Most of the debate about Cordoba House has focused on religion — a shouting match about Islam in relation to religious tolerance, American values, and strategy in the war against Osama Bin Laden and Muslim radicals (“Conversation vs. Confrontation,” Editor’s Column, Aug. 5). This is all important, but it has submerged a discussion of the political propriety of the project.
According to its developers, the mission of Cordoba House is “improving Muslim-West relations.” While interfaith outreach is its goal, building the center near Ground Zero imbues it with an additional political character. The right-wing crusade to shut it down has focused almost entirely on its religious aspect and has been disgraceful as a result. But opposition to its political character rests on resonant emotional logic.
Think of the extreme distastefulness of erecting a German cultural center near Auschwitz as a gesture of German-Jewish reconciliation. Before you get your Godwin up, it’s not such an outlandish hypothetical. There are ethnic Germans in Poland, especially in the southern region containing Oswiecim; Poland is a secular republic that allows free expression; and few people other than Daniel Jonah Goldhagen believe German culture is synonymous with Nazism. But regardless of intentions, it would yield questionable benefit while constituting an extravagant offense to the victims of Nazism.
You might reply that there aren’t one billion Germans with whom reconciliation must urgently be sought. Fine, let’s put aside the dubious utility of consecrating a mosque near Ground Zero to mollify Muslims. Should Peace Now insist on setting up a Jewish community center by the Cave of the Patriarchs, where the Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 Muslim worshipers? There is a dire need for reconciliation between Jews and Muslims and Israelis and Arabs, and a JCC may serve as a resonant symbol demarcating Jewishness and Kahanism.
Many on the Left view Cordoba House as a quintessentially American answer to radical Islam. No; this is liberal masochism, a progressive impulse that heat-sinks toward the most self-flagellating remedy.
Muslim-West conciliation is key, but Cordoba House is politically tasteless. Our values need not be ratified by meretricious self-effacement. We can assert them without tithing our integrity. We can win without losing ourselves.