In praise of Mayor Bloomberg

A voice of sanity and tolerance amid rampant Islamophobia.

Some of you may be following the row in the United States over plans to build a mosque and community centre two blocks away from Ground Zero. Sarah Palin infamously urged "peaceful Muslims" to "refudiate" (?!?) the mosque and asked "Ground Zero supporters" (who or what are they, exactly?): "doesn't it stab you in the heart"?

But not all Republicans are as batty, sub-literate and Islamophobic as Palin seems to be. The billionaire Republican mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, has given a green light to the proposal and, in the words of the Guardian's Richard Adams, "delivered a moving and powerful rebuke to its opponents" in a public speech where he "appeared close to tears".

It's worth reading Mayor Bloomberg's speech in full, but here is, in my view, the best bit:

The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves -- and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans -- if we said "no" to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbours grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values -- and play into our enemies' hands -- if we were to treat Muslims differently [from] anyone else. In fact, to cave in to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists -- and we should not stand for that.

For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime -- as important a test -- and it is critically important that we get it right.

On September 11 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked "What God do you pray to?" "What beliefs do you hold?"

The attack was an act of war -- and our first responders defended not only our city but also our country and our constitution. We do not honour their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honour their lives by defending those rights -- and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

Of course, it is fair to ask the organisers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation -- and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam.

Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith, and they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for the better part of a year, as is their right.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Inside a Ukip conference obsessed with Stoke

Now that Brexit has been achieved, the party of protest is focused on a by-election. 

On the roundabout outside the Bolton Macron stadium - the venue for the Ukip spring conference - a sheet was hastily draped. Daubed in black paint, it read “Bad Bootle bullshitter”.

The unknown critic was commenting on the recent travails of leader Paul Nuttall, who is standing for the party in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, but whose campaign has been clouded by questions over his claims about the Hillsborough football tragedy

At conference, Nuttall kept away from the press. He had also cancelled a hustings appearance the day before.

But while many on the outside see Ukip as increasingly directionless, from the inside it's a little different. 

The thrum of enthusiasm which ran through the attendees at the stadium was palpable. The Lightning Seeds’ Marvellous - with lyrics promising “Things could be marvellous, things could be fabulous too” - was on a constant loop. Party stars like Suzanne Evans and Patrick O’Flynn rubbed shoulders with the rank and file.

From the start of the morning, the press were shunted upstairs to a media room. But while Nuttall was mysteriously hard to find for media interviews, those who support him were only too happy to share their strong beliefs in what the brand still stands for - even after the vote which was meant to be their raison d’être.

In the ladies’, a neat, petite woman with perfectly coiffed grey hair was fixing her scarf in front of the mirror. It was patterned in Ukip purple, to match her lilac top.

“I just love conference,” she told me. She was one of the minority of female attendees I saw during the day in a throng of besuited men of a certain age. The programme and speakers went out of their way to refer to all spokespeople as “spokesmen”, despite gender.

When Nuttall took to the stage - to, among other things, offer his mea culpa for erroneous website details - he got a rousing reception to match that of  Nigel Farage. 

The former leader is still a favourite. I caught up with two audience members following his speech, and they were positively glowing.

“He pointed out every single thing that Ukip is about and brought it up to the present. He says it as it is,” Marie Foy told me.

She comes from an old Labour family, but says the party is "no longer working for us". 

Her friend, Mick Harold, interpreted it as a case for ongoing radicalism: “What was important was the fact that he said we cannot move to the centre. Because if we move to the centre, then we just become like all of the other parties and we become pointless.

“We have to keep pushing our agenda. We’ve got to be different or there’s no point in us being there. That, for me, is the message that sticks in my mind from Nigel today.”

The idea of remaining radical and yet pertinent is a big one for party members.

Foy and Harold are both Ukip activists, who have spent recent weeks campaigning in Stoke. Harold knows the area particularly well - he came second to outgoing Labour MP Tristram Hunt in the 2015 election, who beat him by just 5,719 votes. 

“The radical ideas of Ukip are what resonates with the working people of this country," Harold said. "We don’t want the Labour party, we don’t want the Conservatives. We want something different. We want change, and that’s why Ukip have been so successful." Like Foy, he too is a former Labour supporter. 

“There are certain parts of Stoke now which are probably 50 per cent Ukip," he said. "The old Labour areas, the old council estates, they’re definitely moving over to Ukip.”

It may be the talk of the Ukip bubble, especially now Nuttall is on the defence. But with the by-election only days away, it won't take long to find out.