I’ve been debating this issue with a Jewish friend of mine who is against the mosque but should know better (he is a liberal and voted for Obama, but he is a New Yorker now living in Paris.) He thought putting a mosque there was “idiotic” and “tasteless” and that it wasn't just bigots who thought that way but "reasonable people" too. Here is what I said to him:
9/11 was carried out by an organization called Al-Qaeda. It claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, but it wasn’t. Likewise, the KKK claimed to be acting in the name of Jesus Christ when it burnt crosses and lynched Black people, but it wasn’t either, and we don’t blame Christians or Christianity itself for those actions.
What does the Islamic cultural center have to do with 9/11? Nothing whatsoever, unless you want to blame Islam and all Muslims for it.
As Bloomberg said, how big should the no-mosque zone be? How far would a mosque have to be from Ground Zero before it was not tasteless or idiotic? 4 blocks? 6 blocks? 10? All of downtown? All of Manhattan?
No one said a peep about the center for months, and then some conservative bloggers made a deal out of it, and right-wing and racist politicians seized on it as a wedge issue for the upcoming elections. Unfortunately, some “reasonable people” have been suckered into falling into their trap and helping them do their work. Meanwhile, a lot of other Americans are remembering our core values of religious freedom and tolerance and pointing out that Constitutional rights only have meaning if they are allowed to be expressed without intimidation.
Nazism was a racist movement in which a small fringe sucked in a lot of “reasonable people,” indeed pretty much a whole nation. It was also a movement that scapegoated an entire religious and ethnic group for the perceived sins of a few of its members. It’s just a matter of degree.