The Ground Zero mosque – what US could learn from Israel

Daniel Gordis, writing in the Jerusalem Post

In its basic form, the Ground Zero mosque debate boils down to a conflict between two competing values – American freedom of religion versus the sensitivities of the families of the victims of 9/11.

The freedom-of-religion argument suggests that if Jews sought to build a synagogue at Ground Zero (or anywhere else, for that matter), they would be within their rights. That’s the American way. The opposing view suggests that while not every Catholic was guilty in the Holocaust, and not every Muslim perpetrated the crimes of 9/11, sensitivities still matter. Pope John Paul II had the decency to force the Carmelite nuns out of Auschwitz, and Muslim leaders, too, ought to relocate their project.

Similarly, the mutual accusations are parallel: If you are opposed to the mosque, you are an Islamophobic racist. And if you’re in favor of it, you’re simply insensitive to the pain of those who lost loved ones in the attack.

But we Israelis have learned from our experience that matters are more complicated. One need not be racist or Islamophobic to be concerned about the mosque. For life in our region has taught us that the first necessary step to defending yourself is acknowledging that someone else is out to destroy you.

In the suburban, well-educated, politically and Jewishly liberal America in which I grew up, we didn’t use the label “enemy.” “Enemy” was a dirty word, because it implied the immutability of conflict. Yes, there were people who fought us, but only because we hadn’t yet arrived at a fair resolution of our conflict. We needed to understand them, so we could then resolve the conflicts that divided us.

I still recall being jarred, when we made aliya, by the matter-of-factness with which Israelis use the word “enemy.” But it wasn’t a judgment or an accusation. It was simply a fact: There are people out to destroy our state, who seek to kill us and our children. And as the intifada later amply demonstrated, they did not yearn for our understanding or our friendship. They wanted our demise.

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