Dershowitz vs. Hanson: On the Anti-Defamation League and the Ground Zero Mosque

[Editor’s note: Alan Dershowitz submitted an article to criticizing the Anti-Defamation League’s opposition to the plans for a mosque to be built at Ground Zero. We decided to run the piece with a rebuttal by Victor Davis Hanson. An extra round between the two follows.]

Anti-Defamation League Should Not Oppose Mosques at Ground Zero
by Alan M. Dershowitz

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL’s) decision to oppose the building of a 13 story Muslim center two blocks from Ground Zero is inconsistent with its mission. The ADL has a long and distinguished history of opposing bigotry, supporting multiculturalism and advocating tolerance. Though it began as an organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism, it has become one of the most potent forces against all forms of religious, ethnic and racial bigotry. Following the mass murders perpetrated on 9/11 by Islamic extremists, the ADL was in the forefront of standing up against those who would use this hateful attack to generalize hatred against all Muslims or all Arabs.

In light of this history, I would have expected the ADL to support the building of this Muslim community center, which would include a mosque, a performing arts center, a pool and a restaurant. At the very least I would have expected it to remain silent and not to lend its powerful and distinguished voice to an opposition that includes many bigots along with many decent people who have expressed legitimate concerns about the structure.

Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of building a Muslim center so close to the sight of a horrendous crime committed in the name of Islam by extremists who do not represent their religion. Many Jews were deeply offended when a Roman Catholic covenant was built adjacent to Auschwitz.

Supporters argue that the proximity of the mosque to the site of this crime sends a powerful message that there are many Muslims in the world who identify with the victims rather than the perpetrators. The most influential opposition comes from families of many of the victims who were killed at Ground Zero, though some families favor the project while others have remained silent.

Let the debate continue, but let the ADL not lend its imprimatur of tolerance to those who stand in opposition. Inevitably, this has become a political debate with rightwing republicans such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich leading the political campaign against it, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg has strongly supported the project on grounds of religious freedom, arguing that government should have no role in dictating where a mosque can be situated. As Bloomberg put it, “what is great about America, and particularly New York, is we welcome everybody, and if we are so afraid of something like this, what does that say about us? Democracy is stronger than this…”

The ADL’s decision to join this debate on the side of those who oppose the mosque was exacerbated by the reason given by Abe Foxman, a friend and a man who I admire, for why the opposition of some families was an important part of why the ADL came down against the project. Mr. Foxman, who himself survived the Holocaust, was quoted in The New York Times saying: “Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational.” Referring to the loved ones of the 9/11 victims, he added, “Their anguish entitles them to a position that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

This is a dangerous argument that has implications totally inconsistent with the mission of the ADL. Bigotry is often a result of victimization, perceived or real. Many Germans felt victimized following World War I, and some blamed the Jews. Although their position was “irrational or bigoted,” they were not entitled to act on it. Nor are Palestinians who feel victimized by Israel entitled to be bigoted against Jews. There is simply is no excuse for bigotry, and the ADL ought to know that better than any other organization.

The ADL was founded as the result of irrational bigotry directed against a Jew named Leo Frank by a Ku Klux Klan type organization calling itself the Knights of Mary Phagan. They lynched Leo Frank in the name of an alleged victim of rape and murder. The fact that Frank was totally innocent didn’t matter to them. Their anguish over her victimization did not entitle them to their irrationality and bigotry. The ADL should know better than to provide an “abuse excuse” to bigots based on perceived victimization.

The vast majority of those who oppose the mosque at Ground Zero are neither bigoted nor irrational. Some are. So are some who favor it. That is not the issue. The issue is whether a great human rights organization should oppose the building of a Muslim center near Ground Zero. I have heard no rational reason from the ADL why it should stand in opposition to this project.

I hope that Abe Foxman was misquoted or misspoke and that he will withdraw both his opposition to the mosque and most especially the argument he offered for it. The ADL should continue with its noble mission of siding with the victims of bigotry rather than making excuses for those who engage in bigotry.

*Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is the author of more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including BlasphemyHow the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence (2007) and The Case for Israel (2003).

Emboldening the Enemy

by Victor Davis Hanson

I am not well enough acquainted with the history of the Anti-Defamation League to offer a competent analysis about its proper reaction to the Mosque at Ground Zero controversy. But the issue raises larger questions that I think all reasonable people should be concerned with.

1) What little we know about Khan/Rauf family connection to the Mosque is not encouraging; at the least, it seems that a key proponent of the mosque cannot fully explain exactly from where all the funding arises, or whether in the past Mr. Rauf has shown sympathy for radical terrorists. So there is a legitimate concern that those in the past who offered apologies for the tactics of Islamic terrorism are now to be financially connected to those building a mosque near a site where 3,000 American perished due to Islamic terrorism. Why not a simple, transparent and full accounting?

2) Municipalities, through zoning pressures and laws, make all sorts of decisions about the sorts of construction allowed. Surely, this falls into the category of taste. Professor Dershowitz cites the Roman Catholic convent near Auschwitz as a parallel. Aside from the fact that the construction of such a building likewise showed poor taste and so, as I recall, was closed by Pope Paul II in 1993, it is an inexact parallel, in that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were agnostic or atheist Nazi pagans, who saw the church as valuable only as a social institution to preserve order and tradition.

Indeed, the Nazis targeted many Christians for their pacifism, anti-Nazi activity and sympathy for the Jews. But at Ground Zero, the religious symbolism of a huge mosque, fairly or not, resonates with the purported beliefs of the mass murderers. Hawaiians would not allow a Bushido shrine (unlike the Nazis, the Japanese fascists absorbed religion into their ideology) near the USS Arizona, not because they are bigots, but because they are sensitive to the dead and the symbolism that might thus arise. They know it would insult the memory of those who were entombed below, and at the same time give encouragement to right-wing fanatical Japanese extremists.

Aside from the fact that Hiroshima was a military target, and its bombing helped to end the war and save thousands of lives in the Pacific who would otherwise have been doomed by the ongoing Japanese butchery in Asia and a planned invasion of the Japanese mainland, no one has urged that there be a Southern Baptist Church or an American Methodist Church near the Ground Zero shrine as a sign of postwar harmony; such a proposal might be well intended, but it would be also grotesque.

3) Much has been made that America shows her strength and tolerant values by allowing such a symbolic structure near Ground Zero, but one wonders in a huge city like New York, why Ground Zero at all? While we believe it may reveal our liberality, our enemies, again fairly or not, will see the mosque as a sort of strong horse symbolism, in which those who evoked Islam to murder thousands of Americans found closure by tearing down godless towers and hence paving the way for Islam’s shrine to rise nearby, as in their frequent crackpot al Qaeda triumphalist historicizing about the minarets on Santa Sophia or the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the site of the first and second Jewish temples.

Surely would not the well-intentioned Muslim community of New York wish to move their proposed site just a bit further from the site of 9/11, in order not to enhance the propaganda of a crazed minority that so unfairly tarnishes their efforts at ecumenicalism?

Instead, one can already see that supporters of the mosque advertising the Ground Zero connection, but, again, for what purpose? Again, they must know that a small fanatical minority of a billion Muslims — that is, many millions — will gain confidence and encouragement from such a gratuitous act. As Lawrence Wright showed in the Looming Tower, Atta, bin Laden, Zawahiri, and others were iconic killers who, like the Taliban who in 2001 blew up the Buddhist monuments at Bamyan, chose their targets largely for their symbolic capital.

I predict that within a year of the mosque’s construction, there will be videos, posters, and pamphlets all over the Middle East, juxtaposing the minarets of the mosque with the Ground Zero memorial wreckage — shown as purported proof how such mass murder can demoralize a beaten people into bowing to the Islam of the killers. Few have commented on the security aspects of such an act, but surely it will give added confidence to those who wish to tear down and incinerate more American towers and landmarks.

4) The war against radical Islam is ongoing, as we see in a resurgent Taliban, and the recent Hasan murdering, the Abdul Mutallab attempt, and the Times Square bombing. Such a controversial decision surely can be postponed until the Islamists cease their attempts at attacking the West in general and New York in particular, given that the war so often hinges on symbolism, propaganda, and the perceived strength or weakness of the West in standing up to radical Islamists.

As we have seen from the recent rude reception in India of President Obama’s representative to the Muslim world, the response to the Obama Cairo speech, the various anti-American and anti-Semitic rantings out of Turkey and Pakistan, both the recipients of recent lavish American attention and cash, and the continual al Qaeda threatening — what we consider to be outreach and tolerance are often seen as both weakness and an invitation to even greater demands for apologies and concessions.

As it is, the current asymmetry is absurd: a Christian would incur a death sentence for building a church in much of the Middle East, Arabs vote and express themselves more freely in the Zionist Entity than almost elsewhere in the Middle East, and current U.S. outreach to Muslims and liberal immigration policies are unrivaled in the Western world, and certainly unheard of in places like Russia, China, and much of Latin America or Africa. The rest of the world, not the U.S, has a long way to go in matters of religious tolerance.

The location of the mosque is a legal, though deliberately tasteless, act that will have the effect of encouraging radical extremists in their ongoing efforts to attack icons of modern Western liberal society. Cui bono?

Dershowitz responds: The question is not whether it is wise or in good taste to build a Muslim community center so close to Ground Zero but whether a Jewish antidiscrimination organization should take a public position in opposition.

This is not a Jewish issue. Jewish opinion is understandably divided. The ADL has an important but limited mandate. It should not dilute its role by becoming involved in trying to get the state to interfere with religious freedom.

Abe Foxman has now wisely said that the decision has been made and the ADL will not try to stop the project from going forward. That is the proper response.

Hanson responds: As I noted, I have no position on the ADL decision; apparently its interest had something to do with the rabid anti-Semitism of radical Islamists, the occasional point in Islamist literature that New York hosts the largest number of Jews of any city in the world; and a now tired history of many self-described “moderate” and “mainstream” mosques and Muslim communities in either disseminating or turning a blind eye toward pro formaanti-Semitic hate literature.

My interest is mostly in noting that a supposedly ecumenical Islamic group is being disingenuous in building a mosque near ground zero — less than candid in the sources and methods of its funding, less than candid about the propaganda value that such an unnecessary location will have for radical Islamists in their ongoing efforts to attack the West, and rather hypocritical in pushing for a polarizing site while calling for religious harmony and reconciliation.

In theory, this issue (especially the history of many of those behind the mosque site), like the growing tensions with Iran, Venezuela, the foiled domestic terrorist plots in New York, growing polarization with Turkey and Pakistan, and a host of other issues are American concerns, not Jewish issues per se. But what makes all of them perhaps of some interest to groups like the ADL is their shared theme of anti-Semitism, and the historical role that such insidious and incremental hatred has in leading to more overt violence against Jews.

So, yes, of course, the mosque will get built. We will praise ourselves for our tolerance and liberality; voice the accustomed and now scripted condemnation of the supposedly Neanderthal Right for its unsophisticated and bigoted opposition — and then in due time we will read some exposé of the ties of some of the architects of this sick project to radical Islamist groups, as we hear the mosque heralded throughout the radical Middle East as proof of the ultimate victory of the 9/11 mass murderers.

And, yes, within that sick chest-thumping, there will also be the accustomed hatred of “Jews and crusaders”. All that I think makes the issue of some interest to the ADL in this lose/lose conundrum.

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