Thursday, August 5, 2010

A New Victory in a Long Struggle: Lower Manhattan Mosque Gets Green Light for Construction!

Despite the furious objections of Islamophobes and an assortment of opponents of Muslim constitutional rights, the New York Landmark Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny landmark status to a building in lower Manhattan, New York that would be the proposed site of a new community center and religious worship site. The project, proposed by the Cordoba Initiative, is planned as a place not only for religious Muslims, but a locus for interfaith dialogue and the promotion of better relationships between Muslims and the "Western" world.

But this planned institution was vilified, slandered, and utterly condemned by a legion of Muslim-haters who mis-characterized the project as a "Muslim supremacist" mosque that would be a blasphemous insult to the memories of the September 11, 2001 attack victims.

Yet, despite the incendiary tactics of the opponents, the Cordoba Initiative plans are on track to proceed. And beyond the obvious good news for the Muslim community of New York, there are important lessons to be learned from this victory.

First, Muslims should know that we were not in this struggle alone. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, City Council President Christine Quinn, some 31 rabbis from various Jewish communities in New York and nationally, and scores of religious and human rights leaders, all affirmed the importance of religious freedom for Muslims. Music mogul and humanitarian Russell Simmons also made a passionate defense of the right of the Muslim community to establish this place of worship.

The "haters" were strident and relentless in their propaganda barrage directed against Muslims-and Islam itself-but in the end, they could not sway the decision of the one decision-making body in the New York City government structure that had the power to vote the Cordoba Institute project up or down.

But the greater win was a victory of tolerance and reason over the forces of political reaction and fear-mongering. Simply put, people are free to say all sorts of scandalous and slanderous things about a religious community. But in the end, the false idea of the collective guilt of all Muslims for the 9-11 tragedy did not triumph. Faith, in short, did win over fear. And that is a victory that all good people can celebrate.

The Cordoba Initiative still must raise a considerable amount of money for the proposed project, and the anti-Muslim forces are sharpening their rhetorical axes for more assaults on Islam in America.

But the Lord of the Universe, and not Newt Gingrich or Pamela Geller, does, indeed, have power over all things. And that power will continue to sustain American Muslims who seek the equal protection of our religious freedoms and civil rights.

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