Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque Part II

Two nights ago, I posted a story arguing why people from outside the Ground Zero area (let alone Alaska, Washington, Albany, or even Westchester County) should not involve themselves in the debate regarding the "Ground Zero Mosque." Now, I will discuss the politics around the issue.

Last week, the National Republican Trust PAC produced an ad that denounced the mosque's construction. CBS and NBC refused to air it.

Later in the week, Sarah Palin endorsed New York Assistant Attorney General Ann Marie Buerkle who is running against freshman Democratic Congressman Dan Maffei for Congress in NY's 25th Congressional District which consists of the Syracuse area. Buerkle is a Tea Party favorite already. It has been hinted that Palin, then to up the ante of her endorsement, then decided to discuss what she felt to be a local issue. On Sunday, she tweeted "Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." However, as many people pointed out, "refuidate" is not a word in the English language. Palin later deleted that post and replaced it with "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in the interest of healing." I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't find anything provoking about the Islamic center (nor can I figure out whom it is provoking since "provoke" means to provide a stimulus for a response typically of a confrontational manner). As for healing, I, for one was never hurt. Maybe it is the New York spirit in me, but what doesn't kill me makes me stronger. Was 9/11 a tragedy? Yes. But terrorism aims to invoke terror, if we need time to heal, the terrorists have won.

Later, the former governor humorously tweeted "'Refudiate', 'misunderestimate,' 'wee-wee'd up.'" English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"

To go off on a small tangent, to be honest, Sarah Palin is no William Shakespeare. Though, I am not an expert in English linguistics, I doubt that there are a dozen writers alive today that match his skill. The brilliance of Shakespeare are the number of ententes he could make in a single sentence, how prop-use and stage direction could be determined from the text, and how his texts were written in such a way that (with a few obvious exceptions like Julius Caesar) the story lines could be used in any time period. The words that Shakespeare invented were used for these causes. It should also be noted that the words were being coined during the early development stages of the Modern English Language; so, of course, the ability to add words would be much simpler. An interesting factoid that I leaned from my English teacher in my senior year in high school is that there are roughly 100,000 words in the English language; the average college graduate knows 10,000; William Shakespeare coined 1,000 words. 1% of the English language versus the "word" "refudiate," and Sarah Palin thinks she has earned the right to compare herself to Shakespeare? Whatever.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has endorsed the proposed Islamic Center, which, I did not learn until this morning is more of a YMCA (complete with community rooms, meeting rooms, a gym, ad a pool). The center's only "mosque" element is a Muslim prayer room.

Following the tweets by Sarah Palin, Bloomberg staffer Andrea Batista Schlesigner took to Twitter herself saying "@SarahPalinUSA whose hearts? Racist hearts?" And, later "@SarahPalinUSA mind your own business." The tweets were later deleted. However, Schlesinger explained herself "Deleted post bc I regretted curt response. But the fact is, I believe this city belongs to everyone - and no one more than another."

Her next tweet said "Unlike @SarahPalinUSA, I was born here and grew up here. Was showing off to a visitor today - look how beautiful and diverse my city is." That tweet personally speaks to how I feel about New York City as well. Once, I had to take an out-of-towner around the city. On an A train, there was a cross-gendered man, I thought nothing of it. My guest, however asked me "Is that a tranny?" I matter-of-factly replied in the affirmative. My guest, however, remained uneasy for the rest of the train ride.

Schlesinger's final response to the former governor read "I felt the pain of 9/11, the trauma. I got through it by believing in my city. Not through fear and hate." That is the New York spirit. I see crazy people on the subway singing randomly "Adam at a party, Adam at a party, Adam at a party, Adam at a cel-e-brat-ion" (as was the case with my commute yesterday morning) and I think to myself "I love New York." We realize that there are much bigger things with which to concern ourselves than petty disagreements, divisions, and judgments.

Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser told Politico's Maggie Haberman, in response to Schlesinger's tweets "Andrea was only speaking for herself, she has the right to her own opinions." Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg said "In terms of her [Schlesinger] comments about Sarah Palin, I don't agree at all. I don't think Sarah Palin is remotely racist." Then, the mayor came to Schlesinger's defense saying that as to Palin's comments about the Islamic Center, he "couldn't disagree more."

Republican NY gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio lately has been attacking his Democratic New York opponent Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for not investigating the funding of the Islamic Center. Cuomo has claimed that he would not investigate based on mere here-say out of respect for freedom of religion. However, Cuomo spokesman Rich Bamberger said "Anyone who has evidence of wrongdoing [as per the funding sources] should send it to us [the Attorney General's Office] and we will review it." Still Lazio is calling the center Cuomo's "trophy mosque"

Interestingly, NY1 did an interview with the Islamic Center's developer, Sharif El-Gamal, and he said that the reason for building the center was, in fact, to spite the terrorists that attacked while highlighting New York's diversity and community. "What happened that day affected me personally, affected my city. I was one of the first people that was down there at 9/11 and for 48 hours I was there helping my heroes, helping the firefighters, the policemen and I was giving water to everyone. What happened that day was a personal attack on me as a New Yorker. Something that I will never forget, never forgive those terrorists for what they did. And those terrorists did not act in the name of Islam. [my emphasis added]" The reason for the Islamic Center, from what I can read from that quote, is to denounce radical Islam and how Islam is a mainstream religion that does not wish to do harm against others. What place better than New York City, two blocks from the World Trade Center, to give the middle-finger to the terrorists by personifying in a building what we believe in as a nation, a city, and a society?

I reiterate, if just because it will irk the terrorists to end because us Americans live in a pluralistic and diverse society and the Islamic Center will be proof-positive of that, I support the project.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque

I'm sure we have all heard the uproar about the building of a mosque just blocks from Ground Zero and how it has become a national issue. My issue with the mosque is that it is an issue. The debate about the discussion didn't become an uproar until the National Republican Trust PAC created a television ad denouncing the creation of the mosque and the networks of NBC and CBS refused to air it.

This morning, the New York City local ABC affiliate aired the Democratic Attorney General Debate, which the video of is embedded below. If you fast-forward to the 9:15 mark, the question is asked of the candidates on their views on the building of the mosque and if the funding for its creation should be investigated (the bracketed comments I include are for clarification only). I have the candidates' comments written and/or summarized below the player.

Westchester County Assemblyman Richard Brodsky responded,
The, uh, mosque being built in that area is offensive to me as a matter of my role as a citizen. Uh, it seems to me that a certain degree of human understanding and sensitivity would say that there are things that may be legal which are not what we want to do in treating each other like citizens. As to whether it is legal or not, that is a much different question. And the law will be applied to those folks as it would to any other group as to the legality of the mosque. As to the funding sources, we will investigate any funding of any organizations which violate the law, threaten to violate the law, or whose activities are illegal and we will do that without fear or favor.

Eric Dinallo, a former NYS Superintendent of Insurance and Assistant Attorney General, said
I understand the issues of the emotions around this. I was at the Attorney General's office [located at 120 Broadway - three blocks from Ground Zero] when the World Trade Center was attacked. Outside of my window, you could see the destruction and time it took to come back from that. And, [at] the Insurance Department [which I was head of], I settled the case that moved $2 billion from the insurers to the redevelopment for downtown. But I think that people still have to maintain the concept in their hearts and minds [that] this state -this society- is built on Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Congregation, and that I think that it needs to be looked at the funding source; but, just because it was a mosque, it is not a reason to put in such a deep investigation. For that purpose alone.

Nassau County District Attorney, Kathleen Rice, answered,
You know, I understand the sensitivities surrounding this particular issue. But I think one of the most fundamental bedrocks of our great country is the ability to allow each and every individual to worship the religion of their choice. And I think that in the absence of any evidence of any wrongdoing or breaking of any law, that that bedrock needs to be preserved. But, of course, if there is evidence [of improper funding sources], as Attorney General, I would investigate it.

State Senator Eric Schneiderman said,
I, uh, I think that the mosque should be built. I think that religious freedom is what this country is all about. Arguably, one of the reasons we were attacked on September 11th is because we have a pluralistic, open society where everyone is free to worship and, uh, interact. I have proposed already looking at issues related to funding sources of banks that are based in New York and other companies that move money around that may or may not be going to terrorist groups - particularly: money going into Iran. But that has nothing to do with the religious freedom issue. The local Community Board that represents that community approved the mosque. I'm not going to second-guess them.
Then, when asked if he would investigate the funding, Schneiderman said that he would investigate the funding as well as any funds that are transferred through New York that are related to terrorist activities.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Sean Coffey as well agreed to investigate the funding to ensure it came from legitimate sources.
Well, I, uh, would also purse investigating the funding to make sure that it is coming from legitimate sources. This is a very tough issue. I mean, there is a lot of emotion around Ground Zero. As a young 17-year-old, 16-year-old, I helped build the World Trade Center when I was an apprentice in the Carpenter's Union - I helped lay sheet-rock there. And I lost some friends that day. I completely the pain that the families are feeling. But, we're special. We're Americans. We're tolerant. We strive for a more tolerant society. I served 30 years in uniform [in the Navy] defending those ideals and, as painful as it is for some folks, I think that we're better than our worst - as people would put us - in the worst light. And so, uh, I would go ahead and permit it to be built.
He too said he would investigate the funding.

In retort, Brodsky, said that the next Attorney General would have to apply the laws equally, but each person should be allowed to have opinions on the issue because of the memories 9/11 instilled in us. Coffey retorted that what we have to do is reach past the divides that the anger from 9/11 brought us.

Before I continue, I think I should explain some New York City politics. When a development project is proposed and would require the amendment of current zoning laws, the developer must go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The stages are simple enough, but take years to go through. First, the developer fills out the proper paperwork; if just one "i" is not dotted properly, it gets sent back. Next, the development project is reviewed by that community's Community Board. The Community Board consists of City Council members from that area and local representatives that are chosen by the Borough President. The Community Board has a public hearing so local residents can weigh-in. The Community Board's approval only serves as a recommendation and holds no weight in law. Next, the proposal is brought to the Borough Board, which is another advisory board that is chaired by the Borough President and mainly deals with the effect the project would have on the borough as a whole. Then, the proposal is brought to the City Planning Commission; if this board, which is chaired by a mayoral appointee, does not approve the measure, it dies (unless the City Council intervenes). Next, the City Council decides to approve it; the City Council looks at the impact the project could have on the city as a whole. If the City Council rejects the plan, it is dead. If approved, however, the plan is sent to the Mayor for his signature or veto. Notice the way ULURP happens: discussions on the project by the community, then discussions by the borough, and the discussions by the City as a whole. Look at what is noticeably absent: the State and the Nation.

Of the five Democratic Attorney General Candidates, only two live within the 5 boroughs of New York. Sean Coffey and Assemblyman Brodsky live in Westchester County. District Attorney Kathleen Rice lives in Nassau County on Long Island. Senator Eric Schneiderman and Superintendent Eric Dinallo both live in Manhattan. After moving from Long Island to the City, I saw how much of a difference there is when it comes to living in a place from living near a place and hearing about a place. There is a certain je ne cest que about a tragedy's impact radius and the level of understanding that people that are further away from it have from those that are right there. A good friend of mine from high school lives in TriBeca, only blocks from Ground Zero; his problem is the amount of people that are moving away from the neighborhood to other parts of the city. I live one block from the Brooklyn Bridge and that issue is foreign to me. If I, someone who lives 30 minutes by foot, cannot understand the emotional impact of the residents, how can someone from Westchester County, or Albany, or Washington or, for that matter, Alaska? 9/11 was a national tragedy, but each person and each community has to deal with it in the manner that they know best and outsiders should not be involved. The further away from the impact zone, I find, the less say you should have.

My issue with the mosque is that it is an issue. Gound Zero is in New York. New York was hit. New York should choose how to deal with it. Yes, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC were hit and both tourists and commuters from the Greater New York area were killed. I do sympathize, but just like any national tragedy, it may affect people that weren't there, but that impact is different from those that were.

I think Senator Schneiderman was the most correct when he said that we were attacked because we are a pluralistic society. The people that attacked us hate us because we allow for multiple opinions. They see the connection between our pluralism and our prosperity and denounce us because they want that prosperity while not losing power.

In the weeks following 9/11, there as a small Internet meme that depicted what the Ground Zero redevelopment project should look like. The photoshopped picture was an extend middle finger made from images of the World Trade Center.

Now, personally, I like the idea of the mosque. I can understand the issues surrounding it and the images that reminds us all of and I am completely sympathetic. I too have moments of shock when watching the scenes of the buildings falling or the people under the rubble. But I also want to look forward. President Bush, that night, said "America was targeted because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." I think the mosque should be built because for those reasons. We can tell the rest of the world, Muslim extremists attacked us on 9/11, but we are a beacon for freedom and we will not let any attack on us silence our core values. I think that building a mosque simply blocks from Ground Zero is the ultimate way of giving the middle finger to the Islamic Extremists that attacked us. We can say to the rest of the world that we have a mosque and a synagogue and a church all in blocks of where you tried to attack us; your aims to destroy the fundamental values of the United States failed.

Part of the reason why the saying "turn the other cheek" is such a great comeback is the history behind it. 2,000 years ago, the left hand was considered unclean and not used since it was used for wiping oneself. Also, an open-handed palm face slap was considered a sign of embrace (a back-handed slap was for beating). So, when the rule was made to turn the other cheek, it was less of sign of personal integrity and more of a sign of putting someone in their place. I think the 'Ground Zero Mosque' would do just that.

Let me leave you with a clip from "The West Wing" that I find to be on target: