Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Cordoba House Symbol

by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Washington Post Writers Group
August 11, 2010

New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission was right not to designate the building at 45 Park Place, two blocks from Ground Zero, a historical landmark. The decision paves the way for the Cordoba House, the controversial Muslim-led interfaith cultural and community center that the owners intend to erect in lieu of the edifice targeted for demolition. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others who defended the plan were right to do so.

The campaign against it is the negation of what America should be about: tolerance, private property and pluralism. Many of those criticizing the plan betrayed prejudice and hatred. But others made thoughtful arguments that need to be confronted in the context of the debate about the relationship between liberal democracy and Islam.

The sensitivities of the relatives of the victims were frequently invoked. They deserve the utmost consideration. But invoking them to block the plans of the building's owners misses three points. First, a few dozen Muslims died at the World Trade Center on 9/11 too. Second, among the victims' relatives there are those who favor and those who oppose Park51, as the center will be called. Last but not least, as Mayor Bloomberg has said, you cannot override someone's property rights because of other people's perceptions without undermining private property -- and the courts were bound to safeguard that principle.