Iraq/Afghanistan vets give support to Islamic center

In a letter of support for the First Amendment, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have sent an open letter to the organizers of Park51 Community Center in lower Manhattan describing the effort as being “about as pro-America as one can get.”

Park51 is the new name of the community center, which would, in addition to athletic and cultural facilities, house a prayer room for Muslim users of the center. It recently came under fire from Republican Party leaders and pundits like Sarah Palin, Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich. In a chorus they argued that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to build a center in lower Manhattan, the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Despite the opposition from the Republican Party, and because of the long community ties the Park51 group has in New York, both the city’s political establishment and most of its residents have supported the move.

The veterans’ letter comes after strong statements on behalf of the religious freedoms of all Americans from New York Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama.

Authored by, an organization that advocates for veterans’ issues and supports veterans for elected office, the letter urged the Park51 organizers not to abandon the project.

In addition the letter asked the group to circulate the letter to any interested party, “so they know that veterans like us see this as an important issue of our very Constitution and our national security.”

The veterans cited their sworn oath as members of the military “to uphold the Constitution” as a basic reason for their support for the project.

The letter noted the hypocrisy of the opponents of the project:

“For all the talk these days from some quarters about the importance of protecting the Constitution and allowing the free market to work unfettered, those same people are fighting against your community’s right to buy property and worship freely. Our duty to protect the Constitution didn’t end when our service did. It’s up to us to stand up for the right for all Americans to enjoy the Constitutional freedoms that so many around the world don’t have. So, we are standing up for you.”

Protection of the rights of all Americans to practice their faith in the manner of their choosing would also “deal a blow to the propaganda of al Qaeda and Islamist extremists, who recruit on the talking point that the United States is in a war against Islam.”

Finally, the letter noted that taking a stand on behalf of the Constitution promotes the safety of U.S. military forces abroad.

“As veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan,” it concluded, “we believe the construction of your community center isn’t ‘anti-America’ at all. In fact, building your community center is about as pro-America as one can get.”

The full letter can be found here, and veterans are encouraged to sign and circulate it.

Photo: Canada’s Cordoba House — pictured here — runs a soup kitchen. Cordoba House was the original name of the Manhattan center. (Via Tribeca Citizen)


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of "Mythologies: A Political Economy of U.S. Literature, Settler Colonialism, and Racial Capitalism in the Long Nineteenth Century" (International Publishers) and "The Collectivity of Life" (Lexington Books).