The mosque near Ground Zero: Weekly Standard editor John McCormack argues for not building it

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

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John McCormack
Online Editor, The Weekly Standard
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; 12:00 PM

John McCormack, online editor at The Weekly Standard, was online Tuesday, Aug. 17, at Noon ET to discuss the issue of whether an Islamic community center should be built in Lower Manhattan in New York City, approximately two blocks from the World Trade Center.

In an e-mail interview, McCormack said, "Imam Rauf [of Masjid al-Farah, a New York City mosque] and his colleagues have the legal right to build the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero, but they shouldn't. Putting a mosque two blocks from the site where Islamist terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans is divisive and insensitive. I think it should be built somewhere else."

Read yesterday's discussion with Hussam Ayloush of CAIR who argued for building the mosque.

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D.C.: You've argued that it would be insensitive and divisive to build the "mosque" (actually, an Islamic cultural center that includes an area for worship) near Ground Zero. Wouldn't moving the "mosque" essentially concede that all Islam is equivalent to (or responsible for) the actions of the fundamentalist terrorists? Surely Christians don't hold themselves responsible for the acts of the KKK.

John McCormack: Hi there. Looking forward to taking your questions today. No, I don't think that moving the mosque would concede that Islam is responsible for the actions of the 9/11 terrorists. If the towers were destroyed by Christian terrorists who shouted "Praise Jesus!" while crashing a planes into the buildings, I think it would be divisive and insensitive to put up a new 13-story Christian cultural center and church two blocks away from Ground Zero. That wouldn't be a concession that Christianity inherently is evil. It would just show sensitivity to the victims.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm genuinely stunned that there is even a debate about this. Innocent Muslims died in the World Trade Center attacks too. The U.S. isn't at war with the entire religion, just a very extreme sect within it. Are all Germans Nazis? Of course not. Therefore, not all Muslims are terrorists/part of al-Qaeda. I'm disgusted that so many Americans believe they are one in the same.

John McCormack: I like the analogies because I think they're helpful in determining whether opposition to the mosque is motivated by simple bigotry against Muslims. I don't think it is.

As you can probably tell by my last name, I'm of Irish-American descent. If the IRA had killed 3,000 in the name of Irish nationalism, I think that, even though a number of Irish-Americans were killed in the attack, it would be a horrible idea to put up an Irish cultural center right next to Ground Zero. Regardless of peaceful intentions, it would be a symbolic victory for the IRA and rub salt in the wounds of the victims and their families.

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Midtown Manhattan: My question is not "if" this group has the right to build a mosque in NYC - the answer is of course they do. My question is "why?" Why in a location that can be seen from Ground Zero and why when there is another mosque a few blocks from the proposed site of the new center. This question has been asked of the organizers and I have yet to hear an answer. Usually the response to "why there" is that they have a right to build it. Which to me does not answer the question.

John McCormack: As the New York Times reported in December, "The location was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims who bought the building in July." Imam Rauf, the man spearheading the project, says he thinks the Ground Zero mosque “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.” As we've seen, most Americans--68 percent according to a CNN poll--think it does send a negative message. If Rauf really wants to build bridges and promote interfaith relations, he would move the mosque elsewhere.

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Woodbridge, Va.: A constant refrain of Republicans like Newt and Sarah Palin is that the government is interfering in the constitutionally protected right of Americans to exercise their religious beliefs. They even believe people should have the right to exercise their beliefs on public property. Now these same people want to prevent a religious organization from operating on private property.

John McCormack: A few New York politicians, and (I think) Newt Gingrich, have supported using legal measures to block construction of the mosque. I disagree with them. If you look at the response from most Republicans--Sarah Palin, John Boehner, Peter King, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, just to name a few--none of them dispute the fact that Imam Rauf has a constitutional right to build a mosque near Ground Zero. As many have said, it's not a question of rights, it's about doing the right thing.

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Arlington, Va.: So, if they can't build it a few blocks away from "ground zero," then how far away is far enough for you? All of this debate disturbs me greatly. Either we believe the Constitution accords rights to people or we don't. It sounds like far too many people in this country do not believe in the Bill of Rights.

John McCormack: The Constitution protects both freedom of religion and freedom of speech, so I'm not disputing the right to build there. It's just a really bad idea--and it is made even worse by the fact that Imam Rauf said the United States is an "an accessory to the crime" and won't condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization. But still, he has the right to build the mosque, and opponents have the right to ask him to please move it elsewhere.

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Washington, D.C.: In your view, how long should Muslim Americans be penalized for September 11th, and on what grounds?

John McCormack: I don't believe Muslim-Americans should be penalized at all. Nearly all are peaceful and patriotic--and some have paid the ultimate price in defending America in Iraq and Afghanistan. Opposing this particular mosque in this particular location does not denigrate Muslim Americans. Plenty of Muslims actually oppose this the Ground Zero mosque. See the recent Washington Post piece by Neda Bolourchi or a piece out today by Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed of Al-Arabiya TV.

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washingtonpost.com: A Muslim victim of 9/11: 'Build your mosque somewhere else' (Post, Aug. 8)

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NYC: I haven't followed too closely what each individual Republican or conservative has said about the Ground Zero mosque. My impression is that most have taken Harry Reid's view - the mosque promoters are legally permitted to build it, but they should not do so. Can you point me to any Republicans or conservatives who have said it should be illegal for them to build it, or that the government should somehow forbid them from building it? Is such a position more common than my impression?

John McCormack: You're right. The vast majority of Republicans and conservatives have taken Reid's position. A couple notable exceptions: New York GOP gubernatorial candidates Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino have said they'd take legal measures to stop the mosque from being built.

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washingtonpost.com: Carl Paladino: I'd Use Eminent Domain To Block Ground Zero Mosque

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washingtonpost.com: Al-Arabiya Director: The Majority of Muslims Do Not Want or Need a Mosque Near Ground Zero (Middle East Media Research Institute, Aug. 17)

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washingtonpost.com: Lazio: Let's pull plug on mosque (New York Post, Aug. 9)

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Sharia law: I have read that the imam of the ground zero mosque practices Sharia law at home, including stonings. How does that square with the liberal media's portrayal of him as a "moderate Muslim"?

John McCormack: That cannot be true--I think we'd have heard about it by now if Imam Rauf had stoned someone. He seems to be moderate on some issues, but he does respect "Vilayet-i-faqih, which means the rule of the jurisprudent" in Iran. It would be nice if Rauf could clarify what he meant by his apparent endorsement of the Iranian regime.

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Decatur, Ala.: Is it true that part of a plane from 9/11 was found in the building where the mosque is to be built?

John McCormack: Yes, that's true. Part of the landing gear from one of the planes crashed into the building.

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washingtonpost.com: U.S. Taxpayers Pay for Junket by Defender of Iranian Regime (Weekly Standard, Aug. 16)

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A truly specious argument: To claim that you acknowledge that people have Constitutional rights but it would be best if they don't exercise those rights totally flies in the face of the construction of the Constitution in the first place. That's why we had those rights spelled out, because there were always going to be people who would say, you shouldn't do that now. How else can you interpret the Constitution?

John McCormack: You are confusing legal reasoning with moral reasoning. You probably believe that the First Amendment guarantees the right to burn an American flag and racist speech, but I would encourage people not to engage in such activities. This is not to compare the mosque builders to flag burners or racists, just to help answer your question about Constitutional rights.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: Why is this a big deal if there's already a mosque nearby?

John McCormack: I have no problem with the 100 mosques in New York City, some of them already somewhat close to Ground Zero. Again, I think it's about the particular symbolism of building a new 13-story Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero. Opposing this mosque doesn't mean that Muslims don't have the right to pray wherever they want.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Mr. McCormack -- Thanks for taking questions and I don't know if you'll respond to this, but it's clear (to me, at least) that Republicans have been looking for a divisive issue (gay marriage and abortion are old news, given changing attitudes) and they found one. How do you think this will play out in the midterm elections?

John McCormack: I think it's odd that whenever Republicans are ever on the popular side of an issue, it suddenly becomes a "divisive" "wedge" issue. But to answer your question: I don't think the Ground Zero mosque will have a huge impact on the Midterm elections, especially now that Harry Reid and a number of Democrats coming out against the mosque. But the issue will contribute to the perception that President Obama is out of touch, and therefore it will hurt Democrats at least a little bit at the polls.

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Washington, D.C.: So many of the anti-Muslim opinions claim to be acting in consideration of the opinion of the families of the 9/11 victims. But the 9/11 families organizations have been silent on the subject.

John McCormack: A number of 9/11 family members have spoken out against the mosque. Here's Debra Burlingame, the sister of a pilot who was killed on 9/11:

"I'm so angry. I believe this president has abandoned the American people,'' she said. "This isn't a fight about religious freedom for Muslims. No one has argued they don't have the property rights. This is about a project led by someone who says he's trying to build bridges and bring the community together and he's chosen probably the worst place in America and the worst way to do it.''

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Landing gear: Isn't it also true that the landmark preservation commission found that the landing gear does not grant this building landmark status, and that, I quote, the building is "akin to a guard rail on a highway where a fatality occurred?"

John McCormack: That's true, I suppose the landmark preservation commission could have ruled it a landmark on those grounds. But if it would allow a church or synagogue to be built on that site, I think it's unconstitutional to keep a mosque from being built there.

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John McCormack: Thanks to everyone for your questions and to the Washington Post for inviting me today! I hope you found the chat worthwhile. --John

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washingtonpost.com: Obama on the Ground Zero Mosque (Weekly Standard, Aug.14)

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