Monday, August 23, 2010
I think it’s about time I break my silence on the so-called Ground Zero Mosque since everyone and his grandmother already spoken up their mind. So now it is my turn....OK, I know I don’t have a huge audience and that my opinion matters very little, but hey, I have a blog, therefore I am!! (In Yiddish it is translated as ergo blogito sum)
So where do I stand on this issue?
Since the crazies were screaming so loudly against it, my knee-jerk reaction was that something fishy was going on. So I started looking around and what I found was very confusing. I thought it was a very bad idea for the Anti-Defamation-League aka ADL to come against it if only because of the organization’s expressed goal to fight bigotry and extremism. At the same time, I was somewhat queasy about the unflinching support from New York’s Jewish mayor, not because I was against building a mosque at that specific spot, but because I kind of felt that some in what is called "the Muslim world" would interpret it as a victory for Islam over the wishy-washy gutless infidels. I think someone may have raised that point somewhere and I don’t think they were too far off. I still remember how some people I don’t want to name danced in the streets to celebrate the carnage that took place in New York and Washington DC on 9/11. Then, when the issue exploded all over the place, Obama expressed support for the mosque and took it back a little the next day because of the noise generated by the crazies. I ended up feeling that this whole mosque mayhem was one big nasty provocation and a test of America’s commitment to religious freedom and pluralism.
So in order to clear up some of the confusion, I read the usual suspects (Harris, Jeffrey Goldberg from the Atlantic, and Frank Rich from the NYT to name a few) and discovered that a lot of the information that was spread around this controversy was simply untrue. And then, by total coincidence, I ran into an Israeli friend who is married to an Egyptian man who is also a devout Muslim, I am not kidding you. Take that for religious diversity. It was a total fluke that I ran into her on the day I started writing about the mosque. As they say, it was life imitating blog.
Anyway, she told me that she has been visiting a local mosque with her husband and son in the evenings because this month is Ramadan, and that’s where her husband was breaking the fast. Then yesterday someone looked at her funny when he saw her eat something on the street and she was like “what’s your problem, man, why you looking at me like that? “ Only to find out that he saw her at the mosque and thought she was eating when she was supposed to fast. Little did he know. She ended up explaining to the congregation that she was Jewish and not fasting, and when they were not sure what the word Jewish meant, she added Israeli. That’s when they began complaining to her about the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and she had to put a stop to it and tell everyone that she did not come to the mosque to talk politics. When she saw my jaw falling off my face she said that they ended up treating her great and all ended well. So there is hope after all.
This Friday evening I am planning to go with my daughter and share some good food with my Muslim friends when they break the fast. Where else do you think I can get real good hummus and stuffed grape leaves in this town?
So here is my opinion of the mosque: Calm down people. Let’s talk it over and find a way to contain all this anger and do something productive. Yes, Sam Harris is correct in his analysis of the very serious ills of Islam and the need to speak out about those problems (jihadists, women-hating, total intolerance for the Other) and find creative ways to correct them, but screaming and kicking and badmouthing everyone will not do it. It will only make it worse and increase the alienation and hatred and violence. Transparency, accountability, responsibility, cooperation, checks and balances, due process, monitoring, education, education, education, all these buzz words were not invented for nothing. We should do something with them. After all this is America, where everything is possible and thinking out of the box is the cool thing to do.
We can protect and support and help progressive Muslims who have a very strong point to make like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji and Asra Nomani and all the other incredible Muslim women who write about their lives and fight for their rights and speak out without fear in spite of the huge risk involved in speaking out their minds.
Now, look at the picture I attached above. That’s me, pushing a baby stroller, on HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv, in 1999. It’s my daughter in that stroller. Behind me is, lo and behold, a mosque! This mosque is standing across the street from the Dolphinarium. On June, 1, 2001 at 11:30 on Saturday night, Saeed Hotari blew himself up in the midst of a crowed of teenagers, who were standing in line to enter the Dolphin Disco. 21 people, mostly girls ages 14-18, were obliterated, 132 others were wounded. The Palestinians celebrated in the streets after the attack and the family of the bomber received a chunk of change as a reward.
I don’t think the Israelis erased that mosque from the skyline of Tel Aviv or demanded to demolish it after the attack that took place across the street. The last time I was in Tel Aviv that mosque was still standing there. A couple of blocks from my brother's apartment. This is how it is in the land of the Jews and Muslims and Christians and everything in between. Mosques were built on grounds where Jews lived and died and built their houses of worship, and synagogues were built were Muslims once worshiped and lived and probably died, too, and churches were built next to synagogues and mosques and cemeteries, and some of them were built on top of synagogues and mosques and cemeteries. And now New York is turning into a city where Christians and Jews and Muslims and everyone in between and around are building things and learning to live side by side. Let us not turn this city into another Middle Eastern province. We should know better.