With no clergy officiating, New York City’s 9/11 anniversary ceremony is going to leave many people feeling deeply dissatisfied. And those people will have a point. When mourning the dead, it’s natural to call on professionals — people who speak to and about God for a living. This is particularly true when the lives of the departed weren’t lost but stolen in a calculated expression of hatred. Somebody needs to put the horror in perspective, if such a thing is even remotely possible. One thing to be said for clergy –they spend their lives contemplating and confronting human nature at its worst, and despite it all, continue loving humanity. Such a skill set cannot be dispensed with lightly.
On top of that, nothing would demonstrate the strength that comes from American diversity — the whole E Pluribus Unum thing — better than a row of priests and scholars representing different faiths and denominations, praying in unison. New York has plenty of talent in that department. Since I haven’t lived there in many years, Archbishop Dolan’s name is the first that comes to mind, but I have a hunch a fairly competent rabbi can be laid hold of without anyone’s having to roam too far afield. Throw in an orthodox metropolitan or archimandrite, or whatever they call those guys, a Sikh guru, a brahman, a lama, and we’d have our own little Assisi summit.
But here’s the problem: we’d have to invite an imam, too.
Actually, for me, that’d be no problem at all. Nor, I suspect, would most New Yorkers object. For years now, they’ve been tantalized by the smells coming from the halal lunch trucks that have been popping up on every street corner. They know Muslims make up a significant part of New York City’s social fabric. In his novel Sophie’s Choice, William Styron has a character say, sounding both proud and frazzled, that Brooklyn has “All religions. Jewish, Irish, Italian, Dutch Reform, boogies, everything.” Well said, sir.
But he would probably have gotten a rebuttal from Pamela Geller. With a Manhattan address and the sensibilities of a Montana militiaman, Geller has been using her blog, Atlas Shrugged, as a platform for promoting the idea of nonstop global war on Islam and Muslims. Along with calling for Israeli annexation of the West Bank and Gaza (and its destruction of the Dome of the Rock), she has made a practice of sending out distress signals at any sign of what she calls “Islamization.”
Basically, this amounts to any participation by Muslims in public life. When plans for construction of Park 51 reached the headlines, Geller became one of its most visible and voluble opponents. The Times reports out that Geller called the developer a “thug” and a “lowlife,” and that her “phraseology” (though, fortunately, not those two particular words), was “adopted by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.”
Had Bloomberg invited an imam, he’d have handed the likes of Geller, along with Robert Spencer, her co-founder of the organization Stop the Islamization of America, a ticket to the ball. He’d also likely have stirred the passions of Herman Cain. When campaigning in Tennessee, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO called plans to construct a mosque in Murfreesboro “an infringement and abuse of our freedom of religion” and “just another way to try to gradually sneak Shariah law into our laws.” The notion of creeping Shariah is popular even among more mainstream conservative figures. The Marriage Vow: A declaration of Dependence on Marriage and Family, signed by Michele Bachmann, lists Shariah law, along with pornography and homosexuality, as a social evil to be crusaded against.
You don’t need to be Paul the Octopus to guess how things would play out. If Bloomberg invited an imam, Geller would call him a dhimmi and impute a cunningly concealed triumphalist agenda to the imam. If she got lucky, she’d be allowed to say it on TV — possibly on 60 Minutes, where she won hearts all across Real America by braying, “You’re never gonna shut me up!” at the host. Mark Steyn would publish an article making essentially the same points, though with infinitely more grace and wit, and we’d be off to the races — if Bachmann, Cain or Perry saw advantage in weighing in, the presidential races.
Part of me wants to tell Bloomberg, “Face the storm! Do what’s right, and damn the demagogues!” But, see, at that point, everything would be about Bloomberg and his leadership. It would be about Islam, and possibly about Israel. The whole thing would be packed so full of politics, there’d be no room to remember the dead and console the next of kin, which — lest anyone forget — would have been the whole point of inviting the clergy in the first place.
They say discretion is the better part of valor. In this case, I believe, it’s the better part of reverence.