By Barry Rubin
Readers of my column know that I have written repeatedly that the “Ground Zero” mosque would never be built for reasons having nothing to do with politics. The main financiers and the imam have gotten into one legal problem after another and Allstate Insurance Company is now launching a major lawsuit for fraud against one of them. As we approach the tenth anniversary of September 11, it’s clear that there isn’t going to be a mosque next to the World Trade Center attack site.
From the start, it seemed to me that the whole project was designed as something of a scam by shady characters to get lots of money from the contributions of the Saudis and others. In other words, the controversial and triumphalist aspects of the mosque were a public relations’ scheme designed to win millions of dollars from the Muslim-majority world’s millionaires. When the money didn’t materialize–the controversy didn’t help matters–the whole thing fell apart.
Should the mosque have been built? I have no strong opinion on that issue (especially since I knew nothing would ever actually be built). My father was a builder and I spent a lot of time around construction sites learning the trade in my youth, also gettingto know about how to put together a development project and what it takes to get zoning permissions. This project could never have gotten off the ground without the fear of being called Islamophobic making politicians either tremble or see an opportunity to burnish their Politically Correct credentials. But the scheme was such a mess that even with these special privileges it could never actually fly.
What should be most interesting about the whole affair aside from the political battle about whether or not a mosque should be built on that spot (freedom of religion versus respect for the victims, and so on). At any rate, you already know about all the various arguments on both sides.
Here’s the real story:
A group of people with a terrible record as developers who didn’t develop, businessmen who didn’t pay their bills, and slumlords put together a very badly designed project that would never otherwise have gotten zoning and other permits. In other words, the true story is how city officials gave special privileges and the media gave sweetheart coverage because people were Muslims building a mosque, not that there was discrimination against Muslims who wanted to build a mosque. Remember, in the end the mosque project got everything its advocates wanted and yet it still wasn’t built.
It is the story of how the corrupt can play a system built around special privileges for special categories of people, in which fear of being labelled some variety of “racist” overrides the proper enforcement of the law.
Someone should write the detailed story of the whole affair from that standpoint.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). GLORIA Center site is http://www.gloria-center.org.His articles published originally outside of PajamasMedia are at http://www.gloria-center.org