Throughout the controversy over the Cordoba House / Ground Zero Mosque / Park51 project, there’s been a steady backdrift of criticism suggesting that, quite apart from the ideological controversies, the project just hasn’t been well run. Some say that the organizers have had a poor media strategy or, frankly, have had close to none; or that they didn’t canvass the idea well with the rest of the Muslim community in New York City.
Others point out that whatever you think about the controversy, which in some respects has become global, there’s hardly even a project. What you have really is a developer who owns a building and a Imam with a non-profit and a concept. While the crazies are going on about the project being funded by the Global Anti-American Jihad, Inc., the truth is that it actually isn’t funded at all. They haven’t started raising money yet. These points have been made in various ways in the Times, Politico and the Post. And here’s a post by Hussein Rashid at religiondispatches.org that covers some of the same ground.A lot of readers who support the project to varying degrees have been angry about these pieces because they seem to focus on the faults or shortcomings of the organizers and not place the blame on the haters and xenophobes who are the ones who caused the problem, as they see it. When someone is victimized, the main problem is the victimizer, not the victim who didn’t plan ahead well enough to deal with the onslaught. The shortcomings of the victims’ ability to defend themselves is decidedly a second order problem.
But as we learn more about this story, I think it’s worth having minds spacious enough to get a grasp on both realities. In the abstract, there’s nothing particularly magical about the people behind this project. Certainly, in various ways, they could have planned things differently, marshaled supporters more effectively, simply run their project more competently. And in our reporting I’ve always tried to hold to the basic fact — which is what I think President Obama was trying to do to — that there’s nothing magical about having an Islamic community center in that part of Lower Manhattan. When larger and more important principles come into play, it’s always good to resist romanticizing the people whose actions, intentionally or not, put those principles on the line. Not because there’s anything defensive about but because you don’t need to be perfect to claim your rights.
Because as is often the case, things in life and politics often take on a special life and meaning of their own. So even though this is just an idea that Imam Rauf and the developers behind Soho Properties came up with, it became a focus for something much bigger. Once the project became the focus of those trying to demonize and marginalize all Muslim-Americans — and I really have no doubt that’s the aim of the people who are leading this charge — then it became a big deal and something worth defending, even if it didn’t start out that way. Not only because it’s right. But because it’s about who we are as a people, as a country.
There’s nothing wrong with holding both these concepts in our heads at once.