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Writers support Park51 project, religious freedom

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - 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.

Read the full text of PEN American Center's statement

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