Indeed, I saw a positive advantage in the war against terror — just as President Bush did — by making it clear that this is a war against terrorists, not a war against Islam, and it is al Qaeda’s nightmare if there is a substantial force of moderate, humane Muslims ready to denounce al Qaeda and other extremist fundamentalist Muslims who celebrate death and the killing of innocent civilians. And we should be encouraging — it is in the interest of anyone who wishes to defeat these terrorist monsters — humane voices of Islam to join us in this war against terror and not to broad-brush all Muslims as responsible for 9/11.
That was my first instinct. I hope I was right.
I have read good things about his and his wife's inter-religious and ecumenical work. And I have seen quotes — which I was glad to see — that Imam Rauf immediately denounced 9/11 and terrorism. But then I have read other quotes that trouble me. For example, in a June 12, 2009, Huffington Post article, Imam Rauf praised the Iranian Revolution. For example, he wrote, “After the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Kohmeini took the Shiite concept of the Rightly Guided Imam and created the idea of Vilayet-i-faquih, which means the rule of the jurisprudent. This institutionalizes the Islamic rule of law. The council of Guardians serves to ensure these principles.” Say what?
"The rule of the jurisprudent"??? About Ayatollah Khomeini? No mention of U.S. hostages??
This is clearly an endorsement of the Ayatollah Kohmeini’s theocratic dictatorship that, everyone now knows, trampled on women’s rights, the dignity of women, and indeed, subscribed to the bloody, brutal suppression of women and other citizens during the "Green protests" after serious allegations of a fraudulent election last year.
Does Imam Rauf really endorse this form of government? Did he issue public statements denouncing the current Iran regime's harsh suppression of the protests and use of Sharia law — its degrading and obscene inflictions of punishment, such as the use of stoning to death, as occurred recently under the supervision of the Taliban in Afghanistan against a young couple who chose to marry because they were in love, rather than follow the dictates of their family to marry others?
I also noticed that Imam Rauf has refused to repudiate Hamas as a terrorist organization, which the United States and civilized nations around the world regard as such. Hamas has consistently engaged in acts meeting the classic, universal definition of terrorism — it is indisputable they have intentionally aimed and shot over 6,000 missiles at Israeli civilians and endorsed the destruction of Israel.
Why has the Imam not publicly repudiated Hamas for these terrorist acts and its call for Israel's destruction? Does he agree with both? Why has he been silent as to both?
On the other hand, is it justified to deprive someone of the right to build a religious center — whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian — based on his or her political views, however extreme? Probably not, as a general rule; certainly, to do so offends my notion of First Amendment rights.
But should there be an exception regarding allowing construction of a mosque so near to the traumatic and horrifying 9/11 site by someone who seems to be silent about other acts of terrorism? I just don't know.
Suppose Japanese-Americans had decided to build a Japanese cultural and religious center at Pearl Harbor shortly after the attack? And Americans discovered that the sponsors of the center refused to denounce the sneak attack?
Would the First Amendment appropriately be applied to allow them to do so?
In contrast, if a group of Japanese-Americans had denounced Japan and the military responsible for Pearl Harbor and signed up with the U.S. armed forces to fight Japan, would Americans have minded those anti-Japanese Japanese-Americans building a cultural center? I doubt it.
So what we need from the Imam is transparency, and the availability to answer all questions, such as:
What is your position on the Iranian theocracy? On Iran’s treatment of demonstrators? On Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust and call for the destruction of Israel?
On Hamas’s rockets intentionally aimed at killing innocent civilians? On Hamas’s position calling for the destruction of Israel?
On Sharia law’s endorsement of stoning to death those who wish personal liberty in marriage and private relationships?
On the concept of a strict separation of church and state in a democracy?
On the intentional and calculated killing of innocent civilians for any purpose — whether by Hamas or suicide bombers killing Muslims in Islamabad or Israel or Baghdad?
And what about financing? Who is the Imam getting his money from? Who is he willing to go to get money? Suppose his mosque was being or will be financed by Islamic extremists who have ties to al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah?
These are relevant questions, at least to me, who still instinctively supports allowing this mosque to be built — just as similar questions about the sponsors and financiers of any Japanese-built memorial at Pearl Harbor just a few years after December 7, 1941, would have been relevant.
So, in principle, if Imam Raul is truly transparent and answers all questions, and the result is to demonstrate that he is a Muslim who believes the terrorism is abhorrent, including Hamas terrorism as well as al Qaeda terrorism, I am all in favor of helping him building his mosque and continue to denounce the monsters of al Qaeda, the monsters who motivate children to commit suicide in order to kill other children.
But if he holds positions that are sympathetic to terrorists and terrorist organizations, and/or financed by those linked to the same, then I have serious doubts.
So what are the answers?
I think Mayor Bloomberg and NYC leaders who have approved the mosque have an obligation at least to get the answers and publish them — and then let’s see how we feel about this particular Imam building the mosque and cultural center, as opposed to someone else.