• Mosque Near Ground Zero

Koch On Mosque: Let's Be Calm Now

On a day when Newt Gingrich compared the people planning a downtown mosque to Nazis, former Mayor Ed Koch said Americans could some day regret the furor over the project.

President Obama was right to express his views on constructing a mosque near Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 catastrophe: "As a citizen and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was first to take up the fight to protect the legitimate rights of American Muslims to build a mosque near Ground Zero, was right and courageous to lead the way and point Americans in the right direction.

President Obama, according to The New York Times of August 15th is now "faced with withering Republican criticism of his defense of the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near Ground Zero." Those leading the charge against the president, according to The Times, "including Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, Representative John A. Boehner, the House minority leader and Representative Peter King of New York, forcefully rejected the president's stance."

The president's position will be remembered by later generations of Americans with the same high regard as President George Washington's letter in 1790 to the Jews of Rhode Island who built the Touro Synagogue in that state.

Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island wrote to George Washington: "Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: — deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine: — This so ample and extensive Federal Union whose basis is Philanthropy, Mutual confidence and Public Virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the Great God, who ruleth in the Armies of Heaven, and among the Inhabitants of the Earth, doing whatever seemeth him good."

President Washington responded as follows: "...The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy."

Let us not do again, albeit in different form and to a different group, what we did to Japanese-Americans during World War II when we rounded them up without cause. No Japanese-American was ever charged with treason, notwithstanding that they were placed in internment camps for the balance of the war.

I am a proud Jew. Proud of my religion and my culture. Columnist David Brooks, also Jewish and similarly proud, in a New York Times article of January 12, 2010, wrote of our people's accomplishments: "Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates. Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction."

We Jews also have our share of thieves, predators, child molesters, Ponzi-schemers, traitors and profiteers. Muslims have their share of great world accomplishments – the concept of zero, advancements in mathematics, medicine, chemistry, botany and astronomy. They also have their share of crazies, tyrants, homophobes, those holding hostile and irrational attitudes towards women, vilification of Jews, Christians, Hindus and other so-called infidels.

Let's be calm now and not need the passage of time to bring us to our senses and years later apologize. Of course, those who suffered the loss of loved ones, and those exposed to the catastrophe of 9/11 have every right to hold opinions opposing the building of the mosque. They are grieving and rightfully enraged at anyone associated in any way with the 19 Muslim terrorists who were responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans killed on 9/11, and all of us must sympathize with them and their feelings.

But Americans must never forget who we are and why our Founding Fathers and those who built the original 13 colonies came here. It was primarily to find and create a new country in which they could practice religious freedom, denied them in England. Jews found that freedom of religion in New Amsterdam, where the East India Company of Holland directed the first public anti-Semite in that city – its Governor, Peter Stuyvesant – to let them in, he first refusing to do so.

I believe we are locked in battle with fanatical Islam and will be for the foreseeable future. I do not believe the vast majority of Muslims, and American Muslims in particular, are fanatics or enemies of the American people.

Government should neither favor nor hinder the efforts of religious institutions, other than to protect their rights to engage in carrying them out as permitted under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Ed Koch served as Mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989.

Related City Conversation: 9-11 Family Member: Core Beliefs Frame Mosque Debate

Robert Rustchak

Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for a clear and sane perspective on this issue.

Michael Klein


@Joy Wilmot: To say that choosing the name Cordoba "seems to signify in no uncertain terms the underlying reason for the proposed mosque: a silent, but determined, recognition to the Muslim people of the world of one more conquest in the West, in the United States" is simply purely unfounded speculation and the sort of speculation that only serves to add fuel to an already absurdly volatile scenario. That statement is akin to saying that the name "American University of Beirut" was chosen to signify in no uncertain terms that America was intent on annihilating the native Syrian and Lebanese population in the same manner American Indians were annihilated, and laying the foundation for slave labor. OR, perhaps, one might assume that the name American University of Beirut was chosen to signify the highest ethical principles of the United States in its relation to others. I assume that would be the preferred way of seeing things. I think it is fair to assume the name Cordoba was chosen to likewise signify a highpoint of multicultural cooperation (which in fact is the dominant view of that period, rather than the more recently cioned paranoid view which often emanates from the "Obama is a secret Muslim" set). With all due respect to Mr "Raymond Ibrahim of Pundicity", a columnist for the widely criticized and indeed extremist "Jihad Watch" website, he is hardly an unbiased observer on this matter, and his now-viral alarmist quote that you relied on has more propagandistic than historical content.

Michael Klein


@Allen Kwok: Allen, I am indeed aware of the interpretation you offer about the Founding Fathers capitulating on slavery due to the necessity of uniting the new nation, avoiding sectional conflict and/or civil war, etc. While it's a legitimate argument, there is also a school of thought which finds such explanations overly influenced by a desire to not tarnish the heroic image of the Founders, and to reduce the conflict to a Manichean glorious "patriots" vs evil Tories/British.
There is in fact evidence that the South was so weakened and bankrupted in the course of the conflict (in no small part due to loss of slave "property" as a result of escapes, including thousands of Black (and some white!) folks who went over to the British to gain freedom. And if indeed civil war was a possibility, wouldn't it have been better to have it then, then have to endure 80 years in which Black people were increasingly brutalized throughout the 19th Century, with the result being a civil war that was infinitely more destructive than it would have been in the 1780s? And THIS is what's relevant to the current "mosque" controversy--NOTHING good ever comes from capitulation to intolerance.

You take issue with the term "hypocrite." But how else to describe Mr Jefferson, who railed publicly against the comparative intelligence and worth of African people, and who demanded that they be resettled far from the white colonists, lest white blood be despoiled--all while fathering multiple multiracial children himself! And who lied about his slave losses after the war in order to increase his personal compensation from the British?
Of course, we could have not fought the War of Independence at all, in which case we might have turned out like some horrid, awful, oppressed land, like....(horrors) Canada!
PS: A fine starting point for some background: Gary Nash' "The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution."

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