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August 25, 2010

Park51: Ten Year Old Law Trumps Religious Freedom Debate

If Muslims expect to be perceived as peace loving people of consciousness, piety, and worthy of being shining examples of the Islamic faith - let not one of them side with the President or even myself, but with the knowledge that, as Muslims, respecting the area of Manhattan known as 'Ground Zero' is the least we can do as one of the most significant demonstrations of good faith, charity and above all, the utmost compassion. After all, isn't the Muslim community yearning to be treated with the same qualities?

Aishah Schwartz
PRLog (Aug. 25, 2010) MWA-Net—It is most certainly regrettable at best, that certain television and news networks and certain politicians—Republican and Democrat—have latched onto this paranoia, this 'fear', of Muslims in the United States—more broadly referred to as Islamophobia—for economic and political gain ahead of November's midterm congressional elections, using Park51, Islam and members of the Muslim community as their whipping post.

However, in rushing to the pulpit waving the U.S. Constitution in one hand, and a microphone in the other to defend the wisdom of Park51 organizers to construct a 15-story mosque and cultural center on property encompassing the area of the collapsed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, a/k/a 'Ground Zero', members of the Muslim community might not realize they've been unwittingly duped into sabotaging nine years of image repair, fence-mending and dialogue efforts.

Yes, indeed, Islamophobia is a growing problem in the United States. However, in the case of Park51, rather than jumping in and taking the religious freedom bait, which the Islamophobes knew the Muslim community would do, our leaders should have paused, consulted more closely among and better organized their response to the ensuing attack. But they jumped out of the starting gate like horses at a race track without fully grasping the significance of the defeat already dealt to the opposition when the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9-0 against granting historic protection on the Burlington Coat Factory building and land where the $100 million center is proposed to be built. The decision, made August 3, is described as being the final hurdle in the quest for approval.

This approval was made based on a Republican sponsored law called the 'Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act', crafted to address a common problem often ignored by the courts: local government bodies using zoning authority to prevent religious institutions from moving in or expanding their operations.

The law protects the right of Muslims to establish mosques, even where such a building might be unwelcome.

The law says, "No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution," unless it meets very strict conditions. Nor may any government inflict a regulation that discriminates "on the basis of religion or religious denomination."

New York City could have invoked its landmarking power to kill the project, but thanks to the 2000 law, a court challenge was destined to be lost. The commission did everyone a favor on August 3 by ensuring that the debate would lose wind sooner rather than later.

Which brings us back to the issue of reflecting on when our actions (or decision not to act), cause the greater harm; or have the greatest hope for improving an issue as near to epidemic proportions as Islamophobia.

The writing was on the wall when the Park51 organizers chose the Burlington Coat Factory site for Park51; a location rife with lingering sensitivity, pain, anguish, and the memory of devastating loss.

And now, because so many rushed so quickly in defense of the religious freedom outcry, that was already guaranteed by law, rather than pausing and tapping into their collective wisdom in deciding how to deal with the newest Islamophobic attack on their community, the perceived gains the Muslim community had worked so hard to nurture in dispelling the misconceptions and distrust generally perceived by non-Muslim U.S. citizens toward Muslims has been dealt a tenuous blow.

All because our mainstream Muslim leadership jumped to the microphone to gather its flock, whom they knew would blindly heed their call to rally against Islamophobia via Religious Freedom. Yes, we should abhor Islamophobia, but greater wisdom should have been exercised in determining the most beneficial position to assume with regard to Park51.

It is not unrealistic to consider that Park51 organizers were confident from the onset that their plan would get as far as it has today—the law was already in their favor—all they had to do was be patient and ride out the storm. A U.S. State Department funded tour of the Middle East would go a long way in keeping one Park51 organizer out of the cross-fire.

Conspiracy theories aside, this is what the American public generally understands about 9/11; the people responsible for hijacking the airplanes were Muslim, their religion was Islam, and 3,000 people died in downtown Manhattan when they strategically and intentionally flew two airplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

And now they know that Muslims, waving the United States Constitution and heralding U.S. Law have landed once again, only this time on hallowed ground.

I read a comment yesterday that said, "I have no idea what the Burlington Coat Factory is." There are likely many who are unsure about the significance of the Burlington Coat Factory/Park51. It is often said that an image is worth 1,000 words so in the interest of facilitating continued dialogue and understanding, I embarked upon creating an image file that would, in less than a thousand words, allow people to understand what sometimes only an image can convey.


The Burlington Coat Factory is on the property that Park51 organizers have purchased for their proposed 15-story mosque and cultural center. As you can see from the photo included with this article, despite protests to the contrary the building is, indeed, on property encompassing the plume of ash and debris that was once the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and tragically, human lives. Thus, the argument that the area, also known as 'hallowed ground'—or worthy of profound respect—is not part of Ground Zero, has no merit.

August 23, 2010

Park51: Here is the Fruit of Your Labor...


Is the wisdom used by organizers of the Park51 project in choosing a location within such close proximity to Ground Zero, representative of the wisdom the nation's Muslim community wants to see in members of its leadership?

PRLog – Aug. 23, 2010 (MWA-Net)Anti-Muslim Rally at Ground Zero — [VIDEO] It is most certainly regrettable at best, that certain television networks, news networks and certain politicians — Republican and Democrat — have latched onto this paranoia, this fear, of Muslims in the United States, for economic and political gain ahead of November's midterm congressional elections.

Even more disappointing is the fact that an organization, in the name of Islam, played its part in giving ammunition to the very enemies it knew were ready, willing and able to use the Park51 project as a catalyst for the Islamophobic war against Islam now threatening to burn like a wild fire in our own country.

This past Saturday President Obama was asked about the issue during his trip to Florida. He said, "I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there."

I respect the President's decision, but thank him for planting the seed. And I will question the wisdom of the location for construction of Park51.

Is the wisdom used by organizers of the Park51 project in choosing a location within such close proximity to Ground Zero representative of the wisdom the nation's Muslim community wants to see in members of its leadership?

There are members within mainstream US Muslim organizations that don't like what I have to say, but I do not recall having given any one of them permission to speak on my behalf - nor am I aware of there being any campaign nominating and electing a single one of them as being representative of the national Muslim voice.

Cordoba/ASMA leadership may very well continue to insist on and indeed succeed in building on the property chosen; but I ask again, at what price?

The backlash of this decision will ripple through the Muslim community for years, and our youth will be counted among the casualties. Where will the Cordoba/ASMA leadership be then; home safe in their beds or perhaps on holiday in Qatar or Bahrain.

Over on YouTube the anti-Muslim Rally at Ground Zero has already been viewed is video has been viewed nearly 50,000 times.

Meanwhile, on a Mideast tour funded by the U.S. State Department, Park51 organizer Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said in Sunday's AP report that the attention generated by the project is "positive" adding that he took heart from the dispute, saying "the fact we are getting this kind of attention is a sign of success."

In a March 2002 PBS interview Rauf also said, "we are accountable to God for our actions."

Park51: Sharia or the U.S. Constitution
Park 51: Here is the Fruit of Your Labor
Park51: Yes, I Get Mail
Park 51 Organizers Missed Opportunity to Promote Tolerance and Understanding
Park 51/'Ground Zero Mosque' - The Crux of the Matter
MWA Director Commends NY Governor in Step Toward Compromise on Ground Zero

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Aishah Schwartz, an American Muslim published writer and activist, serves as Founder and Director of the Washington, D.C.-based Muslimah Writers Alliance (MWA), established in 2006. She is also a retired 17-year career litigation legal assistant. As an activist her focus leans toward the rights of Muslim women and the plight of the Palestinian people affected by the Israeli imposed illegal embargo on Gaza.

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August 21, 2010

Park51 - Yes, I get mail

Members of mainstream US Muslim organizations don't have to accept my position on the matter; I do not recall having given any one of them permission to speak on my behalf - nor am I aware of there being any campaign nominating and electing a single one of them as being representative of the national Muslim voice. 

PRLog (Aug. 21, 2010) – I fully embrace the fact that I may not be on the popular side of the proverbial fence regarding the current proposed location of the Cordoba/ASMA cultural center and media dubbed 'Ground Zero Mosque', now known as Park51, but I have not expressed my views with the objective of winning a popularity contest.

It is also not my contention, as is that of others in the debate, that the project should be scrapped. On the contrary! I simply believe that it was not necessary to exacerbate an already inflamed climate of Islamophobia by choosing a site for the construction that would be hard-pressed to escape the scrutiny of those who would conspire against its intended purpose. However, the decision was made, and now the Muslim community at large will live with backlash that simply did not have to happen in the first place.

The responsibility of being peacemakers is, indeed a great one. However, antagonizing the non-Muslim community and then invoking the U.S. Constitution in defense vs. simply making a non-confrontational decision in the first place, does not mean that I have to accept the location decision as being right; therefore, I have spoken.

And yes, I get mail. If you'll forgive the typographical and grammatical errors, I will share them as-is. Here are just a few, for the sake of brevity.

Park 51 Organizers Missed Opportunity to Promote Tolerance and Understanding

Perhaps it is time for members of the Muslim community to own some of the responsibility for the lack of tolerance and bigotry hurled against them. It's not too late.


PRLog (Aug. 21, 2010) – If Park 51 decision makers within the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), had used a moral compass based on the principle of compassion so highly touted in the Islamic faith, as a guide in making the location decision for their cultural center of understanding, peace and harmony, the nation would not be in the uproar it is today.

They could have taken the high road.

The history of the site, formerly the Burlington Coat Factory, in relation to 9/11, was a known fact. It had been grazed and was heavily damaged by one of the jet liners that crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center; information that substantiates the confrontational nature of the choice made when purchasing the property.

Information that has now been exploited for the benefit of raising the $100 million needed to complete the 13-story cultural center and mosque.

And at what cost?

August 19, 2010

Park 51/'Ground Zero Mosque' - The Crux of the Matter

Bottom line? Business as usual; it's all about the money.

As an American Muslim citizen and activist, I wholeheartedly agree with and do not deny the right of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) and the Cordoba Initiative, who purchased the building at 51 Park Ave. for a reported $4.85M, to do with it as they like; in accordance with applicable laws.

However, given that it was known that this building was grazed by one of the jet liners that crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and that the information - being the potent symbolism that 'became a compelling rationale for the project' - was insufficient to cause the organizers to re-evaluate the choice of location for their Islamic cultural center and mosque, further substantiates the confrontational nature of the choice made when purchasing the property. 

The estimated cost of constructing the 13-story project is reported to be upwards of $100M. What better way to garner support from donors than to incite them into contributing monetarily to the project by choosing a site that would inevitably become controversial - politically or otherwise - leading ultimately to mainstream media attention. Ka-ching. Free advertising.

At what cost?

August 18, 2010

Muslimah Writers Alliance Director, Aishah Schwartz, Commends NY Governor for Supporting Compromise on Ground Zero Mosque


PRLog - Aug. 17, 2010 - WASHINGTON, DC (MWA-NET) — Late Tuesday afternoon Reuters reported that New York Governor David Paterson plans to discuss a compromise that would relocate the Muslim cultural center, dubbed by media as the 'Ground Zero Mosque'. Muslimah Writers Alliance Director, Aishah Schwartz, an American Muslim, weighs in on the announcement.

"On the morning of September 11, 2001, from the sitting room of my downtown Washington, D.C. apartment, Good Morning America was interrupted for breaking news. I stood frozen in time watching in utter despair as the ensuing tragedy unfolded.

"I remember the feeling of brain numbing disbelief.

"I remember standing on the 12th floor rooftop of the D.C. office building where I worked at the time, watching the billowing black clouds of smoke rise up over the Pentagon.

"I remember evenings walking the Coast Guard patrolled sidewalks of our neighborhood with my daughter, both of us restless and unable to sleep.

"I was born and raised in the United States and I am proud to be an American. But as a Muslim, it is my hope and prayer that voices of reason prevail in the final decision of where to construct the Cordoba Initiative's project, God-willing, and the parties involved in this can agree to compromise in choosing a less offensive location. For everyone's sake.

"Regardless of who is to blame for the tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001, the currently proposed location for the Cordoba Initiative's project will never be viewed as anything less than an affront to the survivors, and those who lost loved ones on that ill-fated autumn day in New York.

"Despite the fact that 2010 marks the ninth anniversary of what has been described as the most dramatic attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, it is clear from recent events surrounding the proposed construction project, that painful sentiments run deep and hearts are far from healed. These are wounds that will only deepen if construction proceeds as planned. And history will forever brand the surely well-intended Cordoba Initiative's concept as, the 'Ground Zero Mosque'.

August 09, 2010