Developers of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque“, also known as “Park 51″, are seeking federal funds designated for the redevelopment of lower Manhattan. And like most issues in the ongoing controversy around this project, the loudest voices on both sides are getting it wrong.
Such funding would not necessarily be either a “disgrace” or “an affront to the memory of those murdered on 9/11″, as NY Congressman Peter King is proclaiming. Even if that is Mr. King’s personal opinion, how dare he present as fact, a conclusion based entirely on his subjective experience? Aside from being presumptuous, his comments only serve to inflame an already combustible situation. While that style is increasingly popular with politicians of all stripes, it need not be acceptable to the rest of us.
At the same time, it is unimaginably arrogant and dangerously misguided for project head, Sharif El-Gamal to even imagine that it is appropriate to seek almost one third of the 17 million federal dollars which are in play for post 9/11 lower Manhattan buildings and programs. Aside from being grossly disproportionate, it smacks of seeking help for precisely the kinds of community building projects for which the Muslim community should be assuming responsibility.
While public-private cooperation is a lynchpin in the communal work of both the Jewish and Christian communities, and should also be so for the Muslim community, such funding should follow, not lead each group’s commitment to community building and to serving the general public — For it to be otherwise is inappropriate and, in this case, particularly disturbing.
For months, defenders of the Park 51 project, including myself, have argued based not only on the fundamental constitutionality of any community’s right to build and worship anywhere the law allows, but also on the importance of supporting institutions which offer constructive alternatives which remain proudly Muslim – institutions which are committed to healing past hurts and building bridges to the larger New York community.
The first stage of that commitment would be to pony up and take full responsibility for the construction and programming, at least in the initial phases. While that may still happen, it does nobody any good for this to be the first major public funding plan for Park 51. The premise was that there was a critical mass of partners, from within the American Muslim community, who both could and would assume that responsibility.
This is all about partnership – a partnership between Muslims and non-Muslims, in which each side addresses the challenges and abuses within its own community. It falls on the non-Muslim partners to step up and speak out against unreasonable fears, unfounded hatreds, and the exploitation of either in the name of protecting either the memory of 9/11 or the safety of our nation. And it falls on the Muslim partners to go beyond saying the right words or even supporting the right actions. They need to organize the necessary resources to build the dream we supposedly share.
Peter King is wrong, and so is Sharif El-Gamal. It’s up to the rest of us, the vast majority who are neither animated by rage nor looking for someone else to carry our water, to speak out. Park 51 will get built because it’s the legal thing to do, but it will only be the good thing to do when it gets built primarily with the hard work and hard earned dollars of the community which claims it as its own.