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A Proposal for the Cordoba House

By David Frum

I’ve felt great ambivalence about the Cordoba House mosque project in lower Manhattan.

On the one hand: If America means anything, it means the freedom to worship as you please, with whom you please, where you please, subject only to the same rules as govern all your neighbors. The words addressed by George Washington to the Jews of Touro Synagogue in 1790 apply with equal force to Muslim Americans in the 2010s:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

On the other hand: There is something very disturbing about the mosque planners’ determined disregard of the fact that the 9/11 site exists because of a murderous atrocity by people claiming to act in the name of Islam. See for example here from the Cordoba House website:

Americans want answers about Islam: To what extent do violent extremists actually speak for the opinions of Muslims everywhere? Is Islam a violent religion? Does it hinder freedoms or present an obstacle to democracy? Are Muslims in America a threat to Americans’ security?

At the same time, Muslims around the world demand answers about America and its policies: Is America naturally and irreconcilably opposed to Islam? Why does the United States choose violence in dealing with the Muslim World, invading Iraq and Afghanistan and sponsoring violence in other areas? Does America really care about Muslims and their rights?

To sum it all up, both Muslims and Americans feel there is a gap. They now want to know why it’s there, and what can be done to bridge it. Answering these questions is this book’s chief priority.

What creates the divide?

The divide is rooted in misunderstanding.

That’s true so far as it goes — but it does not go far enough. After all, one of the most important causes of the complained-of “misunderstanding” is precisely the “fault on both sides” approach taken by the institutions of North American Islam.

So: a proposal, raised in the genuine spirit of helpfulness. I believe the Cordoba organizers could quell all but the most die-hard distrust of the project if they were to say aloud and in print something in the following spirit:

The 9/11 atrocity was committed by people who claimed to speak in the name of Islam. We utterly reject this claim, and we join all our fellow Americans in abhorring the evil acts of al-Qaida and other self-described Islamic terrorist groups. We seek to build our mosque near the site of the 9/11 attack on our country as a place for worship and reflection, to pray with our fellow citizens for the welfare of our country and to pledge as Americans: never again.

And I can’t help wondering … why was something like that not said on the very first day?

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