News that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has come out in opposition to the planned construction of a 13-storey 'Córdoba House' or 'Park51' mosque, two blocks away from 'Ground Zero', should prompt us to ask whether it is truly right to oppose the building of this particular mosque.
To begin with, it should be noted that there is no basis for opposing its construction on legal grounds. That said, a distinction needs to be made between legality and morality. The key question therefore is: would the mosque fulfill the apparent, declared intention of fostering outreach and mutual respect between people of various faiths?
The answer, however, should be a clear 'No'. To be fair, some of the opposition from the Tea Party movement to the 'Ground Zero' mosque is undoubtedly rooted in anti-Muslim bigotry: for instance, radio talk-show host Mark Williams, who resigned from 'Tea Party Express' over a month ago, described Allah as a 'monkey god' and characterized all Muslims as 'animals'.
Nonetheless, it is evident that there is also considerable popular opposition from New Yorkers themselves. For example, according to a poll by Quinnipiac University, on average 52% of New York voters oppose the construction of the Ground Zero mosque. Moreover, even in Manhattan, where there is most support for the project, only 46% are in favor of building the mosque. Amongst Americans in general, a majority oppose the planned construction, as the New York Times notes. Of course, resistance is particularly strong amongst families of the victims of 9/11, whose anguish ought to be taken into account here.
Such opposition is not at all surprising. Even supposing good intentions on the part of those behind the project, one could ask why they did not simply choose a site in Manhattan somewhat further away from Ground Zero. A suitable analogy would be as follows: how would Bosnian Muslims feel about proposing the construction of a Serbian Orthodox church at Srebrenica? Indeed, there are many parallels between the Srebrenica Massacre of 1995 and 9/11. The former was the killing of over 8000 Bosnian Muslims by Serb militias who justified their aggression on the pretext of defending their faith. In reality, however, the goal was to create a Greater Serbia by ethnically cleansing or exterminating Bosniaks and Croats from regions of the former Yugoslavia with mixed populations.
Similarly, the jihadists who perpetrate atrocities such as 9/11 purport to act in self-defense, but actually seek the eventual subjugation of the world under Shari'a. This is apparent from the declarations and writings of the leaders of jihadist groups. A case in point is Osama Bin Laden himself. When addressing Westerners, he normally justifies his actions by naming the usual grievances (e.g. the presence of Western troops in the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. support for Israel etc.), but when appealing to Muslims, he frequently invokes the idea of jihad, whether offensive or defensive, as a religious obligation.
For instance, in response to Saudi intellectuals who called for dialogue with the West in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Bin Laden wrote: "There are only three choices in Islam: either submit [i.e., convert to Islam], or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die. Such, then, is the basis and foundation of the relationship between the infidel and Muslim. Battle, animosity, and hatred-directed from the Muslim to the infidel-is the foundation of our religion." Similar sentiments were echoed by Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to bomb Times Square, when he stated in a tape released by Al-Arabiya that 'you'll see that the Muslim war has just started...until Islam is spread throughout the whole world.'
Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that Imam Abdul Rauf, the chief proponent of the mosque project, would do nothing effective to counter the broad elements in classical fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) that justify the doctrines of jihad as explained by Osama Bin Laden and Faisal Shahzad above. Indeed, in a 2000 treatise on Shari'a, and a 2004 book entitled 'What's Right With Islam', he has praise for figures such as the Sufi jurist Al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyyah and Al-Wahhab, all of whom formulated rationales for the notion of jihad as warfare to expand the realm of 'Dar Al-Islam'.
He furthermore hails the implementation of Shari'a in society, including in America itself. Thus, he is no better than the evasive Tariq Ramadan, who is wrongly lionized as a genuine moderate. After all, praising uncritically thinkers who justified noxious doctrines of warfare and subjugation of non-Muslims in writings intended for Muslims is no way to counter Islamism in any form, as it is their works that have been made so readily available by Saudi petrodollars.
In conclusion, the mosque is an unnecessary act of provocation at best and a project with a dubious agenda at worst, something that will certainly not achieve the supposed goal of improving interfaith relations. It is therefore morally right to stand with groups like the ADL in opposition to the construction of this mosque, whilst at the same time 'condemning unequivocally individuals like Mark Williams who are largely motivated by religious bigotry.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a student at Oxford University, and an intern at the Middle East Forum.