New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has cleared the way for a Muslim group to build a mosque in lower Manhattan close to the former World Trade Center site.

The commission voted 9-0 to deny landmark status to a 152-year-old building that has little artistic, architectural or historical value – other than it is 152 years old. Had any other use been proposed, it would likely not have been a big deal to tear it down, but because it’s a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Center site, it became a symbolic point of contention for those who seem intent upon defaming Muslims.

The argument stated in support of landmark status was that it had been touched by debris from the 9-11 attacks. But, as a member of the commission noted, that applies to hundreds of buildings on Manhattan. The rationale for landmark status was simply a cover for an ongoing anti-Islamic campaign.

In conversations with Muslim friends, they continually express dismay that they have been linked with Osama bin Laden and with extremists. They reject categorically the rhetoric and the actions of these extremists, and yet their statements continually get drowned out by those who wish to put all of Islam into one basket.

As I noted the other day, while I find the statements of Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich unfortunate, they’re not surprising since they fit their “Christian America” focus. What I found most disheartening were the statements of Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman.

Foxman is quoted as saying in an interview with the New York Times: “Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational.”

Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

Here is the head of a group, the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded for the purpose of opposing this very kind of thing, saying that the anguish of loved ones entitles them to positions that are irrational and bigoted. It’s not the families whose bigotry is at issue, but the bigotry that is present in the broader public.

This isn’t about the anguish of victims’ loved ones; this is about politics, and right now being anti-Muslim will, at least in some quarters, buy you votes. This is why I am so dismayed that the Anti-Defamation League has chosen to align itself with such a tide.

As Mark Silk points out, Foxman has allied himself with the very people who connect all Muslims with 9-11, by suggesting that building a mosque, one to be opened by a moderate Islamic group, would cause anguish to families of survivors.

We will not get beyond hatred and misunderstanding as long as we remain committed to stereotypes – something that I taught as a project coordinator for the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” program.

If there is no place for stereotypes that lead to hate in our communities – as I consistently maintained in that role – this includes stereotyping Muslims and espousing hate against them. So, as for me, I welcome this mosque, especially since those who are opening it seek to bring dialogue to the community.

Bob Cornwall is pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Mich. He blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey. This column is used by permission.

Editor’s Note: Robert Parham, executive editor of, argued two weeks ago on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” page for the building of the mosque from a religious liberty perspective. See his column: “Mosque As Hallmark of Religious Liberty.”

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