They Can Do That?

According to the New York Post — not the most reliable source — ConEd is using dirty tricks to evict the Park 51 developer from its section of the old Burlington Coat Factory in lower Manhattan.

The old coat factory occupied what is actually two different properties. Park 51 owns one property and ConEd the other part. The Park 51 developers have been renting ConEd’s part and wants to buy it, and then knock the structures on both properties down to build their Islamic community center. Here’s what the Post says —

But the plan hit a major obstacle in August when Con Ed raised the rent from $2,750 a month, a rate set in 1972, to $47,437 a month, retroactive to July 31, 2008, The Post has learned.

They can do that? They must have found one mother of a loophole in the rental agreement.

When the mosque failed to fork over the $1.7 million, the utility fired off a letter demanding the money by Oct. 4 and threatening to evict.

Park51 principals responded with a lawsuit to stop the increase, calling Con Ed’s rent demands “outrageous.”

That’s just wrong. Somebody got to somebody.

The rented section is the area being used for prayers. The other part is being used for community events, such as a recent photography exhibit.

Andy McCarthy: We’re No Better Than They Are

At National Review, Andrew McCarthy proposes a “thought experiment.”

A friend poses the following: Imagine that there really were these fundamentalist Christian terror cells all over the United States, as the Department of Homeland Security imagines. Let’s say a group of five of these terrorists hijacked a plane, flew it to Mecca, and plowed it into the Kaaba.

Now let’s say a group of well-meaning, well-funded Christians — Christians whose full-time job was missionary work — decided that the best way to promote healing would be to pressure the Saudi government to drop its prohibition against permitting non-Muslims into Mecca so that these well-meaning, well-funded Christian missionaries could build a $100 million dollar church and community center a stone’s throw from where the Kaaba used to be — you know, as a bridge-building gesture of interfaith understanding.

What do you suppose President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg, the New York Times, and other Ground Zero mosque proponents would say about the insensitive, provocative nature of the proposal?

I can’t speak for anybody but me, but I’d say this is a matter between the Christian missionaries and the Saudis. And it wouldn’t surprise me a whole lot of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg said the same thing. The State Department might tell the Christian missionaries to not expect to be rescued if they’re taken hostage by jihadists, but that’s about it.

What disturbs me about this analogy, however, is the unspoken assumption that Americans shouldn’t be expected to value religious liberty and tolerance toward Muslims if Saudis don’t value religious liberty and tolerance toward Christians (the Western default religion). Since when do we look to Saudi Arabia as the arbiter of what is virtuous?

What the righties don’t get is that the Cordoba House/Park 51 controversy is not about Islam, but about America. What are our values? What are our principles? What does America stand for? And do we maintain those values and principles through thick and thin, or do we chuck them under the bus whenever something frightens us?

I realize there is much less religious tolerance in most Middle Eastern countries than there is supposed to be in the United States, which is one of the many reasons I’m glad I was born in the United States and not the Middle East. But either we value religious liberty and tolerance, or we don’t. And lately the Right has been saying, we don’t. What we value is paranoia and vindictiveness. If Muslims in the Middle East don’t tolerate us, then we won’t tolerate them. Nyah nyah nyah.

I have this crazy idea that our first responsibility, as citizens, is to respect and maintain the principles outlined in the Constitution and other founding documents, like the Declaration of Independence. We should do this so that our descendants can enjoy the liberties and privileges that our ancestors fought to provide us. And sometimes that might take some courage, keeping one’s head, steering a steady course through the storm, etc.

But today’s conservatives don’t see it that way. For them, “liberty” is just a word they put on their T-shirts. It has no applicable meaning. As soon as the ship of state hits some rough waters, they panic and toss the Bill of Rights overboard.

And all the while babbling about how they hate us for our freedoms. Talk about oblivious.

Going back to the “thought experiment,” in that scenario I doubt that the Christian church/community center could be built in Mecca, because I don’t think the Saudi government would allow it. But New York is not in Saudi Arabia. It’s in the United States. And we’re supposed to be better than that. But I guess Andy McCarthy doesn’t think so.

I have an idea for a thought experiment: let’s try to imagine Andy McCarthy thinking. Or is that more like a science fiction plot?

Be sure to read “Balancing Act for Imam in Muslim Center Furor.” The more I read about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the more sorry I am about the hate campaign being waged against him by the rightie hyenas.

Insanity, Inc.

Some guy named Steven Emerson, who appears to be some kind of freelance antiterrorism expert who makes a living hyping the threat of scary Muslim people, claims to have audio tapes of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf spouting pro-jihadist opinions. No one has heard these tapes but Emerson, but of course a big chunk of the Right Blogosphere is now uncritically repeating Emerson’s claims as facts. The only blogger I’ve found so far who even suspects the claims about what the Imam actually said might be bogus is James Joyner.

My concern is that mainstream news media also will uncritically repeat these claims before anyone has had a chance to fact check. And given the mob mentality gripping most of the nation on the Islamic Center issue, I hope the Imam has a bodyguard, and the NYPD is keeping an eye on the Park Place property before somebody blows it up in the name of fighting terrorism.

On the other hand, there is some indication that some politicians who originally sided with the mob are backing off a bit, possibly sensing the mob is becoming uncontrollable. Even Newt Gingrich and Peter King seem to want to dissociate themselves with organized protests of the Islamic center.

In the case of Gingrich, some of his rhetoric was so over-the-top that Pat Buchanan said he had gone too far. This is a bit like being judged sick and depraved by Charles Manson.

Last summer it was mobs breaking up town hall meetings; this summer it’s mob hysteria over Muslims. Maybe we should just cancel August.

And we knew this would happen:

Some counterterrorism experts say the anti-Muslim sentiment that has saturated the airwaves and blogs in the debate over plans for an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing into the hands of extremists by bolstering their claims that the United States is hostile to Islam.

Opposition to the center by prominent politicians and other public figures in the United States has been covered extensively by the news media in Muslim countries. At a time of concern about radicalization of young Muslims in the West, it risks adding new fuel to Al Qaeda’s claim that Islam is under attack by the West and must be defended with violence, some specialists on Islamic militancy say.

“I know people in this debate don’t intend it, but there are consequences for these kinds of remarks,” said Brian Fishman, who studies terrorism for the New America Foundation here.

Ah, but they do intend those consequences. Maybe not consciously, but what the mob wants more than anything else is another big strike on American soil by Islamic terrorists. That would give them license to do what they really want to do, which is to unleash murderous violence against Muslims.

And, of course, that’s what al Qaeda really wants them to do, too.

The Out-of-Towners

[Update: The local NBC affiliate is reporting that the developers of the Islamic Center have told Gov. Paterson they don’t intend to change the location. Good for them.]

Eric Kleefeld documents that opposition to the so-called “ground zero mosque” intensifies the further away one goes from “ground zero.” But we knew that. See also Nate Silver.

I had a let’s-bang-heads-against-the-wall moment this morning when I found an editorial in the Joplin (Missouri) Globe written by some guy who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He wrote of the builders of the Islamic Center: “These folks should not expect a neighborhood welcoming party.”

Excuse me? Where the bleep does somebody who lives in Tulsa Bleeping Oklahoma get off talking about the “neighbohood welcoming party”? Clue, dude: Manhattan ain’t your neighborhood.

What Happened to the Free and the Brave?

I keep waiting for another shoe to drop in the “ground zero mosque” flap. The word is that Gov. Paterson will meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and other Cordoba House backers to find another spot for the proposed Islamic Center. And as much as I don’t want the bullies to get their way, apparently other Muslims in the U.S. want the issue to go away asap before the mob gets even nastier.

There’s an old joke that America is the land of the brave because you’ve got to be brave to live here. I’m not seeing much bravery anywhere these days, though.

The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite writes,

The true of test of whether this country is really the “land of the free” is when we do or do not act like we are the “home of the brave.” It is not enough to carry copies of the Constitution and wave them at rallies. The U.S. Constitution lives or dies in the practice of its freedoms for all Americans. That means, all Americans, not just the ones with whom you agree, or with whom you may share a religious belief. We must protect these fundamental liberties especially when it is challenging to do so, or even appears threatening to some.

The Right is twisting itself into pretzels claiming that they support freedom but want to stop the building of the Islamic Center. In other words, now we’re only as free as an unhinged, frightened, bigoted mob allows us to be.

Sam Stein has a profile of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf that discusses the imam’s work with the FBI to counter terrorism and also some of his work, with Jews and Christians, to promote religious tolerance. If Americans can be persuaded that this man is a jihadist, then the right-wing noise machine could demonize anybody.

Update: Something I hadn’t thought of, but it could be a concern — Mosque Furor Endangers U.S. Troops

More on the 9/11 Families

[UPDATE: There is a report from Haaretz that “Sources in New York said on Monday that Muslim religious and business leaders will announce plans to abandon the project in the next few days.” Why Haaretz would have inside information on this matter I do not know, and I hope it isn’t true. I hate it when the bullies and thugs win.]

Josh Marshall, yesterday (emphasis added):

Also very worth noting is that none of the 9/11 Families groups who actually seem to be membership organizations made up of families of the victims seem to have taken positions on the mosque issue at all. I looked at the websites of several such organizations. And they each contain ‘about’ pages with some information about the organization, its membership and in most cases boards of directors. The website of Burlingame’s group, 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, contains no such information. But it’s statement of purpose does give some sense of viewpoint: “The war against sharia is a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”

Since almost three thousand people died as a result of the attacks, many thousands count as family members of the dead. And given that the public at large is at best divided over mosque question and likely on balance against it, it stands to figure that there’s a similar spectrum of opinion among these families. Yet I have not seen any clear evidence that as a group these people are against the Cordoba House project.

The website of Burlingame’s “organization,” “9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America,” really does give no indication that anyone actually belongs to it. Maybe there is an organization, but it seems weird to me that there is no board of directors, no “about us” page, no place to sign up for membership. Some guy named Tim Sumner writes most of the blog posts, but we don’t know if he’s a member or an employee.

Compare/contrast with the “about us” page of Families of September 11. This organization, btw, is acting as an advocacy group for the many people who worked on “the pile” after the atrocity and are now suffering terrible health problems as a result. So this group is doing something useful and beneficial. They’re also still steering clear of the “ground zero mosque” issue.

So whether Burlingame even leads anything remotely resembling an “organization,” or whether her site is pure astroturf, is anyone’s guess. Really, someone should check this out, although I don’t even know where to begin. Would there be tax documentation somewhere?

See also: Hendrik Hertzberg, “Zero Grounds“; Daryl Lang, “Hallowed Ground.”