I Sit And Look Out: Controversy over Park51 project is manufactured

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Defending freedom when there are no challenges is easy. Defending it against hatred, fear and paranoia takes courage and leadership. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has displayed those qualities consistently in the matter of the proposed Cordoba House on Park Place.

Several days after Sept. 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush said, “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America — they represent the worst of humankind .... The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”

In 2002, the Pentagon built a chapel on the site of the 9/11 plane crash which killed all on board and 77 military personnel. All faiths worship there, including Muslims. This is, indeed, sacred ground.

As a private citizen, not a columnist, I wrote to our two U.S. senators; my congressman, Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside); and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, urging them to support the mayor. I called the office of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to thank him for saying that while he understood the pain and sorrow of families who lost loved ones on 9/11, “we cannot paint all of Islam with that brush.”

I applaud City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) for his eloquent defense of religious freedom in a letter to TimesLedger Newspapers in August. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he could get the Council to pass a resolution endorsing such a freedom?

In “South Pacific,” Navy Lt. Cable sings of his love for a native girl and how his upbringing makes him doubt his affections. “You’ve got to be taught,” he sings in disgust with himself, “to hate and fear/ ... to be afraid/Of people whose eyes are oddly made/And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade/ ... You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late/Before you are six or seven or eight/To hate all the people your relatives hate.”

The manufactured controversy over the Cordoba House has become a case of Islamophobia and too many people support this hatred of “the other.”

In my youth, a song had this refrain: “Freedom’s a thing that has no ending/It needs protection, it needs defending.” That is true today and every day.

There are no Muslims in my family that I know of. There are some different denominations of Protestants, some Jews, some Roman Catholics and some non-believers. Bloomberg speaks for all those who believe in this country’s values and act upon those beliefs. He deserves vigorous support.

Last month, in an unrelated matter, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, wrote, “The Constitution is the rock upon which our nation rests. We must follow it not only when it is convenient, but when fear and danger beckon in a different direction. To do less would diminish us and undermine the foundation upon which we stand.”

Let the final words be those of George Washington from his 1790 letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I. If you don’t have a copy of this magnificent expression of democracy, get one and keep it beside your copy of the First Amendment and the Flushing Remonstrance.

In part, the President, who lived on Cherry Street in Manhattan, when New York was our first national capital, wrote this:

The United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”

He concluded: “May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

I believe Washington’s noble words are those all Americans should attempt to live by every day, but perhaps especially on this day when we honor all who have served their country and its values.

Updated 6:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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