City of Brass

There’s been a deluge of fantastic op-eds in support of the Park51 project, but this one in particular by Elizabeth Wurtzel at the Daily Beast really caught my eye. In part:

I’m surprised that American exceptionalism hasn’t taught people opposing Cordoba something about the process of joining this society. The United States has been defined by its ability to integrate immigrants, and turn them into Americans. Every wave of migrants from every part of the world has managed to find its place here, while still maintaining its ethnic identity. This is not something that happens in, say Europe, where women from Saudi Arabia living in London never give up their burqas, and where Algerians in the cities outside Paris riot because after generations they still don’t feel French.

But the American Dream is such a pretty windmill to chase that it’s not a problem to get new arrivals to join in the pursuit. People come here, they start watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey, they start reading vampire novels, they start eating Chicken McNuggets-it takes very little time for them to become soft and stupid like the rest of us. This country does not routinely produce radicals; numbskulls, maybe.

So I’m not scared of Cordoba House, with or without its Wahabi backers. Yes, of course, there will be Muslim extremists, some of them even from the United States, as we have already seen. There will be trouble. Whether or not there’s a Cordoba House, there will be trouble. So we can welcome the Ground Zero mosque for all the right and good reasons-or we can welcome it because it’s good strategy.

This is part of why Faisal and Khan initially lauded the proximity of the project to Ground Zero – they saw it as an affirmation of American Islam, as a rebuttal to those like Anwar al Awlaki who try to prey on American muslim sentiments and lure them into jihad against their homeland.

A new article in the NYT goes on to point out that it was really the Times Square plot by Feisal Shahzad that really began the controversy and uproar against the project:

In February, the staff of Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, who liked the idea, suggested the organizers present it to Community Board 1, the largely advisory body that represents the neighborhood. Planners agreed to share information before the board and respond to expected questions about congestion and how the neighborhood could benefit.

Mr. Stringer said nobody warned them of “an Islamic issue,” adding with a weary chuckle, “We really give good advice.”

Preparing for a May 5 community board meeting, Ms. Khan got support from her usual allies, like the United Jewish Federation of New York; Trinity Church; and the September 11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow.

Some people raised concerns about the feelings of 9/11 victims, but the meeting was dominated by logistical concerns and support from those who welcomed new facilities downtown. The board gave a unanimous yes.

The next day, the uproar began. Some newspapers referred to the project as the “W.T.C. mosque.” Mr. Shahzad had been arrested late on May 3 in the attempted Times Square bombing. The community board office began receiving “hundreds and hundreds” of angry calls, and e-mails from around the world, said its chairwoman, Julie Menin, some threatening enough that she requested riot police for the next meeting.

The organizers were shocked. Many supporters say that their failure to imagine the backlash left them ill prepared to defuse it.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20 when it comes to PR campaigns.

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