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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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.