With no clear political points to gain, the New York Mayor did the right thing on the "ground zero mosque"
The planned “ground zero mosque,” as you’ve surely heard, is not really a mosque — it’s a full-service community center that will feature a gym, library, swimming pool, basketball court, auditorium for community events and, yes, a Muslim prayer space — and it’s not at ground zero. It should be no more controversial than the 92nd Street Y, a venerable Upper East Side community center that also houses an area for Jewish services.
But as it dominated the media this summer, almost no major political leader wanted to point any of this out. Islamophobia in America has blossomed in 2010, with polls showing an alarming share of the population giving in to fear and suspicion of Muslims.
In this climate, President Obama would only acknowledge the right of organizers to build their community center near ground zero; he went out of his way not to “comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.” Chuck Schumer, the New York senator with a magnetic attraction to television cameras, clammed up, communicating only vague sentiments through a spokesman. Anthony Weiner, the House firebrand who’s been hailed by many progressives as a model for political courage, spent the summer inventing new and ever-more clever ways to duck the issue. And on and on.
Which is what made New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Aug. 3 speech on the subject so refreshing — and so important. With the Statue of Liberty behind him, Bloomberg went farther than any other major American leader in defending the project, daring to remind listeners that Muslims shared in the pain of 9/11 and linking the construction of the center to our country’s highest ideals. He didn’t just say it could be built; he insisted that it should be built.
“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans,” Bloomberg said. “We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.”
He added: “The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.
It’s hard to find any political advantage in Bloomberg’s move. Nationally, polls showed that nearly three-quarters of Americans opposed the project. Within New York City, more than 60 percent did. He would have paid no price by staying silent or joining the pile-on; in fact, he might have helped his poll numbers by doing so. Instead, he staked out an uncommonly rational and principled position and stuck with it unapologetically — showing more leadership than the president of the United States. (It was almost enough to make us forget about that whole term limits thing … )
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Is abortion about to doom Republicans again?
- Anti-voter-fraud Tea Party group sues the IRS
- The Bachmann-inspired romance novel
- Nate Silver: Why the scandals aren't hurting Obama
- How to oust Michele Bachmann from Congress
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Who is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford?
- Colorado judge rules Abercrombie parent company violates Disabilities Act
- When America became a third-world country
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites
- It's Whitewater all over again
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Anyone regret slashing National Weather Service budget now?
- Oklahoma senator: Tornado aid "totally different" from Sandy aid
- Aloof, shifty Obama: Nixon times ten thousand!
- Obama: Moore "needs to get everything it needs right away"
- California Tea Party group files first IRS lawsuit
- Still no polling backlash for Obama
- Oklahoma senator wants to offset tornado aid with other cuts
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
In honor of the Rally to Restore Sanity, we're celebrating great acts of clear thinking -- and need your help! Who do you think deserves to be honored for their sane behavior this year? You have three ways to let us know your idea:
1). Blog about it
on Open Salon (be sure to tag it: theyearinsanity).
2). Email us your idea at TheYearInSanity at salon dot com.
3). Post your idea in the Comments section on this post.
We'll be spotlighting the best suggestions up until Oct. 30, when we will list our Top 10 honorees.