The Right Word
In 1951, six years after Japan’s surrender marked the end of the Second World War, and 10 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor grabbed the United states by the throat and threw it into the conflict, a Japanese-American Shinto priest announced plans to open a Japanese Cultural Center near the Naval Base where the savage attack occurred. He defended building the center in the metaphorical shadow of the USS Arizona, the submerged tomb eerily demarking the watery grave of those Americans who died on that day, on the grounds of “inter-cultural tolerance”, and that it would be a way to bridge the “misunderstandings” of Dec. 7th 1941; and besides, the militaristic government of the day was not exactly representative of the Japanese people now, was it? With no legal obstacles prohibiting it, and despite oftentimes raucous protest, the Japanese-American Friendship Center and Shinto Temple was built within walking distance to the gates of Pearl Harbor Naval Base.
Really? Of course not. No one ever suggested such a thing, nor would it have been tolerated. And yet, Japanese cultural centers and temples, restaurants, and all manner of institutions celebrating Japanese culture, history and tradition, and that ancient country’s contributions to civilization, and indeed the contributions of Japanese-Americans to American culture, science and industry, have popped up in various locations throughout the nation. Just not at Pearl Harbor.
Is this indicative of a systemic hatred of all things Japanese imbedded in American society? No, it is indicative of a culture of moral responsibility, a sense of propriety and respect, and basic good taste that one would expect from mature societies.
No one disputes the legal right of Imam Rauf to build his Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque. But one needs to seriously question the decision to build it at Ground Zero, the site where 19 Muslim terrorists (no, they did not represent the majority of Muslims, but they did identify themselves with Islam, and represented an important and influential element within Islam) crashed airliners loaded with passengers and fuel into the two tallest buildings in New York City, killing nearly 3000 innocent people in so doing.
So why build it there? Of all places in the United States, why that one? If, as Mr. Rauf and his supporters contend, it is to help foster cross-cultural understanding and a sense of goodwill, then why deliberately build it in a place that would so obviously generate controversy and feelings of ill-will?
Listening to many of the key folks involved in bringing the project to fruition may give us a few hints. Proponents of the center, such as Mr Rauf, and Imam Dawoud Kringle sound very reasonable on TV, but their tune changes dramatically when speaking to more Islamist crowds. From contextualizing 9-11, to statements like the west, and America in particular “has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims”, Rauf constantly positions himself as a hero and spokesman in the eyes of the extremist Islamist crowd, while simultaneously portraying himself to a willful U.S. media as a moderate voice of Islamic reason.
Even in front of American audiences, neither Imams Rauf nor Kringle can bring themselves to concede that Hamas is a terrorist organization. By any reasonable definition conceivable, Hamas is the quintessential terrorist organization; but their definition of terrorist is rather unique – it apparently does not cover the killing of innocent men, women and children simply because they do not believe in your religion, but does cover the Israeli military assaulting a compound from which an operation to blow up a bus full of women and children was initiated, or American soldiers and marines returning fire on a group of thugs belonging to an organization that planned and organized the wanton slaughter of 3000 of the citizens that the soldiers swore to protect.
It is not being racist or culturally xenophobic to suggest the building of the mosque at ground Zero is a finger in the eye of the West in general, America in particular, and to the firefighters, police officers, and civilians who perished there, and their families, and the scores of New Yorkers, and all other Americans, of all faiths, who shared in the horror of that day. It is reasonable. Tolerance and understanding must be a two-way street; if Imam Rouf truly wishes to foster understanding, he would be wise to demonstrate a little.