On August 31, 2010 AFSC's New York Office along with Friends from New York Yearly Meeting released the following statement about the proposed Islamic Community Center near the site of the World Trade Center towers:

People of all faiths share histories of intolerance and persecution. In the early decades of our existence, Quakers were feared and the practice of our faith was against the law. We were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and executed in England and in the colonies that later became the United States. We recall these shared struggles for acceptance when religious freedom is threatened. We are taught by our faith and experiences to embrace understanding and compassion and the quest for truth. We bring a commitment to peace and the use of non-violent means to resolve conflicts.

We were here in New York City on September 11th, 2001, and mourned with the loved ones of individuals of all faiths who were killed or injured, reaching out to that of God in each and every one. We experienced the loss of a sense of security and well-being. We, too, experience the pain and grief that remain. We have worked steadfastly with victims in the aftermath, and have challenged actions that lead to further loss of life. We concern ourselves with the threat of harm when those on different sides of disputes cast “the other” in the role of the despised and deny their voice, their humanity, and their rights. We call now, as we did then, for the end to the cycle of violence.

The controversy over Park51 reflects our own human condition. We need to look unflinchingly at this less-than-inspirational image of ourselves and use it to gain wisdom, rather than distracting ourselves by creating further discord. The discord reveals that although some have mended, for others, wounds remain unhealed. Honest differences continue over whether retaliation is justified and is a precursor to strength and security; or whether retaliation is a futile act inviting the escalation of hostilities and greater forms of violence. Differences also continue over whether skepticism and distrust are necessary and valued as a way to protect ourselves; or whether optimism and trust are productive values to act upon. As Friends organizations we adhere strongly to the latter worldview in each of these instances.

Of the possibility of an Islamic Community Center near the site of the World Trade Towers, or a different place of the Center’s Board’s choosing, we harbor no suspicion. We dare to imagine the site of the World Trade Towers surrounded by the evidence of our nation’s commitment to religious freedom, and our nation’s pluralism. We welcome it alongside current mosques and other houses of worship, and other interfaith and community centers near the site and throughout our city. We believe Park51 is a commendable plan that offers the community of New York City a site for recreation, exhibition and performing arts, education, interfaith opportunities, prayer, and global engagement. The Center’s proponents are extending themselves in friendship, with a vision of a vibrant and diverse interfaith community and nation.

The controversy surrounding the Center must not further threaten individuals, our city, or our nation. As disparate as non-Muslim opinions may be on the building of the Center, so too may be the feelings of Muslims whose privacy is again catapulted into the public sphere, and their security made more vulnerable. We must work together to stem the rising tide of fear and the threat of harm and persecution and violence here and throughout the country. We stand with those who fear recrimination and retaliation for their views or their membership, whether they be Muslims or otherwise. We call for the end to political posturing and purposeful misstatements that poison dialogue, stigmatize individuals, inflame the worst in our human nature, create divisions in our society, and promote a view of America as anti-Islam. Such demagoguery has no place in our society, and stooping to it for political gain is unconscionable.

In furthering our mission to transform conditions and relationships and to nurture the faith that this conflict must and can be resolved, we engage these questions: What religion has not had terrible acts committed in its name and in violation of its most basic beliefs? What do we understand to be “hallowed” ground? What do we understand to be its proper uses? How do we understand and reconcile our pain and the pain of others? How do we truly listen and mend the wounds of loss, suspicion, and hostility?

We have had centuries of experience reaching out to those characterized as “the enemy,” finding and connecting with the Divine which resides in us all. We know that violence and intolerance breed more of the same and that extending ourselves in love and compassion can have a profound impact on even the most hardened of hearts. We support open engagement, civil dialogue, and deep listening to truly hear what is being said and meant. We believe and pray that God’s enduring power and love can guide us to a positive way forward. This is our faith.

Heather M. Cook, Presiding Clerk
New York Yearly Meeting
Religious Society of Friends

Benjamin Warnke, Clerk,
American Friends Service Committee
New York Metropolitan Regional Office

Christopher Sammond, General Secretary
New York Yearly Meeting
Religious Society of Friends

Elizabeth Enloe, Regional Director
American Friends Service Committee
New York Metropolitan Regional Office

Created Date: 
Aug 31, 2010