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Commentary: The convent at the site of Auschwitz

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Commentary: The convent at the site of Auschwitz
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

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 Barack 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.

Susan Estrich's e-mail address is