Howard Dean’s Opposition to NY Islamic Center ‘Affront’ to Religious Freedom (Audio)
August 19, 2010
(ChattahBox)—Former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean, has long been a respected progressive voice in the Democratic Party. And his 50-state strategy formulated while chairman of the Democratic National Committee was just brilliant. But Dean’s rationale for opposing the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is dead wrong. And worse, he gives credibility to the bigoted hysteria coming from the right-wing, especially Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. Dean insists his more reasoned opposition is very different from Gingrich and Palin’s incendiary hysteria, because he isn’t resorting to Nazi comparisons and race-baiting, but he couldn’t be more wrong. Why? Because Dean buys into the premise that a Muslim place of worship in Lower Manhattan, is “a real affront to people who lost their lives” during the terrorist attacks of 911. Religious freedom should not be dependent upon bigotry and mob rule. In the words of Rep. Eric Cantor, “I mean, come on,” al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the Twin Towers, not the Muslim faith.
The proposed Cordoba House-Park51 community center would have a swimming pool, gymnasium, restaurant and a place of worship. The site is located at least two blocks away from the Ground Zero site in a former Burlington Coat Factory building, where Muslims already meet to worship when a nearby tiny Mosque becomes crowded. And there has been a Mosque in the neighborhood, since at least the 80s. There are also Christian places of worship closer to the Ground Zero site, including St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church.
Moreover, the developers of the Cordoba House-Park51 community center promote peace, moderation and bridge-building with other faiths. Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf is a recognized scholar of Islam and he has assisted the United States with international Muslim outreach efforts, since the Bush administration. Rauf is on a U.S. Muslim outreach trip abroad at this very moment.
So, knowing all of these facts, why would Dean join the right-wing bigot brigade who are using the proposed NY Islamic center, as a political wedge issue to divide Americans with Islamic fearmongering and bigotry?
Dean attempted to clarify his “Ground-Zero Mosque” remarks made during an interview on WABC radio last week, but he essentially stands by his original position, namely that the Cordoba House developers should work out a “compromise” with New York Officials to move the center farther away from Ground Zero, because its presence is an “affront.”
Listening to Dean’s original remarks, it seems the former governor is confused not only about the location of the Cordoba House, but also its intended use. He also, said that “Islam is really back in the 12th century,” suggesting the Cordoba House would somehow become a center of archaic Islamic radicalism, when the exact opposite is true.
Q: Governor what’s your position on the controversy surrounding the Mosque near Ground Zero?
DEAN: I gotta believe there has to be a compromise here. This isn’t about the right of Muslims to have a worship–or Jews or Christians or anybody else to have a place to worship where— anyplace at Ground Zero.This is something we ought to be able to work out with people of good faith. And we have to understand that it is a real affront to people who lost their lives, including Muslims. That site doesn’t belong to any particular religion. It belongs to all Americans and all faiths. So, I think a good reasonable compromise could be worked out without violating the principle that people ought to be able to worship as they see fit.
Q: You are calling for a compromise. So, Are you calling for the Mosque to be moved?
DEAN: Well I think another site would be a better idea. But again, I would look to do that with the cooperation of the people who are trying to build the Mosque. I believe the people who are trying to build the Mosque are trying to do something that’s good, but there’s no point in starting off doing something good, if it’s going to meet with enormous resistance with folks. This is a very delicate religious and cultural issue. I think it’s great to have Mosques in American cities. There’s a growing number of American Muslims. I think most of those Muslims are moderate. I hope that they will have an influence on Islam throughout the world. Because Islam is really back in the 12th century in some of these— like Iran and Afghanistan where they are stoning people to death. And that can be fixed. And the way it’s fixed is not by pushing Muslims away, but by embracing them and have them become just like any other American–Americans who happen to be Muslims. So, the way you do that is to integrate people into the fabric of the United States. What I think is what this congregation wants to do. But I do think we ought to work out a compromise so that everybody is accommodated by this.”
Dean later told Huffington Post he would not be bothered if the Cordoba House ultimately was built on the current proposed site, but he incorrectly argued, that because a vast number of Americans opposed it out of either fear, bigotry or from confusion, their views should control whether a Muslim center should be built in Lower Manhattan:
“They don’t have to move,” Dean said. “But the fact of the matter is, for better or worse, since 9/11 this country has been badly divided — particularly by right wing politicians exploiting those divisions — and this is an opportunity to bring the country together.”
But what Dean fails to acknowledge, is that the Islamophobic fear and bigotry is spreading throughout the country, sparking angry protests against the building of Mosques in places like California and Tennessee.
Giving into fear and hate divides us; it doesn’t bring us together as Dean believes.
Dean also emailed Salon, explaining his unfortunate remarks, but insisting he is not backing down from his position.
“This has nothing to do with the right to build and unlike same sex marriage or the civil rights movement it is not about equal protection under the law. The rights of the builders are not in dispute. This is about ending the poisonous atmosphere engendered by fear and hate, and in order to do that there has to be genuine listening, hearing and willingness to compromise on both sides, Dean wrote.”
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald summed up the fallacy of Dean’s arguments best, pointing out that Dean’s stance, as well as the incendiary right-wing is grounded in classic bigotry, plain and simple.
“The mere fact that a majority of Americans hold a particular view — including perfectly nice and well-meaning people — doesn’t mean the view is free from bigotry and irrational fear. Does anyone doubt that?” [...]
“The central question raised by this controversy is the same one raised by countless similar controversies throughout American history: whether the irrational fears and prejudices of the majority should be honored and validated or emphatically confronted. That question, and several other issues raised by Dean’s response, are what I hope to discuss with him.”
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons/David Washington, DC/Howard Dean at a 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” rally.