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NYC Mosque: Time to act?

The controversy grows over a proposed mosque near Ground Zero as more politicians enter the fray.

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By On Leadership
Sunday, August 29, 2010

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and senior director of Harvard Project Zero.

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A leader should speak up when the matter calls for his attention, when he has a well thought out and articulated position with respect to the relevant issues, and when he has thought through the various possible reactions to his remarks and anticipated those reactions as much as possible. With respect to his remarks about the mosque, and also about the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, the problem for President Obama was not a matter of timing.

It was precisely what he said, that it failed to reveal a well thought through position on the relevant issues, and that he had not fully calculated the impact of his remarks. In both cases, he fell short, disappointingly so for a person who is characteristically thoughtful.

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership.

The controversy about a community center with prayer space near Ground Zero is a fake issue, an excuse to ratchet up fear. There is already a mosque nearby. And Feisal Abdul Rauf is a humanistic Muslim who preaches that the best of the Muslim tradition is consistent with America's values of liberty and justice for all. We should recognize that all religions have their extremists who preach hatred and leaders who preach brotherhood.

The crisis that cries out for leadership is not about the mosque in Manhattan. It is about confronting the fear that can paralyze this country or turn fear of the future into impotent anger. We need leaders who affirm the American tradition of religious freedom and celebrate the policies this government has taken to save our auto industry, regulate financial services, stimulate the economy and provide health care to millions of Americans.

Katherine Tyler Scott is Managing Partner of Ki ThoughtBridge, a leadership consultancy.

The motivation for leaders to speak varies. It might be a matter of conscience, the heat of political pressure, affiliation and loyalty to a group, an opportunity to influence, a chance to exploit the situation for personal gain or just flagrant egotism. We have observed behavioral manifestations of all of these in the past year. The controversy over the Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque is the latest example.

The attack on the World Trade Center was never perceived as just an attack on New York, it was seen as an attack on America. The site of the devastation is still perceived by many as hallowed ground, a sacred burial site, a symbol of the need to always remember.

We have been robbed of our innocence, but it doesn't mean we have to be robbed of our identity. Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated this most eloquently, when he reminded New Yorkers that we are a nation of laws and that freedom of religion is one of our non-negotiable founding principles. The president spoke out with the same message, a message intended for more than Americans. Had Obama been concerned about his political standing, he would have remained silent.

The silence of a leader in the midst of crisis is a blank screen for the projection of all of our worst fears and conclusions. The silence of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has permitted more distortion of the Islamic faith and questioning of his motives for building this mosque and cultural center so close to a place where those proclaiming the same faith destroyed innocents. We aren't a culture that tolerates silence when a problem occurs. We want ready answers and something to fill the void and hold ambiguity and angst at bay.

Doug Guthrie is an expert in the fields of management, economic reform in China, leadership and corporate governance, and dean of the School of Business at George Washington University.


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