USA > History > 2010 > Faith (III)
The Columbia Daily Tribune
9 September 2010
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Osama bin Laden,
Coverage of Koran Case Stirs Questions on Media Role
Freed From Prison,
Long Island Man Takes to Pulpit
December 24, 2010
The New York Times
By SARAH MASLIN NIR
CORAM, N.Y. — A Long Island man whose prison sentence in the fatal shooting a
17-year-old in front of his home was commuted by Gov. David A. Paterson said
Friday that he was haunted by what he had done.
“I remember that family,” the man, John H. White, said in an interview after
delivering an emotional speech at his church in which he described the horrors
of prison. “I remember what they’ve lost. I remember their son. I will remember
them the rest of their days. And I will ask God to forgive me all the rest of my
It was Mr. White’s first full day at home after Mr. Paterson commuted his prison
sentence after he had served five months of a 20-month to 4-year term. Mr.
White, 57, had been convicted of second-degree manslaughter and criminal
possession of a weapon in the racially charged case: his is one of the few
African-American families in the upscale Suffolk County hamlet of Miller Place,
and the teenager he shot, Daniel Cicciaro, was white, one of a group of young
men who were demanding to fight Mr. White’s son Aaron one night in August 2006.
On Friday night, Mr. White, a construction foreman who is also a deacon at Faith
Baptist Church in Coram, a less affluent town, spoke forcefully but cryptically
about the time he served at the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in upstate
“There is another side to men that not even men know,” Mr. White said, standing
before a congregation of about 40 on Christmas Eve. In a speech lasting about
eight minutes and in an interview afterward, he described prison as an
“upside-down kingdom” where “what’s right is sometimes wrong, what’s wrong is
Mr. White, 57, wore a dark suit and red tie and began his speech with singing.
His words were met with volleys of hallelujahs as the congregation celebrated
his return. Church members had sent several hundred letters in support of him,
part of an effort spearheaded by the N.A.A.C.P., said the Rev. Beresford Adams,
Faith Baptist’s longtime leader.
“He’s an exceptional person,” he said of Mr. White. “He’s very devoted.”
“We are not gloating; I want to make that clear,” he added. “We are happy for
the White family; our hearts go out to the Cicciaro family.”
On Friday morning at his home, Mr. White said that all he wanted was “to take a
hot bath, to shave, to go to church.”
“Hope is eternal,” he said before shutting the front door decorated with a
At his trial, Mr. White described his actions as protecting his family from what
he perceived as a lynch mob, saying Mr. Cicciaro and his friends yelled racial
slurs as they stood in his driveway.
“There is no racial divide as far as the church is concerned,” Mr. Adams said.
“We live on Christian principles that demand that everybody is the same in the
eyes of God.” Chief among those principles, he said, “is forgiveness.”
Mr. Cicciaro’s mother, Joanne, declined to comment on the case on Friday. Dano’s
Auto Clinic in Port Jefferson Station, which is run by the victim’s father, was
closed on Friday, but a decoration, the face of an African-American Santa Claus,
was taped to the outside of the front door. It was unclear who had put it there.
At a news conference in Manhattan, Governor Paterson said he wished he had
spoken with the dead teenager’s family before making his decision. He said he
ended up speaking with the family on Friday for nearly an hour, but declined to
The governor said that although he would not have changed his decision, “there
were some points that Ms. Cicciaro made that were rather compelling.” He added,
“There were some issues that were raised by Ms. Cicciaro that I will think about
over the holidays.”
Nicholas Confessore and Anahad O’Connor contributed reporting.
Freed From Prison, Long
Island Man Takes to Pulpit, NYT, 24.12.2010,
Wisconsin on the Map to Pray With Mary
December 23, 2010
The New York Times
By ERIK ECKHOLM
CHAMPION, Wis. — In France, the shrine at Lourdes is surrounded by hundreds
of hotels and has received as many as 45,000 pilgrims in a single day. Our Lady
of Guadalupe, in Mexico, draws millions of fervent worshipers a year.
Now, a little chapel among the dairy farms here, called Our Lady of Good Help,
has joined that august company in terms of religious status, if not global fame.
This month, it became one of only about a dozen sites worldwide, and the first
in the United States, where apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been officially
validated by the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1859, the year after Mary is said to have appeared in Lourdes, a Belgian
immigrant here named Adele Brise said she was visited three times by Mary, who
hovered between two trees in a bright light, clothed in dazzling white with a
yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars above her flowing blond locks.
As instructed, Ms. Brise devoted her life to teaching Catholic beliefs to
On Dec. 8, after a two-year investigation by theologians who found no evidence
of fraud or heresy and a long history of shrine-related conversions, cures and
other signs of divine intervention, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay declared
“with moral certainty” that Ms. Brise did indeed have encounters “of a
supernatural character” that are “worthy of belief.”
Lourdes-like hordes have not yet gathered, but since the weighty decree a
growing stream of visitors, some driving several hours, has found its way here
to pray and revel in what many say is the palpable presence of Mary. Calls are
coming in from as far as New York from church groups that want to visit by the
busload, and local church officials are wondering whether they thought too small
when they built a new parking lot — planned well before this month — with 75
Debbie Banda, 46, and her mother, Mary Young, 75, who live nearby, learned of
the shrine and the bishop’s decision from the news, and came for the first time
“It’s incredible — she’s here, you just feel it,” Ms. Banda said after praying
in the crypt chapel, said to be on the spot of the apparitions. As they passed a
statue of Mary in white, just as described by Ms. Brise, Ms. Banda was overcome
with emotion, weeping and hugging her mother. The two of them went back to pray
“We need the Virgin Mary’s protection, and for her to keep an eye on our
soldiers, too,” said Ms. Young, whose sons have served in the Middle East.
“We’ll definitely be coming back.”
Catholic leaders described the decree in Wisconsin as a bolt of joy at a trying
time for the Catholic church, which is troubled by revelations of sex abuse.
“This is a gift to the believers,” said the Rev. Johann Roten, director of the
International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton.
“It would be devious to say that this was somehow pulled out of the attic to
exorcise the problems of the church today,” Father Roten said in a telephone
interview. “But hopefully this will have a beneficial impact on the people,
showing them that there are ways of living with faith that are very pure.”
The Diocese of Green Bay is under fire from lawyers in an abuse-related lawsuit,
who charge that it has obstructed justice by destroying potentially
incriminating files on former priests. The diocese says it has cooperated fully
with law enforcement and discarded psychiatric records of deceased priests as
required by federal privacy laws.
Bishop Ricken, in an interview at his office in Green Bay, noted that the church
has a tradition of taking its time with such cases. Over the years, he said, his
predecessors had implicitly endorsed the shrine by holding services there and
encouraging people to visit.
When he moved to Green Bay in 2008, he said, “I was struck by how many stories I
heard of answered prayers” — resolved family and employment problems as well as
medical cures — and he decided to start a formal investigation.
“People have a hunger for the spiritual, and right here in our backyard was a
source to meet that need,” Bishop Ricken said. The church’s scandals did not
influence his decision, he said, but if the shrine can become a source of hope
and healing for people, including victims of errant priests, “that would be
The Vatican gives primary responsibility for evaluating apparitions to local
bishops. Wary of fraud, the church is generally reluctant even to investigate
Over the 20th century, some 386 major apparitions of Mary were reported at a
level beyond local rumors, said Father Roten, who has been an investigator in
purported sightings. About 75 of those were studied, and at most a dozen were
recognized as valid, he said. Increasingly, he said, the church makes use of
psychiatric examinations and brain scans to see if people making claims are
mentally healthy and not having hallucinations.
That kind of examination was not possible, of course, for Ms. Brise, and Bishop
Ricken said that his panel of three theological specialists had considered a
host of indirect factors in concluding that her sighting was credible, following
guidelines set by the Vatican in 1978.
By all reports, he said, Ms. Brise was humble and honest and faithfully carried
out Mary’s mandate to serve the church throughout her life. In one striking sign
of a divine presence, he said, the shrine’s grounds and the terrified crowd who
gathered there were spared the flames of the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871, which
devoured the surrounding lands and homes and caused more than 1,200 deaths. Her
account of Mary’s apparition and message was consistent with accepted cases.
The dozens of families and individuals who stopped to pray at the shrine on
Wednesday afternoon seemed to have no doubts at all about the apparitions.
“There’s a lot of power here,” said Theresa Vandermause, 45, who for years has
made a weekly pilgrimage to the shrine with her friend Judy Deprey, 65. “You can
feel the presence of Mary, and it feels like she’s listening to you.”
The two women were pleased that the church had finally declared Mary’s visits
here to be real, but said that the decree had not really changed anything.
“We knew that already!” they declared.
Wisconsin on the Map to
Pray With Mary, NYT, 23.12.2010,
Imam Behind Islamic Center
Plans U.S. Tour
December 23, 2010
The New York Times
By PAUL VITELLO
The controversy over plans to build an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan
subsided in November, almost abruptly, with the end of an election season that
amplified its most emotional underlying issues.
But the imam behind the project has decided to risk reigniting that opposition
by setting out on a nationwide speaking tour next month to promote the planned
center and to foster dialogue about Muslim life in America.
“Controversy has never been a problem for me,” said the imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf,
whose proposal to build the high-rise community center and mosque two blocks
north of ground zero made him the prime target last summer of opponents who
viewed the plan, known as Park51 for its address on Park Place, as a Trojan
horse for Muslim triumphalism. “I think the controversy of last summer helped
initiate a discourse that has been very good for the country. I’m an American,
and I believe that Americans are problem solvers. So I believe further
discussion can only be good.”
The tour, which he described in an interview on Wednesday, is scheduled to begin
in Detroit, the city with the largest Muslim population in the United States. It
will include stops in Chicago, Washington, San Antonio and several college
campuses, starting with Harvard, Yale, Georgetown and the University of North
Because of death threats that the imam has received, none of his addresses will
be open to the general public, though the local news media in each place will be
invited to attend, and to ask questions afterward, he said.
Some of the project’s most outspoken opponents welcomed the imam’s plan for a
speaking tour, though for reasons of their own.
“I think this will help to revive the opposition, not only from Americans in
general but from Muslims in this country, who don’t want this thing built,” said
Ryan Mauro, a conservative blogger and the producer of a documentary about the
planned community center.
The film, “Sacrificed Survivors: The Untold Story of the Ground Zero
Mega-Mosque,” focuses on opposition by some families of 9/11 victims.
Pamela Geller, another conservative blogger who organized many of the public
demonstrations against the center last summer, said she planned to marshal
protests when the City Council meets next month to review Wal-Mart’s proposal to
open a store in Manhattan. “Christine Quinn is against Wal-Mart, but she’s in
favor of the megamosque. Typical liberal elitist thinking,” she said, referring
to the City Council speaker.
Ms. Geller also predicted that the imam’s speaking tour would serve the
opposition. “The opposition has never gone away, and will never go away,” she
At the height of the controversy over the summer and fall, Mr. Adbul Rauf was on
a scheduled speaking tour in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The
tour was sponsored by the State Department’s cultural exchange bureau, known as
the Department of Public Diplomacy.
He considered canceling that trip in order to confront the opposition and rally
support at home to his cause — a job that fell for the most part to his wife and
partner in interfaith work, Daisy Khan, executive director of the American
Society for Muslim Advancement.
“But in that environment, I realized that no matter what I did or said, I would
be accused of something,” he said. And as it turned out, he added, the reaction
of Middle Eastern Muslims to the controversy over Park51 was encouraging to him.
The idea that in the United States there could be a discussion, even an angry
one, about building a mosque that some considered to be too close to ground zero
— “that was an amazingly positive thing to people I met in the Middle East,” he
“The idea that the Jewish mayor of New York would be our most outspoken
defender,” he continued, referring to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “well, I think
that really touched people. It was very positive ‘optics’ for the international
Muslim audience, as they say in the State Department.”
If Mr. Abdul Rauf ever entertained thoughts of moving the planned center to a
less contentious site — as he has admitted in interviews — Mr. Bloomberg’s
support for Park51 has since made that unthinkable.
And to do so now would be “a betrayal of this great opportunity,” he added,
referring to the discourse about relations between Muslims in the United States
and their fellow Americans, which he plans to take on the road from mid-January
until the early spring.
Imam Behind Islamic
Center Plans U.S. Tour, NYT, 23.12.2010,
A Monsignor Is Defrocked for Abusing a Student
December 17, 2010
The New York Times
By PAUL VITELLO
A once-influential Roman Catholic monsignor who oversaw fund-raising for the
Archdiocese of New York, running the annual Alfred E. Smith political dinner
during the tenure of Cardinal John J. O’Connor, has been removed from the
priesthood after an eight-year church review of sexual abuse accusations against
him, the archdiocese announced on Friday.
The monsignor, Charles M. Kavanagh, 73, has denied the charges, which were
brought against him by a former student at the former Cathedral Preparatory
Seminary in Manhattan. The monsignor contested an archdiocesan review board’s
finding of guilt in 2003, then asked the Vatican to authorize a formal trial by
a tribunal of priests from another diocese. When that body also found him
guilty, he sought an appeal from a second tribunal.
On Wednesday, the second tribunal concluded its review, ruling that Monsignor
Kavanagh should be defrocked, said Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the New
York archdiocese. The announcement was made after two days, late on a Friday
afternoon, because “we have not dealt with this kind of situation before,” Mr.
Nineteen priests in the archdiocese have been discharged from the priesthood
since 2002, when a sexual abuse scandal shook the church nationwide, but
Monsignor Kavanagh is the only one who has pursued the full complement of
appeals available to him, Mr. Zwilling said. He is also one of the
highest-ranking local priests to have been caught up in the accusations.
Daniel Donohue, 46, the former seminarian who accused Monsignor Kavanagh of
making unwanted advances and touching him inappropriately in the 1980s, said,
“I’m glad for the validation of my credibility.” But he criticized the slowness
and opacity of the church’s judicial process. “For eight years, I never knew
where the process was,” he said by phone from Portland, Ore., where he lives
with his wife and four children. “I have classmates who are going through
similar processes. I just hope it doesn’t take eight years for them, too.”
Mr. Donohue first took his accusations to the archdiocese and the Manhattan
district attorney’s office in 2002. Within months, following initial
investigations by both authorities, the archdiocese ordered the monsignor to
halt his active ministry. Throughout the process of review, trial and appeal,
the archdiocese released no information about the case except to confirm that it
In a statement on Friday, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, a successor to Cardinal
O’Connor, said: “Although all of this took place before my arrival as
archbishop, I am well aware of the seriousness of the charges involved in this
case, and I am grateful for the careful way that it has been handled by my
predecessor, Cardinal Egan, and by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith. I would like to take this occasion to renew our apologies to all those
who have been harmed by the sin and crime of sexual abuse, and in particular to
apologize to the gentleman who was the victim in this case.”
Monsignor Kavanagh was rector at Cathedral Prep at the time of the sexually
charged events described by Mr. Donohue. He was later a much-admired pastor at
St. Raymond’s Church in the Bronx, and in 1994 Cardinal O’Connor appointed him
the archdiocese’s vicar of development. His stature in the church hierarchy was
further cemented when he was asked to organize the cardinal’s funeral in 2000.
Supporters flocked to defend Monsignor Kavanagh after the accusations were made.
He was defiant at a dinner in his honor in 2003, telling a banquet hall filled
with 300 friends that he had never abused anybody. “My integrity is in place,”
he said. “I will be vindicated.”
A family spokesman said Friday that the former monsignor would not comment. In a
statement, Ann Mandt, who identified herself as former Monsignor Kavanagh’s
sister and lawyer, said he remained adamant that he had never abused Mr. Donohue
or anyone else. But, she added, he is now disillusioned with the church.
“After more than eight years,” she wrote, “he and his family now know that the
church, in reaction to its own mistakes and as a way of ‘cleaning up a mess’ it
created, has decided that ‘the good of the church’ must come before a person’s
rights and any sense of due process.”
The statement concluded: “He is an innocent man, and he will never give up his
fight for justice. We pray that people will stand with him in this struggle.”
A Monsignor Is Defrocked
for Abusing a Student, NYT, 17.12.2010,
Sri Daya Mata, Guiding Light for U.S. Hindus, Dies at 96
December 3, 2010
The New York Times
By DENNIS HEVESI
Sri Daya Mata, who for more than five decades was the leader of one of the
most influential Hindu groups in the United States and an ardent advocate of the
healing power of meditation, died on Tuesday at the group’s retreat for nuns in
Los Angeles. She was 96.
Her death was confirmed by Lauren Landress, a spokeswoman for the group, the
Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, which is based in
what once was an elegant hotel on Mount Washington in Los Angeles.
From 1955 until her death, Sri Daya Mata — her name means “true mother of
compassion” in Sanskrit — was the society’s president and spiritual leader. In
her flowing ocher sari, she presided over an organization that now has more than
600 temples, centers and retreats in 60 countries, about half of them in the
United States. Ms. Landress estimated that the society had “hundreds of
thousands” of followers, but said she could not be more specific.
The society, whose monks and nuns adopt Indian names, teaches that there is a
unifying truth behind all religious experience, and the group encourages its
members to honor their roots in other faiths. Most members follow a vegetarian
diet, practice yoga, chant and meditate.
Meditation, Sri Daya Mata said, is a universal balm: “If we turn our
consciousness within, in deep meditation, communing with God even a little bit
every day, we begin gradually to experience that love which is our real nature.
“Feeling love within ourselves, it is very easy to give it to others.”
The Self-Realization Fellowship was founded in 1920 by the Indian yoga master
Paramahansa Yogananda soon after he arrived in the United States as a delegate
to the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston. He became well
known as the author of “Autobiography of a Yogi,” which was first published in
Catherine Wessinger, a professor of the history of religions at Loyola
University New Orleans, said on Thursday that Sri Yogananda was “the most
significant teacher to popularize Hindu ideas and practices in the United States
after the initial one, Swami Vivekananda,” who came to the United States in
“Of course, in the 1960s, numerous gurus immigrated to the United States,” Dr.
Wessinger said, “but the S.R.F. remains influential.”
Sri Daya Mata, who was born Faye Wright in Salt Lake City on Jan. 31, 1914, was
a daughter of Clarence and Rachel Wright, who were Mormons. Her grandfather
Abraham Reister Wright was an architect of the Mormon Tabernacle.
Faye was 15 when she picked up a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita, a sacred Hindu
scripture. Two years later, in 1931, she attended a lecture by Sri Yogananda in
Salt Lake City.
Soon after, with her mother’s blessing, she moved to Los Angeles and joined the
society. She took her vows in 1932, becoming one of the first nuns of the
Self-Realization Fellowship order. Her mother, sister and two brothers later
became members of the society as well.
For more than 20 years, Sri Daya Mata was one of Sri Yogananda’s closest
disciples, serving as his secretary and helping compile the detailed
instructions on yoga meditation that the society distributed by mail order.
In 1955, three years after Sri Yogananda died, she succeeded the Rajarsi
Janakananda as president of the society. As a spiritual successor to Sri
Yogananda, she supervised the training of disciples who resided in ashrams
around the world and the administration of the society’s humanitarian services.
Besides its headquarters, the society owns a 10-acre sanctuary in the Pacific
Palisades, near Malibu, Calif., where a temple crowned by a golden lotus was
built in 1966 under Sri Daya Mata’s guidance. Followers come from around the
country to meditate.
J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion
in Santa Barbara, Calif., who has compiled a census of Hindu groups in the
United States, said that while the Self-Realization Fellowship’s “strength still
is in Southern California, Daya Mata built a following that it is now a much
more substantial national movement.”
Sri Daya Mata, Guiding
Light for U.S. Hindus, Dies at 96, NYT, 3.12.2010,
Muslim Orphans Caught Between Islamic, Western Law
November 28, 2010
Filed at 10:36 a.m. EST
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Helene Lauffer knew Muslim children — orphaned, displaced, neglected — needed
homes in the United States. She knew American Muslim families wanted to take
But Lauffer, associate executive director of Spence-Chapin, one of the oldest
adoption agencies in the country, couldn't bring them together.
The problem was a gap between Western and Islamic law. Traditional, closed
adoption violates Islamic jurisprudence, which stresses the importance of
lineage. Instead, Islam has a guardianship system called kafalah that resembles
foster care, yet has no exact counterpart in Western law.
The differences have left young Muslims with little chance of finding a
permanent Muslim home in America. So Lauffer sought out a group of Muslim women
scholars and activists, hoping they could at least start a discussion among U.S.
Muslims about how adoption and Islamic law could become compatible.
"At the end of the day, it's about trying to find families for kids," said
Lauffer is not alone in raising the issue. As Muslim communities become more
established in the United States, pressure is building for a re-examination of
Islamic law on adoption.
Refugee children from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are being resettled here.
Muslim couples who can't conceive want to adopt but don't want to violate their
faith's teachings. State child welfare agencies that permanently remove Muslim
children from troubled homes usually can't find Muslim families to adopt them
because of the restrictions in Islamic law.
"I get all kinds of families who come to me for fertility issues. They want to
adopt and they want to adopt Muslim children and I'm thinking this is a crime
that they can't," said Najah Bazzy, a nurse and founder of Zaman International,
a humanitarian service group in Dearborn, Mich. "No one is going to convince me
that Islam makes no allocation for this. Either somebody is not interpreting it
right, or it needs to be reinterpreted."
Mohammad Hamid, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Hamdard Center, a
social service agency in the Chicago area that has many Muslims among its
clients, said he regularly received requests from American Muslims for advice on
how they could adopt.
"We don't tell them it's Islamic or un-Islamic," said Hamid, whose nonprofit
does not handle adoptions. "Our job is to facilitate the process. We believe if
the child can be adopted, you are saving a child."
The prohibition against adoption would appear contrary to the Quran's heavy
emphasis on helping orphans. The Prophet Muhammad's father died before his son
was born, so the boy's grandfather and uncle served as his guardians, setting an
example for all Muslims to follow.
However, Islamic scholars say the restrictions were actually meant to protect
children, by ending abuses in pre-Islamic Arabic tribal society.
Ingrid Mattson, professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in
Connecticut, said adoption in that period had more in common with slavery. Men
would take in boys, then erase any tie between the child and his biological
family. The goal was to gather as many fighters as possible as protection for
the tribe. Orphans' property was often stolen in the process.
As a result, Muslims were barred from treating adopted and biological children
as identical in naming or inheritance, unless the adoptee was breast-fed as a
baby by the adoptive mother, creating a familial bond recognized under Islamic
When an orphan reaches puberty, the Islamic prohibition against mixing of the
sexes applies inside the home of his or her guardians. Muslim men cannot be
alone with women they could potentially marry, and women must cover their hair
around these men. Islamic law sets out detailed rules about who believers can
and cannot marry, and an orphan taken in from another family would not
automatically be considered "unmarriageable" to his siblings or guardians.
For these reasons and others, Muslim countries only rarely allow international
"There hasn't been a concerted push to open doors for Muslim orphans because the
expectation would be that those efforts would fall flat," said Chuck Johnson,
chief executive of the National Council for Adoption, a policy group in
Advocates for a new interpretation of Islamic law are more hopeful, at least
about the prospect for a different approach to the issue in the United States.
Mattson argues that the flexibility in Islamic law for accommodating local
cultures and customs can lead to a solution.
Open adoption, which keeps contact between the adoptee and his biological
family, is seen as one potential answer. In New South Wales, Australia, child
welfare officials created an outreach program to Muslims emphasizing that
Australian adoptions are open and adopted children can retain their birth names.
The New South Wales program is the only well-known adoption campaign targeting a
Muslim minority population in a Western country.
The Muslim women scholars Lauffer consulted in New York, who meet annually as a
shura (advisory) council, tackled the complexities of modesty rules inside the
home. They debated whether Muslim adoptees in the West could be considered
Islamically "unmarriageable" to their siblings or guardians, since Western
governments classify adoptees the same as blood relatives. The shura council
will soon release a statement on the issue through its organizing body, the
Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality.
It's unclear how successful their efforts can be. There is no central authority
in Islam to hand down a ruling on adoption. Muslims consult individual scholars,
or, in the United States, seek an opinion from an imam at their local mosque.
Catherine England, a Muslim who teaches in the Seattle area, adopted four
children after she and her husband learned they could have no children of their
own. One of her children is an orphan from Afghanistan. Two others are
"I felt that my understanding — and this is entirely my understanding — is that
what is forbidden in Islam is closed adoption," said England, who converted to
Islam more than three decades ago. She consulted a Muslim scholar who she said
affirmed her view that open adoption was allowed.
Lauffer hopes to hear more stories like England's soon.
Muslim Orphans Caught Between
Islamic, Western Law, NYT, 28.11.2010,
Dolan Is Surprise Pick to Lead U.S. Bishops’ Group
November 16, 2010
Filed at 10:26 a.m. EST
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BALTIMORE (AP) — In an upset, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan elected
president Tuesday of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, defeating a vice
president who had been widely expected to win the job.
It is the first time since the 1960s that a sitting vice president was on the
ballot for president and lost. It follows protests by some conservative
Catholics against the vice president, Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas.
Dolan received 54 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Kicanas on the third
round of balloting. Kicanas has served as vice president for a three-year term
which ends this week.
Dolan's surprise victory comes at a time when church leaders are divided over
how best to uphold Roman Catholic orthodoxy.
A growing number of bishops have taken a more aggressive approach, publicly
denying Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights,
warning Catholic voters they should never vote for a candidate who supports
abortion rights under any circumstances and reining in prominent dissenters in
Kicanas has not denied Communion to any Catholic politicians and rejected calls
to punish the president of the University of Notre Dame for honoring President
Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights. Kicanas instead urged bishops and
Catholic university presidents to start a discussion about their differences.
Partly because of Kicanas' approach, he was pilloried in the days leading up to
the vote by right-wing Catholic bloggers, who urged readers to send protest
faxes and leave messages for bishops at the hotel where they are meeting.
Dolan also does not outright deny the sacrament to dissenting Catholic
lawmakers, but he is seen as an outspoken defender of church orthodoxy in a
style favored by many theological conservatives.
Dolan Is Surprise Pick to Lead U.S. Bishops’
Group, NYT, 16.11.2010,
First Openly Gay Episcopal Bishop to Retire in 2013
November 6, 2010
The New York Times
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Bishop V. Gene Robinson, whose consecration as the first openly gay bishop in
the Episcopal Church set off a historic rift in the global Anglican Communion,
announced to his New Hampshire diocese on Saturday that he intended to step
He plans to retire in January 2013 after nine years as bishop, to give the
diocese enough time to elect a new bishop and get the approval of the national
church, a process that can take two years.
The news took some by surprise because Bishop Robinson is an energetic
63-year-old, and mandatory retirement age for Episcopal bishops is 72. He has
led a relatively stable and healthy diocese, despite predictions by some that
his election would undermine the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire.
The reason to depart, he said in a speech delivered at the close of the annual
convention of his diocese, is that being at the center of an international
uproar has taken a toll on him and on the diocese.
“Death threats, and the now worldwide controversy surrounding your election of
me as bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved
husband, Mark” and on Episcopalians in the state, he said.
But those who know Bishop Robinson say he has no intention of retiring from
public life. His status as a symbol in the international gay rights movement
means that after he steps down, he will have no shortage of platforms from which
to preach his message that God blesses gay relationships too. (Through a
spokesman, he declined interview requests.)
Bishop Robinson has become a national figure. In 2009, he gave the invocation
for the opening event of the inauguration of President Obama. He also sees
himself as an evangelist to people alienated from Christianity.
The election of Bishop Robinson in a church in Concord, N. H., in 2003 was the
shot heard round the Christian world. It cracked open a longstanding divide
between theological liberals and conservatives in both the Episcopal Church and
its parent body, the Anglican Communion — those churches affiliated with the
Church of England in more than 160 countries.
Since 2003, the Communion’s leaders have labored to save it from outright
schism, not just over homosexuality, but also over female bishops and priests.
The current strategy, pushed by the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev.
Rowan Williams, is for each regional province to sign a “covenant” of common
The covenant has been slowly making its way through laborious writing and
approval processes, which could take years.
Late last month, an international coalition of liberal Anglicans started a
campaign to reject the covenant, saying, “The covenant seeks to narrow the range
of acceptable belief within Anglicanism.”
The group, Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity, said, “Rather than bringing peace
to the Communion, we predict that the covenant text itself could become the
cause of future bickering and that its centralized dispute-resolution mechanisms
could beget interminable quarrels and resentments.”
The church in New Hampshire suffered less fallout under Bishop Robinson than the
Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. Only one New Hampshire congregation
departed during his tenure, a congregation long unhappy with the direction of
the Episcopal Church, according to diocesan leaders.
The number of active members in New Hampshire fell 3 percent, from 15,259 in
2003 to 14,787 in 2009. In that period, the Episcopal Church, like most mainline
Protestant denominations, lost about 10 percent of its members. (It had about
two million in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available.)
Bishop Robinson won critics over with a leadership style that was decisive but
collaborative, said Margaret Porter, moderator of the diocesan council.
“The people who were skeptics, that did not last,” she said. “He was willing to
meet them where they were. There were churches that were reluctant to have him
visit as bishop for a time, and I think he now visits every congregation and is
But the pressure on Bishop Robinson became apparent in 2006. He took a monthlong
leave to be treated for alcoholism. He said Saturday that he was in his fifth
year of sobriety.
He and his partner of more than 20 years had a civil union ceremony in New
Hampshire in 2008.
Bishop Robinson is no longer the only openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Mary D. Glasspool was consecrated in Los Angeles earlier this year.
In his resignation speech in New Hampshire, Bishop Robinson said: “This is the
one place on earth where I am not ‘the gay bishop.’ I believe that you elected
me because you believed me to be the right person to lead you at this time. The
world has sometimes questioned that, but I hope you never did.”
First Openly Gay
Episcopal Bishop to Retire in 2013, NYT, 6.11.2010,
At East Village Food Pantry, the Price Is a Sermon
September 28, 2010
The New York Times
By JOSEPH BERGER
The shopping carts are lined up hours early in Tompkins Square Park, not far
from the dog run, where the East Village’s more genteel residents are unleashing
retrievers and beagles and chatting animatedly. The poor or elderly waiting on
benches to get the free food that comes with a dose of the Gospel seem more lost
in their own thoughts, even though many meet every Tuesday.
A guard, Mike Luke, a powerhouse known as Big Mike who himself was a consumer at
church pantries until he found religion and decided to work for “the man
upstairs,” manages the crowd with crisp authority until the 11 a.m. service
starts across the street at the Tompkins Square Gospel Fellowship. There is
nervous tension because only the first 50 will get in, and suddenly two women
are squabbling over a black cart.
“How do you know that’s your cart?” Big Mike firmly asks one, a fair question
since the carts look alike. But the mystery is cleared up with the discovery of
an orphaned gray cart.
Inside the worship hall, the 50 men and women sit in neat rows in front of a
pulpit and a painting of a generic waterfall while a pianist softly plays hymns.
Their carts are reassembled in neat rows as well.
The room has the shopworn air of Sergeant Sarah Brown’s Save-a-Soul Mission in
“Guys and Dolls.” One almost expects Stubby Kaye to get up and sing “Sit Down,
You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” But people don’t mind having to sit through a sermon
as the price of admission, and few have jobs they need to run to. While they
wait, volunteers fill each cart with a couple of bread loaves — redolent of a
Gospel miracle, except these are ciabatta and 10-grain — a couple of bananas, a
couple of less-than-freshly-picked ears of corn, a box of eggs, a box of
blueberries, even an Asian pear.
The food is donated by Trader Joe’s, the gourmet and organic food purveyor,
which has a store nearby. It usually feeds the kinds of professionals who use
the dog run, but it provides the fellowship with a wealth of unsold baked goods,
fruit and vegetables.
The fellowship was started 115 years ago as a mission to the immigrant Jews of
the Lower East Side but now mostly serves the black, Latino and Asian poor. The
East Village has several other pantries that dispense food without sermons;
their food is government-financed and so must be religion-free. The fellowship
started its giveaways in January and now feeds 250 people during three services
on Tuesdays — one in Chinese — and a single evening service on Sundays and
The mission is run by the Rev. Bill Jones, a lively ordained Baptist minister
from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
“People are not only hungry for food, but hungry for the word of God,” Mr. Jones
said. “There’s not just a physical need but a spiritual need.”
Nevertheless, he is aware of the actual hunger. “If you wait for three hours to
get $25 worth of groceries,” he said, “you have a need.”
He affirms that thought to the waiting crowd in a stentorian drawl.
“You all get blueberries today,” he announces. “Some of you get eggs. If you
don’t get eggs, don’t be upset. You neighbor is getting eggs, so be grateful.”
The people who come include Rafael Mercado, 52, who lost his job as a mailroom
clerk four years ago.
“I don’t have the kind of money now to go shopping,” he said, “so I go to many
pantries.” Another is Asia Feliciano, 37, a single mother with a lush head of
cornrow braids. She and her sons, Trevor, 5, and Jordan, 3, live in a nearby
shelter, and they stumbled upon the mission in August while panhandling.
“It puts food on our plates every night,” she said.
Mr. Jones begins the service with a prayer — “Heavenly father, we are so
grateful for the provisions you have brought us for another day.” He then offers
a lesson from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus tells the disciples to love one
another. With ardor that is not quite brimstone, Mr. Jones urges listeners to
love one another as well, not give in to temptations and pray to remain faithful
Many among the 50 sit stone-faced. But some clearly listen. Though she comes
mostly for the food, Ms. Feliciano indicates that the worship has subversively
“When I have to sit through the service, it opens my eyes,” she said. “So I
started reading the Bible and I asked them for a Bible, and they gave me one.”
Jim Dwyer is on leave.
At East Village Food
Pantry, the Price Is a Sermon, NYT, 28.9.2010,
On Basic Religion Test, Many Doth Not Pass
September 28, 2010
The New York Times
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also
deeply ignorant about religion.
Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned
more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible,
Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the
constitutional principles governing religion in public life.
On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly,
and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.
Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two
religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the
researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.
“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into
account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other
religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.
That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American
Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray
“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious
people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack
of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”
Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is
Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical
figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith?
Mother Theresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.
The researchers said that the questionnaire was designed to represent a breadth
of knowledge about religion, but was not intended to be regarded as a list of
the most essential facts about the subject. Most of the questions were easy, but
a few were difficult enough to discern which respondents were highly
On questions about the Bible and Christianity, the groups that answered the most
right were Mormons and white evangelical Protestants.
On questions about world religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism,
the groups that did the best were atheists, agnostics and Jews.
One finding that may grab the attention of policy makers is that most Americans
wrongly believe that anything having to do with religion is prohibited in public
An overwhelming 89 percent of respondents, asked whether public school teachers
are permitted to lead a class in prayer, correctly answered no.
But fewer than one of four knew that a public school teacher is permitted “to
read from the Bible as an example of literature.” And only about one third knew
that a public school teacher is permitted to offer a class comparing the world’s
The survey’s authors concluded that there was “widespread confusion” about “the
line between teaching and preaching.”
Mr. Smith said the survey appeared to be the first comprehensive effort at
assessing the basic religious knowledge of Americans, so it is impossible to
tell whether they are more or less informed than in the past.
The phone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish in May and June.
There were not enough Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu respondents to say how those
Clergy members who are concerned that their congregants know little about the
essentials of their own faith will no doubt be appalled by some of these
¶ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man
who started the Protestant Reformation.
¶ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that
the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but
actually become the body and blood of Christ.
¶ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost
rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.
The question about Maimonides was the one that the fewest people answered
correctly. But 51 percent knew that Joseph Smith was Mormon, and 82 percent knew
that Mother Theresa was Roman Catholic.
On Basic Religion Test,
Many Doth Not Pass, NYT, 28.9.2010,
For Muslims, Day of Celebration Amid Controversy
September 26, 2010
The New York Times
By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM
The scene seemed surreal, yet oddly poignant: at a silent, deserted
intersection in the center of Midtown Manhattan, beneath bland corporate logos
and brick office buildings, hundreds of Muslims knelt on a sprawling tarpaulin,
faced due east and commenced the midday call to prayer.
The ceremony, held along a blocked-off portion of Madison Avenue, marked the
start of the American Muslim Day Parade on Sunday, an annual event, first held
in 1985, that brings together Muslims of many ethnicities and nationalities who
worship in the New York region.
The parade is intended as a celebration of diversity and pride in the Muslim
community, but this year it had a difficult context: national controversies over
a planned Islamic center and mosque near ground zero, the threatened desecration
of Korans by anti-Muslim ministers, and recent incidences of what the
authorities called hate crimes against Muslims, including a New York City
cabdriver who was slashed.
Some marchers had feared protesters on Sunday, but only the occasional Christian
missionary appeared. Still, the turnout was far smaller than at the city’s
better-known ethnic parades, and a few organizers speculated that safety
concerns kept many Muslims away. “Some people are too scared to show up,” said
Zaheer Uddin, executive director of the Islamic Leadership Council of
Metropolitan New York, a sponsoring group.
But many participants, while acknowledging their concern over the increase in
anti-Muslim rhetoric, said the troubles had only further encouraged them to
attend this year.
“This has been a tough year for Islam,” said Shahid Khan of East Northport,
N.Y., who brought his entire extended family into the city for the event. He and
his children wore traditional Muslim clothing, outfits that he said they did not
otherwise wear during the year.
“This is for my children to see different cultures, different people speaking
different languages, marching together under the banner of Islam,” Mr. Khan
said. “We want to come down here more than previous years to show we’re united
against this bigotry.”
The participants included imams wearing full-length religious garb and more
secular Muslims in T-shirts and denim. A group of Muslim police officers, in
full uniforms, marched the length of the parade.
A lieutenant with the fire department of Elmsford, N.Y., Syed Alirahi, said: “We
are public servants. Most of us are born here, live here and die here. We’re
going to fight for our country. Today is our opportunity to show ourselves to
other people, and our contributions to the country as Muslims.”
Still, for all its celebratory nature, the event could not stray far from recent
“To the man sitting in the Sunshine State, I feel sorry for that man,” said
Shamas us-Zaman, the event’s master of ceremonies, referring to Terry Jones, the
Florida pastor who gained worldwide attention for threatening to burn Korans.
“We want to send a message to these kind of sick people: Muslim Americans
respect the holy Bible, the Koran and other religious books.”
For Muslims, Day of
Celebration Amid Controversy, NYT, 26.9.2010,
A Claim of Pro-Islam Bias in Textbooks
September 22, 2010
The New York Times
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
HOUSTON — Some conservative members of the Texas Board of Education assert
that the history books used in this state have a pro-Islamic bias, and they are
upset about it.
Never shy about wading into the culture wars, they are planning to vote Friday
for a resolution that would send a blunt message to textbook publishers: Do not
present a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian version of history if you want to sell
books in one of the nation’s largest markets.
“The purpose of this resolution is to ensure there is balanced treatment of
divergent groups,” Gail Lowe, the chairwoman of the board, said. “In the past,
the textbooks have had some bias against Christianity.”
The resolution was written and submitted to the board this summer by, Randy
Rives, who as a member of the school board in Odessa, Tex., pushed through a
Bible study curriculum.
Last spring, Mr. Rives ran for the state board but failed to defeat the
incumbent, Bob Craig, a moderate Republican.
Defeat at the polls did not dampen Mr. Rives’s enthusiasm for protecting Texas
students from what he sees as a conspiracy to sugarcoat the history of Islam in
textbooks. In interviews, Mr. Rives has likened his concerns about Islam to
those he and other Americans once had about communists infiltrating American
Speaking to the state board last summer, he said that Middle Eastern companies
were investing in American publishing houses, or the “textbook oligopoly,” as he
“If you can control or influence our education system, you can start taking over
the minds of the young people,” Mr. Rives said. “And so I think we are real
passionate that you need to make a bold statement to the publishers that pushing
this agenda will not be tolerated in Texas.”
As evidence of Islamic influence in textbook publishing, Mr. Rives cited a 2008
decision by the Dubai royal family to invest heavily in a company that owns the
publishing house Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Boston.
Earlier this year, the family’s investment arm, Istithmar World Capital, lost
its stake in the publishing house after the publishing company restructured its
debt, said Josef Blumenfeld, a spokesman for the publisher.
The portrayal of Islam has become an emotional political issue across the
country of late, with some Christian conservatives contending that too little
attention is paid to the militant aspects of the religion used by terrorist
groups to justify their actions.
The latest controversy erupted over a plan by a Baptist preacher in Florida to
burn Korans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A debate
continues to rage, meanwhile, about whether a mosque and community center should
be built two blocks from where the World Trade Center stood.
Mr. Rives has found several sympathizers among the board’s seven-member
conservative bloc, who have introduced his resolution verbatim. The measure says
past textbooks devoted more lines to Islamic beliefs and practices than to
Christianity and spelled out atrocities committed by Christian crusaders while
ignoring similar atrocities by Muslim fighters.
The resolution asserts that textbook writers habitually call Christians “violent
attackers” or “invaders” while playing down Muslim conquests in Europe as
Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates religious
freedom in the classroom, said the resolution amounted to political
“What it comes down to is pushing a misleading and inflammatory resolution to
score political points,” he said. “It’s as if the board cannot go one meeting
without dragging classrooms down into the culture wars.”
It is unclear whether the measure would have any practical effect, since the
board has already adopted its standards for world history texts and is not
expected to revisit the issue for several years. The bloc of Christian
conservatives on the board lost two seats in last March’s Republican primary and
may have less sway next year.
Still, some members say the board has the authority to reject new textbooks to
be published next year that did not meet the standard; the resolution says the
board would “look to reject future prejudicial social studies submissions that
continue to offend Texas law with respect to treatment of the world’s major
But other board members say the resolution is distracting them from more
pressing matters, like finding financing for new textbooks in the face of budget
Patricia Hardy, a former history teacher who is a Republican member, said the
whole question of bias in the textbooks needed further study.
“To base the resolution on the research of a few people is kind of risky, if you
ask me,” she said. “It’s kind of crazy to stop what we are doing right now and
take our eye off the prize.”
A Claim of Pro-Islam
Bias in Textbooks, NYT, 22.9.2010,
Fathi Osman, Scholar of Islam, Dies at 82
September 19, 2010
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Fathi Osman, an influential scholar who articulated a liberal version of
Islam and published an authoritative guide to the Koran for non-Arabic readers,
died on Sept. 11 at his home in Montrose, Calif. He was 82.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said his daughter, Ghada Osman.
Dr. Osman, an Egyptian, took on the scholarly task of explaining Islam to both
Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners, publishing some 40 books in Arabic and
English that took pains to counter the distorted versions of Islam propagated by
ill-informed Westerners and radical Islamists.
His most important work in English was the monumental “Concepts of the Quran: A
Topical Reading” (1997), a work of nearly 1,000 pages intended to acquaint
non-Muslim readers with key concepts in the Koran, arranged according to
“He had two major projects,” said Reuven Firestone, a professor of medieval
Jewish and Islamic studies at Hebrew Union College and a senior fellow of the
Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California.
“The first was to make the case to non-Muslims that Islam is a complex
civilization and should not be seen as a flat ‘other.’ The second, directed to
Muslims, was to demonstrate through his scholarship that Islam is flexible and
can accommodate modernity and still remain authentic to Islamic values and
Dr. Osman wrote and lectured widely, offering an expansive, liberal
interpretation of Koranic teaching on topics like the rights of women;
democratic pluralism; the competing claims of Islamic, or Shariah, law and civil
law; and the obligation of Muslims in the West to embrace Western civic values.
“We have to realize that God’s law is not an alternative to the human mind, nor
is it supposed to put it out of action,” Dr. Osman wrote in an essay on Islam
and human rights. “Openness is life, while being closed off and isolated is
Mohamed Fathi Osman was born on March 17, 1928, in Minya, Egypt. He earned a
degree in history from Cairo University in 1948, a law degree from Alexandria
University in 1960 and a master’s degree in Islamic-Byzantine relations from
Cairo University in 1962.
In the 1940s, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, an anticolonialist and Islamist
group, and helped edit its weekly newspaper. He was a friend and colleague of
Sayyid Qutb, the newspaper’s editor in chief and one of the founding fathers of
radical Islam, but broke with Mr. Qutb and the Brotherhood in the 1950s. In
1960, he published “Islamic Thought and Change,” setting forth his more moderate
version of Islam.
Dr. Osman published several books in Arabic that explored Islamic thought as it
pertains to human rights and legal systems, notably “The Individual in Muslim
Society: Mutual Rights and Obligations” (1963) and “Human Rights in Western
Thought and Islamic Law” (1981).
In the 1960s, he held several posts at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he
worked on overhauling the Islamic curriculum at Egyptian universities.
After teaching at universities in Algeria and Saudi Arabia, he enrolled at
Princeton, where he earned a doctorate in Near Eastern studies in 1976, writing
a dissertation on Islamic land ownership and taxation. He then took a post in
the history department at Ibn Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
In addition to his daughter, Ghada, of San Diego, he is survived by his wife,
Aida Abdel-Rahman Osman.
In 1987, he became a scholar in residence at the Islamic Center of Southern
California in Los Angeles. He was the founder of the Institute for the Study of
Islam in the Contemporary World, part of the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, and
a senior scholar at the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement at the University of
His other works in English include “Muslim Women in the Family and the Society”
(1990), “Islamic Law in the Contemporary Society: Shari’a Dynamics of Change”
(1995) and “Children of Adam: An Islamic Perspective on Pluralism” (1995).
Fathi Osman, Scholar of
Islam, Dies at 82, NYT, 19.9.2010,
Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry
September 18, 2010
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to
extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their
That’s reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I’m going to take it.
(Throat clearing.) I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and
simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the
airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you.
Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still
possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.
I’m inspired by another journalistic apology. The Portland Press Herald in Maine
published an innocuous front-page article and photo a week ago about 3,000 local
Muslims praying together to mark the end of Ramadan. Readers were upset, because
publication coincided with the ninth anniversary of 9/11, and they deluged the
paper with protests.
So the newspaper published a groveling front-page apology for being too
respectful of Muslims. “We sincerely apologize,” wrote the editor and publisher,
Richard Connor, and he added: “we erred by at least not offering balance to the
story and its prominent position on the front page.” As a blog by James
Poniewozik of Time paraphrased it: “Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human.”
I called Mr. Connor, and he seems like a nice guy. Surely his front page isn’t
reserved for stories about Bad Muslims, with articles about Good Muslims going
inside. Must coverage of law-abiding Muslims be “balanced” by a discussion of
Ah, balance — who can be against that? But should reporting of Pope Benedict’s
trip to Britain be “balanced” by a discussion of Catholic terrorists in Ireland?
And what about journalism itself?
I interrupt this discussion of peaceful journalism in Maine to provide some
“balance.” Journalists can also be terrorists, murderers and rapists. For
example, radio journalists in Rwanda promoted genocide.
I apologize to Muslims for another reason. This isn’t about them, but about us.
I want to defend Muslims from intolerance, but I also want to defend America
against extremists engineering a spasm of religious hatred.
Granted, the reason for the nastiness isn’t hard to understand. Extremist
Muslims have led to fear and repugnance toward Islam as a whole. Threats by
Muslim crazies just in the last few days forced a Seattle cartoonist, Molly
Norris, to go into hiding after she drew a cartoon about Muhammad that went
And then there’s 9/11. When I recently compared today’s prejudice toward Muslims
to the historical bigotry toward Catholics, Mormons, Jews and Asian-Americans,
many readers protested that it was a false parallel. As one, Carla, put it on my
blog: “Catholics and Jews did not come here and kill thousands of people.”
That’s true, but Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor and in the end killed far more
Americans than Al Qaeda ever did. Consumed by our fears, we lumped together
anyone of Japanese ancestry and rounded them up in internment camps. The threat
was real, but so were the hysteria and the overreaction.
Radicals tend to empower radicals, creating a gulf of mutual misunderstanding
and anger. Many Americans believe that Osama bin Laden is representative of
Muslims, and many Afghans believe that the Rev. Terry Jones (who talked about
burning Korans) is representative of Christians.
Many Americans honestly believe that Muslims are prone to violence, but humans
are too complicated and diverse to lump into groups that we form invidious
conclusions about. We’ve mostly learned that about blacks, Jews and other groups
that suffered historic discrimination, but it’s still O.K. to make sweeping
statements about “Muslims” as an undifferentiated mass.
In my travels, I’ve seen some of the worst of Islam: theocratic mullahs
oppressing people in Iran; girls kept out of school in Afghanistan in the name
of religion; girls subjected to genital mutilation in Africa in the name of
Islam; warlords in Yemen and Sudan who wield AK-47s and claim to be doing God’s
But I’ve also seen the exact opposite: Muslim aid workers in Afghanistan who
risk their lives to educate girls; a Pakistani imam who shelters rape victims;
Muslim leaders who campaign against female genital mutilation and note that it
is not really an Islamic practice; Pakistani Muslims who stand up for oppressed
Christians and Hindus; and above all, the innumerable Muslim aid workers in
Congo, Darfur, Bangladesh and so many other parts of the world who are inspired
by the Koran to risk their lives to help others. Those Muslims have helped keep
me alive, and they set a standard of compassion, peacefulness and altruism that
we should all emulate.
I’m sickened when I hear such gentle souls lumped in with Qaeda terrorists, and
when I hear the faith they hold sacred excoriated and mocked. To them and to
others smeared, I apologize.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also
join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos videos and follow me on Twitter.
Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry, NYT, 18.9.2010,
Ayatollah Speaks of Plot to Abuse Koran
September 13, 2010
The New York Times
By ROBERT F. WORTH
DAMASCUS, Syria — Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered a
fiery address on Monday accusing the United States government of orchestrating
desecrations of the Koran by right-wing American Christian groups last weekend,
Iranian state news agencies reported.
The speech appeared to be part of an effort by Iran’s hard-line leaders to
amplify Muslim outrage over scattered gestures to burn or tear pages of the
Koran, in the wake of the threat — later withdrawn — by Terry Jones, a Florida
pastor, to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In Tehran, about 1,000 protesters chanting “Death to America” and “U.S. pastor
must be killed” clashed with the police and threw stones at the Swiss Embassy,
Reuters reported. The Swiss have handled American interests in Iran ever since
the United States severed diplomatic relations with Tehran after the 1979
After Iran’s state-owned Press TV ran reports about Koran desecrations in the
United States, India blocked local cable operators from broadcasting the station
in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where angry anti-American protests have taken
place in recent days.
In his speech, Ayatollah Khamenei said “the leaders of the global arrogance” — a
code for the United States among Iranian conservatives — had engineered the plot
to desecrate the Koran, Press TV and other agencies reported. He added that
“Zionist think tanks which hold the most influence in the United States
government and its security and military organizations” were also involved.
Ayatollah Khamenei warned people not to believe that isolated right-wing
American Christians were to blame, calling them “puppets” of the government.
“This incident and previous incidents clearly show that what the global
arrogance is attacking today is the foundation of Islam and the Holy Koran,” he
Also on Monday, an Iranian official said that the judiciary had opened
proceedings against “the leaders of sedition,” a phrase often used to describe
the opposition leaders Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, according to
Fars News, which has links to Iran’s military.
The official, Naser Seraj, did not provide details, Fars reported. Iranian
hard-liners have repeatedly called for the arrest of Mr. Moussavi, Mr. Karroubi
and former President Mohammad Khatami, who played leading roles in the protest
movement that rocked Iran after last year’s disputed presidential election.
Although the street protests faded earlier this year, Mr. Moussavi and Mr.
Karroubi, who were candidates in the 2009 election, have continued to maintain
that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory was achieved through
fraud, and they regularly criticize the government and encourage opposition.
Both men have faced increased restrictions recently, and groups of rock-throwing
young hard-liners attacked Mr. Karroubi’s house earlier this month as the police
Ayatollah Speaks of Plot
to Abuse Koran, NYT, 13.9.2010,
How America Treats Its Muslims
September 12, 2010
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “American Muslims Ask,
Will We Ever Belong?” (front page, Sept. 6):
I have been appalled by some of the angry rhetoric directed at Muslims in recent
weeks. American Muslims might take comfort in the knowledge that, fair or not,
they’re the flavor of the month. Soon enough, the right will find a new target
for its vitriol. It may be homosexuals, illegal immigrants or pro-choice
advocates. This is all part of the American experience.
I’m a Christian, but I can’t reasonably be held accountable every time someone
like the Internet evangelist Bill Keller claims to speak on behalf of
Christianity (rest assured, he doesn’t). Similarly, I don’t hold all Muslims
accountable for the actions of a few radical terrorists.
It isn’t always a smooth ride navigating the terrain of this wonderful but
flawed nation of ours, but it is eminently doable. And worth the effort.
Will American Muslims ever belong? I believe that they already do.
Raleigh, N.C., Sept. 7, 2010
To the Editor:
The current ambivalence toward Muslims is fueled by xenophobic tendencies that
arise in times of economic and political turmoil. As an American Muslim, I am
not afraid of extremists who thrive on hatred of the other. No amount of
threatened book burnings can destroy the faith of a people.
The current hysteria reflects how much work needs to be done by Muslims to prove
that we really do belong.
Valley Stream, N.Y., Sept. 6, 2010
To the Editor:
Your article about the fears of Muslim immigrants reminded me of an encounter
with a Muslim student at the Chicago university where I teach. This young woman,
a headscarf framing her beautiful face, wore a pin that said, “I am a Muslim.” I
asked her if she had a spare pin and, without asking my religion, she took off
her own and gave it to me. I wore it all day and received only positive
reactions from students and staff members whom I encountered.
It occurred to me that non-Muslim women might like to wear headscarves in
solidarity with our Muslim sisters. I, for one, would be delighted to take part
— especially if someone would teach me the artistry needed to tie them. This
might be one way to show that we’re all in this together.
Chicago, Sept. 6, 2010
To the Editor:
It was interesting to read “American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?” in
juxtaposition with the insightful column by Nicholas D. Kristof the previous day
(“America’s History of Fear,” Sept. 5).
It took generations for the Jews, Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese and other
immigrants to find acceptance in America, facing down and overcoming unwarranted
bigotry. Muslims in America have the great advantage of recent
anti-discrimination laws to ease their way into American society.
It might help if moderate Muslims were a stronger voice against religious
intolerance and the poor treatment of women in Muslim countries.
Sarasota, Fla., Sept. 6, 2010
To the Editor:
I am concerned by the opposition to the proposed Islamic community center near
the World Trade Center site. The rhetoric opposes religious diversity and
freedom, fundamental tenets of this country. A protester’s sign suggested that
building a mosque near ground zero “spits on the graves of 9/11 victims.”
As someone who lost a spouse in the North Tower, I know that she would be
disturbed by the suggestion. I, as do other family members, believe that the
presence of the Islamic center can promote dialogue among people. Religious and
cultural differences can be understood, maybe even accepted, or less feared, by
listening to others, not just our own shouts.
Yes, ground zero is a sacred place; my wife’s ashes are in that ground. But to
deny the opportunity to worship lawfully near there is denying what is most
sacred for all Americans: freedom.
West Lebanon, N.H., Sept. 6, 2010
How America Treats Its
Muslims, NYT, 12.9.2010,
Lucius Walker, Baptist Pastor for Peace, Dies at 80
September 11, 2010
The New York Times
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
The Rev. Lucius Walker, a Baptist minister who gained national attention with
calls for reparations for the descendants of slaves and with repeated violations
of the United States embargo of Cuba through caravans of humanitarian aid, died
on Tuesday at his home in Demarest, N.J. He was 80.
The cause was a heart attack, his daughter Gail Walker said.
Mr. Walker’s life was transformed on Aug. 2, 1988, as he led a delegation on a
fact-finding trip to Nicaragua, where rebels were battling the American-backed
government. Their riverboat was attacked by government soldiers, and Mr. Walker
was one of 29 wounded. Two were killed.
Mr. Walker’s first thought, he said, was that he was hit by a bullet paid for by
his own country. He called his second thought a prophetic vision: he would form
an organization of pastors to fight, or at least clean up after, what he called
That organization, Pastors for Peace, has now sent hundreds of tons of aid,
including medical gear and roofing material, to Latin American countries. Of its
40 missions so far, 21 have been to Cuba, which under a 1963 law is off-limits
to American trade.
“The Bible says feed the hungry, clothe the poor,” Mr. Walker said in an
interview with The Washington Post in 1996. “It doesn’t say to starve the
Mr. Walker helped form a national committee in 2000 to work to return the
6-year-old Elián González to his father in Cuba in the face of strong opposition
from the child’s Miami-based relatives as well as Cuban-American and
conservative groups. (The child was returned to Cuba.) He also arranged meetings
for Fidel Castro when Mr. Castro visited New York, as well as trips to Cuba for
politicians and religious leaders.
In 1999, he led the first American delegation to Peru to meet with Lori
Berenson, an American who had been convicted of treason there in 1996 for
planning terrorist acts.
Mr. Walker relished confrontation. In 1993, The Dallas Morning News quoted a
customs official as offering to handle all the paperwork for Mr. Walker to
obtain a license for a shipment of humanitarian aid to Cuba. But rather than
allow the operation to be legal, Mr. Walker refused the license in favor of
disobeying a law that he saw as unjust. He led a 23-day hunger strike instead,
and in the end the shipment went through, just as the other 20 caravans to Cuba
did — through Mexico or Canada after a tour of American cities to rally support.
Ross Douthat, writing in National Review in 2001, dismissed Mr. Walker and his
organization as “a well-established cog in the left-of-left political machine.”
(Mr. Douthat is now a columnist for The New York Times.)
Mr. Walker had perhaps even more influence in the 1960s, when he was executive
director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. Its
purpose was to link mainstream Protestant, Catholic and Jewish denominations and
congregations to community organizers in troubled areas.
“It’s a travesty how much churches have said about social justice and how little
they have done,” Mr. Walker told The Times in 1969.
He pushed the organization to support forcing religious groups to pay at least
$500 million to blacks as reparations for their ancestors’ enslavement — a
position that caused the American Jewish Committee to leave the foundation.
Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, who had been the foundation’s president, cited “the
incapacity of the foundation to take a clear-cut position on the revolutionary
ideology and racist rhetoric” of the document demanding reparations.
Lucius Walker was born on Aug. 3, 1930, in Roselle, N.J., to a mason and a
homemaker who had 10 children. As a teenager, he won recognition as an
accomplished preacher at Pentecostal revival meetings. After graduating from
Shaw University, a historically black institution in Raleigh, N.C., where he
majored in English, he decided to pursue his “love affair with the teachings of
Jesus” and earned a divinity degree from Andover Newton Theological School in
Massachusetts. He earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of
Wisconsin and was ordained in 1958.
In 1973, Mr. Walker became associate general secretary of the National Council
of Churches but was later fired for giving too much money to community
organizers, the council said. In 1978 Mr. Walker returned to the interreligious
foundation. Six years later he founded the Salvation Baptist Church in the Fort
Greene section of Brooklyn.
Mr. Walker’s activities included forming an umbrella group of civil rights
organizations to fight the Ku Klux Klan and another to help prisoners who had
been accused of political crimes to obtain bail bonds.
Mr. Walker’s wife, the former Mary Johnson, died in 2008. In addition to his
daughter Gail, he is survived by two other daughters, Donna and Edith; two sons,
Lucius III and Richard; a brother, William; a sister, Lottie Bethea; and three
Mr. Walker last visited Cuba in July, when, as he had done on many occasions, he
met with Mr. Castro. In announcing his death, Granma, the Communist Party
newspaper in Cuba, said Cubans “don’t want to even think of a world without
Lucius Walker, Baptist
Pastor for Peace, Dies at 80, NYT, 11.9.2010,
Pastor Cancels Burning of Koran
September 11, 2010
The New York Times
By DAMIEN CAVE
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Terry Jones, the controversial pastor, said on Saturday
that neither he nor his church would follow through on plans to burn copies of
the Koran. In an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Mr. Jones said repeatedly and
emphatically that the event, originally scheduled to coincide with the
anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was canceled and would not take
place at any time.
“We feel that God is telling us to stop,” he said.
Mr. Jones arrived in New York Friday night, after slipping out of his church
here without talking to reporters. He said that he was going to New York hoping
to speak with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, leader of the proposed Islamic center in
Lower Manhattan, two blocks from Ground Zero. But Mr. Jones acknowledged that no
meeting was scheduled.
He said in his television interview that whether or not a meeting occurred, the
Koran burning would not take place. Without accepting any personal
responsibility for the international tension he created, Mr. Jones added that
the response to his now-canceled plans to burn copies of the Koran — including
riots in Afghanistan that left at least one person dead — helped him achieve his
goal of raising awareness about Islam.
“We feel that whenever we started this out, one of our reasons was to show, to
expose that there is an element of Islam is very dangerous and very radical,” he
said. “I feel that we have definitely accomplished that mission.”
Pastor Cancels Burning of Koran, NYT,
Afghans Protest Koran Burning For Second Day
September 11, 2010
Filed at 7:56 a.m. ET
The New York Times
PUL-E-ALAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Protestors clashed with Afghan security
forces on Saturday, as thousands of Afghans demonstrated for a second day,
despite a U.S. pastor suspending plans to burn copies of the Koran, officials
The renewed protests in the war-torn country came after obscure Florida Pastor
Terry Jones called off plans to burn copies of the Koran to mark the ninth
anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The plans triggered outrage in Afghanistan and across the Muslim world with
President Barack Obama warning the action could deeply hurt the United States
abroad and endanger the lives of U.S. troops.
Four demonstrators were seriously wounded when Afghan security forces opened
fire as thousands of protestors tried to storm several government buildings in
Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar province, south of Kabul, a provincial official
"The security forces did not want any trouble but were forced to open fire when
the protestors tried to force their way into the buildings," said Din Mohammad
Darwish, the provincial governor's spokesman.
Demonstrators also hurled stones at the buildings, including the department for
women's affairs, causing some damage. Pul-e-Alam is located some 70km (40 miles)
south of the capital, Kabul.
"MORE BLOODY ATTACKS"
Elsewhere in northeastern Badakhshan province, where a day earlier one protestor
was shot dead, several thousand people took to the streets in three separate
districts, provincial police chief Aqa Noor Kentuz said.
"Demonstrators have come in their thousands to protest the Koran burning, though
so far it is peaceful. Our police force is there to prevent any violence," he
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said
he was aware of two demonstrations in Badakhshan. He said no ISAF forces were
involved and that the protests were not near any military bases.
In a statement posted on their website, alemarah-iea.com/, the Taliban called on
all Afghans to join the hardline Islamists in their fight against the Western
forces and warned of more attacks if the Koran burning went ahead.
"This stupid pastor who wants to avenge the September 11 attacks by burning the
Koran will not only cause hundreds of bloody attacks in the United States but
also throughout the world," the statement said.
On Friday, a crowd estimated at 10,000, protested on the streets of Faizabad,
the capital of Badakhshan, after special prayers for Eid al-Fitr, the end of the
Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
One protester was shot dead when a smaller group attacked a German-run NATO base
in Faizabad, hurling stones at the outpost. Protesters also gathered in the
capital, Kabul, and in four other provinces, mainly in the west of the country.
Similar protests over perceived desecration of Muslim symbols have led to dozens
of deaths in Afghanistan in recent years, including after a Danish newspaper
published a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.
(Additional reporting by Ahmad Elham in KUNDUZ and Hamid Shalizi and Jonathon
Burch in KABUL; Writing by Tim Gaynor and Jonathon Burch; Editing by Jonathan
Afghans Protest Koran
Burning For Second Day, NYT, 11.9.2010,
Religious Tension Marks Sept 11 Anniversary
September 11, 2010
The New York Times
Filed at 2:50 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Religious tensions are overshadowing the anniversary
of the September 11 attacks on the United States where President Barack Obama
urged a Christian preacher to abandon a plan to burn copies of the Koran.
A day ahead of Saturday's ninth anniversary, a report warned that the United
States faced a growing threat from home-grown insurgents and an
"Americanization" of the al Qaeda leadership.
On Friday, Obama appealed to Americans to respect the "inalienable" right of
religious freedom and said he hoped the preacher would abandon his plan to burn
the Muslim holy book, saying it could deeply hurt the United States abroad.
News of the plan has outraged Muslims around the world and triggered violent
protests in Afghanistan in which one protester was shot dead.
"This is a way of endangering our troops, our sons and daughters ... you don't
play games with that," Obama told a Washington news conference in which he
included an appeal for religious tolerance.
Pastor Terry Jones, of the obscure Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville,
Florida, has backed off a threat to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the
September 11, 2001 attacks in which nearly 3,000 people died.
Jones arrived late on Friday in New York, where he was scheduled to appear on
NBC's "Today" show on Saturday morning.
He had said he would call off the Koran burning if he could meet with Muslim
leaders seeking to build an Islamic center and mosque near the Manhattan site of
the September 11 attacks with the aim of getting it relocated.
While the bewhiskered fundamentalist preacher kept people guessing about his
precise intentions, an evangelist acting as a spokesman, K.A. Paul, said he
could "guarantee" Jones would not go ahead with the event.
Referring to "the individual down in Florida," Obama noted the pastor's
Koran-burning plan had already caused anti-American riots in Afghanistan, where
U.S. troops are in a grueling war against Muslim Taliban militants.
Thousands of people took to the streets across Afghanistan on Friday, some
threatening to attack U.S. bases. One protester was shot dead and several were
wounded outside a German-run NATO base in northeast Afghanistan. Demonstrations
later spread to the capital, Kabul, and at least four other provinces.
OPPOSITION TO Center
Opponents of the New York center building plan say it is insensitive to the
families of the victims of the 2001 events.
The New York imam involved in the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, said on Friday he
had no meeting planned with the Florida pastor.
Sharif el-Gamal, project developer for the center, denied it would be moved.
Obama said at the news conference that he recognized "the extraordinary
sensitivities" surrounding the September 11 attacks.
But he said it should be possible to erect a mosque near the so-called Ground
Zero site, or a building representing any other kind of religion.
"This country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created
equal, that they have certain inalienable rights. One of those inalienable
rights is to practice their religion freely," Obama said.
"We are not at war against Islam, we are at war against terrorist organizations
that have distorted Islam and have falsely used the banner of Islam," he added.
Former heads of the 9/11 Commission that studied the 2001 attacks presented a
43-page report they called a wake-up call about the radicalization of Muslims in
the United States and the changing strategy of al Qaeda and its allies.
"The threat that the U.S. is facing is different than it was nine years ago,"
said the report, released by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center.
"The U.S. is arguably now little different from Europe in terms of having a
domestic terrorist problem involving immigrant and indigenous Muslims as well as
converts to Islam."
U.S. officials have warned that cases such as the threat to burn the Korean
could lead to a recruiting bonanza for al Qaeda.
(Additional reporting by Washington Newsroom, Daniel Trotta in New York;
Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul; Paul Carrel in Cologne; Writing by Pascal Fletcher;
Writing by Eric Walsh, editing by Jonathan Thatcher)
Religious Tension Marks
Sept 11 Anniversary,11.9.2010,
Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers’ Life
September 10, 2010
The New York Times
By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN
Sometime in 1999, a construction electrician received a new work assignment
from his union. The man, Sinclair Hejazi Abdus-Salaam, was told to report to 2
World Trade Center, the southern of the twin towers.
In the union locker room on the 51st floor, Mr. Abdus-Salaam went through a
construction worker’s version of due diligence. In the case of an emergency in
the building, he asked his foreman and crew, where was he supposed to
reassemble? The answer was the corner of Broadway and Vesey.
Over the next few days, noticing some fellow Muslims on the job, Mr.
Abdus-Salaam voiced an equally essential question: “So where do you pray at?”
And so he learned about the Muslim prayer room on the 17th floor of the south
He went there regularly in the months to come, first doing the ablution known as
wudu in a washroom fitted for cleansing hands, face and feet, and then facing
toward Mecca to intone the salat prayer.
On any given day, Mr. Abdus-Salaam’s companions in the prayer room might include
financial analysts, carpenters, receptionists, secretaries and ironworkers.
There were American natives, immigrants who had earned citizenship, visitors
conducting international business — the whole Muslim spectrum of nationality and
Leaping down the stairs on Sept. 11, 2001, when he had been installing ceiling
speakers for a reinsurance company on the 49th floor, Mr. Abdus-Salaam had a
brief, panicked thought. He didn’t see any of the Muslims he recognized from the
prayer room. Where were they? Had they managed to evacuate?
He staggered out to the gathering place at Broadway and Vesey. From that corner,
he watched the south tower collapse, to be followed soon by the north one.
Somewhere in the smoking, burning mountain of rubble lay whatever remained of
the prayer room, and also of some of the Muslims who had used it.
Given the vitriolic opposition now to the proposal to build a Muslim community
center two blocks from ground zero, one might say something else has been
destroyed: the realization that Muslim people and the Muslim religion were part
of the life of the World Trade Center.
Opponents of the Park51 project say the presence of a Muslim center dishonors
the victims of the Islamic extremists who flew two jets into the towers. Yet not
only were Muslims peacefully worshiping in the twin towers long before the
attacks, but even after the 1993 bombing of one tower by a Muslim radical, Ramzi
Yousef, their religious observance generated no opposition
“We weren’t aliens,” Mr. Abdus-Salaam, 60, said in a telephone interview from
Florida, where he moved in retirement. “We had a foothold there. You’d walk into
the elevator in the morning and say, ‘Salaam aleikum,’ to one construction
worker and five more guys in suits would answer, ‘Aleikum salaam.’ ”
One of those men in suits could have been Zafar Sareshwala, a financial
executive for the Parsoli Corporation, who went to the prayer room while on
business trips from his London office. He was introduced to it, he recently
recalled, by a Manhattan investment banker who happened to be Jewish.
“It was so freeing and so calm,” Mr. Sareshwala, 47, said in a phone
conversation from Mumbai, where he is now based. “It had the feel of a real
mosque. And the best part is that you are in the epicenter of capitalism — New
York City, the World Trade Center — and you had this island of spiritualism. I
don’t think you could have that combination anywhere in the world.”
How, when and by whom the prayer room was begun remains unclear. Interviews this
week with historians and building executives of the trade center came up empty.
Many of the Port Authority’s leasing records were destroyed in the towers’
collapse. The imams of several Manhattan mosques whose members sometimes went to
the prayer room knew nothing of its origins.
Yet the room’s existence is etched in the memories of participants like Mr.
Abdus-Salaam and Mr. Sareshwala. Prof. John L. Esposito of Georgetown
University, an expert in Islamic studies, briefly mentions the prayer room in
his recent book “The Future of Islam.”
Moreover, the prayer room was not the only example of Muslim religious practice
in or near the trade center. About three dozen Muslim staff members of Windows
on the World, the restaurant atop the north tower, used a stairwell between the
106th and 107th floors for their daily prayers.
Without enough time to walk to the closest mosque — Masjid Manhattan on Warren
Street, about four blocks away — the waiters, chefs, banquet managers and others
would lay a tablecloth atop the concrete landing in the stairwell and flatten
cardboard boxes from food deliveries to serve as prayer mats.
During Ramadan, the Muslim employees brought their favorite foods from home, and
at the end of the daylight fast shared their iftar meal in the restaurant’s
“Iftar was my best memory,” said Sekou Siby, 45, a chef originally from the
Ivory Coast. “It was really special.”
Such memories have been overtaken, though, by others. Mr. Siby’s cousin and
roommate, a chef named Abdoul-Karim Traoré, died at Windows on the World on
Sept. 11, as did at least one other Muslim staff member, a banquet server named
Shabir Ahmed from Bangladesh.
Fekkak Mamdouh, an immigrant from Morocco who was head waiter, attended a
worship service just weeks after the attacks that honored the estimated 60
Muslims who died. Far from being viewed as objectionable, the service was
conducted with formal support from city, state and federal authorities, who
arranged for buses to transport imams and mourners to Warren Street.
There, within sight of the ruins, they chanted salat al-Ghaib, the funeral
prayer when there is not an intact corpse.
“It is a shame, shame, shame,” Mr. Mamdouh, 49, said of the Park51 dispute.
“Sometimes I wake up and think, this is not what I came to America for. I came
here to build this country together. People are using this issue for their own
agenda. It’s designed to keep the hate going.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 10, 2010
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the proposed Islamic
center and mosque near ground zero. It is Park51, not Parc51. It also misstated
the name of a chef at the Windows on the World restaurant who died on Sept. 11.
He was Abdoul-Karim Traoré, not Abdul Karim. And the article misstated the order
in which the World Trade Center towers fell. The south tower fell first, not the
Muslims and Islam Were
Part of Twin Towers’ Life, NYT, 10.9.2010,
Aghast City Disavows Pastor’s Talk of Burning Koran
September 10, 2010
The New York Times
By DAMIEN CAVE
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Stephanie George used to see members of the Dove World
Outreach Center at her neighborhood grocery store, wearing T-shirts that said
“Islam is of the devil.” But on Friday, she and her friend Lynda Dillon showed
up early at Dragonfly Graphics to order a dozen shirts with a different message:
“Love, not Dove.”
The design itself, complete with a lyric made famous by Elvis Costello (“What’s
so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding”), takes direct aim at the pastor
Terry Jones, his church and his threat — now suspended — to burn copies of the
Koran on Saturday, Sept. 11.
But Ms. George and others who have lined up for the shirts from Dragonfly frown
and sigh with exasperation that such a public stand is even necessary.
“He’s a lunatic, and yet I still feel like I need to get the message out that
we’re not lunatics with him,” said Ms. George, 46. “I don’t want this to
represent my neighborhood.”
Mr. Jones has become a reviled figure around the world. But the people of this
youthful city in central Florida are taking his actions personally, with anger
and heartbreak, as one of their neighbors drags their hometown into nearly
nonstop news coverage and infamy.
Gainesville, after all, is a university town that until a few months ago was
best known for producing college football champions, Gatorade and rockers like
Educated and progressive, with a gay mayor and a City Commission made up
entirely of Democrats, Gainesville is a sprawling metropolis of 115,000 people
where smoothie shops seem to outnumber gun shops.
Fanatics can come from anywhere, Gainesvillians will tell you, but why did this
one have to come from here?
“He doesn’t represent the community,” said Larry Wilcox, 78, reading the
newspaper at a local Panera restaurant. “This guy is obviously a publicity hound
and a weirdo.”
On Friday, Mr. Jones once again turned the lawn at Dove into a spectacle,
featuring dozens of photographers and newly arrived supporters, including a
former Marine in full camouflage holding an American flag and demanding an
apology from Muslims for the Marine barracks bombing in 1983 that killed 241
service members in Beirut.
“It’s frustrating,” said the Rev. Larry Reimer, pastor of the United Church of
Gainesville. It was just before noon and he was standing at the door of Dove in
a pressed sport coat, with a pile of 8,048 signatures and comments from 97
countries, all demanding that Mr. Jones unequivocally call off his plan to burn
the Koran. The thick document was carefully tied in a white ribbon.
Mr. Reimer said people from all over the world had called him and sent e-mail
messages offering to help Gainesville counter Mr. Jones. Mayor Craig Lowe said
he, too, had been inundated with suggestions.
One resident said he might sue the city or Mr. Jones so the community would be
forced to go to court and talk through what happened. Someone from out of town
suggested using the National Guard to stop Mr. Jones from setting the holy texts
“The amount of e-mail that we’ve gotten is just massive,” Mayor Lowe said in an
interview. “It’s almost one a second.”
The challenge for many seems to be managing their anger, and figuring out how to
keep Mr. Jones in perspective. Some are looking to direct confrontation; Jose
Soto, a leader with Students for a Democratic Society at the University of
Florida, stood across the street from Dove on Friday afternoon with a group of
students shouting, “Hey ho, hey ho, Dove Outreach has got to go.”
He said that even after this weekend, his group was thinking of following Dove’s
leaders when they wore their “Islam is of the devil” T-shirts and surrounding
them with signs that identified them as hate-mongers.
“Ignoring them hasn’t worked,” he said. “They just escalate.”
John L. Esposito, a scholar of religion and international affairs at Georgetown
who has acted as a consultant to the State Department, offered a different
option. Politicians, the news media, all of Gainesville, he said, should stop
pleading or arguing against the Koran burning and shift their energy toward all
that Mr. Jones is not. “What we have to start doing is delivering the positive
side of our message of who we are, and then that will set an example for others
in our society who are maybe on the fence,” he said.
That seemed to be exactly the goal of Dragonfly. For 24 years, the tiny
four-person company (with part-time help from the owner’s mother) has been
printing T-shirts for companies, students, events and churches.
Joy Revels, the owner, said she even used to print generic polo shirts for Dove
before last year, when Mr. Jones put a sign outside his church saying, “Islam is
of the devil.”
“He called me for the T-shirts” with that slogan, she said, T-shirts that young
members of the church wore to school last year and that led to standard uniforms
this year. But she refused.
On Tuesday, after seeing the firestorm Mr. Jones created, she decided to act.
She said “Love, not Dove” sounded like a good motto, and her graphic artist —
Josh Huey, 24, thin, scruffy and lip-pierced — turned out a tattoo-like image of
a dove in distress.
Because that seemed a little harsh, Ms. Revels returned to a favorite Costello
song (written by Nick Lowe), which sets peace, love and understanding against an
opening of “As I walk through this wicked world searchin’ for light in the
darkness of insanity.”
Perfect, she thought. She printed 200 shirts to test demand, asking only for
donations. As of Friday evening, more than 1,000 shirts had flown out the door.
By nightfall on Friday, Ms. Revels, looking younger than her 50 years, with
spiky hair and long plaid shorts, was in the back working the presses with Mr.
Huey. Strangers and friends streamed in asking for shirts. One gone. Six more.
Then a dozen.
“Whatever Mr. Jones does, it’s still the same in our community,” Ms. Revels
She struggled to explain conflicting emotions. “This isn’t ‘We hate you, Terry
Jones,’ ” she finally said.
“It’s ‘This is who we are, Gainesville.’ We’re not going to stoop to his level.”
Aghast City Disavows
Pastor’s Talk of Burning Koran, NYT, 10.9.2010,
Obama Tries to Calm Tensions in Call for Tolerance
September 10, 2010
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER
WASHINGTON — President Obama gave an impassioned call on Friday for tolerance
and better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims at home and abroad,
defending the “inalienable rights” of those who worship Islam to practice their
Mr. Obama made his statements as protests and violence continued in Afghanistan,
set off by a Florida pastor’s plans, now suspended, to burn Korans on Saturday,
the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and against the
backdrop of the controversy in New York over a proposed Islamic center near
With relations between the United States and the Muslim world perhaps at their
most frayed since the invasion of Iraq seven and a half years ago, the president
sought to appeal to America’s core principles.
Mr. Obama said it was imperative for people in this country to distinguish
between their real enemies and those who have the potential to become enemies
because of continued vilification of Islam in the United States. At a time when
polls suggest that a substantial number of Americans erroneously believe that
Mr. Obama is Muslim, the president cited his own Christian faith at one point.
“We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other,” he said. “And
I will do everything that I can, as long as I am president of the United States,
to remind the American people that we are one nation, under God. And we may call
that God different names, but we remain one nation. And, you know, as somebody
who, you know, relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand, you
know, the passions that religious faith can raise.”
Asked about the wisdom of building an Islamic center a few blocks from the site
of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Obama reiterated his position that Muslims have the
right to build a mosque on the site, without directly saying whether he thought
doing so was a good idea.
“This country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created
equal, that they have certain inalienable rights,” Mr. Obama said. “And what
that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a
synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you
should be able to build a mosque on the site.”
Urged on by their religious leaders, Afghans in many locations around the
country poured out of their mosques and took to the streets Friday morning, and
in most cases the demonstrations remained peaceful. But two of them turned
violent, in both cases outside NATO reconstruction bases, and a total of at
least 12 people were wounded, three of them critically, in addition to the one
who was killed.
While Mr. Obama cast the issue in terms of American national security and the
impact of assaults on Islam in this country on American troops in Afghanistan
and Iraq, he also said that security was not the only prism through which the
issue should be viewed. “We’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow
citizens, in this country,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re going to school with our
kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our co-workers. And
when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we
saying to them?”
This ninth anniversary of Sept. 11 has turned almost into a referendum on
America’s ability to coexist with the multitude religions. Mr. Obama will be
observing the anniversary at the Pentagon, while the first lady, Michelle Obama,
will join the former first lady Laura Bush in Shanksville, Pa., the site where
the fourth hijacked plane went down. Mr. Obama said that it was important to
remember that Muslims are fighting with the United States in the two wars begun
since the attacks.
“They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us,” Mr. Obama said. “And
we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal clear for our sakes and their sakes:
they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their
service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between
them and us.
“It’s just us.”
While New York City will observe the anniversary with familiar rituals — moments
of silence, the reading of nearly 3,000 names — a new rancor will be on hand as
supporters and opponents of the planned Islamic center near ground zero hold
dueling rallies. The two rallies will unfold at roughly the same time in the
afternoon near where the proposed mosque and Islamic center is to be built at 51
Park Place. On Friday night, about 2,000 supporters of the project gathered for
a vigil near the site, saying they wanted to avoid entangling the mosque
controversy and the Sept. 11 observance, according to The Associated Press.
A day after the pastor in Florida, Terry Jones, suspended his plan to burn
Korans amid back-and-forth accounts of whether he had won an agreement to move
the Islamic center to a new location — it turned out he had not — Daisy Khan,
the wife of the center’s imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, and another person briefed on
the conversation provided an account.
They said they never told Mr. Jones or the Florida imam who was acting as an
intermediary, Muhammad Musri, that they would move, and only vaguely agreed to
meet — at some point down the road.
Mr. Musri called Ms. Khan in “a bit of a panic,” Ms. Khan said, saying he wanted
to give Mr. Jones an incentive not to burn Korans. Asked if they would change
the location, Ms. Khan said, “No, of course not.” Her account was first reported
by Think Progress and confirmed by Ms. Khan. She said she was a bit surprised
when Mr. Jones said he would come to New York almost immediately.
Mr. Musri confirmed most of Ms. Khan’s version in an e-mail late Friday,
although he recalled them agreeing that the meeting would be “very soon” and not
down the road, as she had said.
He then went on to express frustration with Mr. Jones, saying in an e-mail that
the pastor “did not speak the truth” when he announced that he had been told the
mosque would move.
Mr. Jones got on a plane headed to New York, according to an acquaintance, K. A.
Paul; the flight landed Friday night, The A.P. said. Mr. Jones has said he wants
to meet with Mr. Rauf.
A half-hour after the conclusion of the ceremony near ground zero for the family
members of those who died in the attacks, supporters of the proposed Islamic
center were to gather for a rally at 1 p.m. at City Hall Park, about a block and
a half from 51 Park Place. The opponents’ rally was to begin at 3 p.m. at Park
Place and West Broadway.
Rod Nordland contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Manny Fernandez
and Anne Barnard from New York.
Obama Tries to Calm
Tensions in Call for Tolerance, NYT, 10.9.2010,
Obama Warns Of Backlash on Koran Burning
September 10, 2010
The New York Times
Filed at 12:13 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday he hopes a
Florida pastor refrains from burning copies of the Koran on the anniversary of
the September 11 attacks and warned it could cause "profound damage" to U.S.
"The idea that we would burn the sacred text of someone else's religion is
contrary to what this country stands for," Obama told a news conference, warning
it could lead to retaliation against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"This is a way of endangering our troops, our sons and daughters." he said. "It
is in the age of the Internet something that can cause us profound damage around
the world, so we've got to take it seriously."
The Florida pastor, Terry Jones, said on Friday he would not burn the Koran but
could change his mind if a proposed meeting fails to take place on Saturday in
New York with Muslim leaders planning to build an Islamic center and mosque near
the site of the September 11 attacks.
"Right now we have plans not to do it (burn the Koran),"Jones told ABC's "Good
Morning America" program. Jones has said a Florida imam had promised him a
meeting with New York imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in exchange for canceling the
Abdul Rauf is at the center of the controversy over the New York mosque.
Obama said the burning would be a recruiting tool for al Qaeda in Afghanistan
"We've got an obligation to send a very clear message that this kind of behavior
or threats of action put our young men and women in harm's way," he said.
"My hope is that this individual (Jones) prays on it and refrains from doing
(Editing by Paul Simao)
Obama Warns Of Backlash
on Koran Burning, NYT, 10.9.2010,
Afghan Protests Against Koran Burning Turn Violent
September 10, 2010
The New York Times
By ROD NORDLAND and SHARIFULLAH SAHAK
KABUL, Afghanistan — Numerous protests broke out in Afghanistan on Friday and
two of them turned violent in response to plans by a Florida pastor to burn
copies of the Koran, even after the pastor announced he had suspended those
In western Afghanistan, one civilian was killed and three were wounded by
gunshots at a protest outside a NATO base in Bala Buluk in Farah Province,
according to a hospital official there.
In northern Afghanistan, five Afghan protesters were wounded by gunshots, three
of them critically, when hundreds of men tried to force their way onto a NATO
reconstruction base in Faizabad, the capital of Badakshan Province, Afghan
There were few details on what happened regarding the death in western
Afghanistan, except that it was the result of a protest over the threat to
desecrate the Koran.
Nasir Sultan Zada, the emergency room doctor on duty at the Central Public
Hospital in Bala Buluk, said four protesters were brought to the hospital
suffering from gunshot wounds, one already dead.
“We do not know who shot them,” Dr. Zada said. “Whether police shot them or
coalition forces, it’s not clear.”
He identified the dead man as Muhammad Daoud, 24, of Shewan, a village in Farah
In Faizabad, in addition to the five wounded protesters, four policemen were
wounded defending the NATO base from attack, officials said. Muhammad Amin, a
spokesman for the provincial governor, said earlier reports that a protester had
been shot to death there proved false.
Aga Noor Kentooz, the provincial police commander in Faizabad, also said that
although a mob tried to force its way into the base, no one was killed there. He
added that the wounded civilians were hit by shots fired from inside the base,
and the injured Afghan policemen were hurt by stones thrown by the crowd.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force disputed the reports.
“Reporting indicates no ISAF troops fired shots during any protests today,” said
Maj. Sunset Belinsky, a spokeswoman for the security force. “Initial reporting
does indicate Afghan forces fired shots, but I would have to defer” to the
Ministries of Interior and Defense for confirmation, she said. Officials from
those Afghan ministries could not be reached for comment.
In Faizabad, both Afghan officials’ accounts said the trouble came after several
thousand people left morning prayers for the Id al-Fitr holiday and attended a
peaceful demonstration against the plans for the Koran burning. Although the
Florida pastor, Terry Jones, said Thursday that he had canceled plans to stage
the event on Saturday, in commemoration of 9/11, his subsequent comments left it
unclear if he planned to go ahead or not.
After the demonstration in Faisabad broke up, groups of several hundred young
men, both on foot and piled into automobiles, stormed toward Airport Road and
the NATO reconstruction team base, which is staffed by German soldiers who are
part of the NATO-led international force.
After overpowering Afghan security forces on the outer wall of the compound, the
crowd, armed with sticks and throwing rocks, tried to storm the inner wall, the
Afghan officials said.
Commander Kentooz said “foreign security forces” inside the base then fired
warning shots, and when that failed to work they fired into the crowd. Mr. Amin
put the number of wounded at five civilians hit by gunfire, and four Afghan
security officers hurt by stones from the crowd.
The director of the Public Health Hospital in Faisabad, Abdul Mohmin Jalali,
said five civilians were admitted there with gunshot wounds; one was treated and
released, and three of the four who remained in the hospital were in critical
The police commander said protesters outside the German base were angered
because of reports that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had attended an
award ceremony in Berlin for the Danish cartoonist whose caricatures of the
Prophet Muhammad angered Muslims worldwide.
At the same ceremony, Mrs. Merkel denounced the plans of the Florida pastor to
desecrate the Koran.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, has warned that plans
for the Koran-burning put coalition troops at risk, and both President Obama and
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates called on the Florida pastor not to go
ahead with his planned action.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, there were numerous reports of demonstrations against
the Koran-burning in Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad, as well as in
Bamian, Kunar and Kapisa Provinces, but they were small and mostly peaceful.
President Hamid Karzai, in a message issued for the Id al-Fitr holiday marking
the end of the holy month of Ramadan, called on Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader
of the Taliban insurgents fighting his government, to join the peace process.
Mullah Omar’s own Id message was uncompromising, boasting that American forces
were on the verge of leaving Afghanistan, and ignoring calls for peace talks.
The president’s remarks came after prayers for Id at the mosque on the
presidential palace grounds and a statement from his office said, “The President
once again called on Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban, and other angry Afghans,
to honor Id by joining the peace process and stop killing our brothers and
Mr. Karzai also criticized the plans to burn the Koran.
“Disrespect to this holy book will not harm this book because the Koran is in
every Muslim’s heart and mind,” he said. “I hope these people will stop this
The demonstrations were lightly attended for the most part, although officials
in Kapisa Province said a crowd of 10,000 gathered there on Thursday. Television
footage, however, showed only a few hundred, and government officials there said
the protest was organized by people connected to the governor, who had earlier
been the target of an American-supported anticorruption investigation.
Mullah Omar’s remarks, in a message posted on jihadist Web sites Friday and
monitored in Kabul, were notably more confident than previous such messages from
the reclusive leader, who American military officials believe has been hiding in
Pakistan since the fall of his regime in 2001.
“The victory of our Islamic nation over the invading infidels is now imminent,”
Mullah Omar’s statement said. “All those who work in the stooge Kabul
administration should hear with open ears that the invading enemy is about to
President Karzai’s message referred to his establishment of a High Peace
Council, asking the Taliban to cooperate with that organization. A peace jirga
in June agreed to create such a body for the purpose of negotiating with the
Taliban, but so far the decree creating the council has not been published and
its members, especially the chairman, have not yet been announced.
Adam B. Ellick contributed reporting from Kabul, and an Afghan employee of The
New York Times from Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Afghan Protests Against
Koran Burning Turn Violent, NYT, 10.9.2010,
The Music You Won’t Hear on Rosh Hashana
September 8, 2010
The New York Times
By MILES HOFFMAN
TODAY is the first day of Rosh Hashana, the holiday that marks the beginning
of the Jewish new year. For the next 10 days, through Yom Kippur, the Day of
Atonement, Jews around the world will gather to chant the prayers of the High
Holy Days to melodies that have been used for generations.
Some of the melodies will be simple and some complex, and some will be
particularly beautiful. What almost none of them will be is “classical”: Western
classical composition, the dominant feature of Christian sacred music for more
than a millennium, remains mostly absent from Jewish liturgical music. Given the
number of extraordinary Jewish classical composers over the last two centuries,
this absence is particularly striking.
But it’s not surprising. The reasons for the dearth of classical music in the
synagogue may be tangled, but they all lie in the familiar ground of Jewish
history and experience: religious observance, rabbinic law, social and legal
exclusion, systematic persecution, love of tradition — and the complicated
psychology of being Jewish in a largely gentile world.
Western classical music has various ancient antecedents, including,
interestingly, the early music of the Jewish liturgy. But its modern history
begins in the Middle Ages with music written for the Roman Catholic Church. And
to a large extent it owes its subsequent evolution to the work of musicians
trained and employed by the church, the great patron not just of musicians but
of artists, scribes and scholars.
It’s true that secular musical forms, training and traditions developed along
the way, and throughout history one finds great contrasts in style and emphasis
between sacred and secular forms in classical music.
But in terms of classical music’s basic principles, the similarities outweigh
the differences: Bach is still Bach and Mozart is still Mozart, whether in
Masses or sonatas. The language of classical music, in other words, is the
language of Christian church music.
Jews, however, were long excluded from the practice of Western classical music.
Jews were barred from church schools, of course, but until the Italian
Renaissance, and the later Enlightenment in other parts of Europe, they were
likewise forbidden from public academies, organizations and functions.
As a result, Jews were for the most part limited to cultivating and preserving
their own liturgical music, music for the synagogue and home prayer based on
ancient chants and motifs — and enriched over the centuries of the diaspora by
borrowing from the folk music of local cultures. From the 12th century to the
14th century, for example, elements of German, Spanish and French folk tunes all
found their way, modified and adapted, into Jewish liturgical melodies.
Rabbinic law tightened the limits still further by banning musical instruments
in the synagogue — and outside the synagogue, except during weddings. This
prohibition dated from the destruction of the Second Temple, in A.D. 70, after
which rabbis decided that the playing of musical instruments was inappropriate
for a people in mourning.
But explanations based on historical exclusion and rabbinic law go only so far.
What kept emancipated Jewish “classical” composers of the modern era from
writing music for the synagogue, as their Christian colleagues wrote for the
church? Where are the liturgical contributions of Salomone Rossi, Giacomo
Meyerbeer, Jacques Offenbach, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Korngold
and Aaron Copland, to name just a few?
The answers rest in the eternal dual longings of the Jewish people: the longing,
on the one hand, for distinction, separateness and “chosenness,” and on the
other for acceptance and belonging.
These forces are always in conflict, but in the field of music, when Jewish
composers were finally free from prohibitions and persecution and began to
develop their talents within the cultural mainstream, their longing for
In a way, they were still able to remain separate, or “chosen,” if only by
becoming musicians, members of a rarified profession. But in the thrill of their
new freedom they sought the broadest possible citizenship, eagerly choosing to
write for their countries, or for the whole world, rather than for the much
narrower world of their co-religionists, and to define themselves by their
Rossi, for example, did publish a collection of settings of Hebrew texts, but
he’s better known, and plays a more important role in music history, as an
innovator in early Baroque instrumental music and violin technique.
Meyerbeer and Offenbach, both German Jews, became more French than the French —
Meyerbeer as the king of French grand opera, Offenbach as the champion of
operetta. Mahler, who went so far as to convert to Catholicism, was a giant of
the symphony, and Korngold held similar sway over film music. Copland came to
define American classical music and Schoenberg, although he did write works on
Jewish subjects, including a setting for the Kol Nidre, the opening prayer
recitation for the Yom Kippur service, will forever be identified with his
internationally influential system of twelve-tone music.
It’s certainly strange that their very liberation as Jews led to composers’
leaving the substance of Judaism behind, at least artistically. But is it
realistic to expect brilliant Jewish composers, exposed to some of the most
magnificent artistic creations of Western civilization and struck by the
universal impact and appeal of those creations, to be satisfied setting Hebrew
texts for their local congregations?
Yes, it’s possible that if some of these great composers had written monumental
works for the synagogue, those works might eventually have found a broad public.
And some have: Ernest Bloch’s “Avodath Hakodesh” (“Sacred Service”), for
example, is widely performed — in concert halls more than synagogues — and
Leonard Bernstein’s settings of Hebrew texts have not lacked for mixed
More recently, contemporary Jewish composers like Paul Schoenfield, Osvaldo
Golijov and Max Raimi have made compelling use of traditional Jewish tunes and
styles in music for the concert hall and found a sizeable audience.
But historically speaking, many Jewish composers simply felt compelled to strike
out well beyond their parochial origins, and to avoid at all costs the
possibility of being pigeon-holed as composers of “Jewish music.”
STILL, the interests of Jewish musicians are only a part of the story. Perhaps
even more important, many Jewish congregations over the years weren’t
particularly interested in changing their traditional musical practices in any
fundamental way — and in most cases still aren’t.
Under the pressures of the diaspora and persecution, “home” has often been a
fluid and elusive concept for Jews, a dream more than a reality. But if the
forms of worship remain the same, if the music remains the same, then any
synagogue anywhere can still feel like home.
This isn’t to say that musical beauty in the synagogue is not highly prized. The
Jews tend to have a deep appreciation, for example, for great cantorial singing,
and many synagogues have fine choirs. It’s also true that many distinguished
Jewish composers have set liturgical texts to music — the names Darius Milhaud,
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Hugo Weisgall come quickly to mind — and there’s
no diminishing their accomplishments or contributions.
Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that despite its undeniable artistic quality,
most of this music hasn’t caught on in any widespread way in Jewish liturgical
practice, and certainly hasn’t replaced the age-old chants as the most
comfortable and familiar way for most observant Jews to communicate with the
When it comes to music for the synagogue, invention and innovation have simply
not proved as important to the Jewish community as tradition and continuity.
Whether this is a good thing is an open question. But if nothing else, it’s a
testament to the enduring power of music itself, and to the role it has played
in sustaining a faith and a people.
Miles Hoffman is the violist of the American Chamber Players and a music
commentator for the NPR program “Morning Edition.”
The Music You Won’t Hear
on Rosh Hashana, NYT, 8.9.2010,
Coverage of Koran Case Stirs Questions on Media Role
September 9, 2010
The New York Times
By BRIAN STELTER
A renegade pastor and his tiny flock set fire to a Koran on a street corner,
and made sure to capture it on film. And they were ignored.
That stunt took place in 2008, involving members of the Westboro Baptist Church
from Topeka, Kan., an almost universally condemned group of fundamentalists who
also protest at military funerals.
But plans for a similar stunt by another fringe pastor, Terry Jones, have
garnered worldwide news media attention this summer, attention that peaked
Thursday when he announced he was canceling — and later, that he had only
“suspended” — what he had dubbed International Burn a Koran Day. It had been
scheduled for Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Unlike the Koran-burning by Westboro Baptist, Mr. Jones’s planned event in
Gainesville, Fla., coincided with the controversy over the proposed building of
a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan near ground zero and a simmering
summerlong debate about the freedoms of speech and religion.
Mr. Jones was able to put himself at the center of those issues by using the
news lull of summer and the demands of a 24-hour news cycle to promote his
anti-Islam cause. He said he consented to more than 150 interview requests in
July and August, each time expressing his extremist views about Islam and Sharia
By the middle of this week, the planned Koran burning was the lead story on some
network newscasts, and topic No. 1 on cable news — an extraordinary amount of
attention for a marginal figure with a very small following. On Thursday,
President Obama condemned Mr. Jones’s plan, and his press secretary, Robert
Gibbs, said that there were “more people at his press conferences than listen to
his sermons,” in a bit of media criticism.
Mr. Jones’s plan, announced in July, slowly gained attention in August,
particularly overseas. It became a top story in the United States this week
after protests against Mr. Jones in Afghanistan and after the commander of
American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, warned that the
Koran burning could endanger troops.
“Before there were riots and heads of states talking about him, it could have
been a couple of paragraphs in a story about Sept. 11 commemorations,” Kathleen
Carroll, the executive editor of The Associated Press, said Thursday. “It’s
beyond that now.”
In some ways, this week’s events were the culmination of a year’s worth of
hateful statements and stunts by Mr. Jones and the few dozen members of his
Mr. Jones started to make noise in Gainesville in the summer of 2009, when he
posted a sign outside his church that read “Islam is of the devil.” The
Gainesville Sun (which is owned by The New York Times Company) wrote about the
sign, under the headline “Anti-Islam church sign stirs up community outrage.”
He told The Sun that the sign would not be his last.
The newspaper soon published an investigation into what it called the church’s
“financial abuses,” which included a profit-making eBay furniture sales business
operating on the church’s property.
The congregation’s protests continued last fall, when some children from the
church wore anti-Islam shirts to school, prompting another article by The Sun,
which was picked up by The Associated Press and republished by outlets like USA
Today and Al Arabiya, an Arabic language news network.
People with the same anti-Islam shirts sometimes roamed the University of
Florida campus in Gainesville, said Fiona Mc Laughlin, a professor at the
university, prompting a counterprotest with T-shirts that read, “Ignorance is of
The church “never really rested after that first billboard,” said Jacki Levine,
the managing editor of The Sun. She said the newspaper’s staff members had
repeatedly discussed how to be “responsible” in its coverage — “We walked as
carefully as we could walk.”
Islam was not Mr. Jones’s only target. Church members also held protests against
Craig Lowe, an openly gay man who was elected mayor of Gainesville in April.
Mr. Jones’s announcement about the Koran burning gained only a little attention
at first, with a single short article published by a Web site called Religion
News Service. That article was subsequently mentioned by bigger sites, like
Yahoo, and by the end of the July Mr. Jones had been booked on CNN, where the
host Rick Sanchez called his plan “crazy” but added, “At least he has got the
guts to come on this show and face off.”
Alarmed by negative mentions about Gainesville in overseas news outlets, Mr.
Lowe released a statement Aug. 3 labeling Mr. Jones’s church a “tiny fringe
group and an embarrassment to our community.”
News executives said the proposed burning took on a greater significance after
the protests in Afghanistan and in other Muslim countries. In Kabul last Sunday,
up to 500 people attended a protest at which Mr. Jones was burned in effigy,
according to The A.P.
That, too, is when Ms. Mc Laughlin took notice. With 11 other professors, she
wrote a column for The Sun condemning the plan titled “The world is watching.”
“We just saw everything escalating,” she said Thursday, citing the “sum effect”
of all the coverage and the ensuing reactions. (The New York Times wrote a
substantial article about Mr. Jones on August 26.)
On Thursday, before Mr. Jones suspended his plans, The A.P. determined that it
would not distribute pictures of Korans being burned, restating a policy not to
cover events that are “gratuitously manufactured to provoke and offend.”
“There are lots of other similarly offensive images that we choose not to run
all the time,” Ms. Carroll said. “Most people don’t know that because, of
course, we don’t run them.”
Before the suspension, CNN and Fox News Channel said they would not show any
images of a Koran being burned.
Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, said in an e-mail
message that the newspaper had “no policy against publishing things that might
offend someone — lots of people are offended by lots of things — but we try to
refrain from giving widespread offense unless there is some offsetting
“A picture of a burning book contributes nothing substantial to a story about
book-burning, so the offense seems entirely gratuitous,” Mr. Keller continued.
“The freedom to publish includes the freedom not to publish.”
The episode has given rise to at least a little soul-searching within news
organizations. Chris Cuomo, an ABC News anchor, wrote Thursday afternoon on
Twitter, “I am in the media, but think media gave life to this Florida burning
... and that was reckless.”
Damien Cave contributed reporting.
Coverage of Koran Case
Stirs Questions on Media Role, NYT, 9.9.2010,
Minister Wavers on Plans to Burn Koran
September 9, 2010
The New York Times
By DAMIEN CAVE and ANNE BARNARD
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — First, Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who set the world
on edge with plans to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11, said Thursday that
he had canceled his demonstration because he had won a promise to move the
proposed Islamic center near ground zero to a new location.
Then, hours later, after learning that the project’s leaders in New York had
said that no such deal existed, Mr. Jones backed away from his promise and said
the bonfire of sacred texts was simply “suspended.”
The sudden back and forth suggested that the controversy — the pastor drew
pointed criticisms from President Obama and an array of leaders, officials and
celebrities in the United States and abroad — was not yet finished even after
multiple appearances before the news media on the lawn of his small church.
Mr. Jones seemed to be struggling with how to save face and hold on to the
spotlight he has attracted for an act that could make him a widely reviled
But Mr. Jones seemed to have been wrong or misled from the start.
Minutes after he announced the cancellation alongside Imam Muhammad Musri, a
well-known Islamic leader in Florida who had been trying to broker a deal, Mr.
Musri contradicted Mr. Jones’s account. He said that Muslim leaders of the
project in New York had not actually agreed to find a new location. “The imam
committed to meet with us but did not commit to moving the mosque yet,” Mr.
Even that may not be accurate. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the New
York project, said in a statement that he had not spoken to Mr. Jones or Mr.
Musri, who said later that he received the pledge of a meeting from a staff
member in Mr. Abdul Rauf’s office.
The saga of Mr. Jones appeared likely to continue — with more pressure likely to
come as well. In just the past week, the list of his critics had come to include
Mr. Obama, the Vatican, Franklin Graham, Angelina Jolie, Sarah Palin, dozens of
members of Congress and Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was among the first to
declare that the burning of Korans would put Americans soldiers and civilians in
That risk of violence seemed to be rising, as large protests against Mr. Jones
were staged over the past week in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Jakarta, Indonesia. It
led the Obama administration to work furiously to end Mr. Jones’s plans.
On Thursday, F.B.I. officials met with Mr. Jones, and even Mr. Obama waded into
the fray, sharply criticizing what he called a “stunt” that would be a
“recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda.”
“I just hope he understands that what he’s proposing to do is completely
contrary to our values as Americans,” Mr. Obama said on ABC’s “Good Morning
America.” He added that it could “greatly endanger our young men and women in
uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan.”
While Mr. Jones had told reporters that he would not “ignore” a call from the
White House, administration officials decided that an appeal from the military
would be more effective. The Obama administration also had to weigh the desire
to stop Mr. Jones from proceeding with his plans against the recognition the
once-obscure preacher, with a congregation of less than 50, would get from a
direct appeal from the president.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called Mr. Jones around 4:15 p.m. Thursday,
interrupting a meeting that Mr. Jones was having with Mr. Musri.
The call was brief, Mr. Jones said, adding that Mr. Gates was not the key factor
in his decision. What swayed him, he said, was not the risk to Americans or
foreigners but rather the promise that the Islamic center in New York would be
“This is for us a sign from God,” he said.
As Mr. Jones walked back into his office, he said that the idea of the Islamic
center as a bartering point came to him only after he had announced his
“International Burn a Koran Day” in July. He said he had no regrets.
“We have accomplished what we think God asked us to do,” he said.
Those involved in the Islamic center project in New York offered contradictory
stances and opinions on Thursday, making it hard to determine if the parties
involved had a common front.
In a brief interview on Thursday, minutes before Mr. Jones made his cancellation
announcement, Mr. Abdul Rauf, the imam, seemed to suggest that moving the
project — at least the part of it that he is to lead, which includes a mosque,
prayer spaces for other faiths and tolerance education programs — was not out of
When asked — without reference to Mr. Jones — whether the comments he made on
CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Wednesday night, that he would not have proposed the
project had he known how much strife it would cause, indicated a new openness to
moving or some other compromise, he said, “We are investigating that right now,
we are discussing it right now, how we can resolve this issue in a manner that
will defuse the rhetoric and the pain and also reduce the risk” of emboldening
He added: “That is the question we are now asking ourselves. We are weighing
But the imam controls only one part of the project, known as Cordoba House, the
interfaith and Muslim prayer spaces and tolerance programs that are planned as
part of the larger community center, known as Park51.
Sharif el-Gamal, the head of the real estate group that owns the properties
where the project is planned, took a more definite position. “We’re not moving,”
he said in an interview. He later issued a statement reiterating that.
In Gainesville, Mr. Jones seemed confused by the differing opinions. At first,
after reporters read him Mr. Abdul Rauf’s statement denying that a deal had been
made, Mr. Jones said he preferred to believe that the center would be moved.
He said he would be very disappointed if that did not turn out to be the case.
As for whether he would go back to burning Korans, he seemed to go back and
forth during multiple appearances before the news media. At one he said, “Right
now, we are not even entertaining that idea.” But later he suggested he might
Regardless of whether Mr. Jones does meet with the mosque leaders in New York,
he has already elevated his profile, which has risen quickly from the small
church he has run in Gainesville since around 2001.
The church has been fairly empty during recent services, with no more than a few
dozen congregants, many of them family members. The smell of dust and mildew
wafts out from the piles of used furniture that Mr. Jones sells on eBay when he
is not preaching.
To most residents of this sprawling college town, where Democrats outnumber
Republicans two to one, Mr. Jones has generally been a fringe figure, even last
year when he put up a sign outside the church that said “Islam is of the devil.”
But that began to change when news of his Koran-burning plans reached Muslim
countries about a month ago. Suddenly, there was an overabundance of what Mr.
Jones seemed to want — attention.
Mr. Jones, a former hotel manager who calls himself doctor based on an honorary
degree from an unaccredited Bible school, has at times seemed sincerely shocked
by the response he has attracted. But not unhappy.
His church has been in financial trouble for years — the property is now for
sale — and even before General Petraeus and the president made him a household
name, he said in an interview that he hoped to become well known as a critic of
He was in his office at the time, alone, and to his right sat a drawing of a
bearded man — a terrorist — that had been used for target practice.
The mix of guns and visions of grandeur would come to embody the church and Mr.
On Thursday, several of his parishioners carried pistols on their hips — the
result, they said, of death threats. That also served as a sign of the outsize
role their small group had taken on in world affairs.
By nightfall, things seemed no closer to an end, as a church member named
Stephanie, wearing a pink shirt with a holstered gun at her hip, arranged for
interviews with reporters from all over the world.
Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.
Minister Wavers on Plans
to Burn Koran, NYT, 9.9.2010,
Obama Speaks Against Koran Burning
September 9, 2010
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 7:25 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is exhorting a Florida minister to
''listen to those better angels'' and call off his plan to engage in a
Quran-burning protest this weekend.
Obama told ABC's ''Good Morning America'' in an interview aired Thursday that he
hopes the Rev. Terry Jones of Florida listens to the pleas of people who have
asked him to call off the plan. The president called it a ''stunt.''
''If he's listening, I hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is
completely contrary to our values as Americans,'' Obama said. ''That this
country has been built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance.''
''And as a very practical matter, I just want him to understand that this stunt
that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women
who are in uniform,'' the president added.
Said Obama: ''Look, this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaida. You could have
serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.'' The president also
said Jones' plan, if carried out, could serve as an incentive for
terrorist-minded individuals ''to blow themselves up'' to kill others.
''I hope he listens to those better angels and understands that this is a
destructive act that he's engaging in,'' the president said of Jones.
Obama Speaks Against
Koran Burning, NYT, 9.9.2010,
Bahrain Calls Quran Burning Plans 'Shameful'
September 9, 2010
Filed at 3:11 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) -- Bahrain says plans by a Florida church to burn copies
of the Quran are a shameful attack on efforts for dialogue between faiths.
The statement by Bahrain's Foreign Ministry on Thursday is among the first
official denunciations in the Arab world against the planned torching of Islam's
The pastor at the Florida church is vowing to go ahead with the Saturday burning
despite protests. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in
Afghanistan, worries it will enflame Muslim extremists.
Bahrain's government calls it a ''shameful act which is incompatible with the
principles of tolerance and coexistence.''
Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.
Bahrain Calls Quran
Burning Plans 'Shameful', NYT, 9.9.2010,
For High Holy Days, Rabbis Weigh Their Words on Proposed
September 8, 2010
The New York Times
By PAUL VITELLO
With their call to introspection and atonement, the Jewish High Holy Days
have always challenged rabbis to find avenues into the consciences of their
congregations — on personal matters, and worldwide issues like war and peace.
But in synagogues around New York this year, rabbis are confronting an unusual
quandary as they prepare their sermons: whether to wade into a local cultural
war over plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero.
Jews have been deeply divided in their response to the proposal, and some rabbis
are reluctant to broach a subject that might split their congregations — or seem
to violate the holiness of the occasion.
In group e-mails among rabbis and in private discussions, there have been heated
debates in recent weeks on the various talking points of the conflict, including
religious freedom, cultural sensitivity, the relationship between Islam and
terrorism, and whether the issue has the requisite gravity and universality on
which to base a sermon for the High Holy Days, which began at sundown Wednesday
with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and end with Yom Kippur, the Day of
Atonement, on Sept. 18.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis,
said the various points of view defied categorizing by denomination or politics.
“All I can tell you is that this is a battle between many different imperatives
within the Jewish tradition,” he said.
Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman of Union Temple, a Reform congregation in Brooklyn,
said she would refer to the controversy over the Muslim center in summoning her
congregants to reassert their commitment to tolerance and freedom of religion
for all — “as Americans and as Jews.”
Rabbi Allan Schranz of Sutton Place Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in
Manhattan, said his “mandate as a rabbi to confront social issues” required him
to bring up his opposition to the center in at least one sermon. “A mosque on
the site,” he said, “would be insensitive to the memory of those who were killed
on 9/11” by terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam.
Some rabbis of each persuasion have said they will avoid the topic altogether —
either because they had already addressed it, or because they believe, like
Rabbi Yaakov Y. Kermaier — an opponent of the project who heads the Fifth Avenue
Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation in Manhattan — that “there are more
important matters of the spirit to address.”
The wide variety of postures reflects a schism among Jews in New York, who have
been among the most vocal proponents on both sides of the debate over the
Islamic center. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is the project’s most prominent
supporter. Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League,
contends that organizers have every legal right to build but should refrain in
deference to the survivors of those killed on 9/11.
Some scholars suggest that, more than any other religious minority in the United
States, Jews have a special stake in the controversy.
“This debate touches on the two strongest commitments that American Jews have,”
said Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist and a professor at Hebrew Union College in
Manhattan. “One is to protect democracy and the rights of minorities, which
makes Jews feel safer. The other is to protect Israel, which makes Jews feel
“This is a battle over which vulnerability you feel more keenly,” he said.
Dr. Cohen said protecting Israel was inherently linked in the minds of many Jews
with distrust of Islamic institutions, regardless of whether they were Israel’s
avowed enemies or the leaders of an initiative to cultivate understanding among
religions, as the organizers have described their project.
Whatever side they take, some rabbis will probably risk alienating some
congregants by addressing the issue. Asked if she knew where the majority of her
members stood, in advance of her sermon, Rabbi Goodman said with a nervous
laugh, “No, but I will on Thursday!”
But most rabbis are not likely to stray far from what they believe are the
prevailing opinions of their congregations, said Rabbi Irwin Kula, co-president
of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a New York-based
group that promotes cooperation among faiths.
“The congregations are so polarized, it’s difficult for a lot of them to speak
up, especially if they happen to disagree with the majority,” he said.
Those who do speak, he added, may send shock waves throughout the network of the
city’s synagogues — as was the case last month, when Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the
prominent senior rabbi of Kehilat Jeshurun Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox
congregation on the Upper East Side, delivered a sermon on the Islamic project.
Rabbi Lookstein, a member of the City Commission on Human Rights who has joined
in past interfaith efforts with Muslims, told worshipers that while “not every
Muslim is a terror threat,” jihadist violence was part of a global movement
“deeply embedded within the Islamic world.” He then described plans to build the
center as not only insensitive but “provocative.”
Rabbi Kula criticized the sermon, calling it “paradigmatic” of much thinking
behind opposition to the center. “Claiming this is not a war against Islam, and
then evoking fear of all Muslims, is something you hear over and over in many
congregations,” he said. Leaders of organizations representing a vast majority
of affiliated Jews — the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Rabbinical Assembly,
the Conservative group — have unconditionally supported Park51, as the project
The American Jewish Committee offered its backing, too, as long as organizers
agreed to “fully reveal their sources of funding and to unconditionally condemn
terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology” — a caveat that supporters of the
center consider discriminatory unless the same promises are required of those
who build Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant and other houses of worship.
Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon, senior rabbi of B’nai Jeshurun, a nondenominational
synagogue on the Upper West Side, caused about as much of a stir this summer as
Rabbi Lookstein, by posting on his synagogue’s Web site a copy of an address
made by Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the proposed Islamic center.
In the remarks, delivered at a first anniversary memorial service at B’nai
Jeshurun in honor of the journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by jihadists
in Pakistan in 2002, Mr. Abdul Rauf said: “If to be a Jew means to say with all
one’s heart, mind and soul, ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,’
not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one.”
The statement was widely circulated among people who support the imam’s project,
Rabbi Matalon said.
“I won’t be further addressing the topic in my sermon,” he added. “Instead, I
plan to talk about the tremendous polarization in our society.”
For High Holy Days,
Rabbis Weigh Their Words on Proposed Islamic Center, NYT, 8.9.2010,
Imam Says Moving Center Could Spur Radicals
September 8, 2010
The New York Times
By ANNE BARNARD
The imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said on Wednesday night that if he had known how
much strife would arise over his plan for a Muslim community center and mosque
two blocks from the World Trade Center site, he would not have proposed it.
“If I knew that this would happen, that this would cause this kind of pain, I
wouldn’t have done it,” the imam told Soledad O’Brien on “Larry King Live” on
CNN in his first extensive televised remarks since the controversy ballooned
after the project cleared its last legal hurdle last month. “My life has been
devoted to peacemaking.”
But the imam said he could not withdraw the plan because that would embolden
radicals of all faiths and create security risks for the United States and
“If we move from that location, the story will be that the radicals have taken
over the discourse,” he said. “The headlines in the Muslim world will be that
Islam is under attack. And I’m less concerned about the radicals in America than
I am about the radicals in the Muslim world.”
Pressed on whether the center would be built on the proposed site, Mr. Abdul
Rauf said he hoped to create a center with prayer spaces for Muslims, Jews,
Christians and others that would “build relationships between Muslims and
Most of the imam’s remarks echoed points he had made in an op-ed article
published on Wednesday in The New York Times.
But Mr. Abdul Rauf also addressed two past remarks that had drawn criticism.
Revisiting a “60 Minutes” interview in the weeks after 9/11 in which he called
American policies “an accessory” to the attacks, he said he had been trying to
note that the United States had empowered Islamist militants like Osama bin
Laden in their fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and that like a
marriage counselor, his job was to tell unpleasant truths to the United States
and its Muslim critics.
But he added, “Looking back, I realize it was not a very compassionate thing to
say, and I regret having said those words.”
Asked about a recent radio interview in which he declined to describe Hamas, the
Palestinian group that pioneered suicide bombings in Israel, as a terrorist
group, he said, “I condemn everyone and anyone who commits acts of terrorism,
and Hamas has committed acts of terrorism.”
The imam said his goal was to speak directly to the majority of Americans who
disapprove of the center’s location and to introduce himself and his record. He
closed by wishing his Jewish friends a happy Rosh Hashana.
Imam Says Moving Center
Could Spur Radicals, NYT, 8.9.2010,
From the Other Side of Ground Zero, Anti-Muslim Venom
September 5, 2010
The New York Times
By FERNANDA SANTOS
The Internet evangelist Bill Keller moved toward the dais in tiny, quick
steps on Sunday, exhibiting the anticipation of a man ready to address a crowd.
Roughly 60 people stood before him in a hotel meeting room in Lower Manhattan,
temporary quarters of his Christian center, his response to the mosque planned
for an empty building nearby.
“If we’re going to do something in New York City, we’re going to do something
that’s not just bold and visible, but something that has a lasting presence,”
said Mr. Keller, who is from the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
Later, he told reporters that Muslims “can go to their mosque and preach the
lies of Islam and I’ll come here to preach the truth of the Gospel.”
Since its organizers attended a community board meeting four months ago, the
mosque — part of a Muslim community center that would offer a day care center,
an auditorium and a pool — quickly became fodder for a national debate. Much of
the opposition is over its location: two blocks north of ground zero.
Mr. Keller promoted his center, which he called the 9/11 Christian Center at
Ground Zero, as a religious counterweight to the mosque, which he repeatedly
called a “victory mosque” or a monument to “a great Muslim military
accomplishment,” as he explained it at the inaugural service at the New York
Marriott Downtown Hotel on West Street, two blocks south of ground zero.
His career arc makes him a somewhat unusual standard-bearer: Mr. Keller became a
preacher after serving a sentence in federal prison for insider trading, as he
says in a biography posted on his Web site.
He has also appeared on Howard Stern’s satellite radio show and once had a
program on national television, which was canceled after he called Islam a
“1,400-year-old lie from the pits of hell.” The program is now carried by a
small station in Florida.
But it is on the Internet that Mr. Keller has assembled his largest following.
He claims that 20,000 people visit his Web site daily and 2.5 million receive
his daily sermon by e-mail.
His service at the Marriott brought together people who expressed admiration,
disapproval and curiosity. A man yelled, “Muslims pray five times a day,” but
Mr. Keller carried on undisturbed, denouncing Islam as a religion that preaches
“hate, violence and death.” The man eventually left.
Mr. Keller also described the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck, who is a
Mormon, and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is behind the Muslim community
center, as followers of false faiths. Later, he called the mosque’s potential
worshipers guilty of terrorism by association, saying it was “their Muslim
brothers” who “flew airplanes into the World Trade Center towers and killed
A woman who said she had driven in from Scranton, Pa., pulled Mr. Keller aside
afterward and told him that his Christian center “needs to be here,” but she
asked if he could tame his language so he would not come across as such a
firebrand. He told her he had to talk exactly the way he did if he wanted people
to follow him.
Prebem Andersen, 60, who lives in South Salem, N.Y., said Mr. Keller had “told
the truth from a Christian perspective.” Richard Borkowski, who lives in
Manhattan on the West Side, wore a black T-shirt with the words “Peace Through
Mr. Keller plans to be at the hotel every Sunday until the end of the year and
then move the center on Jan. 1 to a permanent spot, although he said he would
not disclose its location until Oct. 1.
“I have three locations in contract, but I won’t say where because I don’t want
people picketing outside and ruining the deal,” he said.
He is relying on donations to cover the costs of his weekly services, which
total $7,000. He said he would need $1 million to run the center for its first
year from its permanent home, which would be open seven days a week. He did not
seem concerned about finding the money.
“There are a lot more people than you’d imagine who believe in what I’m doing,”
From the Other Side of Ground Zero,
Anti-Muslim Venom, NYT, 5.9.2010,
American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?
September 5, 2010
The New York Times
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made
concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they
abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith
service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars
that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in
Now, many of those same Muslims say that all of those years of work are being
rapidly undone by the fierce opposition to a Muslim cultural center near ground
zero that has unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim sentiments and a spate of
vandalism. The knifing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City has also alarmed
many American Muslims.
“We worry: Will we ever be really completely accepted in American society?” said
Dr. Ferhan Asghar, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Cincinnati and the father of
two young girls. “In no other country could we have such freedoms — that’s why
so many Muslims choose to make this country their own. But we do wonder whether
it will get to the point where people don’t want Muslims here anymore.”
Eboo Patel, a founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based
community service program that tries to reduce religious conflict, said, “I am
more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11.”
That was a refrain echoed by many American Muslims in interviews last week. They
said they were scared not as much for their safety as to learn that the
suspicion, ignorance and even hatred of Muslims is so widespread. This is not
the trajectory toward integration and acceptance that Muslims thought they were
Some American Muslims said they were especially on edge as the anniversary of
9/11 approaches. The pastor of a small church in Florida has promised to burn a
pile of Korans that day. Muslim leaders are telling their followers that the
stunt has been widely condemned by Christian and other religious groups and
should be ignored. But they said some young American Muslims were questioning
how they could simply sit by and watch the promised desecration.
They liken their situation to that of other scapegoats in American history:
Irish Roman Catholics before the nativist riots in the 1800s, the Japanese
before they were put in internment camps during World War II.
Muslims sit in their living rooms, aghast as pundits assert over and over that
Islam is not a religion at all but a political cult, that Muslims cannot be good
Americans and that mosques are fronts for extremist jihadis. To address what it
calls a “growing tide of fear and intolerance,” the Islamic Society of North
America plans to convene a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in
Washington on Tuesday.
Young American Muslims who are trying to figure out their place and their goals
in life are particularly troubled, said Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, the Muslim
chaplain at Duke University.
“People are discussing what is the alternative if we don’t belong here,” he
said. “There are jokes: When are we moving to Canada, when are we moving to
Sydney? Nobody will go anywhere, but there is hopelessness, there is
helplessness, there is real grief.”
Mr. Antepli just returned from a trip last month with a rabbi and other American
Muslim leaders to Poland and Germany, where they studied the Holocaust and the
events that led up to it (the group issued a denunciation of Holocaust denial on
“Some of what people are saying in this mosque controversy is very similar to
what German media was saying about Jews in the 1920s and 1930s,” he said. “It’s
American Muslims were anticipating a particularly joyful Ramadan this year. For
the first time in decades, the monthlong holiday fell mostly during summer
vacation, allowing children to stay up late each night for the celebratory iftar
dinner, breaking the fast, with family and friends.
But the season turned sour.
The great mosque debate seems to have unleashed a flurry of vandalism and
harassment directed at mosques: construction equipment set afire at a mosque
site in Murfreesboro, Tenn; a plastic pig with graffiti thrown into a mosque in
Madera, Calif.; teenagers shooting outside a mosque in upstate New York during
Ramadan prayers. It is too soon to tell whether hate crimes against Muslims are
rising or are on pace with previous years, experts said. But it is possible that
other episodes are going unreported right now.
“Victims are reluctant to go public with these kinds of hate incidents because
they fear further harassment or attack,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the
Council on American-Islamic Relations. “They’re hoping all this will just blow
Some Muslims said their situation felt more precarious now — under a president
who is perceived as not only friendly to Muslims but is wrongly believed by many
Americans to be Muslim himself — than it was under President George W. Bush.
Mr. Patel explained, “After Sept. 11, we had a Republican president who had the
confidence and trust of red America, who went to a mosque and said, ‘Islam means
peace,’ and who said ‘Muslims are our neighbors and friends,’ and who
distinguished between terrorism and Islam.”
Now, unlike Mr. Bush then, the politicians with sway in red state America are
the ones whipping up fear and hatred of Muslims, Mr. Patel said.
“There is simply the desire to paint an entire religion as the enemy,” he said.
Referring to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder of the proposed Muslim center
near ground zero, “What they did to Imam Feisal was highly strategic. The signal
was, we can Swift Boat your most moderate leaders.”
Several American Muslims said in interviews that they were stunned that what
provoked the anti-Muslim backlash was not even another terrorist attack but a
plan by an imam known for his work with leaders of other faiths to build a
Muslim community center.
This year, Sept. 11 coincides with the celebration of Eid, the finale to
Ramadan, which usually lasts three days (most Muslims will begin observing Eid
this year on Sept. 10). But Muslim leaders, in this climate, said they wanted to
avoid appearing to be celebrating on the anniversary of 9/11. Several major
Muslim organizations have urged mosques to use the day to participate in
commemoration events and community service.
Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, said many
American Muslims were still hoping to salvage the spirit of Ramadan.
“In Ramadan, you’re really not supposed to be focused on yourself,” she said.
“It’s about looking out for the suffering of other people. Somehow it feels bad
to be so worried about our own situation and our own security, when it should be
about empathy towards others.”
American Muslims Ask,
Will We Ever Belong?, NYT, 5.9.2010,
Muslims Take to Minn. State Fair to Repair Image
September 4, 2010
Filed at 3:16 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) -- Despite the smells of fried dough and roasted
meat wafting from the Minnesota State Fair, Salim and Zuleyha Ozonder were
focused on the people who were leaving, not the food or festivities beckoning
from across the street.
Each time a new wave of people exited, the young Minneapolis residents -- who
hadn't eaten all day -- tried to press into their hands a small, glossy card
that read ''Islam Explained'' on one side. On the other, it had about 180 words
of background on a religion whose adherents fear is being misunderstood by too
many Americans as violent and depraved.
''You just want people to take the card, spend a minute reading it and say, 'Oh.
They're not terrorists,''' said 27-year-old Zuleyha. She and her husband, like
other Muslims, were fasting during daylight hours for the Islamic holy month of
For most fairgoers, the last thing on their mind is religion -- particularly the
renewed controversy over Islam in America amid tension over plans for an Islamic
center and mosque a few blocks from New York City's ground zero. But volunteers
with the Minnesota chapter of Islamic Circle of North America saw the mostly
white, Christian fair crowd as just the type of audience that might benefit from
The ''Great Minnesota Get-Together'' is one of the largest and best-attended
state fairs in the country. Every day for 12 days through Labor Day, hundreds of
thousands of people stream onto the fairgrounds north of St. Paul to scarf
highly caloric food, stare at farm animals, clamber onto carnival rides and
enjoy concerts by country singers and classic rock dinosaurs.
''What are they doing here?'' said Paulette Kahlstorf of Zimmerman, who declined
a card from Zuleyha as she left the fairgrounds with her husband. ''I didn't
come here for that.''
A minute later, Kahlstorf elaborated that she didn't have a problem with all
Muslims: ''Just the radical ones.'' And she said she didn't mind their decision
to hand out the cards, which include a toll-free number that anyone can call to
request a free copy of the Quran.
''You know, I guess we let all the politicians come out here and schmooze, so we
might as well let these folks as well,'' said Kahlstorf. ''Doesn't mean I need
to listen to them.''
A poll released last week showed many Americans have the same mixed feelings
about the Muslim faith. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that most
Americans doubt that Islam is likelier than other faiths to encourage violence
and believe Muslims should have equal rights to build houses of worship. But
more people have an unfavorable than favorable view of Islam by 38 to 30 percent
-- nearly a reversal of findings on the same poll question in 2005, when 41
percent had favorable views compared with 36 percent unfavorable.
Najam Qureshi, a member of the Islamic Circle of North America's Minnesota
chapter and a database administrator at Carlson Companies in Plymouth, said his
group planned the state fair outreach effort -- which includes radio commercials
-- long before the New York mosque controversy.
But he said that controversy has been another reminder of the work American
Muslims need to do to fill what he called ''the void of understanding about our
Various state-based Muslim groups estimate Minnesota has about 150,000 Muslim
residents, and the state has had its share of incidents in recent years. Some
Muslim students reported being harassed at schools in St. Cloud and Owatonna,
and some anti-Islamic posters were hung around St. Cloud.
The Ozonders handed out 400 cards during one two-hour shift this week across the
street from one of the fair's main entrances, and were taking their second shift
on Wednesday. The chapter is handing out the cards throughout the fair's run,
which ends on Labor Day.
The couple said they volunteered out of a desire to ''do something together''
for their faith. Zuleyha moved to Minneapolis in July from New York's
Westchester County after she married Salim, 28, a graduate student in physics at
the University of Minnesota the last two years; both are of Turkish descent.
Both said their exchanges with fairgoers were mostly pleasant, though Zuleyha
said one man cursed at her. Most people either decline the cards or quietly take
them and keep moving.
Occasionally, someone will stop and talk for a few minutes, often to ask a
question or two about Islam.
''More than one person said to me, 'You look normal,''' Salim Ozonder said. ''So
if we can even break down a few misconceptions, that is great. Too many people
in this debate are no longer interested in a middle ground.''
Muslims Take to Minn.
State Fair to Repair Image, NYT, 4.9.2010,
Zoning Law Aside, Mosque Projects Face Battles
September 3, 2010
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
In disputes over the construction and expansion of mosques in California, New
York, Tennessee and elsewhere, supporters of the projects tend to invoke
constitutional principles of religious freedom.
But to experts in land-use planning, the area of law that directly concerns the
controversies scattered across the nation, the way to resolve such conflicts is
in a more modern document than the Constitution. These fights are often all but
moot, from a legal perspective at least, because of a federal law with an
“Every planner and zoning lawyer I’ve talked to about this is saying the same
thing — Rluipa,” said Daniel Lauber, a past president of the American Planning
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, whose initials are
commonly pronounced Ruh-LOO-pa, was approved unanimously by Congress in 2000.
Its chief sponsor was Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah.
The law sets a high bar for any government action that would impose zoning or
other restrictions on a religious institution. Any such action must serve a
“compelling government interest” while also being “the least restrictive means”
of furthering that interest, the law says.
Despite the clear advantage that the law gives to religious institutions,
disputes over the construction of mosques have emerged around the country.
In Murfreesboro, Tenn., an arson at the site of a mosque project has raised
tensions. In Temecula, Calif., some mosque opponents brought dogs to a protest,
thinking it would offend Muslims who believe the animals to be unclean. Backers
withdrew the planned expansion of a mosque in Brentwood, Tenn., after critics
raised their voices.
The opposition often reflects America’s complicated attitudes toward the Middle
East, in which passions run high and even basic facts are treated as objects of
contention. The conservative New English Review stated the fundamental question
as “whether Islam is a religion or a political doctrine seeking domination with
a thin veneer of religious practices.”
To some experts, opposition to construction of the mosque and community center
near ground zero, especially by religious organizations, seems surprising.
“It is quite interesting that some of the current opponents of the mosque
construction, specifically Jewish leaders and conservative Christians, were
formerly quite ardent supporters of the religious freedom offered by the
religious land use act,” said Scott L. Thumma, a sociology of religion professor
at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at the Hartford Seminary in
The controversy does not split neatly along political lines. Some Democrats,
including the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, have voiced concern over plans
to build the Islamic center, while Republicans like Mr. Hatch insist that the
government stick to the principles of religious liberty for which the law
“Clearly, the proponents of the mosque have a legal and a constitutional right
to build a house of worship on private property,” Mr. Hatch said in a statement,
referring to the project in Manhattan.
Like Senator Reid and President Obama, however, Mr. Hatch noted that having a
legal right to build the project did not necessarily mean that it was wise to do
“The question in this case is whether, given the inflamed passions of the
community — including those of many people who lost family members on 9/11 —
building the mosque at that location is a good idea,” he said.
Opponents of new mosque construction often cite factors other than religion,
like parking and traffic, when houses of worship expand. But religion often
remains part of the mix. In a statement on the mosque protest in Temecula,
William Rench, the senior pastor of the nearby Calvary Baptist Church, said,
“Our primary concern is that the land adjacent to our property is wholly
inadequate and unsuited for the proposed 25,000-square-foot Islamic worship
The rest of the statement concerns Islam itself. “It seems logical to me that we
would be opposed to Islam based on its fundamental teachings and on documented
stories of the terror that radical Islam promotes,” Mr. Rench wrote.
In an interview, Mr. Rench said that questions of national and local security
should override land-use rules, though in the case of the mosque next door, “I
don’t think they represent the more extreme elements of Islam.” Still, he added,
“how are we going to get assurances that it’s never going to be an issue?”
Mahmoud Harmoush, the imam of the mosque, said that accusations of radicalism
“really are not worth responding to,” and that despite the importance of
Shariah, or Islamic law, to their faith, “we are bound by the law of the land,”
just as someone who learns to drive in Britain must drive on the right side of
the road in the United States.
No one knows what will happen in coming years or the next generation, Mr.
Harmoush said, but “the future could be much better than Mr. Rench is
imagining.” The mosque might, he said, for example, provide overflow parking for
Patrick Richardson, the planning and development director for the City of
Temecula, called the issue “very straightforward.”
“This is nothing related to politics or religion,” he said, “and the law
basically precludes us from making that part of the decision-making process.”
The mosque will come up for its first public hearing in November, after the
proponents complete a traffic study recommended by the city.
“I can’t say I’m surprised that there is controversy about this,” Mr. Richardson
said. “I’m probably a little more disappointed than anything.”
In Willowbrook, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, plans for a mosque and community
center have run into opposition that has focused locally on grounds of parking,
traffic and water runoff. But anti-Muslim Web sites have tried to fold that
opposition into the broader fight over Islam.
Dr. M. A. Hamadeh, a pulmonologist who is the president of the Muslim
Educational and Cultural Center of America, which is building the mosque, said
news of other conflicts around the country troubled him.
“This is the greatest country in the world, and the greatness is based in
freedom — freedom of religion, freedom of association, and of separation between
state and religion,” Dr. Hamadeh said. “In order to continue to be a great
country, we have to continue to uphold these values.”
Zoning Law Aside, Mosque
Projects Face Battles, NYT, 3.9.2010,
The Divide Over the Islamic Center
September 3, 2010
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “New York Poll
Finds Wariness for Muslim Site” (front page, Sept. 3):
I’m very disappointed with the poll results, as I’d thought New Yorkers were
better than that. Although I live in Manhattan and have an income above
$100,000, my demographics are otherwise aligned with those New Yorkers who
oppose the Islamic center, and I want my voice to be heard.
I’m Jewish, well past 45, and would not vote for a candidate who opposed the
Islamic center. Further, I think that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s speech on
Aug. 3 was one of the most eloquent speeches I’ve ever heard.
We New Yorkers are extremely fortunate to have a voice of reason and compassion
leading our city. Mayor Bloomberg stands in stark contrast to most other
politicians (national, state and local). I say all this as someone who has a
view of the World Trade Center site from my apartment, but that does not mean I
want us to abdicate the responsibilities of a free society.
Susan J. Levinson
New York, Sept. 3, 2010
To the Editor:
Many who oppose the Islamic community center claim that it is insensitive for
Muslims to place it so close to ground zero, but I have not yet heard any
explanation as to why or how it is insensitive. In fact, the only way one could
plausibly feel that it is insensitive is if one, on some level, harbors negative
feelings toward Muslims or feels that Islam equates to terrorism.
The fact is that, yes, the attacks were executed by Muslims, 19 of them to be
exact, but how exactly can one justifiably restrict the rights of all Muslims
because of the actions of 19 extremists? Are there no churches in Oklahoma City?
Should teenagers not be allowed to walk the halls of Columbine High School?
Morristown, N.J., Sept. 3, 2010
To the Editor:
Now that it’s been documented that a clear majority of New Yorkers prefer the
site of the Islamic center to be moved, it’s time for its planners to seriously
consider alternative locations. Such an act would not be seen as weakness, but a
grand gesture that they are truly interested in promoting harmony among
religious faiths and ethnic groups.
It is difficult to believe that any group that genuinely wants to build bridges
between communities would continue on a path that so surely will foster only the
New York, Sept. 3, 2010
To the Editor:
I have never been more dispirited than I was after reading your article. More
than 60 years ago, Americans sacrificed in blood and treasure to defeat an idea:
that a society could treat an ethnic community that worships differently as a
feared and despised enemy within, possessing no rights and suitable only for
what the majority wishes to do with it. I never thought that one act of
terrorism would suffice to make us forget that, but apparently we have.
By making us sacrifice in our very hearts the values of individualism, freedom
and openness to people from across the globe seeking a better life, the
terrorists have already won.
R. Kevin Hill
Portland, Ore., Sept. 3, 2010
To the Editor:
As a 9/11 family member, I applaud your Sept. 3 editorial “Mistrust and the
Mosque.” I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my sister, Karen Klitzman, as
she took her last breath on the 104th floor of Tower 1. Nor did I get a chance
to ask her how she felt about the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque,
or the ensuing controversy.
But I do know that she would have been deeply offended, as I have been, by the
growing number of public figures (many of whom I otherwise respect) who are
invoking her memory, along with those of 9/11 victims en masse, to promote
ignorance, prejudice, and religious and ethnic discrimination.
Rather, as we approach the ninth anniversary of 9/11, I know she would have
wanted us to remember how much she valued freedom, tolerance and understanding.
New York, Sept. 3, 2010
To the Editor:
“Mistrust and the Mosque” perpetuates the myopic view that opposition to this
project is rooted in intolerance. Give some credit to those opposed to this
project, who have observed decades of intellectual, and sometimes violent,
conflict between the West and an influential strain of Islam.
Even those disposed to be tolerant aren’t yet convinced that the aims of this
project are noble, nor have the project leaders been as forthcoming about their
objectives and financing as necessary for so sensitive a project. To continue
framing opposition to the mosque as intolerance commits the same error as those
who are framing it as a jihadist ploy; both lack open-minded reasoning.
Thomas M. Doran
Plymouth, Mich., Sept. 3, 2010
To the Editor:
With respect to your editorial, I disagree with those who say building a mosque
near ground zero is unnecessarily provocative or, in the words of your poll,
“controversial.” Simply being a Muslim is not a provocation. Praying to your
God, or studying your history is not a provocation. And while these things now
may be controversial, that is a great sadness.
David S. Hammer
New York, Sept. 3, 2010
To the Editor:
It must really bother the chattering class and the editorial board of The New
York Times when the public is ahead of the leaders. A majority of people polled
agree that the Muslims have a legal right to build, but a slightly higher
majority think it shouldn’t be built in such a controversial place. Sounds
reasonable to me!
Shoreline, Wash., Sept. 3, 2010
To the Editor:
Thank you for the principled stand that The New York Times has taken on this
subject. I am a Muslim, but above all else I am an American. In addition, I am a
prosecutor. Every day I work tirelessly to put away criminals and pursue
The people who committed the horrible acts of 9/11 are murderers, regardless of
what religion they allegedly follow. Criminals come from all kinds of
backgrounds and from all religious followings. Whether the criminal is Jewish,
Christian or Muslim, we should never judge the entire religion.
There is a part of me that is deeply hurt and saddened by the reaction of my
fellow Americans regarding the building of this mosque. I hope that one day,
America will view Muslims as fellow Americans.
Mahmoud M. Awad
Riverview, Mich., Sept. 3, 2010
The Divide Over the Islamic Center, NYT,
Mistrust and the Mosque
September 2, 2010
The New York Times
The furor over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near ground
zero keeps giving us new reasons for dismay. As politicians and commentators
work themselves and viewers into a rage, others who should be standing up for
freedom and tolerance tiptoe away.
To the growing pile of discouragement, add this: A New York Times poll of New
York City residents that found that even this city, the country’s most diverse
and cosmopolitan, is not immune to suspicion and to a sadly wary
misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans.
The poll found considerable distrust of Muslim-Americans and robust disapproval
of the mosque proposal. Asked whether they thought Muslim-Americans were “more
sympathetic to terrorists” than other citizens, 33 percent said yes, a
discouraging figure, roughly consistent with polls taken since Sept. 11, 2001.
Thirty-one percent said they didn’t know any Muslims; 39 percent said they knew
Muslims but not as close friends.
A full 72 percent agreed that people had every right to build a “house of
worship” near the site. But only 62 percent acknowledged that right when “house
of worship” was changed to “mosque and Islamic community center.” Sixty-seven
percent thought the mosque planners should find “a less controversial location.”
While only 21 percent of respondents confessed to having “negative feelings”
toward Muslims because of the attack on the World Trade Center, 59 percent said
they knew people who did.
It has always been a myth that New York City, in all its dizzying globalness, is
a utopia of humanistic harmony. The city has a bloody history of ethnic and
class strife. But thanks to density and diversity, it has become a place like
few others in this country, where the world rubs shoulders on subways, stoops
and sidewalks, where gruff tolerance prevails and understanding thrives.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are two pinnacles of American openness to
the outsider. New Yorkers like to think they are a perfect fit with their city.
Tolerance, however, isn’t the same as understanding, so it is appalling to see
New Yorkers who could lead us all away from mosque madness, who should know
better, playing to people’s worst instincts.
That includes Carl Paladino and Rick Lazio, Republicans running for governor who
have disgraced their state with histrionics about the mosque being a terrorist
triumph. And Rudolph Giuliani, who cloaks his opposition to the mosque as
“sensitivity” to 9/11 families without acknowledging that this conflates all
prayerful Muslims with terrorists, a despicable conclusion.
As the site of America’s bloodiest terrorist attack, New York had a great chance
to lead by example. Too bad other places are ahead of us. Muslims hold daily
prayer services in a chapel in the Pentagon, a place also hallowed by 9/11 dead.
The country often has had the wisdom to choose graciousness and reconciliation
over triumphalism, as is plain from the many monuments to Confederate soldiers
in northern states, including the battlefield at Gettysburg.
New Yorkers, like other Americans, have a way to go. We stand with the poll’s
minority: the 27 percent who say the mosque should be built in Lower Manhattan
because moving it would compromise American values. Building it would be a
gesture to Muslim-Americans who, of course, live here, pray here and died here,
along with so many of their fellow Americans, on that awful September morning.
But it’s all of us who will benefit.
Mistrust and the Mosque,
New Yorkers Want Islamic Center Moved, Poll Finds
September 2, 2010
The New York Times
By MICHAEL BARBARO and MARJORIE CONNELLY
Two-thirds of New York City residents want a planned Muslim community center
and mosque to be relocated to a less controversial site farther away from ground
zero in Lower Manhattan, including many who describe themselves as supporters of
the project, according to a New York Times poll.
The poll indicates that support for the 13-story complex, which organizers said
would promote moderate Islam and interfaith dialogue, is tepid in its hometown.
Nearly nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks ignited a wave of anxiety about
Muslims, many in the country’s biggest and arguably most cosmopolitan city still
have an uneasy relationship with Islam. One-fifth of New Yorkers acknowledged
animosity toward Muslims. Thirty-three percent said that compared with other
American citizens, Muslims were more sympathetic to terrorists. And nearly 60
percent said people they know had negative feelings toward Muslims because of
Over all, 50 percent of those surveyed oppose building the project two blocks
north of the World Trade Center site, even though a majority believe that the
developers have the right to do so. Thirty-five percent favor it.
Opposition is more intense in the boroughs outside Manhattan — for example, 54
percent in the Bronx — but it is even strong in Manhattan, considered a bastion
of religious tolerance, where 41 percent are against it.
The poll was conducted Aug. 27 to 31 with 892 adults. The margin of sampling
error is plus or minus three percentage points.
It suggested that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the center’s most ardent and
public defender, has not unified public opinion around the issue. Asked if they
approved or disapproved of how he had handled the subject, city residents were
While a majority said politicians in New York should take a stand on the issue,
most disapprove of those outside the city weighing in: Newt Gingrich and Sarah
Palin, among others, have tried to rally opposition to the center.
The debate over the religious center has captivated much of the city: 66 percent
said they had heard or read a lot about it, and follow-up interviews with
respondents showed that the topic was leading to emotional and searching
conversations in living rooms and workplaces throughout the city.
“My granddaughter and I were having this conversation and she said stopping them
from building is going against the freedom of religion guaranteed by our
Constitution,” said Marilyn Fisher, 71, who lives in the Bensonhurst
neighborhood of Brooklyn. “I absolutely agree with her except in this case. I
think everything in this world is not black and white; there is always a gray
area and the gray area right now is sensitivity to those affected by 9/11, the
survivors of the people lost.”
Sentiments about the center appear to be heavily shaped by personal background
and experiences. Those who have visited mosques or have close Muslim friends are
more likely to support the center than those who have few interactions with
More than half — 53 percent — of city residents with incomes over $100,000 back
the center; only 31 percent of those with incomes under $50,000 agree.
Protestants are evenly divided, while most Catholic and Jewish New Yorkers
oppose the center.
Age also plays a role. Those under 45 are evenly divided (42 percent for, 43
percent against); among those over 45, nearly 60 percent are opposed.
The center’s developers, and its defenders, have sought to portray opponents as
a small but vocal group.
The poll, however, reveals a more complicated portrait of the opposition in New
York: 67 percent said that while Muslims had a right to construct the center
near ground zero, they should find a different site.
Most strikingly, 38 percent of those who expressed support for the plan to build
it in Lower Manhattan said later in a follow-up question that they would prefer
it be moved farther away, suggesting that even those who defend the plan
question the wisdom of the location.
Richard Merton, 56, a real estate broker who lives on the Upper West Side of
Manhattan, exemplifies those mixed and seemingly contradictory feelings.
“Freedom of religion is one of the guarantees we give in this country, so they
are free to worship where they chose,” Mr. Merton said. “I just think it’s very
bad manners on their part to be so insensitive as to put a mosque in that area.”
Opponents offered differing opinions on how far the complex should be built from
ground zero. One-fifth said at least 20 blocks, while almost the same number
said at least 10 blocks. Seven percent said at least five blocks.
“Personally I would prefer it not be built at all, but if it is going to be
built it should be at least 20 blocks away,” said Maria Misetzis, 30, of the Bay
Ridge section of Brooklyn.
As the fight over the center escalated from a zoning dispute into a battle in
the culture wars, it has splintered New Yorkers along political lines.
Seventy-four percent of Republicans are opposed; Democrats are split, with 43
percent for and 44 percent against.
Even though President Obama is highly popular in New York City, residents are
divided over his handling of the issue (he defended the center, then seemed to
backtrack slightly). Thirty-two percent approve of his approach, while 27
It is not clear, however, that any politician is successfully harnessing the
strong feelings around the issue. Even though both Republican candidates for New
York governor, Rick A. Lazio and Carl P. Paladino, have sought to make the
Islamic center an issue in the race, two-thirds of those polled said it would
have no influence on how they made their choice for governor. The poll showed
that the economy and jobs remained the most pressing concerns.
Yet those who said the issue would affect their vote were four times as likely
to support a candidate who is against the center than one who backs it.
The intensity of feeling is greater among opponents. Nearly three-quarters of
respondents who disapprove of the project say they feel strongly; only half of
those who back it do so.
“Give them an inch, they’ll take a yard,” Ms. Misetzis said. “They want to build
a mosque wherever they can. And once they start praying there, it is considered
hallowed ground and can’t be taken away. Ever. That’s why we’re having this tug
of war between New Yorkers and the Islamic people.”
John Dewey, 65, of the Rego Park section of Queens, expressed his view in more
“We can’t say all Muslims are terrorists,” Mr. Dewey said. “There is a huge
population of Muslims throughout the world, and we will have to deal constantly
with them in the future. If we make enemies constantly, then we will constantly
Marina Stefan, Dalia Sussman and Megan Thee-Brenan contributed reporting.
New Yorkers Want Islamic
Center Moved, Poll Finds, NYT, 2.9.2010,
A Crisis in Amish Country
September 2, 2010
The New York Times
By MALCOLM GAY
CURRYVILLE, Mo. — A troubled young man from this remote stretch of eastern
Missouri, Chester Mast had traveled north in the summer of 2004 to stay with his
extended family in Wisconsin. Mr. Mast, a member of a conservative Amish
community here that eschews conveniences like electricity and telephones, was
meant to apprentice with his uncle, a carpenter.
His uncle opened his home to the young man but, according to court documents,
soon began having doubts about Mr. Mast. The uncle later told investigators that
while traveling in Michigan he had observed his nephew, then 20, place his arm
around his 13-year-old daughter. In the evenings back in Wisconsin, Mr. Mast and
his cousins would open the windows and play cards in his bedroom. And it was
there, investigators allege, that as the frogs croaked one summer night, the
girl complained of a pain in her stomach.
“Chester convinced her that he could take her stomachache away,” James Small, a
detective with the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department, reported in Wisconsin
court filings. He asked her to lie on his stomach, the probable cause statement
said. “She recalled being on top of him in his bedroom and that he ultimately
These are but a few of the accusations that Mr. Mast, now 26, faces in a pair of
sexual-assault cases that stretch between two states. The criminal charges, a
rarity for a religious congregation that often resolves its disputes internally,
offer an unusual glimpse into an Amish community in crisis. They have also laid
bare the fault lines that divide this insular society that resides some 95 miles
northwest of St. Louis.
“There is no gray area — people are either 100 percent for Chester, or they are
100 percent against him,” said Sgt. Sean Flynn, a detective with the Sheriff’s
Department here in Pike County. “Some people are holding it against some of the
victims and their families for what they’ve done to Chester; some people think
it should have happened a lot sooner. There’s really no middle ground.”
Mr. Mast, who is married with two children and another on the way, stands
accused in Wisconsin of incest and the repeated sexual assault of a minor.
Meanwhile, officials here have charged him with two counts each of statutory
rape and sodomy and one count of sexual misconduct involving a child.
Investigators claim that Mr. Mast has victimized at least six girls, ages 5 to
15 — including some outside the Amish community — over the last 10 years.
“There is still the thought that there are other victims out there,” said
Sergeant Flynn, the lead investigator in Missouri.
Mr. Mast, who last week pleaded not guilty to the charges here, declined an
interview request. He is jailed on a $100,000 bond in Pike County, where his
trial is set to begin on Dec. 15.
Since their arrival here in the 1940s, the Amish of Pike County have eked out an
existence amid this area’s network of gravel roads and rusting cornfields.
Theirs is a deeply private world, conducted mainly in a dialect of German, whose
members travel by horse-and-buggy and support their families by working as
butchers, farmers and cabinetmakers. As an “Old Order Amish” community, they are
among the most conservative of their kind.
The roughly 70 families in this settlement are divided into three congregations,
or churches, which are in turn led by bishops — lay members of the congregation
who typically have no theological training. Social roles are clearly defined
here, and transgressions are swiftly punished, either with the back of a hand,
or in more serious matters, with excommunication and ritual shunning.
“We tried to work with it ourselves,” said Joseph Wagler, the bishop for a
neighboring church. “We punished him, and he owned up to it. We put him away
from the church, as a community.”
Community members say that in an effort to cure Mr. Mast of his affliction, they
excommunicated him on three occasions: in 2004 when he returned from Wisconsin
amid accusations that he had raped his cousin; and again in 2009, when new
revelations surfaced of his alleged sexual misconduct. The third excommunication
came this year, when after a tortuous internal debate, the community appealed to
“We seen this coming for years,” said Noah Schwartz, another of Mr. Mast’s
uncles. “The church worked desperately to get behind him, but it was a lost
cause. I don’t think we realized the seriousness of the crimes.”
Mr. Schwartz added that unlike most Amish children — who are often raised with
many siblings — Chester Mast was adopted at 5 days old and raised as an only
child, mollycoddled by his parents. Mr. Mast’s father, Albert Mast, declined an
interview request on behalf of the family.
“This was a boy who had no discipline,” Mr. Schwartz said. “He didn’t respect
authority. That’s why he’s behind bars.”
Community members described Mr. Mast as unsettled and spoiled. They say he
talked a lot, was a teller of tall tales who longed to fit in, but who
nevertheless experimented with alcohol, could not keep a job and had repeatedly
“I felt he was never really converted and born again,” said David Eicher,
echoing the sentiment of many here. “Maybe that was the base of his problems.
But anyone would welcome him back to the church if he would repent and be
Donald B. Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, said
that instead of viewing psychological problems as a form of psychosis or
addiction, the Amish often see them as a sign of spiritual failing.
“Some Amish communities aren’t fully aware that a psychological disorder may be
underlying devious behavior,” said Professor Kraybill, who has written many
books on the Amish. “They may sometimes confuse this kind of an addiction — like
an alcohol addiction or a sexual addiction — with a spiritual or moral weakness.
They think that if the person confesses the sin, and we bring them back into the
church, and they pray about it, everything is going to be O.K.”
Community members say they find it particularly galling, then, that Mr. Mast has
pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. They say he has confessed his
sins to them as part of his ritual reconciliation with the church, and that so
long as he maintains his innocence, he is not Amish.
“Chester is lying, and that’s worse than the sex crimes, because no sin is so
bad that you can’t recognize it and take total responsibility,” said Mr.
Schwartz, 60, as he traveled by horse-and-buggy to buy milk from a neighbor.
“We’re concerned that Chester is honest, not how many years he gets. If he lies
and gets out of prison, then he’s still a prisoner to his own self.”
Until recently, church leaders had been paying regular visits to Mr. Mast,
giving him spiritual counsel and advising him to plead guilty. (Though Mr. Mast
is officially excommunicated and shunned by the church, there are ritual means
by which church members can communicate with him, essentially shaming him with
reminders that he has broken his baptismal vows and urging him to return to the
“Telling the truth and being honest is a fundamental virtue of Amish faith, and
he is directly violating the teachings of Jesus if he is lying,” Professor
Kraybill said. “That’s a very serious moral offense for them.”
The elders’ visits came to an abrupt end recently when Mr. Mast’s public
defender, Lisa Morrow, prohibited them. Ms. Morrow says she banned the elders
after learning they had been sharing important information about the case.
“The legal system doesn’t care about your religious beliefs,” she said. “When it
comes to time in prison, I have to look out for my client.”
Her decision has rankled many Amish, who say that by persuading Mr. Mast to
plead not guilty, Ms. Morrow is endangering him.
“The public defender is no help to him,” said Mr. Wagler, 38, while taking a
break from baling hay in his barn. “She’s keeping him from being honest. If he’s
going to act like this and not admit it in court, he’s still going to have to
answer to God.”
As Wisconsin officials wait for Missouri to first prosecute Mr. Mast, many in
his community say he should take his punishment and come back to the church.
“I would say that 95 percent of the people in this community think he’s where he
needs to be,” Mr. Schwartz said. “He’s at the bottom, but how can you build a
house if you don’t start from the bottom?”
A Crisis in Amish Country, NYT,