In a rousing address before a predominantly Muslim audience Tuesday night, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg reaffirmed his commitment to the controversial Islamic cultural center near the former site of the World Trade Center.
Bloomberg, who hosted the annual Ramadan Iftar dinner at his official Gracie Mansion residence, did not back away from his position as the most vocal and public defender of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque." If anything, he couched his defense of the project in even deeper moral and political terms, calling the Cordoba House a telling illustration of intrinsic American principles and a valuable tool in the war on terror.
From Bloomberg's prepared remarks:
But if we say that a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.
We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.
Islam did not attack the World Trade Center -- Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American. Today we are not at war with Islam -- we are at war with Al-Qaeda and other extremists who hate freedom.
The members of our military are men and women at arms -- battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values, which have always inspired people around the world. But if we do not practice here at home what we preach abroad -- if we do not lead by example - we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.
While some of the cultural center's other early supporters have backed away from their defense of the project, Bloomberg has emerged as perhaps the least fickle of its supporters. And he's been hailed for that defense -- locally, nationally and among the commentariat -- even though a majority of the public opposes the Cordoba House's proposed location.
Addressing those calling for a compromise location for the center, Bloomberg offered the logical rejoinder. "The question will then become, how big should the 'no-mosque zone' around the World Trade Center be?" he remarked. "There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it too, be moved?"
However the debate ends, of course, there will be hard feelings. Still, the Mayor ended his remarks with an appeal to the lessons of history.
I know that many in this room are disturbed and dispirited by the debate. But it is worth keeping some perspective on the matter. The first colonial settlers came to these shores seeking religious liberty and the founding fathers wrote a constitution that guaranteed it. They made sure that in this country the government would not be permitted to choose between religions or favor one over another.
Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American.
UPDATE: Video of Bloomberg's speech is below.