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USA > History > 2010 > Faith (III)



John Darkow

The Columbia Daily Tribune



9 September 2010

R to L: Osama bin Laden, Terry Jones



Coverage of Koran Case Stirs Questions on Media Role

NYT        9.9.2010
















Freed From Prison,

Long Island Man Takes to Pulpit


December 24, 2010
The New York Times


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 days.”

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 Saratoga County.

“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 right.”

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 red-ribboned wreath.

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 provide details.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/25/nyregion/25white.html






Wisconsin on the Map to Pray With Mary


December 23, 2010
The New York Times


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 children.

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 spaces.

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 on Wednesday.

“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 some more.

“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 beautiful.”

The Vatican gives primary responsibility for evaluating apparitions to local bishops. Wary of fraud, the church is generally reluctant even to investigate claims.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/24/us/24mary.html






Imam Behind Islamic Center

Plans U.S. Tour


December 23, 2010
The New York Times


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 Carolina.

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 said.

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 said.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/24/nyregion/24mosque.html






A Monsignor Is Defrocked for Abusing a Student


December 17, 2010
The New York Times


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. Zwilling said.

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 was continuing.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/18/nyregion/18priest.html






Sri Daya Mata, Guiding Light for U.S. Hindus, Dies at 96


December 3, 2010
The New York Times


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 1946.

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 1893.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/us/03mata.html






Muslim Orphans Caught Between Islamic, Western Law


November 28, 2010
Filed at 10:36 a.m. EST
The New York Times


Helene Lauffer knew Muslim children — orphaned, displaced, neglected — needed homes in the United States. She knew American Muslim families wanted to take them in.

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.

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 law.

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 adoption.

"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 Alexandria, Va.

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 biological siblings.

"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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/11/28/us/AP-US-REL-Islam-and-Adoption.html






Dolan Is Surprise Pick to Lead U.S. Bishops’ Group


November 16, 2010
Filed at 10:26 a.m. EST
The New York Times


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 their dioceses.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/11/16/us/AP-US-REL-Catholic-Bishops.html






First Openly Gay Episcopal Bishop to Retire in 2013


November 6, 2010
The New York Times


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 down.

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 beliefs.

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 welcomed.”

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/us/07bishop.html






At East Village Food Pantry, the Price Is a Sermon


September 28, 2010
The New York Times


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 Wednesdays.

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 to God.

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 taken hold.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/nyregion/29about.html






On Basic Religion Test, Many Doth Not Pass


September 28, 2010
The New York Times


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 O’Hair.

“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 knowledgeable.

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 schools.

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 religions.

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 groups ranked.

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 findings:

¶ 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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/us/28religion.html






For Muslims, Day of Celebration Amid Controversy


September 26, 2010
The New York Times


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 controversies.

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/nyregion/27muslim.html






A Claim of Pro-Islam Bias in Textbooks


September 22, 2010
The New York Times


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 society.

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 called it.

“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 “migrations.”

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates religious freedom in the classroom, said the resolution amounted to political grandstanding.

“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 religious groups.”

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 cuts.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/23/education/23texas.html






Fathi Osman, Scholar of Islam, Dies at 82


September 19, 2010
The New York Times


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 subject.

“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 practices.”

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 suicidal.”

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 Southern California.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/us/20osman.html






Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry


September 18, 2010
The New York Times


Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren.

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 Muslim terrorists?

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 viral.

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 bidding.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/opinion/19kristof.html






Ayatollah Speaks of Plot to Abuse Koran


September 13, 2010
The New York Times


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 Islamic Revolution.

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 said.

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 stood by.

    Ayatollah Speaks of Plot to Abuse Koran, NYT, 13.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/world/middleeast/14iran.html






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.

Scott Gibbs
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.

Imran Contractor
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.

Gail Dreyfuss
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.

Lawrence Deutsch
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.

William Nelson
West Lebanon, N.H., Sept. 6, 2010

    How America Treats Its Muslims, NYT, 12.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/13/opinion/l13muslim.html






Lucius Walker, Baptist Pastor for Peace, Dies at 80


September 11, 2010
The New York Times


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 American imperialism.

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 Communists.”

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 grandchildren.

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.”

    Lucius Walker, Baptist Pastor for Peace, Dies at 80, NYT, 11.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/us/12walker.html






Pastor Cancels Burning of Koran


September 11, 2010
The New York Times


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, 11.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/us/12jones.html






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 said.

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 said.

"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.



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 told Reuters.

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 Thatcher)

    Afghans Protest Koran Burning For Second Day, NYT, 11.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2010/09/11/news/news-us-usa-muslims-afghanistan.html






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.



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, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2010/09/11/world/international-us-usa-muslims.html






Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers’ Life


September 10, 2010
The New York Times


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 tower.

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 race.

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 employee cafeteria.

“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 north tower.

    Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers’ Life, NYT, 10.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/nyregion/11religion.html






Aghast City Disavows Pastor’s Talk of Burning Koran


September 10, 2010
The New York Times


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 Tom Petty.

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 ablaze.

“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 said.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/us/11gainesville.html






Obama Tries to Calm Tensions in Call for Tolerance


September 10, 2010
The New York Times


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 religion freely.

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 ground zero.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/us/politics/11obama.html






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. interests.

"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 Koran-burning.

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 and elsewhere.

"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 it."


(Editing by Paul Simao)

    Obama Warns Of Backlash on Koran Burning, NYT, 10.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2010/09/10/news/news-us-usa-muslims-obama.html






Afghan Protests Against Koran Burning Turn Violent


September 10, 2010
The New York Times


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 plans.

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 officials said.

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 Province.

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 condition.

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 harming civilians.”

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 disrespect.”

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 leave Afghanistan.”

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/world/asia/11afghan.html






The Music You Won’t Hear on Rosh Hashana


September 8, 2010
The New York Times


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 acceptance triumphed.

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 secular accomplishments.

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 audiences.

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 Almighty.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/09/opinion/09hoffman.html






Coverage of Koran Case Stirs Questions on Media Role


September 9, 2010
The New York Times


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 law.

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 church.

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 devil.”

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 journalistic purpose.”

“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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/10/us/10media.html






Minister Wavers on Plans to Burn Koran


September 9, 2010
The New York Times


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 figure.

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. Musri said.

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 danger.

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 moved.

“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 the question.

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 Muslim radicals.

He added: “That is the question we are now asking ourselves. We are weighing various options.”

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 reconsider.

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 Islam.

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. Jones.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/10/us/10obama.html






Obama Speaks Against Koran Burning


September 9, 2010
The New York Times
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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/09/09/us/politics/AP-US-Quran-Burning-Obama.html






Bahrain Calls Quran Burning Plans 'Shameful'


September 9, 2010
Filed at 3:11 a.m. ET
The New York Times


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 holy book.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/09/09/world/AP-Quran-Burning-Reaction.html






For High Holy Days, Rabbis Weigh Their Words on Proposed Islamic Center


September 8, 2010
The New York Times


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 safer.”

“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 is known.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/09/nyregion/09jews.html






Imam Says Moving Center Could Spur Radicals


September 8, 2010
The New York Times


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 Americans abroad.

“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 non-Muslims.”

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/09/nyregion/09mosque.html






From the Other Side of Ground Zero, Anti-Muslim Venom


September 5, 2010
The New York Times


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 3,000 people.”

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 Understanding.”

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,” he said.

    From the Other Side of Ground Zero, Anti-Muslim Venom, NYT, 5.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/nyregion/06mosque.html






American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?


September 5, 2010
The New York Times


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 Europe.

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 on.

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 its return).

“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 really scary.”

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 over.”

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/us/06muslims.html






Muslims Take to Minn. State Fair to Repair Image


September 4, 2010
Filed at 3:16 a.m. ET
The New York Times


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 Ramadan.

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 greater understanding.

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 faith.''

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, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/09/04/us/AP-US-Muslims-at-the-Fair.html






Zoning Law Aside, Mosque Projects Face Battles


September 3, 2010
The New York Times


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 ungainly acronym.

“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 Association.

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 Connecticut.

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 stands.

“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 so.

“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 center.”

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 the church.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/04/us/politics/04build.html






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?

John Arthur
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 opposite.

Brad Desch
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.

Susan Klitzman
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!

Richard Shilling
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 justice.

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, 3.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/04/opinion/l04mosque.html






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, 2.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/03/opinion/03fri1.html






New Yorkers Want Islamic Center Moved, Poll Finds


September 2, 2010
The New York Times


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 9/11.

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 evenly split.

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 Islam.

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 percent disapprove.

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 practical terms.

“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 have war.”

Marina Stefan, Dalia Sussman and Megan Thee-Brenan contributed reporting.

    New Yorkers Want Islamic Center Moved, Poll Finds, NYT, 2.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/03/nyregion/03poll.html






A Crisis in Amish Country


September 2, 2010
The New York Times


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 penetrated her.”

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 law enforcement.

“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 threatened suicide.

“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 honest.”

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 fold.)

“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, 2.9.2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/03/us/03amish.html