The demands of my job directing the American Studies program at Rutgers-Newark have dramatically reduced my free time for posting on "Greater New York." However, the controversy over building a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan rouses me to post--in praise of Mayor Bloomberg and in condemnation of Governor Paterson.
Mayor Bloomberg got it right: this is a civil rights issue in a city that thrives on tolerating differences. Back off from either of these and we'll be in a terrible place. The terrorists who staged 9/11 will have scared us into tearing up the Constitution and frightening us into abandoning the open, welcoming spirit that has long made New York a destination and beacon for people all around the world.
To his shame, Governor Paterson has not risen to the same heights. He acknowledges the constitutionality of the community center, but he understands the pain of the families who want to see it elsewhere. To ease their pain, he's willing to consider using state land to build the center elsewhere.
Mr. Governor, what part of the constitution and the history of our city do you misunderstand? In the days of Jim Crow, if someone got uncomfortable eating alongside a black person at lunch counter, would you have offered to build a separate lunch counter to spare them their trauma? Of course not. You would recognize that constitutional rights, like freedom of association and religion, aren't things to be bargained with. Stand up for the Muslim community center in lower Manhattan.