Just wanted to do a quick post about the breakfast event I attended Monday morning at the Council on Foreign Relations with the Iman of the controversial Islamic center. There was an air of anticipation in the room and a heavy media presence outside that made it particularly interesting among the events I go to there. I found the Iman very likeable, much as I expected considering what I’ve read about him. He recounted coming to the US (in the 60s I believe) by boat and having the traditional experience of seeing the Statue of Liberty as he approached shore. He talked about how American he feels, how much he supports and admires this country, how much of New Yorker he believes himself to be (he mentioned he is a Giants fan), and how has been praying downtown, in Tribeca, since the early 90s. He mentioned the 4 trips he has made to the Middle East on behalf of the US goverment to talk to people there about how the US is a good, welcoming place for Muslims.
There are apparently some talks going on about moving the site and he was cagey about that (“we are exploring all options”), but I hadn’t realized that they were seriously considering moving the site. I found myself agreeing with many of the things he said. “We must not let extremists define us” and “what happens here matters”–those are two of the core feelings I have about the debate surrounding the Islamic Center.
I still support the Islamic Center because I believe we must as Americans support freedom of religion without exception. But the 9/11 anniversary last weekend made me pause and reflect on how it must feel for the family members of the victims. The Imam also understood this and said they “would have done it differently” had he realized the controversy that Islamic Center was going to cause. I don’t believe the people who think he was naive (or worse) to not anticipate that. He and his community have been praying in that area for years, I don’t think they anticipated the media storm it would cause.