Why Park Fifty One is Park Fifty None
I attended Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf’s talk titled Islam, Tolerance and Pluralism in America at the Dubai School of Government (DSG) on Tuesday. Imam Abdul-Rauf is the man behind Park 51 - previously named Cordoba House, a 13-storey community center that will include a mosque.
I was seated by his side at Iftar, spoke to him briefly and heard him chat with DSG’s executive president, Nabil Al Yousef and listened to Abdul-Rauf’s lecture. Prior to attending the talk, I had read about the project, heard him defend it on a radio interview, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin’s criticisms and Keith Olbermann and Jon Stewart’s defenses.
He was successful in demonstrating how Islam had a lot of the values that the United States was found upon. This included recognition of property, anti-slavery rules and religious freedom. Beyond that unfortunately, Abdul-Rauf failed to be specific, clear and concise, both, during his comment and his Q&A session.
Citing the restoration of a synagogue Lebanon with Hezbollah’s blessing, I asked him if he thought Lebanese who had lost loved ones during the Israeli invasion of 2006 could equally oppose it for the same reason over 70% of New Yorkers oppose Park 51. I asked him if he thought that maybe it would hurt their feelings, that maybe it was too soon and that maybe what’s more beneficial to interfaith dialogue is to just have it first and pave the way for such centers. He responded vaguely, taking me through stories of olden days and closed finally by saying that time was running out; I was very disappointed by his answer.
My thoughts: He failed to show any form of empathy or understanding. Didn’t even mention 9/11 or Israeli invasion once in his response.
Among many other things, someone else asked him if he thought that renaming the project Park 51 from Cordoba House added “fuel to fire” and whether the project would be relocated or not. Abdul-Rauf said that Cordoba House was a temporary title and that a branding exercise resulted with Park 51 being chosen. With respect to the future of Park 51, he said the plans are being “cooked in the kitchen”; I was even more disappointed by his response to this one than I was with the one to mine.
My thoughts: Cooked in the kitchen? We have cooks now? Wasn’t this supposed to be just a community center? Bad choice of words Imam Abdul-Rauf.
Why I don’t support Park 51:
// The team behind Park 51 has effectively failed to be transparent and consistent about the center. This will add to the clichés that the extreme right propagates about Islam often.
// Abdul-Rauf seems adamant on moving ahead with the project and is happy to make it the battle ground for Islam and the west as it could be.
// Park 51 has committed to not accepting any money from non-American groups, Alas his Middle East tour is poorly timed; especially the GCC part. This is a community center in Lower Manhattan by American (Muslims), why is he involving Arabs and others Muslims in the conversation?
// My impression is – yes this the part where I will really judge Abdul-Rauf – that the Imam is interested in promoting inter-faith dialogue but wants to the own the conversation. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had aspiration to create the equivalent of a Muslims AIPAC – which isn’t a bad idea at all it’s just that he isn’t saying that at all.
Though Park 51 can’t be stopped from moving ahead, I think it shouldn’t. If it is opened it will resurrect a lot of Islamo-phobic sentiment that the net effect of the center’s contribution to dialogue would be negative. He says we don’t have much time to promote inter-faith dialogue and I agree but I think Park 51 would waste time, not gain it.
I believe inter-faith dialogue is very important for the future of a world we all share but this communication of this center's needs has been too mishandled by it's backers already.
PR bit: With the right message - about how he an American patriot and doesn't want to to divide his country - Abdul-Rauf could cancel the project and come out on top and in a better position to promote inter-faith dialogue than he'd ever be with the center.