At the top of his eponymous program yesterday, CNN's Fareed Zakaria took drastic action to protest the Anti-Defamation League's opposition to the proposed Ground Zero mosque. Zakaria, who was honored by the ADL in 2005 with the Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize, gave back his award because he was "deeply saddened" by the group's respect for the families of 9/11 victims who oppose the construction of a mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero.
"Given the position that they have taken on a core issue of religious freedom in America, I cannot in good conscience keep that award," lamented Zakaria, who hoped that distancing himself from the ADL would compel the organization to realize its "mistake" and reverse its position.
In his lengthy monologue, Zakaria vigorously defended Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's constitutional right to erect the mosque: "If this community center were being built anywhere else in the world, chances are the U.S. government would be funding it."
While Zakaria was correct to point out that strengthening ties between moderate Muslims and non-Muslims is a central focus of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he failed to realize the reason so many Americans oppose the construction of a mosque so close to Ground Zero is precisely because of its proximity to the 9/11 attacks committed by Islamic radicals.
Displaying stock footage of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference earlier in the year, Zakaria condemned "politicians who have shamelessly and shamefully capitalized on the public's wariness" about the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero.
Zakaria, eager to omit the most controversial details of the proposed construction project, uttered the word "mosque" only once is his screed, preferring the innocuous term "community center." The Newsweek columnist proceeded to paradoxically bemoan the "disinformation about this center."
A full transcript of "Fareed's Take" on the August 8 "Fareed Zakaria GPS" can be found below:
You know that ever since 9/11, the United States has been trying to engage in a battle of ideas against radical Islam. Now, America can't really get involved in a debate within Islam, so that means finding and supporting moderate Muslims. This is a cultural struggle that has been warmly supported by liberals and conservatives. In fact, many conservatives have argued that we should be engaged in a much more extensive and expensive effort to fund moderates and de-legitimize radical and violent Islam. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, there have been active efforts worldwide to support Muslims who are trying to rescue their religion from extremists, fundamentalists, and jihadists. And this has meant funding mosques, Islamic centers, imams, and community leaders who share a peaceful and pluralistic vision of Islam, except, it turns out, if they are in our own back yard.
The debate over the proposed community center to be built a few blocks away from the World Trade Center has missed this fundamentally important point. If this community center were being built anywhere else in the world, chances are the U.S. government would be funding it. The man behind it, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has spent years trying to offer a liberal interpretation of Islam. His most recent book, "What's Right With Islam is What's Right With America," argues that America is actually what an ideal Islamic society would look like because it is peaceful, tolerant, and pluralistic. His vision for Islam, in other words, is Osama bin Laden's nightmare – we should be encouraging such an Islamic center, not demonizing it.
Now, there is of course the much more fundamental issue, freedom of religion in America, which is a founding principle of this country. The most eloquent and intelligent defense of that principle came last week from New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, in an address that should be required reading in every civics class in America. There have, on the other hand, been politicians who have shamelessly and shamefully capitalized on the public's wariness. The public is wary understandably because there has been so much disinformation about this center. But perhaps the most puzzling stand was taken by the Anti- Defamation League, which was founded to support the freedom of religion. The director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman, explained that the victims of 9/11 had feelings on this matter that should be respected even if they were irrational. First of all, there were many dozens of victims of 9/11 who were Muslim. Do their feelings count? More important, are irrational feelings, prejudices, hatreds OK because those expressing them are victims or see themselves as victims? Will the ADL defend the rights of Palestinian "victims" to be anti-Semites?
I have to say I was personally deeply saddened by the ADL's stand, because five years ago the organization honored me with its Hubert Humphrey Award for First Amendment freedoms. Given the position that they have taken on a core issue of religious freedom in America, I cannot in good conscience keep that award. So this week I'm going to return to the ADL the handsome medal and the generous honorarium that came with it. I hope this might spur them to see that they have made a mistake, and to return to their historic, robust defense of freedom of religion in America, something they have subscribed to for decades and which I honor them for.