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Let religious freedom ring

Opposition to a planned Islamic community center near ground zero in New York is unfair and un-American.

July 30, 2010

Is constructing an Islamic community center two blocks from ground zero an insult to the victims of 9/11 and their families? Sarah Palin seems to think so. The former Alaska governor famously asked "peaceful Muslims" to "refudiate" plans for the center, which will include a space for Muslim daily prayers. She also wondered why the proposed Cordoba House didn't stab its supporters in the heart "as it does ours throughout the heartland."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich offers a different argument against construction of the proposed center: This country should engage in tit-for-tat with religiously intolerant Muslim nations. "There should be no mosque near ground zero in New York," Gingrich said, "so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." Of course, following Gingrich's logic, no mosques should be built anywhere in the United States.

Both arguments will resonate with Americans in the "heartland" and elsewhere who remember that the hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, most of them in New York, were Muslims acting on a warped interpretation of their religion.

But Palin and Gingrich are wrong. The implication of their opposition to the Islamic center is that the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks are representative of their religion and that the organizers of Cordoba House are complicit in that atrocity simply because of their beliefs.

Those propositions are unfair and un-American, not to mention damaging to the cause of convincing Muslims that the United States isn't engaged in a war against Islam. The Cordoba Initiative, which is building the center, says its mission is "promoting positive interaction between the Muslim world and the West." Its facility will include not only space for Muslim prayer but a place in which adherents of all religions can pray or meditate, along with office and conference space and recreational facilities open to people regardless of their faith.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder and chairman of the initiative, said construction of the center "sends the opposite statement of what happened on 9/11. We want to push back against the extremists." We hope the families of 9/11 victims and other Americans who have rushed to judgment will reflect on those words. And on this comment by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: "Sarah Palin has a right to her opinions, but I could not disagree more. Everything the United States stands for, New York stands for, is tolerance and openness." The mayor's remarks are the best "refudiation" of Palin, Gingrich and others who have criticized and caricatured this project.

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