The rights of American Muslims are being questioned in other locations. Will Gingrich and Palin speak out on their behalf?
We hear a lot these days about how this famous conservative, or that one over there, has nothing against Islam.
We hear that the opponents of Cordoba House, a Muslim community center planned for a site two blocks from Ground Zero, don’t question the right of American Muslims to worship where they choose—that, in fact, the Newt Gingriches and Sarah Palins of this country are all about tolerance and the Constitution. They’re just asking for compassion for those grieving the losses of 9/11.
Well, I’m reminded of a passage with which both Mr. Gingrich and Ms. Palin should be familiar: “You shall know them by their fruits.”
In the New Testament, Jesus warns against false prophets, explaining how to judge truth-tellers from snake oil salesmen: How do they act? What are the fruits of their labors? “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes,” Jesus asks, “or figs from thistles?”
If Mr. Gingrich, Ms. Palin, or any who claim their problem with the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is not one of religion but location want to prove themselves, I have a simple suggestion: Come with me to Tennessee. Or California. Or Wisconsin.
Because there are mosque projects on hold in all those places, too—held back by hate, pure and simple.
In Murfreesboro, hundreds of people recently marched in protest of plans to build a Muslim community center. In Temecula, protestors have picketed the Muslim community’s Friday prayers. In Sheboygan, a group of pastors have led a fight to keep Muslims from establishing a mosque in an abandoned health-food store.
Are these protests also a result of the Islamic community’s insensitivity to the larger community’s needs? Why haven’t Ms. Palin and Mr. Gingrich defended the rights of Muslims across the country if they’re so comfortable with Islam?
Unlike many who speak so authoritatively about the Manhattan neighborhood for which Cordoba House is planned, I actually live here. The gaping hole of Ground Zero lies just outside my windows; when I leave my apartment, I pass by Ladder 10 and Engine 10, a firehouse that lost many that horrific day. Mosque opponents are speaking not of some abstract stretch of land, but of my home.
And in my home, I will not stand for fear-mongering or hate speech.
The blocks around Ground Zero make up a neighborhood blessed by a dizzying diversity—of colors, faiths and political opinion. My neighbors are an embodiment of the American ideal, a collection of individuals who don’t have to conform to the expectations of others but are free to flourish and thrive in all their humanity under the protection of that finest of American documents: the Constitution.
And in this neighborhood, of all places, we cannot honor the memories of those lost by spitting on the very values that make us a nation. We do no honor to our dead—many of whom were innocent Muslims—by making a scapegoat of an entire religion and the 1.5 billion people who follow it.
As Americans, we have a sacred responsibility to defend the most vulnerable among us and minorities who are under attack. When we choose to stand silent in the face of injustice, we become accomplices. When we join hands, we perfect our union.
For years now, I’ve been intimately involved in cross-cultural and interfaith advocacy with my partner Rabbi Marc Schneier. I’ve watched rabbis and imams work together to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and Jewish and Muslim communities “twin” with each other to perform community service. I’ve seen pastors bow their heads in mosques and heard Muslims talk about the Bhagavad Gita. I’ve seen how beautiful are the fruits of cooperation.
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen,” we read in Leviticus, a book holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the spirit of that verse, I call on Ms. Palin and Mr. Gingrich to join me in fighting anti-Muslim hate-speech across the nation.
If the Cordoba House protestors aren’t willing to come with me to California, Wisconsin or Tennessee, I’m going to have to judge them by the fruits of their labor and call on them to do something else: Stay out of my backyard. Because they’re the only ones posing a real danger to it.
Mr. Simmons is chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a U.N. goodwill ambassador, and co-founder of Def Jam Recordings.