the brooklynite

Enter The Brooklynite
By Daniel Treiman

We Aren’t the World?: Neighbors of the United Nations Turtle Bay headquarters have some legitimate concerns about the world body’s expansion plans: increased traffic, obstructed views, the usual. But the most vociferous opponents seem to hail from southern Brooklyn.

“I’m in favor of Kofi Annan’s resigning, and I’m in favor of closing the shop down,” City Councilman Simcha Felder told The New York Sun. Felder, who sits on the council’s land-use committee, sponsored a measure intended to block the headquarters expansion. And he’s not the only Brooklyn pol to suggest he wouldn’t mind if the U.N. left town. Similar sentiments have been voiced by State Senator Martin Golden and State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who has suggested that the U.N. should “relocate to Mozambique or maybe places like Paris.”

Now, it’s true, as these critics note, that anti-Americanism sometimes rears its ugly head at the U.N and that the General Assembly has been ridiculously one-sided in its constant condemnations of Israel. (Though on these matters, the world body is simply representative of the unfortunate state of world opinion.) And then, of course, we have the U.N.’s failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda, its pathetic response to the ongoing slaughter in Darfur, the shameful selection in 2003 of Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya to chair its human rights commission, and the scandalous corruption of its oil-for-food program.

But for all its failings—and they should not be minimized—the United Nations is the only such world body we have. And we are better off for its existence. Hosting it is an honor and a privilege. Important decisions about its place in New York should be deliberated on their merits—not held hostage to the ideological whims of Brooklyn city council members.

Judge Not Bin Laden: Brooklyn’s Imam Siraj Wahhaj is, by most accounts, one of the country’s leading Muslim religious figures. The first Muslim to deliver a benediction before Congress, the Bed-Stuy cleric is a sought-after speaker, celebrated by national Muslim groups and feted by Borough President Marty Markowitz, who in 2003 proclaimed a borough-wide “Siraj Wahhaj Day.”

So it’s not surprising that the Council on American-Islamic Relations, arguably the nation’s most prominent Muslim advocacy group, would give him top billing at its 10th-anniversary banquet this past fall.

Well, actually, it is sort of surprising, if you’ve heard what Wahhaj has to say.

He has called the FBI and CIA the “real terrorists.” And in a radio interview two years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Wahhaj still couldn’t bring himself to point a finger Osama Bin Laden:

Question: But you’re saying you’re not sure that it was Islamist terrorists[behind the September 11 terrorist attacks]? You’re not sure it was Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden?

Wahhaj: You know, I’m not even going to get into that. You know we have a principle that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, said… the burden of the proof is on the one who makes the accusation. If someone makes an accusation, they have to prove it.

Question: But the videotape from Bin Laden seemed to take credit—

Wahhaj: Why would you want me to get into that? If you’re convinced that he did it, if the intelligence community is convinced that he did it, let me tell you how Muslims see it. We look at something that’s done often in this country, and that is repetition of, it could even be a lie, and you can repeat it so often that it sounds like the truth. And I’m saying I’m not going to get into that. I’m saying that whoever did it is wrong—absolutely. I’m saying that the majority of people that I speak to are not convinced simply because the American government said this one did that and that one did that. I’m just not convinced. We grew up with that program called Mission Impossible, and we saw a lot of things that appeared to be, but wasn’t necessarily as we thought they were.

This is CAIR’s idea of a Muslim leader?

(To listen to the full interview, visit and search “Wahhaj.”)

In the Beginning: What binds the Palestinian immigrant in Bay Ridge to the Hasidic Jew in Crown Heights to the Park Slope lesbian to the Puerto Rican Pentecostal in Williamsburg? The truth is we all inhabit very different Brooklyns. But we are also bound together by the idea of Brooklyn—a place that looms large in the American imagination. (Perhaps it’s because so many Americans can trace their ancestry here—one-quarter by some estimates.)

The idea of Brooklyn is one that everyone seems to want to embrace. We see this in the Williamsburg hipsters sporting “Defend Brooklyn” T-shirts absurdly emblazoned with silhouettes of AK-47’s. We see it in the pride-of-place ghetto rhymes of Mos Def. And we see it in the lives of immigrants from every corner of the globe, for whom, like so many before them, Brooklyn represents a first stop in a journey to achieve the American dream—and often its fulfillment.

The aim of The Brooklynite—whose first issue you are now (I hope) enjoying—is to trace the contours of this amorphous idea. Certainly, this is an exciting moment in the borough’s history, a time of great cultural ferment and tremendous demographic change. But it is also a critical moment. Will over-development ruin Brooklyn’s unique character? Will the borough’s most vulnerable lose out in Brooklyn’s renaissance? These are questions tackled in The Brooklynite’s first issue and topics we undoubtedly will revisit in future editions.

Of course, such an ambitious endeavor—to serve and reflect our variegated borough—requires equal parts hubris and humility. So be sure to send us scolding letters when the balance gets out of whack.

Daniel Treiman is the editor of The Brooklynite.