Writers Support Park51 Project, Religious Freedom
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York City, August 25, 2010—PEN American Center, the New York-based center of the 89-year-old international literary and human rights organization PEN, today released a statement in support of the proposed Park51 Community Center project, declaring that the organization stands with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and with “all who support and celebrate the freedom” to establish the center on its city-approved site in lower Manhattan. The statement, signed by PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah on behalf of PEN’s Board of Trustees, calls the freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment “the birthright of all and our best defense.”
“We oppose all efforts to circumscribe this freedom; we deplore the rhetoric of suspicion that seeks to deny our common humanity and shared aspirations; and we emphatically reject the tyranny of fear,” the statement reads. “None of this is to deny the anguish of those who lost family and friends in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, nor is it to diminish the trauma we experienced and still clearly share. Nevertheless, we are sure no lasting comfort or peace can come from abridging the rights of others or yielding to distrust and fear.”
Appiah said the organization was moved to speak out by the increasingly rancorous tenor of the debate. “PEN’s historic mission, starting in the aftermath of the Great War, was to place the literary community at the heart of the project of building comity across nations,” he explained. “Today, when the world’s divides are as much religious as national, we know the need for conversation across our differences is as urgent as ever.”
”If you want an argument that writers have a key place in this moment,” Appiah added, “remember that Rumi and Ibn Arabi, great Sufi masters, were also great poets: Rumi, at whose funeral Moslems, Christians, and Jews gathered in mourning more than seven centuries ago; Ibn Arabi, who wrote that his heart could assume the form of a Christian cloister, or the tables of the Torah or the holy Koran.” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who leads Park51 Center’s backers, is a follower of Sufism, the richly literary tradition of Islamic mysticism.
The full text of PEN American Center’s statement follows:
PEN American Center Statement in Support of the Park51 Community Center
As members of the American literary community who believe in the universality of human experience and human rights,
As proud citizens and residents of a country that recognizes the free exercise of religion as a fundamental benchmark of freedom of thought and expression,
And as PEN members pledged to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in our community and country, as in the world elsewhere,
We stand with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with religious leaders of all faiths, with political leaders of both major parties, and with all our friends and neighbors who support and celebrate the freedom to construct the Park51 Islamic Community Center on its city-approved site in lower Manhattan.
We oppose all efforts to circumscribe this freedom; we deplore the rhetoric of suspicion that seeks to deny our common humanity and shared aspirations; and we emphatically reject the tyranny of fear.
None of this is to deny the anguish of those who lost family and friends in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, nor is it to diminish the trauma we experienced and still clearly share.
Nevertheless, we are sure no lasting comfort or peace can come from abridging the rights of others or yielding to distrust and fear.
We have faith that the freedoms enumerated in our Bill of Rights are both the birthright of all and our best defense.
We invite everyone to join with us in reaffirming those freedoms and the power of civil discourse as the true vehicle for healing.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, President
for the Board of PEN American Center
PEN American Center is the U.S. arm of the world’s oldest international literary and human rights organization. International PEN was founded in 1921 as a direct response to the ethnic and national divisions that contributed to the outbreak of the First World War. Its mission remains the advancement of literature, the defense of free expression, and the promotion of international literary fellowship. PEN American Center was founded in 1922 and is the largest of the 145 PEN centers in 102 countries that constitute International PEN. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the contributions to defending human rights of such past members as W.H. Auden, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Marianne Moore, Eugene O’Neill, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck.
- A Statement from International PEN President John Ralston Saul on Threatened Burning of Copies of the Koran on September 11