It seems that there are two distinct issues to consider with regard to the recent proposal by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to build an Islamic community center (including a mosque) a mere two blocks away from Ground Zero:
(1) Does Rauf have a legal right to build a mosque there?
(2) Should Rauf build a mosque there?
With regard to the first question, I think the answer is yes. In fact, I would say that the real question to be asked here is not whether Rauf has a legal right to build a mosque on private property, but whether the government has a right to stop him from doing so. The burden of proof is not on Rauf to demonstrate that the right is his. The burden of proof is on the government to demonstrate that, in this unique situation, normal procedures do not apply. The irony of the fact that many conservatives have opposed Rauf from a legal standpoint is that they are, thereby, arguing for a much larger role for the government than conservatives normally want. We do not want the cure to be worse than the disease.
There are certain situations where the government may restrict building projects to preserve a site of national significance. I am thankful that entrepreneurs cannot build Wal-Marts at National Parks or on historic battlefields that are protected by the government. But the site in question has not been given such protections (keep in mind: it is not Ground Zero itself but is in close proximity to Ground Zero). As long as it is private property, the government does not have the power to stop this proposal, nor should we ask the government to assume that kind of power. The last thing we need is government taking more power that it should not be taking for itself.
With regard to the second question, should Rauf build this mosque? Here I think the answer is no. In my opinion, such an act is deeply insensitive, divisive, and arrogant. Rauf sees himself as a bridge builder (so he claims), but he must be the most tone deaf person in the world not to see what he is doing here. As Charles Krauthammer recently argued, most people would have no problem at all with the building of a Japanese cultural center, but building one at Pearl Harbor would be terribly inappropriate. How much more is this the case here, when Islamic terrorists continue to seek our destruction, while Japan has long since become our ally? How many Muslims around the world will view a mosque in close proximity to ground zero as a sign of Islamic victory over America?
If Rauf goes ahead with this project, there is only one way that I can envision it being helpful rather than harmful. If Rauf builds an Islamic cultural center that proclaims a message that is crystal clear, and blatantly so, that it repudiates all forms of terrorism, that it anathematizes those Muslims who participate in terrorist activity (whether through acts of terror or through support and safe harbor of terrorists), and that it proudly upholds American ideals, then such a thing could be good in the proposed location. But what I am talking about would be so sanitized by the West that it may be unrecongizable as a true Islamic cultural center. If Rauf wants to provide a clear and total repudiation of all America-hating forms of Islam, then I say have at it. But what he would be doing in that case would be burning bridges with much of the Middle Eastern world in order to build bridges here.
And that’s the pickle he’s in right now. If he wants to be a bridge builder between Americans and those who are America’s sworn enemies, he is pursuing a fool’s errand. The only way to build real bridges is to side with one or the other. My hope is that he will side with us and encourage the rest of the Muslim world to turn against those who want to annihilate us. Nothing short of total repudiation of Islamic terrorists will be good enough for this Islamic cultural center to be of any value whatsoever to this country. Unless it is his goal to do something like this, Rauf should go “build bridges” somewhere else.