Donald Trump is scheduled to appear on the Larry King Show on CNN this evening to discuss his offer to purchase the Manhattan property near Ground Zero upon which the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his Muslim brethren intend to build the ‘Cordoba Center’, an Islamic cultural and religious center. While supporters of the project state that it little more than an ‘bridge building’ effort to the Christian west, an Islamic YMCA, its’ opponents characterize it as an insult to those thousands who perished on 9/11 and a threat to religious peace and civil liberties. They point to Youtube videos purporting to show how Islamists have intimidated and effectively taken over neighborhoods within Europe in which they impose Sharia Law upon the women under their control, in open contravention of the rule of law.
Most analysts and media commentators are calling this little more than a publicity stunt with Trump using the occasion to market himself. It need not be so. In fact, if he were to follow the example of some of his fellow billionaires, he could be a powerful agent to bring about religious peace in lower Manhattan, and perhaps around the world.
This is what I pray that he might be inspired to do. Tonight, he could offer to buy the property, with a reasonable profit to the Cordoba Center initiative, while simultaneously promising to develop the property which he would lease back to the current owners for a modest lease price. This would allow for him (or his lawyers) to ensure that he can exercise his right as landlord to evict the Cordoba Center if it violates civil law or fomented religious disquiet or extremism. By following the example of Bill and Melinda Gates or Warren Buffett in such an act of altruism, Trump could prove the power of capitalism to become the instrument of social peace and prosperity that it has brought to America and the rest of the Industrialized world. As it has done since its birth, American capitalism has conquered the religious animus that existed between numerous religious and cultural groups in the past. Conflicts from places as exotic as tribal Africa and as near as the shores of Ireland have never found root in America due to its' strong adhesion to the principles of liberty enshrined in its' founding documents and the allure of prosperity and freedom that capitalism has produced for a large middle class of citizens. Muslim parents want to see their children prosper as do Christians. The American formula for civil and religious freedom has proven its capacity to do just that. Put simply, liberty and the prospect of familial societal and economic advancement ‘trumps’ religious fanaticism every time, so long as the game is not rigged (something Mr. Trump should know about given his rise to riches through the gaming industry).
Michael Novak, in his book “The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable” argues this point. He points out that not only has capitalism brought America to a previously unheard of levels of personal wealth, freedom and world dominance, but it also is demonstrably the only successful model which can lift any country or culture from poverty in every corner of the world within one or two generations. From the post-WWII economies of Western Europe and Asian Tiger of Japan through to China and the Indian subcontinent, countries that have oriented their cultures and economies to harness the power of the free market have been transformed and are experiencing the same phenomena as that which created the American culture into an economic superpower.
The ‘Donald’, always keen to burnish him standing in popular culture, can also strike a blow for the rights of women as well. While Trump has used his TV series ‘The Apprentice’ to promote his daughter as a sophisticated and talented executive, ensuring that the Cordoba Center neither promotes nor practices an extreme view of Islam spawned by the anti-capitalist forces of Arab OPEC nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia (monopolies have long been declared illegal in America, a proven detriment to greater cultural prosperity) and ensuring that the civil law of the land is respected by his tenants will do far more for to establish him as a champion of women's rights. Standing up for the women of America, and by extension all Islamic women, Trump may legitimately repair the damage done his reputation as a womanizer and marital infidelities. It would ‘buy’ him more in world status and prestige than any alimony cheque could ever bring.
Given the standards of 2009 Nobel Peace Prize granted to American President based upon nothing more than the ‘promise of change’ in American foreign policy, Trump might be able to ride a new found acclaim to a prize of his own if he were to bring about such a rapprochement between Islam and the nations of the west. If his record to date has taught us anything, it is that Donald Trump aims high when setting goals. If he can advance the cause of world religious harmony and tolerance while acting to ensure women’s rights with the Islamic world, maybe it is not too much for him to achieve.
Just imagine. The Dali Lahma, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela (and perhaps Obama as well if his various peace initiatives throughout the world begin to bear results)…, and the ‘Donald, all Nobel laureates?’ If American capitalism is as alluring to Muslims as it has been to Christians and others, Trumps’ next TV address might be from Oslo in January 2011.
Who knows? Stranger things have happened.
About Fr. Tim
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