The proposed Islamic center near the World Trade Center site is called “Cordoba House,” apparently in honor of Islam’s conquest of Spain. [August 18 Update: Christopher Hitchens says the name instead invokes a period of “astonishing cultural synthesis; Jacob Sullum agrees.]
The Washington Times reports:
The building was purchased in July 2009 for $4.85 million in cash by Soho Properties, a real-estate investment firm tied to developer Sharif El-Gamal. One of the investors was the Cordoba Initiative, an organization chaired by Ms. Khan’s husband, Faisal Abdul Rauf. The initiative listed less than $20,000 in assets in 2008 and has received less than $100,000 in contributions since it was founded in 2004. The ASMA has assets of less than $1 million. The principals will not explain how their cash-poor organizations can hope to undertake such a major project, but Ms. [Daisy] Khan [executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement] claims that, “Cordoba House will be a new entity whose funding sources will be independent from the funding sources of ASMA and Cordoba Initiative.” Odds are the money will come from overseas.
The Daily Mail offers more details:
The mosque is part of a proposed 13-storey Muslim community centre, which will include a swimming pool, gym, theatre and sports facilities.
The building, which was damaged by the fuselage of one of the hijacked planes, is at 45 Park Place — just two blocks from Ground Zero.
It formerly housed a Burlington Coat Factory store. The store’s two selling floors were destroyed when the landing gear from one of the planes tore through them during the attacks.
Construction is due to begin on September 11 next year – the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack.
The New York Times adds:
The Sept. 11, 2001, attack killed 2,752 people downtown and doomed the five-story building at 45 Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center, keeping it abandoned for eight years.
But for months now, out of the public eye, an iron gate rises every Friday afternoon, and with the outside rumblings of construction at ground zero as a backdrop, hundreds of Muslims crowd inside, facing Mecca in prayer and listening to their imam read in Arabic from the Koran.
The building has no sign that hints at its use as a Muslim prayer space, but these modest beginnings point to a far grander vision: an Islamic center near the city’s most hallowed piece of land…
The location was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims who bought the building in July. A presence so close to the World Trade Center, “where a piece of the wreckage fell,” said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric leading the project, “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.”
“We want to push back against the extremists,” added Imam Feisal, 61.
Several facts become clear from these accounts: the site of the proposed Islamic center was, in fact, damaged by the 9/11 attacks; the store that used to occupy the space left because of the damage; the location was purchased specifically for the construction of an Islamic center within the zone of destruction; and the center’s lead organizer publicly declares that his purpose is to oppose terrorism.
How far can we trust Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proclaimed intentions? And how much do his real intentions matter?
The Imam states:
My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. …
People who are stakeholders in society, who believe they are welcomed as equal partners, do not want to destroy it. … And there’s no better demonstration of our desire to build than the construction of this center. …
The project has been mischaracterized… It is not a mosque, although it will include a space for Muslim prayer services. It will have a swimming pool [etc.] …
And, yes, the center will have a public memorial to the victims of 9/11 as well as a meditation room where all will be welcome…
The center will be open to all regardless of religion. …
What grieves me most is the false reporting that leads some families of 9/11 victims to think this project somehow is designed by Muslims to gloat over the attack.
That could not be further from the truth.
My heart goes out to all of the victims of 9/11. …
Freedom of religion is something we hold dear. It is the core of what America is all about, and it is what people worldwide respect about our country. The Koran itself says compulsion in religion is wrong.
American Muslims want to be both good Americans and good Muslims. They can be the best assets the United States has in combatting radicalism.
They know that many American values — freedom of religion, human dignity and opportunity for prosperity — are also Muslim values. …
I have been the imam at a mosque in Tribeca for 27 years. … My work is to make sure mosques are not recruiting grounds for radicals.
To do that, Muslims must feel they are welcome in New York. Alienated people are open to cynicism and radicalism. Any group that believes it is under attack will breed rebellion. The proposed center is an attempt to prevent the next 9/11.
While he does publicly condemn terrorism, notice a couple of peculiarities with his claims. First, he grants that, without active intervention, mosques do, in fact, become “recruiting grounds for radicals,” i.e. violent Islamists who hate and want to destroy America and impose universal Islamic law.
He also claims that Americans must make Muslims “feel they are welcome” in order to “prevent the next 9/11.” However, not feeling welcome is no good reason to commit terrorist acts. Muslims are morally obligated not to commit acts of terrorism, whether or not they feel welcome. Many groups have come to America that have initially felt unwelcome, and they have nevertheless refrained from slaughtering others and learned to enter the culture. Perhaps Muslims would feel more welcome if more Muslims would publicly denounce Islamist terrorist acts and organizations.
While Feisal Abdul Rauf claims that he “hates terrorism” in the abstract, he could not in fact bring himself to condemn the terrorist organization Hamas. He declined to declare Hamas a terrorist organization when repeatedly given the opportunity during a June 18 radio interview.
Moreover, while the Imam claims to endorse freedom of religion, he has explicitly called for Sharia law, arguing that religion should help shape “the nation’s practical life” and that “religious communities [should have] more leeway to judge among themselves according to their own laws.” In other words, he calls for the enforcement of explicitly Islamic law, at least among Muslims in Islamic “religious communities,” as the Taliban continues to accomplishes in Afghanistan, and as various Islamic leaders have proposed for parts of Canada and Europe.
He is all for “freedom of religion,” if that means religion’s leaders are free to forcibly control their followers. Indeed, in his defense of Sharia law, which he laughably asserts comports with secular law and the Declaration of Independence, Feisal Abdul Rauf grants that he would forcibly impose “a certain amount of modesty” on the faithful (as defined by Islamic leaders). He states bluntly: “What Muslims want is a judiciary that ensures that the laws are not in conflict with the Quran and the Hadith.”
I do believe the Imam about one thing: I do not think he intends Cordoba House merely to promote Islamic gloating over the 9/11 attacks. I believe his core purpose is vastly more sinister.
June 30 Update: A comment on Amy Peikoff’s blog tipped me off to another detail about the Imam’s views. He indeed partly blamed America for the 9/11 attacks, telling 60 Minutes: “Fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam… I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.”