Today – more than any other day – as America commemorates the horrors of September 11, 2001, you carry a huge responsibility on your shoulders. It is not only the responsibility of standing up against hateful propaganda, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in general, but you also carry the huge burden of defending the human values that Americans love to call their own. One hundred years from now and for a much longer time thereafter, Americans – and all of humanity, for that matter – will read in history books one of two things: [a] Muslim Americans stood tall, defended what is right, and contributed to upholding the American constitution; or [b] they succumb to pressure and were unable to stand to the forces of wilful ignorance and hate. You are in the process of deciding what will future generations read about the Cordoba Initiative.
Forget about national security concerns, and forget about the probable reactions anywhere in the world if you back down and surrender to the will of the wilfully ignorant Americans who refuse to be informed about the true nature, noble spirit, and inclusive motivations behind your Cordoba Initiative. Those concerns can be addressed by political leaders, military leaders, pundits on television networks, and countless number of people on all faces of the diversified media. Anything you might say in that regard would be interpreted, as it has already been, as a threat, blackmail, or delving into an area that is not of your expertise.
Your message should be focused on three principles:
1. Standing up for the values of respectful coexistence of all religions:
Tolerance is not what you should seek. You should seek that which you willingly offer; acceptance and respectful coexistence.
2. Defending the American constitution against the forces of wilful ignorance and hate:
People who can be accurately informed but refuse to read, listen, watch, or otherwise learn anything about the history of your congregation, the undisputed historic facts about “Cordoba”, or the peaceful nature of Islam, are not just ignorant, but wilfully so.
3. There should be no sensitivity about building an Islamic community centre or a mosque anywhere in America, including lower Manhattan:
There is nothing for which you should apologize. Islam is clean, and must not be held accountable for the actions of a few individuals who claim to act in its name; exactly in the same way that Christianity and Judaism are clean, and must not be held accountable for the actions of a few individuals who claim to act in the name of either of them.
To accept that building an Islamic centre or a mosque anywhere in lower Manhattan might carry any sensitivity – positive, negative, or otherwise – towards the victims of the horrible acts of September 11, 2001 and their families; is to indict all Muslims and Islam itself of that horrible act.
Your responsibility is indeed huge. May God guide you to the right path!
Hope is the stuff from which life is made!