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Another mother poem: ode to a changing table

A shameful blow to interreligious coexistence in New York

I'm deeply disappointed that the Anti-Defamation League has chosen to oppose the building of Cordoba House, an Islamic cultural center slated to be constructed in the shadow of the absent Twin Towers.

Writing at the Daily Beast ("The Anti-Defamation League's opposition to building a mosque at the site of the 9/11 attacks betrays its own founding principles"), Peter Beinart offers some history:

The ADL was born in 1913, after a Georgia jury falsely convicted a Jewish factory owner named Leo Frank of murdering a Christian employee. The men who defamed, and later lynched, Frank were anti-Semites. But they were not only anti-Semites. Three months after Frank's murder, some of his tormenters met on Georgia’s Stone Mountain to refound the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that would now dedicate itself not merely to terrorizing African-Americans, but to terrorizing Catholics and Jews as well...

"The immediate object of the League is to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people," declared the ADL's charter. "Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens."

The ADL's laudable founding principles are deeply betrayed by the organization's recent decision to oppose Cordoba House's construction. There's more information about Cordoba House and about the opposition in this recent NPR story:

The plan for Cordoba House — which those who oppose it call a mosque, and those who support it call a cultural center with a place for prayer — has been the dream of Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan. Khan describes it somewhat like the Jewish Community Center uptown, with facilities for athletics, arts, performances, lectures series, forums and weddings, as well as a prayer space.

Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf considers himself an orthodox Muslim, but he is also a Sufi, a contemplative and mystical path in Islam. The offices of the Imam and his wife are in a building used by many faiths that is part of Riverside Church in upper Manhattan, a liberal bastion of interfaith work. When you listen to Khan speak, she sounds very much in that tradition.

"Our religion has been hijacked by the extremists," she says. "This center will create this kind of counter momentum which will amplify the voices of the moderate Muslims. If we have to defeat the extremists, Muslims have to be leading that effort."

I'm having a hard time understanding why anyone would oppose the building of an arts, community, and prayer space -- maybe especially a Muslim one which is meant to be built near the site of the 9/11 tragedy. If a Muslim group were opposing the construction of a Jewish arts, community, and prayer space because of the murders carried out by Baruch Goldstein in God's name on Purim some years ago, the ADL would be first in line to speak out against the antisemitism. Shame on the ADL for opposing Cordoba House's construction (see their statement) on the grounds that those who lost family on 9/11 would be further wounded by the prayerful presence of Muslims in this corner of the city that they call home.

The moon is waning now. The next new moon will herald the beginning of the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar and Ramadan on the Muslim one. This is the second year that these two holy months have coincided, and it won't happen again for several years. (Last year I wrote an essay for Zeek about the confluence -- Allah is the Light: Prayer in Ramadan and Elul.) Both of our communities will spend the month engaged in prayer, contemplation, and turning-toward-God. I'd like to hope that our prayer and contemplation will lead us to deeper understanding of our common ground, but reports like this one remind me of just how far we have to go.