Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Wise Voice in New York | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Amidst the continuing depressing talk of the clash of civilizations and cultures, and the war between religions, comes news of a unanimous vote undertaken by the Landmarks Preservation Commission [in New York], to demolish an old building and construct a modern Islamic centre in its place. The new structure will consist of a mosque, a school, and centre for cultural interaction. The vote represents the latest administrative step to remove obstacles hindering the ‘Cordoba Initiative’, the name given to this excellent project. The building is planned to be built near ‘Ground Zero’, where the September 11th terrorist attacks took place.

The project has been met with an enormous wave of aggressive objections, lodged by extremist voices from the American Right, Zionist movements and Christian fundamentalists. Such groups have given the project the worst possible description, portraying it as ‘the Hatred Centre’, the ‘Heart of Extremism’, and other derogatory labels. On the other hand, there were numerous voices calling for the practical application of ‘freedom to practice religion’, and for the non-discrimination of US citizens, regardless of religion background or race. This is one of the most important principles upon which the renowned US constitution was based on. Among the most prominent supporters of the Cordoba Initiative’s plan are current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker of the New York City Council, Christine C. Quinn, together with rabbi Robert Levine, who joined them by expressing his delight at the outcome of the vote.

Such wise and balanced opinions were in stark contrast to other more cautious and tense voices such as Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, together with Newt Gingrich, former Congress Spokesman, and Sara Palin, former Mayor of Alaska (both being the Republican Party’s runners for the presidency in the upcoming elections). All three were keen to warn against the construction of the ‘Hatred Center’ near the site of the largest terrorist incident in American history, because of “the contempt [it shows] towards the feelings of the victim’s families.”

The truth of the matter is that the centre will be built 75 away meters from the incident site [Ground Zero], and it will be an exceptional cultural centre. It will include a mosque, library, education department, restaurants, sports club and a centre for cultural interaction. The initiative is led by a Muslim scholar and moderate Imam, known for his openness to other civilizations, cultures and practical communication, and who is completely detached from extremist discourse. He is an American, and the centre is geared towards American Muslims in the first place.

This event is a practical and a realistic lesson regarding extremist discourse in both the Western and Islamic worlds. It confirms that extremists are a minority, and that he who speaks his mind will be victorious if he is without prejudices or unfair restrictions. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful people, who reject extremism and violence. They are well aware that the extremist discourse amongst them is an abnormality, and one that should be confronted. Likewise, the vast majority of Americans are peaceful people who welcome strangers and are generous to all cultures. The Zionist-Christian extremist discourse is completely detached from the principles on which the United States was based, both in principle and in theory. Only ideas that are most beneficial for all survive, and extremism has no room regardless of its location, nationality or shape. I pay tribute to the wise voices in New York and congratulate to the world for winning a significant round in its fight against extremism and ignorance.