Nachman Ben Yehuda is an old friend. We were graduate students together at the University of Chicago. He, his wife Etti, my wife Naomi and I have been friends ever since. He is now a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the author of books that explore the worlds of deviance and the unsteadiness of memory about things political. Jewish assassins, the “Masada myth,” betrayal and treason, and as he puts it talking about his most recent book Theocratic Democracy, “pious perverts” are the subjects of Nachman’s sociological curiosity. On their recent visit to New York, we got together for a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, to see the exciting Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917 exhibit. While walking through the museum, I asked Nachman about the Park 51, about Cordoba House. Nachman is now back in Jerusalem, but emailed me his recollection of our discussion, which I thought would be good to share here.
A Conversation Remembered
He recalled our conversation:
The mosque. If I remember correctly our conversation, my argument was that officially and legally, there is no doubt that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the initiative to build the mosque where planned and that President Obama as defender of the American constitution did the right thing when he made his speech and supported it. My concern was as a hopeless symbologist and on the symbolic level. Hence, having said that legally Muslims are within their constitutional rights, I was concerned whether it was absolutely necessary or wise to have a Muslim mosque so close to where radical Muslims massacred thousands of innocent Americans. You put my concern there to rest.
In our discussion, I essentially made the argument I have been making in posts here, most crucially my first one considering the raw facts , but also my more recent post The tragedy of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. My key point, which convinced Nachman, was that the Cordoba House was actually a respectful initiative, made by people of good will, who sought respectful dialogue between Muslims and their fellow Americans. Yet, Nachman still was uncertain, having to do with . . .
Read more: Talking about Cordoba