner drives and emotions. Each one reveals layer after layer of feeling, as the story spins out of control. At the end, we come away simply sick at the ugliness, the instability, and the chaos that manifested itself within so many of us in reaction to what happened on September 11th. We become aware through this novel of how angry, how unstable, how shocked and how vengeful we all felt in the aftermath of the events of that day. And we are forced to wonder and to worry about the question: Ten years after the calamity, have we healed yet, and if not, what will it take to restore sanity and stability, patience and calm, to us?

Novels do not usually set out to raise moral questions, but this one does. And the answer to these questions of have we recovered and have we purged ourselves from the trauma and the anger that 9/11 did to our souls,will come from what reactions this novel arouses. It is a gripping story, but it is meant to be more than just that. What kind of a country America will be will be determined, in some part, by how we come to terms with the trauma of this horrible event, whose tenth anniversary has now arrived. I hope that it does not take ten more years for us to calm down and to think rationally, instead of striking out in all directions, hurting the innocent, chasing the guilty, and injuring ourselves most of all. And I think that this book may help us in this task.

Rabbi Jack Riemer is a frequent reviewer of books of Jewish and General interest in America and abroad. He is the co editor of So That Your Values Live on: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them, and the editor of the three volumes of the The World of the High Holy Days.  

Gerlach: Building Mosque “Just Like” Protesting at Military Funerals


Republican Congressman Equates Building the Park 51 Mosque with Fred Phelps’ Hate Group Picketing Funerals of American Servicemen and Descrating the American Flag

At last night’s debate, Main Line Reform Temple’s Rabbi David Straus asked Congressional Candidates Jim Gerlach (R) and Manan Trivedi (D) how they stood on the question of the whether the Park 51 Community Center and Mosque should be built in New York City on the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory story on a side street two and a half blocks from the site of the World Trade Center.

While Manan Trivedi thought this was an issue left for New Yorkers to decide, he said

I fought in Iraq to defend the Constitution, and one of the rights in the Constitution is for religious freedom, and that was what they were doing up in New York when they proposed to build that mosque. These are some of the rights that were in the Constitution, and that’s a principle I stand behind.”

As a Marine, Trivedi put himself in danger to protect those freedoms for all of us whether Jew, Christian, Hindi or Muslim.

On the other hand, Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach said that those who build such a mosque are just like Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps: Gerlach observes that one has the right to build a mosque, or show up at a military funeral desecrating the American flag and carrying signs such as “God hates fags”, “Thank God for dead soldiers”, “God hates Israel”, and “Jews killed Jesus”. However, Gerlach argues “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.”

The Park 51 project calls for a “green certified building” to serve as a “center for multifaith dialog and engagement”. The Cordoba initiative leader and moderate Imam, Feisal Abdul-Rauf, has justly been recognized as a courageous and eloquent leader in improving relations between Islam and other faiths. In fact, he was Bush’s partner for Middle East peace and helped the FBI with its counter-terrorism efforts.

On the other hand, Fred Phelps and his extended family are engaging in hate speech. It is not at all clear whether anti-Gay, anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric spat in the face of the mourners of our fallen heros is guaranteed under the Constitution as “free speech”. In fact, the Supreme Court will soon be ruling on this case.

For those unfamiliar with Snyder v. Phelps, the backstory is as follows: Snyder was burying his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in a Humvee accident while stationed in Iraq. One thousand feet away stood members of the “church,” which protests just about everywhere, spreading the message of God’s hate for Matthew and his fellow soldiers as well as the entire world. They were carrying signs such as “Thank God for IEDs,” “Fags die, God laughs,” et cetera; Al Snyder said they also carried the sign “Matt in Hell.” In addition, they posted a poem on their website claiming that Snyder and his wife “raised [Matthew] for the devil,” taught him “to commit adultery” and that “God killed Matthew so that His servants would have an opportunity to preach His words. …”

Al Snyder, who became violently ill after reading this and watching the coverage of the protest later, filed a lawsuit claiming defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Snyder claims that this is not so much a free speech issue as a harassment issue. This is about deliberately engaging in psychological torture and, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “exploiting a private family’s grief.”

Drawing any sort of equivalency between these two groups shows a lack of a clear moral compass on Gerlach’s part. Treating a moderate Imam as if he was one of the 9/11 terrorists instead of a key ally in our efforts to isolate the extremists in the Muslim community is unfair, racist, immoral and jeapordizes the security of our nation
Rabbi Straus continued with a question about the Tea Party. Trivedi said the group espoused “dangerous ideas for our country”, while Gerlach was appreciative of the efforts of the local Tea Party groups and considered them preferable to MoveOn.org which he denounced as a extreme left-wing organization.

Unlike the Chester County debate, the Gerlach campaign agreed to let the debate be televised. It was carried live by PCN.

Hey Tim, What about the Pentagon Mosque

— Jed Lewison from Daily Kos.

Tim  Pawlenty says:

   “I’m strongly opposed to the idea of putting a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero-I think it’s inappropriate,” he said. “I believe that 3,000 of our fellow innocent citizens were killed in that area, and some ways from a patriotic standpoint, it’s hallowed ground, it’s sacred ground, and we should respect that. We shouldn’t have images or activities that degrade or disrespect that in any way.”

Apparently, Pawlenty forgot that fact that the Pentagon was also attacked on 9/11 — and that there is a mosque in the Pentagon.  
Justin Elliot:
   

Why did no one object to the “Pentagon mosque”?

   The “ground zero mosque” story seems to be dying down, but nothing lays bare the absurdity of what we’ve just lived through quite so much as this Washington Times story, quoted above, from 2007.

   Yes, Muslims have infiltrated the Pentagon for their nefarious, prayerful purposes — daring to practice their religion inside the building where 184 people died on Sept. 11, 2001. They haven’t even had the sensitivity to move two blocks, let alone a mile, away from that sacred site.

The story to which Elliot linked:
     

Navy imam Chaplain Abuhena M. Saifulislam lifted his voice to God as he called to prayer more than 100 Department of Defense employees Monday at a celebration of Ramadan at the Pentagon.

      God is most great, sang the lieutenant commander and Islamic leader, in Arabic, as iftar – the end of the daily fast began.

      Uniformed military personnel, civilians and family members faced Mecca and knelt on adorned prayer rugs chanting their prayers in quiet invocation to Allah.

So how about it, Tim? Why aren’t you outraged by the Pentagon mosque? And doesn’t your lack of outrage prove that you are merely trying to exploit religious bigotry for political gain? And doesn’t that make you a poster-child for cowardice?

A Mosque near Ground Zero?

The Anti-Defamation League has a record of sticking up for religious freedom, but they are speaking out against the “Ground Zero Mosque”. Various Jewish groups are praising or condemning the ADL for this stand. In joining forces with the right-wing ,is the ADL taking a stand against terrorism or selling out their long held principles?  

The ADL issued the following statement regarding the proposed Corboda Islamic Center in Manhattan:

We regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy, and that freedom must include the right of all Americans – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths – to build community centers and houses of worship.

We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry.

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site.  We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.  

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process.  Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.  These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.  But regardless of how they respond, the issue at stake is a broader one.

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam.  The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong.  But 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.

Nate Silver actually scouted out the construction site to see what was up. He reports:

There’s not going to be some huge, ostentatious mosque with some minaret or some giant crescent located “at” Ground Zero, nor within clear sight of it, nor even on the way (in terms of virtually all natural paths a commuter or tourist might take) to Ground Zero. Rather, there’s going to be a mixed-use retail building that contains some kind of reformist mosque, located somewhere in its general vicinity — as there already is now. It would not impose upon or offend anyone unless they were going out of their way to be imposed upon or offended.


Does the ADL argue that Ground Zero is sacred ground and a mosque in Lower Manhattan would be a sacrilege? Actually there is already a mosque in the neighborhood, along with strip clubs, straight and gay bars, sex stores and escort services.

The ADL describes itself as “the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry,” yet they oppose the construction of a place of worship because of the faith they adhere to. As Adam Serwer writes in The American Prospect:

It is inconceivable that the ADL would argue such a position if the building in question happened to be a synagogue, and the builders happened to be Jews.

Let’s be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it’s been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool. By doing this, the ADL is increasingly eroding its already weakened credibility as a nonpartisan organization.

I learned a very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone. Someone at the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.

As the grandson of a holocaust survivor, Jed Lewison writes How to surrender the moral highground in one easy step:

Even if you have no intention of ever setting foot inside such a center, you should still stand up against the campaign of irrational fear-mongering being waged against the facility — especially if you are part of a group whose mission is to fight all forms of bigotry. Whether or not the proposed Islamic Center is politically popular is besides the point: the bottom-line is that you can’t put an asterisk next to tolerance.

Finally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg concludes as follows:

If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn’t be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can’t. I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try to on that piece of property build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it too. What is great about America and particularly New York is we welcome everybody and I just- you know, if we are so afraid of something like this, what does it say about us? Democracy is stronger than this. You know, the ability to practice your religion is the- was one of the real reasons America was founded. And for us to say no is just, I think, not appropriate is a nice way to phrase it.