Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Bloomberg's Moving Speech on the Mosque

Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a very thoughtful and moving speech today in support of the Mosque near the World Trade Center site. Every once in a while he gets it right and this was one of those time. There were several themes in the speech, but I found three of them very compelling.

He talked about the struggle for religious freedom in New York in a historical context. First he discussed the struggles of Jews and Quakers,

“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.

Then, to show that bigotry had a long reach in terms of years and religions, he discussed the anti-Catholic animosity,

“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.

He explained how we as a nation have grown beyond that and why the bigotry of the past was anathema to Americans today. He specifically talked about the first responders who died on 9/11 and why denying the religious liberties of Muslims would be an insult to their sacrifice,

"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?'

"The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

Finally, he put the issue in the larger context of our core Constitutional values, explaining why the World Trade Center area must always be a reflection of those values and a beacon to the world of the principles we hold dear,

“This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

In taking this position, Bloomberg also seems to have positioned himself against Sarah Palin and Osama Bin Laden. According to Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic

The Cordoba Initiative, which is headed by an imam named Feisal Abdul Rauf, is an enemy of al Qaeda, no less than Rudolph Giuliani and the Anti-Defamation League are enemies of al Qaeda. Bin Laden would sooner dispatch a truck bomb to destroy the Cordoba Initiative's proposed community center than he would attack the ADL, for the simple reason that Osama's most dire enemies are Muslims.

Bin Ladin's lunacy is well known but one has to wonder why Sarah Palin agrees with his fundamentalist bigotry.

It is time for those who sow hate and intolerance, those who have no understanding of our core Constitutional principles, to be quiet. They have spewed their vitriol long enough. We must not stand for it any more, on this issue or any other.

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