Rights and Right– Part Two

As a reminder, the end of the Anti-Defamation League’s statement on the Cordoba Mosque contains this helpful distinction between rights and right:

But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.

What’s missing in this moral judgment are many other factors, in addition to the one– the conceivable pain felt by some victims– that the ADL cites. Here are some others– some with more import than others, but all relevant:

1. The exact  location of the proposed Islamic center is morally relevant. It makes a difference whether this location is within the footprint of one of the towers; within the 16-acre World Trade Center site; or two blocks north of that site. Any moral objection to building an Islamic Center/mosque in this part of Manhattan is stronger, the closer it is to the tower footprints. The exact location is 2 blocks north of the 16-acre site. I would say: close enough to be pertinent; not close enough to carry significant moral weight.

2. While it is useful to distinguish rights (legal permissibility) from right (morally correct judgment), the two are related. The legality/illegality of the process of acquiring the property and getting necessary planning committee approval is morally relevant. This was done legally. I would say: this fact weakens the moral case against the Cordoba mosque proposal.

3. The funding for the project is morally relevant. I would say: If the Cordoba Initiative is being funded by the same people who fund Hamas and Hezbollah, this would morally de-legitimize the project.

4. The stated mission of the Islamic Center is morally relevant. Here it is: “Cordoba Initiative aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.” I would say: in the moral equation, this is compellingly on the side of the good.

5. Any spiritual connection between the 9/11 murderers and the Cordoba Initiative is morally relevant: the more distant the connection, the weaker the moral argument against the mosque location.  As in Christianity, there is a spectrum of Islamic belief and practice; and then, even beyond legitimate differences within a religion, some people do things in the name of a religion that are, in fact, diabolical. I would say: there is no spiritual connection between the 9/11 murderers and the Cordoba Initiative– the 9/11 murderers served a spirit of death; the Cordoba Initiative aims to serve a spirit of life.

6. Healing is morally relevant. What promotes healing is good; what retards healing is bad. Healing is not about feeling no pain; healing is about integrating one’s pain into one’s own life story, and using the pain in one’s own life to be able to feel the pain of others. Based on my experience of journeying with people in grief, the deep and true healing so desired by those for whom the ADL is concerned, will not be promoted or retarded in any significant way by the Cordoba mosque.

On balance, the moral case against the Cordoba mosque is, at best, weak.


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