“I want it built on Ground Zero. Why? Because I believe in an America that protects those who are the victims of hate and prejudice,” Moore writes in an open letter on his website. “I believe in an America that says you have the right to worship whatever God you have, wherever you want to worship.
“And I believe in an America that says to the world that we are a loving and generous people and if a bunch of murderers steal your religion from you and use it as their excuse to kill 3,000 souls, then I want to help you get your religion back. And I want to put it at the spot where it was stolen from you,” he added.
The filmmaker is also urging his supporters to contribute money to help fund the controversial project and is pledging to match up to $10,000 in donations.
Former Jimmy Carter speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg thinks it’s a swell idea too, and I’ve actually floated it before myself as the logical extension of the pro-mosque side’s arguments. They like to point out that it’s arbitrary to say that two blocks away is “too close” since, in theory, any distance can be dismissed as “too close.” (A point rarely mentioned: Mosques have been built elsewhere in the city since 9/11 with little objection.) But the counterpoint works too: If two blocks isn’t too close, why not put it on Ground Zero itself? If the answer is that that space belongs to all Americans and shouldn’t be monopolized by any private interest, no problem. There’s plenty of room there for the Freedom Tower and Cordoba House.
It’s on that question, I think, where you’d actually start to see mosque supporters split. Some, like Moore and Hertzberg, back Park 51 because they consider it a moderate rebuke to jihadis and/or a tribute to tolerance at the scene of lethal intolerance — that is to say, the project has everything to do with 9/11. Others make the “two blocks away” argument, emphasize that it’s not actually a mosque but a community center (with a mosque in it), note that there are strip clubs nearby too so the vicinity can’t be sacred ground — in other words, that the project really has nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, both arguments are made interchangeably as supporters’ rhetorical needs demand. Just this morning, Rauf himself said that Park51 isn’t on hallowed ground because, after all, it’s two blocks away from the site. But here’s what he told the NYT last year:
The location was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims who bought the building in July. A presence so close to the World Trade Center, “where a piece of the wreckage fell,” said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric leading the project, “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.”
“We want to push back against the extremists,” added Imam Feisal, 61.
It has nothing and everything to do with 9/11, simultaneously. My hunch is that if any mischievous pollster tries asking Moore’s question — why not a mosque right on Ground Zero itself? — the people in the “two blocks away” crowd will peel off and only the “important symbol of tolerance” crew will be left. The numbers would be interesting, as would the explanations from the former group for their change of heart. In fact, Nicholas Kristof, who’s written a bunch of columns recently for the NYT about the GZM and intolerance, was asked that question point blank by Hugh Hewitt a few weeks ago. Why not a mosque even closer to Ground Zero? Here’s his very tolerant response: “If it were actually at Ground Zero, I mean, I think that whatever is at Ground Zero really should be closely scrutinized, and you know, I’d have to think about what really should be at Ground Zero. So I would draw the distinction as what is at Ground Zero, and then what is, you know, a couple of blocks away.” Poll it, Rasmussen!