Monday, August 9, 2010

Fareed Zakaria and the ADL

Today my attention was drawn to Dr. Fareed Zakaria's letter to ADL in which he deplored the latter's opposition to the construction of a mosque on a Muslim property, located a couple of blocks from the Ground Zero. While I have sometimes critiqued Zakaria on some issues relating to his analysis of the Muslim world, I have always admired his ability to present his views in a concise manner. His successful career as the International editor of the Newsweek and the popular host of the Fareed Zakaria GPS in the CNN all speak high about his talent and skill as a good communicator, something lacking in many good writers and analysts of global politics. I have also read his books, and found them to be serious books for anyone interested in global politics to read.

I must however admit that I have often entertained some doubts about him whether he would have the moral guts to stand on highly controversial positions that are politically incorrect. I have imagined that he would behave like an Uncle Tom on issues that affect his own kind, the Muslims. The mosque controversy is a great one to judge his character. I am glad that he passed it with a clean slate. He had the guts to tell Foxman of the ADL:
Dear Mr. Foxman,
Five years ago, the ADL honored me with its Hubert Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize. I was delighted and moved to have been chosen for it in good measure because of the high esteem in which I hold the ADL. I have always been impressed by the fact that your mission is broad – “to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens” – and you have interpreted it broadly over the decades. You have fought discrimination against all religions, races, and creeds and have built a well-deserved reputation.
That is why I was stunned at your decision to publicly side with those urging the relocation of the planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan. You are choosing to use your immense prestige to take a side that is utterly opposed to the animating purpose of your organization. Your own statements subsequently, asserting that we must honor the feelings of victims even if irrational or bigoted, made matters worse.
This is not the place to debate the press release or your statements. Many have done this and I have written about it in Newsweek and on my television show – both of which will be out over the weekend. The purpose of this letter is more straightforward. I cannot in good conscience hold onto the award or the honorarium that came with it and am returning both. I hope that it might add to the many voices that have urged you to reconsider and reverse your position on this issue. This decision will haunt the ADL for years if not decades to come. Whether or not the center is built, what is at stake here is the integrity of the ADL and its fidelity to its mission. Admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain your reputation."

Like me, Zakaria has also been very positive about Mayor Bloomberg's position on the mosque. In the latest issue of the Newsweek, Zakaria writes, "Bloomberg’s eloquent, brave, and carefully reasoned address should become required reading in every civics classroom in America. It probably will.

Bloomberg’s speech stands in stark contrast to the bizarre decision of the Anti-Defamation League to publicly side with those urging that the center be moved. The ADL’s mission statement says it seeks “to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.” But Abraham Foxman, the head of the ADL, explained that we must all respect the feelings of the 9/11 families, even if they are prejudiced feelings. “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted,” he said. First, the 9/11 families have mixed views on this mosque. There were, after all, dozens of Muslims killed at the World Trade Center. Do their feelings count? But more important, does Foxman believe that bigotry is OK if people think they’re victims? Does the anguish of Palestinians, then, entitle them to be anti-Semitic?
Five years ago, the ADL honored me with its Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize. I was thrilled to get the award from an organization that I had long admired. But I cannot in good conscience keep it anymore. I have returned both the handsome plaque and the $10,000 honorarium that came with it. I urge the ADL to reverse its decision. Admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain a reputation."

I hope Zakaria's letter and return of the plaque with the honorarium would help the ADL to rethink its wrong decision and see the light, much like Mayor Bloomberg. An organization can't expect itself to be honored as a civic or human rights organization fighting religious bigotry when it joins the wagon of hatred. Shame on the ADL and cheers to Dr. Zakaria. You make us proud. Thank you.

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