Mosquing the Truth: Imam at Center of Controversy Was a Bush Ally, Hails From Sect Targeted By al Qaeda

Republicans have been doing their best to turn the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan into a campaign issue for the 2010 mid-term elections. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put his opposition to the project, which is two blocks away from the site where the World Trade Center once stood, in no uncertain terms this week: “The folks who want to build this mosque… are really radical Islamists,” he insisted on Fox News, before comparing Muslims -- presumably all of them -- to Nazis and the Axis-era Japanese.

Actually, Cordoba House, the proposed community center is spearheaded not by a “radical Islamist,” but by an Imam named Feisal Abdul Rauf, who previously worked as part of President George W. Bush’s Middle East peace team. Feisal is from the Sufi tradition of Islam -- a tradition deemed illegitimate by the thought police of al Qaeda, who adhere to the severe beliefs of the Wahhabi school. In fact, Sufis are frequent targets of al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, as this post in the right-wing Weekly Standard illustrates.

The former Speaker of the House went on to assert, “Those folks don’t have any interest in reaching out to the community. They’re trying to make a case about supremacy.”

Many of Gingrich’s Republican peers have taken similar stands, using the term "hallowed ground" to refer to the area around the "Ground Zero" site, where the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, took the lives of nearly 3,000 people in the WTC's twin towers. To hear them talk, you'd think that the ground is hallowed because all of those killed were native-born, Christian Americans, or that the buildings that lay in smoldering heaps were the solely the work of native-born American hands.

As hard as it may be to remember, Ground Zero wasn’t always “hallowed ground.” It used to be a complex called the World Trade Center, which was, from the start, an international affair: First conceived in 1946, as the United States consolidated its political and economic power, the World Trade Center was always meant to be a hub for global business, one that would help shift international trade to lower Manhattan, which had been neglected in the city’s expansion.

It wasn’t until 1961, however, that the plan really got off the ground, with both New York and New Jersey eventually agreeing to terms and the Port Authority overseeing what supporters saw as an “urban renewal” project with massive public benefits. It was big: the kind of project that, in its day, could not have happened without the will of the "big government" so despised by today's Republicans. With the location and logistics squared, officials hired architect Minoru Yamasaki, a second-generation Japanese-American, to design the twin towers.

By 1969, both towers were under construction and by the time of their respective completion, 91 countries came together to form the World Trade Centers Association, which helped construct similar complexes around the world. None, of course, were as iconic and beloved as New York’s twin towers.

There’s no way of knowing just how many people passed through the towers’ famous halls. Whatever the number, no doubt many, many more were aware of the structure’s significance.

“The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace,” explained architect Yamasaki. “[It's] a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and, through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.” Gingrich and company obviously didn’t get the message.

Though right-wingers would like to claim Ground Zero as sole, spiritual property of the United States, it is and always was an international endeavor. Remember: 2,995 people from more than 70 countries died in the September 11 attacks, statistics that illustrate the terrorist attacks’ international impact. Some of those people were Muslims.

Gingrich and others who call the proposed community center an affront to the United States and maintain that it’s led by “radicals” should remember two things: First, Ground Zero isn’t just an American shrine: It was and remains a global epicenter for community-building and commerce. Second, that the people who wish to build the community center are despised by al Qaeda every bit as much as are Americans from other faith traditions.

When leaders of the right want to call the ally of a Republican president a “radical,” they reveal an extremely narrow world view -- one that neglects the international importance of not only the World Trade Center, but September 11th itself.

The original version of this story appeared at Death+Taxes.

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