It's Good To Remember Our History

From an August 11th article by Jonathan D. Sarna published on The Jewish Daily Forward’s website:

When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood on Governors Island, in sight of the Statue of Liberty, and forcefully defended the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, he expressly made a point of distancing himself from an earlier leader of the city: Peter Stuyvesant, who understood the relationship between religion and state altogether differently than Bloomberg does.

As governor of what was then called New Amsterdam, from 1647-1664, Stuyvesant worked to enforce Calvinist orthodoxy. He objected to public worship for Lutherans, fought Catholicism and threatened those who harbored Quakers with fines and imprisonment. One might easily imagine how he would have treated Muslims.

When Jewish refugees arrived in his city, in 1654, Stuyvesant was determined to bar them completely. Jews, he complained, were “deceitful,” “very repugnant” and “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.” He wanted them sent elsewhere.

Stuyvesant’s superiors in Holland overruled him, citing economic and political considerations. He continued, however, to restrict Jews to the practice of their religion “in all quietness” and “within their houses.” Being as suspicious of all Jews as some today are of all Muslims, he never allowed them to build a synagogue of their own.

It was not until the early 1700s that Jews won the right to worship in public in New York City. In Connecticut that right was not granted until 1843, and the reaction of The New Haven Register, which “viewed the synagogue as a public defeat for Christendom,” is instructive:

“The Jews…,” the paper thundered, “have outflanked us here, and effected a footing in the very centre of our own fortress. Strange as it may sound, it is nevertheless true that a Jewish synagogue has been established in this city — and their place of worship (in Grand Street, over the store of Heller and Mandelbaum) was dedicated on Friday afternoon. Yale College divinity deserves a Court-martial for bad generalship.”

It took an act of Congress, signed by President Franklin Pierce, for Jews to be able to worship in public in Washington, DC, where some contended that the Religious Corporation Act granted the right to purchase real estate only to Christian churches; and just in case you think that Jews no longer run into such problems in the United States, Sarna cites a case from 1999 in which “opponents of a new Orthodox synagogue seeking to build in New Rochelle, N.Y. [used] warnings [about] ‘rats,’ ‘traffic’ and ‘creeping commercialization’ [to hide their] real fear, [which was] that ‘the identity of the neighborhood would change.'”

Muslims have been worshiping in public near Ground Zero for three decades. The Cordoba House community center will not, in other words, be bringing something entirely new to the area. Rather, it will provide much needed space for a community that already exists there–not to mention the much needed space it will provide for Muslims and people of other faiths to interact. The similarities between much of the rhetoric being employed to argue against the building of Cordoba House and The New Haven Register’s The Jews have outflanked us ought to disturb us all.

Cross posted on It’s All Connected.

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12 Responses to It's Good To Remember Our History

  1. 2
    Ben David says:

    1) This analysis entirely ignores what Muslims did to American citizens at Ground Zero, and the Islamic triumphalism that motivated it. Sorry – the story cannot be crammed into the “religious freedom” template without jettisoning its essence.

    2) Please cite evidence that there is a Muslim community in southern Manhattan large enough to require a 13-story “community center”. We are talking about a neighborhood dense with office buildings. Sorry – this story cannot be crammed into the “poor minority community relegated to the ghetto” theme, either.

    3) The property was purchased with cash – probably from the Malaysian government, which has countenanced waves of violence against its Christian citizens. Those attacks were justified and shrugged off by the imam now promoting this mosque.

    It’s good to remember *their* history, too.

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  3. Ben David:


    3) The property was purchased with cash – probably from the Malaysian government, which has countenanced waves of violence against its Christian citizens. Those attacks were justified and shrugged off by the imam now promoting this mosque.

    Link please; and I have to say that if you insist on making such assertions without providing links, which I remember Amp asking you repeatedly not to do on one of the other mosque-related discussions, I will ask you not to post to this thread anymore.

    Second: Place the objections being raised to the Cordoba House in the context of the objections being raised against the building of mosques all over the country–by which I mean to indicate a geographic spread, not necessarily quantity of cases–and the larger point of what I wrote becomes clear: the rhetoric being deployed against the building of mosques bears a frightening resemblance to the rhetoric that was employed against Jews worshiping in public. This does not ignore the fact that the September 11th attacks happened, that they were perpetrated by people who were Muslim or that those Muslims had an–to borrow your term–agenda of “Islamic triumphalism.”

    Third: I would point out to you that freedom of religion means freedom of religion. We allow some pretty scary Christian fundamentalist groups, groups that are very much about the overthrow of the US, etc., to worship in public–as we should–and then we go after them when they do something illegal or when we know they are planning to do something illegal, when there is evidence, etc. to support taking such actions against them. If there is hard evidence that this mosque is going to become a secret bomb-making facility; if there is evidence that this mosque is going to become a recruiting center for Al-Qaeda or some similar organization; if there is evidence–and I mean hard, actionable evidence, not conspiracy theories cooked up by people who are ignorant and afraid and hurt and scarred, or who are just out and out bigots; and certainly not half-quotes taken out of context, which is what most of the “problematic quotes” that I have read attributed to Imam Feisal are–that any of this is true, then, hell yes, we need to go after the people who are involved, but that still does not mean that Cordoba House, or any other mosque in the US, should not be built.

  4. 4
    Dianne says:

    Please cite evidence that there is a Muslim community in southern Manhattan large enough to require a 13-story “community center”. We are talking about a neighborhood dense with office buildings.

    Um…no. It’s in Tribeca, a primarily residential neighborhood. It is, emotionally, for a Manhattanite, very, very far away from the WTC in FiDi. Actually, FiDi is getting pretty residential too. Right now there is one community center in the region (and by region keep in mind I mean maybe twenty square blocks: the physical space of downtown Manhattan is TINY) there is one community center. It provides after school programs for two local grade schools and is always oversubscribed. (My evidence? I tried to sign my kid up 3 months prior to their deadline and couldn’t get her first choice classes.) I don’t know whether the proposed community center on Murray St is planning to provide after school entertainment or not or if they’d welcome an ethnically partly Jewish kid* if they are, but there is a clear need for further community centers and similar efforts of some sort in the neighborhood.

    If you’re so set on the community center not being built there, why not buy the building yourself and put something else there? Right now and for the last few years (I can witness personally at least 2) the building has been empty. It is a fire and health hazard and adds absolutely nothing to the neighborhood. Why people like you want it to remain that way, an empty shell of use to no one is something I don’t understand and can’t sympathize with in the least. Unless you want to make a counteroffer to the building’s owners just go away and mind your own business.

    *Just to note that the kid is NOT welcome in the average Jewish community center because I am not, officially, Jewish. Her father is, but that’s the wrong parent so as far as the orthodox community is concerned, any prejudice she faces is not their problem.

  5. 5
    Mandolin says:

    “what Muslims did to American citizens at Ground Zero”

    Whoa, I missed it when all Muslims agreed to believe everything every other Muslim believes, and be responsible for the behavior of all other Muslims everywhere.

    Excuse me, I have to go thump on my 12-year-old Christian neighbor for what she did to Jews during the Holocaust.

  6. 6
    Dianne says:

    Excuse me. I’ve been trying to figure out why this issue brings out the rudest side of my personality and eventually decided it’s the “chivalry” aspect: People who are against the building of Cordoba house often potray themselves as saving Manhattanites from the evil Muslims who are forcing a mosque on them. This is clearly insulting. We know where the proposed mosque and community center are going, we know what is there now and we know where it is in relation to the WTC.

    The references to 9/11 are particularly insulting. On 9/11, 2001, I was working at Bellevue and living on 13th Street (about 1-2 miles from theWTC). I and other Manhattanites know far more than the average midwesterner just what happened on that day and know as well as anyone else who was responsible. But we also saw the pictures of the “missing” from the WTC, some of whom were clearly of Middle Eastern extraction. And we also saw Islamic doctors, rescue workers, and others work to save the victims and sometimes die trying to save victims. It’s harder to see Islam as “the enemy” when the ambulance driver coming back from the WTC site covered in ash is wearing a head scarf.

    So, please stop trying to save us from our neighbors. It’s ineffective and insulting.

  7. 7
    RonF says:

    I think President Obama hit the nail on the head. To my mind freedom of religion is as much an absolute as freedom of the press. Presuming that there is no zoning consideration that would apply as equally to a synagogue or a church as it would to a mosque, I cannnot see any legal rationale for blocking the construction of this.

    Will it be acclaimed as an Islamic triumph over the Great Satan in many places? Sure. Do I despise that? Yes. Too bad, though. Freedom isn’t free, it has to be paid for, and this is one way the bill comes due.

  8. 8
    nobody.really says:
  9. 9
    mythago says:

    You also have to admire Ben David’s attempt to present “Muslims” and “American citizens” as separate, non-overlapping sets.

  10. 10
    nojojojo says:

    Ben David,

    1) You mean these Americans? Or maybe you don’t count them among Americans. Not sure you should count ’em as Muslims, either, though, considering they didn’t act all triumphalist or whatever.

    2) There are already 2 mosques in that neighborhood, both of which are bursting at the seams. They’ve been there for years.

    3) What Richard and Dianne said. It’s clear that you have no problem talking even when you don’t know what the actual fuck you’re talking about, but really — how hard is it to use “the Google”, dude? Street View alone will show you what the neighborhood looks like, and you’ll see that it’s by no means just office buildings. Seriously, you’re giving all the other bigots a bad name.