It isn’t enough for Republicans to call on “peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the mosque and community center proposed for a site near Ground Zero, or to imply that the funding for it comes from terrorist organizations, or even to tell American Muslims that their religious freedoms should be held hostage to the decisions of the Saudi government. Nope. The new Republican talking point used to try to stop the construction of the community center and mosque — and to make political hay of that opposition — is that Ground Zero is their Auschwitz, and the Muslims who seek to build anywhere near it should know better, just like some nice nuns did in the eighties.
Former Bush speechwriter William McGurn fired the largest opening salvo in this barrage of criticism in the pages of the Wall Street Journal in concert with former Bush adviser Dan Senor’s OpEd yesterday morning, followed by by the anti-mosque advocate Rep. Peter King (R-NY) on Fox News and former Reagan Education Secretary and Bush I Drug Czar William Bennett on CNN. National Review editor and Fox News contributor Rich Lowry made reference to the parallel on Monday as well. All seemed to be speaking from the same script, referencing events long since passed with which most views and readers would be unfamiliar.
Those events — which, naturally, the Republicans who are opposed to building a mosque and community center near Ground Zero mischaracterized — are as follows. In 1984, a group of Carmelite nuns opened a convent just outside of the gates of Auschwitz — in a building that was part of the original death camp and which housed the gas often utilized by the Nazis and their sympathizers to carry out the extermination of the mainly Jewish prisoners. The nuns said they intended to pray for the souls of all who had died and make atonement; Jews erupted in protest over the convent, which was — again — in a building that was part of Auschwitz. Three years later, the groups reached an agreement that the nuns would move, but they never did. It was actually 9 years after the convent opened, and only after Pope John Paul II — a Pole — ordered the nuns to relocate, that the convent-at-Auschwitz closed its doors.
McGurn, Senor, King and Bennett argue that this shows that the Muslims who would like to redevelop a building — a building that is actually not part of the original World Trade Center footprint and in which no one reportedly died — into a mosque and community center should “learn” from the nuns. Of course, by all reports, the nuns and their Polish backers were equally as recalcitrant.
A little history lesson might also be in order. Around 960,000 Jews died at Auschwitz alongside 125,000 people of various nationalities, most of whom were not Catholic. Jews were a minority population in a majority Catholic country and faced extermination at the hands of the state (and, in many cases, their Catholic neighbors) because of their religion and race.
As a result of the attacks on September 11th in New York, 2,749 people died (excluding the hijackers). Those people came from 77 countries, though the majority were American, and approximately 60 of the victims were Muslim.
In the midst of the fracas over the nuns’ use of a building that was part of the Auschwitz complex, New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier published an OpEd in the New York Times noting the kind of rhetoric used by some Catholics — again, the majority population in Poland — to argue that the Jews needed to be more understanding of the feelings of the majority population.
On Aug. 26 Jozef Cardinal Glemp, the Roman Catholic Primate of Poland, contributed to the discussion with an outburst of unreconstructed anti-Semitism.
He warned Jews not to ”offend the feelings of all Poles, and our sovereignty”; he reminded Jews that ”your power lies in the mass media that are easily at your disposal in many countries”; he scolded Jews not to ”talk with us from the position of a people raised above all others.” (A people raised? We were almost a people buried.) In New York, the president of the Polish American Congress denounced ”a grave injustice against Christianity,” and even recalled that convents in Poland were closed by the Nazis. In Washington, the conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan refined the analogy between Jews and their killers, and wrote that those who call for sensitivity to the Jews in this matter are guilty of ”a blood libel” against Catholicism.
[With reporting from Rachel Slajda]