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Katherine Tyler Scott
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Katherine Tyler Scott

Katherine Tyler Scott is Managing Partner of Ki ThoughtBridge, a leadership consultancy, and is author, most recently, of Transforming Leadership: The Episcopal Church of the 21st Century. She is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

Time is now for imam to speak on mosque

Q: President Obama weighed in on the issue of the mosque at Ground Zero prompting grumbles that the gesture was unnecessary and politically damaging. Meanwhile the imam at the center of the controversy -- Feisal Abdul Rauf -- has been largely invisible, lecturing for the State Department in Bahrain and, according to his wife, unavailable until next month. What do leaders need to know about perfecting the timing of weighing in on a crisis?

The motivation for leaders to speak varies. It might be a matter of conscience, the heat of political pressure, affiliation and loyalty to a group, an opportunity to influence, a chance to exploit the situation for personal gain, or just flagrant egotism. We have observed behavioral manifestations of all of these in the past year. The controversy over the Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque is the latest example.

Many underestimated the deep residue of anger that remains just below a veneer of tolerance, ready to be ignited into fiery rhetoric and an indictment of a whole group. They forgot that the horrific images of Sept. 11, 2001, still reside in our collective consciousness where anxiety and a sense of vulnerability and insecurity keep us on edge. We are changed.

The attack on the World Trade Center was never perceived as just an attack on New York, it was seen as an attack on America. The searing pain and deep fear felt by those wandering the streets in the aftermath, clutching pictures of loved ones they would never see again was shared by millions of Americans. The site of the devastation is still perceived by many as hallowed ground, a sacred burial site, a symbol of the need to always remember. What wasn't understood was that for some, remembering triggers unresolved grief, not healing. And in our unresolved grief some have forgotten that many in those twin towers were of diverse religious beliefs, ethnicities, cultures and nationalities.

We have been robbed of our innocence but it doesn't mean we have to be robbed of our identity. Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated this most eloquently, when he reminded New Yorkers that we are a nation of laws and that freedom of religion is one of our non-negotiable founding principles. When it appeared that who we are and what we value as Americans was at risk of being hijacked by emotionalism rather than reason, the president, who is sworn to protect and preserve the Constitution of the United States, spoke out with the same message, a message intended for more than Americans. Had President Obama been concerned about his political standing he would have remained silent.

The silence of a leader in the midst of crisis is a blank screen for the projection of all of our worst fears and conclusions. The silence of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has permitted more distortion of the Islamic faith and questioning of his motives for building this mosque and cultural center so close to a place where those proclaiming the same faith destroyed innocents. We aren't a culture that tolerates silence when a problem occurs. We want ready answers and something to fill the void and hold ambiguity and angst at bay.

When is it the right time to speak? We know from Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama that silence is not an option when the core principles and values that define us are under attack or are threatened by irrationality rather than law. When the fury of protesters was unleashed and certain media, citizen groups, and politicians intervened with language that demonized an entire religion the problem was no longer that of New York City alone. The Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque is no longer just a vision in the mind of one man. The time for the imam to speak is now!

By Katherine Tyler Scott

 |  August 24, 2010; 2:54 PM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership , Ethics , Government leadership , Leadership , Managing Crises , Religious leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Rejecting the politics of fear | Next: Ostrich leadership at the World Trade Center

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Posted by: itkonlyyou259 | August 30, 2010 9:05 AM
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The religious intolerance expressed in some comments is frightening. For all those with short memories: for centuries, Christians have battled and slaughtered outside their realms. Even today, we have charlatans setting up shop all over the place, calling themselves "Evangelists".

The bottom line is: if we cannot tolerate a mosque near Ground Zero, than we should not claim to have any religious tolerance and admit that we don't mind to trample on constitutional rights whenever we like it. If we cannot distinguish between terrorists and moderate Moslems, then we should stop telling the world what a great democracy we are.

Posted by: jurgenschulze | August 25, 2010 2:09 PM
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I've been in the middle on this issue since the beginning. The Constitution obviously protects the right for the Mosque to be built, but emotional opposition is not unwarranted either.
Sam Harris had a great Op Ed in the Washington Post yesterday. He mentions an obvious way that the anger toward the Imam and Mosque could be quelled.

http://www.doubledutchpolitics.com/2010/08/one-paragraph-that-could-end-the-park-51-uproar/

Posted by: RyanC1384 | August 25, 2010 12:27 PM
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Americans, time for all to study Islam. Islam is not a religion, it is a theocracy. Religion is a belief without government. Islam has a government, they call it sharia.

All Mosques, in my eyes are symbols of conquest to the Islamic world. The mosques at ground zero is not only a huge symbol to the Islamic world it is also saying guess what: We came and attacked your nation and though your laws and constitution we will now conquer your nation.

We will build many mosques in every state, we will build them small and we will build them into mega centers. we will tell you all will share in these centers, but wait!

You are not Muslim, Sorry you cannot enter our religion demands you be Muslim.

Ah, SEGREGATION returns to America, this time in appeasement to Islam. The major problem is that many are blind the true intentions that Islam is Not speaking about. Keep these in mind " hide in plain sight" and a "wolf in "sheep's clothing".

Fuel for thought: Where are all the peaceful Muslims who do not want sharia in our nation? Why are they not out speaking against sharia?

Listen to Wafa Sultan, Nonnie Darwish and Amil Imani. These three people have left Islam for a reason. Heed their warnings, our nation is in serious trouble if we do not listen to these people.

Posted by: TROYBEAM | August 25, 2010 9:36 AM
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Ms. Scott,

You fail to see the issue that this is NOT a matter of "freedom of religion" or "tolerance"; it's an issue about a people who remain, unfortunately, blind to the fact that Islam is called to dominate the world. Sure there are plenty of nice Muslims, but this further reflects their lack of knowledge of the Qu'ran, which calls them into action to convert (to Islam) or destroy the rest of humanity.

This proposed 15-story building would not a church; it would be the planning center for the strengthening of Islam in the U.S. as well as a memorial to the Muslims who gave their lives to destroy ours. It would stand as a symbol of superiority that Islam wants to shove into the collective face of America.
Wake and face the facts!

Posted by: flipper49 | August 25, 2010 9:22 AM
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Americans, time for all to study Islam. Islam is not a religion, it is a theocracy. Religion is a belief without government. Islam has a government, they call it sharia.

All Mosques, in my eyes are symbols of conquest to the Islamic world. The mosques at ground zero is not only a huge symbol to the Islamic world it is also saying guess what: We came and attacked your nation and though your laws and constitution we will now conquer your nation.

We will build many mosques in every state, we will build them small and we will build them into mega centers. we will tell you all will share in these centers, but wait!

You are not Muslim, Sorry you cannot enter our religion demands you be Muslim.

Ah, SEGREGATION returns to America, this time in appeasement to Islam. The major problem is that many are blind the true intentions that Islam is Not speaking about. Keep these in mind " hide in plain sight" and a "wolf in "sheep's clothing".

Fuel for thought: Where are all the peaceful Muslims who do not want sharia in our nation? Why are they not out speaking against sharia?

Listen to Wafa Sultan, Nonnie Darwish and Amil Imani. These three people have left Islam for a reason. Heed their warnings, our nation is in serious trouble if we do not listen to these people.

Posted by: TROYBEAM | August 25, 2010 9:13 AM
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susan2ez2luv-- I don't know if you are aware that there are still Pearl Harbor survivors alive today. My father is one of them. At the last PHSA meeting at Pearl Harbor, a picture of my father shaking hands with the Japanese navigator in the plane that torpedoed Daddy's ship was show across this nation and in Japan. I think that my dad and his fellow veterans showed much more of the goodness of the American spirit than your snarky comments does.

Posted by: marmac5 | August 25, 2010 5:46 AM
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He's doing the right thing at this point. Speaking now will only exacerbate things and he knows the anti's will just pounce on whatever he says and twist it like liquorish They'll be plenty of time for him to comment when he returns.

Posted by: AboonaJoe | August 25, 2010 3:57 AM
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In all fairness, I think we should provide space just to the south of the Arizona Memorial, for the Japanese to build a suitable Center as Well.

Posted by: susansez2luv | August 24, 2010 9:45 PM
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Without union workers,the mosque will not be built. But in its place there should be a sky high minaret built in the regions of upper Manhattan where the call to prayer can be heard for miles.

Posted by: morristhewise | August 24, 2010 7:05 PM
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