Each year or so, I teach a seminar in American Jewish History. Early in the semester I read with the students George Washington’s exchange of letter in 1791, two years after the Constitution as written. with the Hebrew Congregation in Newport. The first President of the United States wrote the following:
“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, 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.”
Let us face it that those who criticize the construction of the Mosque in the neighborhood of Ground Zero are violating an essential American value. The right to religious freedom from regarded from the inception of this country as a natural right, requiring no tolerance for the other. The one requirement that Washington explained was that “they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
We do have the right to demand of all who live in the United States that they demean themselves as good citizens and offer the country their effectual support.
It was unwise and frankly un-American for my friend Abraham Foxman to place ADL in opposition to the creation of the Islamic Cultural Center.
First of all Jews should remember that there was a time when we could not build a synagogue in the very area in question. Secondly, the history of American religion is that religious leaders come to understand that in order to participate in American society, the ultimately have to adopt the American norm of interreligious civility. We all have a stake in the development of “moderate” Moslem leadership, leadership that wants to be effective in American culture and in order to do so speak an American language and not the language of the Islamacists who are pushing for radicalization in the Middle East and elsewhere. And finally, Christianity and Islam have been rivals for more than a millennia. Judaism and Islam are not rivals. Theologically Islam with its belief in one God is far more acceptable to Jews than Christianity and its Trinitarian concepts and for centuries Jews lived far more comfortable in Islamic countries than in Christian ones. We should have stayed out of this fight or merely reaffirmed George Washington’s pledge to the Jews of Newport, his pledge and his insistence people who live under the protection of this government should demean themselves as good citizens.
No Moslem institution in this country will be under greater scrutiny than the cultural center that is about to be constructed and it could become a model of how an American Muslim culture can develop, an institution of healing and education.
Furthermore, Jews have an absolute interest in the development of a more moderate Islam. Israel cannot be at war with all of Islam. Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel. Many Moslem countries have economic ties. India has a long Muslim minority and is an important economic partner for Israel. And the list goes on and on.
We are now seeing the slippery slope from opposition to a Muslim Cultural Center to the burning of a Mosque in Tennessee and opposition to their construction elsewhere, to the burning of the Koran and inflaming tensions elsewhere.
Self professed conservatives should be especially horrified to see that there is little enthusiasm among their ideological soul mates to conserve this most basic and more vaunted to American values.
Simply put much of the rhetoric I am hearing is anti-American plain and simple, anti the values that have made America a revered symbol of freedom.