An important Cordoba distinction

NEW YORK - MAY 25: People and police stand outside of a community center in lower Manhattan before a meeting to debate Cordoba House, a proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, May 25, 2010 in New York City. The plan to build the Islamic cultural center -- which is so close to the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that debris from one of the hijacked planes smashed through the roof of the existing building there -- is surrounded by controversy, and politicians and activists are preparing on both sides of the debate. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

You can oppose something and still think it shouldn't be opposed by the government. Many people seem to have trouble with this distinction and its corollaries. The media tend to have trouble with this distinction because many journalists consider the provoking of government action as a good metric of success for their rabblerousing or reporting. But it's true -- you can oppose things and still think they should be legal. I thought of this while reading the Anti-Defamation League's statement that both supported the right of Muslims to build an Islamic Community Center at the edge of Ground Zero and yet opposed its construction. Here are the concluding paragraphs of the Anti-Defamation League's statement:

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values. These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming. But regardless of how they respond, the issue at stake is a broader one.

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain -- unnecessarily -- and that is not right.

Most of what I have learned about the mosque and community center I've gleaned from months of reportage in the New York Times. While most people discussing this topic have focused on the politics, the hometown paper has actually reported a bit on how the proximity to Ground Zero is not coincidental but was, in fact, a key "selling point" to the somewhat mysterious investors of the $150 million project. We could use more information on who, exactly, is behind the project in addition to the media spokesmen, but it's actually difficult to get this information, as the ADL noted. I suspect that the New York Times reporters -- and others -- are working overtime to find out more about this project that has generated so much interest and controversy worldwide. The Times report this weekend, written by Michael Barbaro with reporting by Paul Vitello, did a good job of explaining how the ADL opposition fits into the growing conflict over this mosque project. And it did so without hiding the heated emotions on all sides but also without biasing the piece one way or the other. I was impressed:

The complex's rapid evolution from a local zoning dispute into a national referendum highlights the intense and unsettled emotions that still surround the World Trade Center site nine years after the attacks.

To many New Yorkers, especially in Manhattan, it is a construction zone, passed during the daily commute or glimpsed through office windows. To some outside of the city, though, it stands as a hallowed battlefield that must be shielded and memorialized.

Those who are fighting the project argue that building a house of Muslim worship so close to ground zero is at best an affront to the families of those who died there and at worst an act of aggression that would, they say, mark the place where radical Islam achieved a blow against the United States.

The story quotes Newt Gingrich but also local figures:

Several family members of victims at the World Trade Center have weighed in against the plan, saying it would desecrate what amounts to a graveyard. "When I look over there and see a mosque, it's going to hurt," C. Lee Hanson, whose son, Peter, was killed in the attacks, said at a recent public hearing. "Build it someplace else."

Those who support it seem mystified and flustered by the heated opposition. They contend that the project, with an estimated cost of $100 million, is intended to span the divide between Muslim and non-Muslim, not widen it.

It's got great quotes from both sides and it seems to accurately convey their arguments. I do wish the report better distinguished between people -- on both sides -- who are talking about legal remedies and people who are talking about propriety.

The Associated Press report on ADL opposition was able to distinguish these ideas. It also did a good job of treating opposition to the mosque as something that can be based in something other than bigotry. And, if you're interested, there are many more things found in various media outlets.

This story might have some of the best unexplored angles we've seen in a religion story this year. I hope we see some more good stories soon.

Please respect our Commenting Policy