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New York, America, and Jews At Their Finest

Support for Cordoba House is an affirmation of our values

Marc Tracy
August 04, 2010
Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaking yesterday.(Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaking yesterday.(Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

Look, I know The Scroll has felt like it’s been entirely about the Ground Zero controversy, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Clinton-Mezvinsky, and I am sorry (hey, at least we’re not one of those news outlets actually giving Brett Favre’s Hamlet-esque waffling any attention—oh, wait). I will make it up to you, with a post later today about Israel’s northern border (right after a new Clinton-Mezvinsky post, natch). But, I mean, did you read Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s speech?

In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue, and they were turned down. In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies, and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion, and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780s, St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site, and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center. …

On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, “What God do you pray to?” [Bloomberg’s voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.] “What beliefs do you hold?”

Bloomberg also makes the libertarian argument that these are private citizens going through democratic channels to achieve a private, Constitutionally protected goal. This argument is also an explanation for what Cordoba House opponents can do next: Not much. The building isn’t landmarked, the neighborhood is already appropriately zoned, and while one conservative group says they are going to appeal the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision, its decisions are final. Anything local government did to try to intervene would almost certainly be unconstitutional. Besides, “local government”—the community board, the borough president, and, of course, the mayor—supports the mosque.

Surely it isn’t irrelevant that the mayor and the borough president (Scott Stringer) are both Jewish? Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the macher behind the Islamic center (which is explicitly modeled on Jewish Community Centers), doesn’t think so: “I express my heartfelt appreciation for the gestures of goodwill and support from our Jewish friends and colleagues,” he said yesterday. “Your support is a reflection of the great history of mutual cooperation and understanding that Jewish and Muslim civilizations have shared in the past, and remains a testament to the enduring success of our continuing dialogue and dedication to upholding religious freedom, tolerance and cooperation among us all as Americans.”

Clearly this display of ecumenical tolerance and generousness and courage is very un-American.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.