Latest bogus right-wing reason to oppose Park 51: Muslims have made no effort to promote tolerance

Sarah Palin seems to have invented a new reason to oppose Park 51, the planned Islamic community center in New York City. On Monday's edition of Fox News' On the Record, Palin claimed that New York City mosques haven't promoted “tolerance” and “acceptance of differing views” since 9-11, so she doesn't “buy” that Park 51's organizers are trying to promote tolerance and acceptance by choosing a location several blocks from Ground Zero.

On Fox & Friends this morning, Peter Johnson Jr. echoed this argument:

JOHNSON: It's said now that the Cordoba Initiative -- this mosque near Ground Zero -- is designed to build bridges between different faiths, to build bridges between those affected by 9-11. But the question becomes, why haven't those bridges been designed or erected in the nine years since 9-11? Where have those bridges been? And so to say, we intend to do this, we're going to do this, it falls, I think, on deaf ears sometimes because Americans say, well, where has the outreach been before, where has the effort been to bring people of all faiths together on this issue and have a dialogue.

This is nonsense. As The New York Times has reported, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, the man leading the Park 51 initiative, has himself been “described as having built a career preaching tolerance and interfaith understanding.” The Times has also noted that Rauf “meets regularly with Christian and Jewish leaders, not only to forge a common front but also to explain his belief that Islamic terrorists do not come from another moral universe -- that they arise from oppressive societies that he feels Washington had a hand in creating.”

And if Palin or Johnson bothered to do just a little digging before launching these baseless claims, they would have discovered numerous specific examples of Rauf promoting -- in Palin's words -- “tolerance” and “acceptance of differing views.”

For example:

  • The Denver Post reported in September 2002 that Rauf regularly invited rabbis and priests to attend his New York City mosque's Friday prayers. [accessed via Nexis]
  • According to a September 2002, Denver Post article, Rauf told congregants at his mosque: “I can confidently assert that I am closer to my Jewish and Christian brothers here a [sic] than the Muslim militants carrying a narrow view.” [accessed via Nexis]
  • The Journal News in Westchester County, NY, noted in September 2003 that Rauf participated in a seminar discussing “shared history among Christianity, Judaism and Islam and how the followers of these religions can build mutual understanding.” Here's how The Journal News described the event:

“One Root, Many Branches” featured short talks from clerics of the three faiths, then a discussion on religious tolerance, violence and how Islam will adapt to extremist or secular challenges it is facing around the world. How Islam ultimately copes with current events unfolding in many parts of the Muslim world will have global repercussions, one of the panelists said. [accessed via Nexis]

  • In September 2005, The Associated Press reported that Rauf spoke at an interfaith panel at Notre Dame. The AP reported of the event: “People who believe that religion can be used to bring people together instead of dividing them need to make their voices heard, speakers at a University of Notre Dame forum said Thursday.”
  • The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote: “I know Feisal Abdul Rauf; I've spoken with him at a public discussion at the 96th street mosque in New York about interfaith cooperation.”
  • Rauf has also worked with FBI agents to present a “view of Islam that avoids stereotypes.” The Daily News reported on March 11, 2003, that Rauf spoke to FBI agents “as part of an FBI effort to present agents who are the ground troops in the war against terrorism with a view of Islam that avoids stereotypes.” [accessed via Nexis]

Park 51's mission statement clearly reflects the kind outreach Rauf has promoted since 9-11. Its mission, in part, notes that it will "[c]ultivate and embrace neighborly relations between all New Yorkers, fostering a spirit of civic participation and an awareness of common needs and opportunities" and "[e]ncourage open discussion and dialogue on issues of relevance to New Yorkers, Americans and the international reality of our interconnected planet."

We've seen the right-wing media push numerous falsehoods and vicious smears in their opposition to the proposed Islamic community center. And like those, this latest desperate attack pushed by Palin and Johnson fails miserably.