Susan Estrich: The mosque and tolerance's two-way street

Recently, I found myself on Fox News defending the “Ground Zero mosque” before I'd fully thought it through. Truth be told, when someone called to set up the “hit,” I thought they were talking about another mosque project I'd heard about on the radio.

So there I was, invoking the First Amendment, arguing that our enemy is terrorism, and that the only way we would ever win that fight is by gaining the support of the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are not our enemies and who we need to respect as friends. All true.

Then the mail started coming in. I don't need the latest Time poll to tell me that 60-plus percent of Americans are against the project. My e-mail told me that.

When I discussed it with my son later, he asked me whether I actually agreed with what I'd said on television, and the fact is that I do. Nothing I said was wrong in my book. We can't make Islam our enemy, or we will find ourselves in a war that, frankly, terrifies me. So what's wrong with my position, and that of the president of the United States, who waded into the fight entirely of his own accord?

Just this: the convent at Auschwitz.

Some years ago, an order of nuns announced plans to build a convent at the infamous death camp, and a community I am very close to — the community of survivors and their children — strongly protested the plan. How could they? It wasn't a matter of “right.”

Presumably, the nuns had as much right as anyone else to build a convent wherever they wanted. But for those who survived the Holocaust, and for those of us who are committed to preserving the memory of the millions who were lost, building a convent on the site was just not appropriate.

It wasn't about being anti-Catholic. I'm not anti-Catholic. It wasn't because I'm still smarting from what Pope Pius XII might have done but didn't.

I don't want to rehearse the history of anti-Semitism, play blame games or fan flames of mutual distrust. It just seemed very clear that of all the places on the planet to build a convent, Auschwitz shouldn't be one.

The Nazis who chose to march in Skokie, Ill., some years ago precisely because so many survivors lived there assuredly had the First Amendment right to do so. But what a hostile, negative and cruel thing to do, reinforcing yet again — as if any reinforcement were needed — just what kind of people they are.

The presence of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, in the home of a former Burlington Coat factory, clearly strikes many of those who lost loved ones on that horrible day in the same way that the convent at Auschwitz struck me. It doesn't mean that Islam is our enemy. It's not a matter of right.

Tolerance is a two-way street.

The Time poll also found that one in four Americans thinks President Obama is a Muslim, slightly less than the percentage of people who think a Muslim should not be allowed to be president.

Clearly, we have a long way to go on both sides of the street.

Examiner columnist Susan Estrich is nationally syndicated by Creator Syndicate.

Op Edsop-edOpinionSusan Estrich

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

A health care worker receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Tuesday Dec. 15, 2020. (Courtesy SFgov)
SF to open three large sites for COVID-19 vaccinations

Breed: ‘We need more doses. We are asking for more doses’

Tongo Eisen-Martin, a Bernal Heights resident, named San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Tongo Eisen-Martin becomes San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate

Bernal Heights resident Tongo Eisen-Martin has become San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate.… Continue reading

Homeless people's tents can be seen on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/S.F. Examiner)
Statewide business tax could bring new funds to combat homelessness

San Francisco could get more than $100 million a year for housing, rental assistance, shelter beds

The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco (a mural by artist Jamie Treacy is pictued) has a lineup of free online programming including activities for youngsters scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18. (Courtesy Demetri Broxton/Museum of the African Diaspora)
Stanford, Museum of the African Diaspora host MLK Day activities

Online offerings include films, music, discussion

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presides the US House of Representatives vote on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol, January 13, 2021, in Washington, DC. - The Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives on January 13 opened debate on a historic second impeachment of President Donald Trump over his supporters' attack of the Capitol that left five dead. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
House votes 232-197 to impeach Trump a second time

Focus shifts to Senate, where McConnell has signaled he may not stand by president

Most Read