Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I thought this was America

Before I begin, I thought I'd point out how many Japanese restaurants there are in the vicinity of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

Okay, then. The only good reason I can think of to oppose the establishment of the Cordoba House — the incendiarily nicknamed "Ground Zero Mosque" — at 45 Park Place in Manhattan is that its construction at that spot two blocks from Ground Zero means destruction of a building that is a century and a half old, one for which landmark status had been sought.

And that's it.

Frankly, as an American citizen who believes in our Constitution (yeah, I'm a Democrat who believes the right to bear arms, even if well regulated, is important), I am aghast, disappointed, and overall quite embarrassed that one of our major political parties is running their fall campaign on the unofficial platform of prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Even if that religion is an unpopular one with bigots. And I'm equally angered that a few invertebrates in the other major political party feel they need to jump on the bandwagon to save their jobs.

I haven't even listened to President Obama's speech on the matter. This is a no-brainer I pretty much came up with on my own.

About the closest I can imagine to a valid argument for opposing the institute with the mosque inside was articulated by The Marmot:
For what it’s worth, I think the Cordoba Initiative has the right to put a mosque/prayer room/madrassah/community center wherever it likes. If they feel like ignoring the majority of New Yorkers and majority of Americans who find it hurtful/in bad taste, hey, it’s a free country, so build away. No doubt East Coast liberal elites will celebrate it as proof — to themselves, anyway — of American tolerance and diversity. However, if the Cordoba Initiative wants to build bridges (“Improving Muslim—West Relations” is their motto), and I’ll take them at their word, then they should clearly see that putting an Islamic community center anywhere near Ground Zero — far from building bridges — is just pissing a lot of people off. For PR reasons alone, they should have reconsidered this project. Unfortunately, PR and sensitivity to host nation sensibilities haven’t proven to be a strong points of Islam in the West.
I'm no mizar5 with a Bathroom Reader on logical fallacies, but this sounds like some form of argumentum ad populum to me (mizar5, I'm told, spends a lot of time in the bathroom, ahem, boning up on his, um, oratory skills). That is to say, the argument that it shouldn't go up there is basically that a lot of people don't want it to be there, ignoring whether such popular sentiment is valid in the first place.

I mean, isn't the First Amendment of the Constitution there to protect unpopular speech, religion, etc.? Right? If so, take that GOP candidates for national office!

Is that a Nazi salute popping out of your raincoat
or are you just unhappy to see me?

But what of The Marmot's idea? Should the Cordoba House relocate to somewhere where they will be more welcomed... or, um, less unwelcome? Can we count on the rabid dogs be any less frothing at the mouth if the Cordoba House were to be placed somewhere else in Manhattan?

If they succeed at getting the Cordoba House moved from the island altogether, how does that affect the spiritual needs of the people who would utilize such a facility? Should they just be screwed over because their religion is unpopular with the protesting masses and the political operatives who would use them to manufacture an fake issue to win elections?

But more to the point, just what is the grounds for this opposition? The so-called Ground Zero Mosque is not only not a proponent of any form of radicalism espoused by the Islamists who felled the World Trade Center towers, it is actually a type that the Osama types oppose. Vehemently, from what I understand. The Sufism practiced by the Cordoba House is anathema to the Wahhabist radicalism that propels their hatred.

Holding the man at the center of the Cordoba House iniative, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, responsible for the egregious sins of the Islamist terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 would be like holding Quakers accountable for the Crusades or systemic child abuse by Catholic clergy.

But that doesn't matter, of course, because in the eyes of the bigoted everyman, Islam is Islam and a Mooslim is a Mooslim. All same same.

And so if your argument that the Cordoba House should plant itself elsewhere is based on the idea that it offends public sentiment, then you are arguing for the triumph of ignorance and religious bigotry. Coupled with the brazen attack on and disregard for First Amendment values, that is the real offense.

I'm reminded of a heated discussion I had with an adult when I was a teenager, when he defended the forced relocation of 110,000 ethnic Japanese — the majority of them native-born US citizens — because their presence in their West Coast communities would upset people whose families were fighting and dying in the Pacific. Even in modern times, there are people who feel Japanese tourists should not be allowed at the aforementioned USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor (though I don't know how they feel about Japanese restaurants). To me this latest drive to banish moderate Muslims from practicing their faith where they live and work simply because non-Muslims who can't tell the difference from an extremist and a moderate are all upset is little different from that.

Maybe this is the real America, where bigotry runs amok and can be wielded as a weapon to keep down those who look or sound funny. Especially if there is political gain to be had from targeting such groups.

Frankly, I am flabbergasted that so few voices in the Republican Party have spoken out against the likes of Sarah Palin in her ranting tweets about this manufactured non-issue. They are out there, though. Imam Rauf worked with the Bush Administration to help the FBI understand Islam and to act as something of an envoy to various Middle Eastern countries for the US, and former administration official Michael Gerson has stood up in support for the Cordoba House:
An inclusive rhetoric toward Islam is sometimes dismissed as mere political correctness. Having spent some time crafting such rhetoric for a president, I can attest that it is actually a matter of national interest. It is appropriate -- in my view, required -- for a president to draw a clear line between "us" and "them" in the global conflict with Muslim militants. I wish Obama would do it with more vigor. But it matters greatly where that line is drawn. The militants hope, above all else, to provoke conflict between the West and Islam -- to graft their totalitarian political manias onto a broader movement of Muslim solidarity. America hopes to draw a line that isolates the politically violent and those who tolerate political violence -- creating solidarity with Muslim opponents and victims of radicalism.

How precisely is our cause served by treating the construction of a non-radical mosque in Lower Manhattan as the functional equivalent of defiling a grave? It assumes a civilizational conflict instead of defusing it. Symbolism is indeed important in the war against terrorism. But a mosque that rejects radicalism is not a symbol of the enemy's victory; it is a prerequisite for our own.

The federal government has a response to American mosques taken over by advocates of violence. It investigates them, freezes their assets and charges their leaders. It does not urge zoning decisions that express a general discomfort with Islam itself.
And The Western Confucian alerts his readers to the writings of Republican renegade Ron Paul (a favorite of The Marmot), who makes some of the same points as I:
The justification to ban the mosque is no more rational than banning a soccer field in the same place because all the suicide bombers loved to play soccer.

Conservatives are once again, unfortunately, failing to defend private property rights, a policy we claim to cherish. In addition conservatives missed a chance to challenge the hypocrisy of the left which now claims they defend property rights of Muslims, yet rarely if ever, the property rights of American private businesses.

Defending the controversial use of property should be no more difficult than defending the 1st Amendment principle of defending controversial speech. But many conservatives and liberals do not want to diminish the hatred for Islam–the driving emotion that keeps us in the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society—protecting liberty.
Amen. (Can I say that?) Maybe this is America.

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4 comments:

  1. The comparison with Pearl Harbor doesn't work because few people alive today actually remember it happening. The old wound is healed and the scar faded. Not so with 9/11. Every year our school and many others commemorate the day, and during a brief morning ceremony, our principal struggles to explain something complex to children who have no memory of it. It's easy for me to see that a mosque near Ground Zero is not a victory for Islam but a victory for our great value of religious freedom, but since I was outside the country and didn't watch the events unfold on TV, I don't have the emotional investment that many Americans have. Nobody in my little town is talking about the mosque, however, so it doesn't seem to be a genuine national issue, but rather one manufactured by political opportunists, and judging by today's headlines, the conflict has gotten ugly with protesters surrounding a man with a skullcap.

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  2. I don't live in NYC, and could really care less about it, but I do find it in really poor taste to rub salt in such a fresh wound in country were public sentiment is not exactly running in your favor at the moment. By the way, you might want to catch this past week's Mad Men to see how certain members of the advertising world dealt with the having to work with the Japanese doing their own invading of America (Honda) back in 1965.

    Also, sooner than you think, you may not be saying, "Amen. (Can I say that?) Maybe this is America," if you know anything about Taqiyya as the governments of certain European countries are now finding out firsthand.

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  3. I have a completely honest question, Kushibo. Why are liberals so quick to defend Islam and so quick to denounce Christianity?

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  4. Matt wrote:
    I have a completely honest question, Kushibo. Why are liberals so quick to defend Islam and so quick to denounce Christianity?

    Let me get all Socratic on you and answer your question with a question: Are you so sure that's what's happening here? I could talk about how the left is full of people who don't like or trust the evangelical-led religious right, but I think that's so oversimplified to the point of being a useless statement. Case in point, the primary person defending the establishment of the mosque (me) is a Christian, while the one person making something of a (tentative) defense of the anti-mosque position (Sonagi) is a non-Christian.

    I don't know if I'm qualified to answer your question because (a) I am not quick to denounce Christianity (but I do like to skewer hypocritical Bible thumpers; it's what Jesus would do) and (b) I don't know if I count as a liberal. I hold some liberal views, but I'm mostly a moderate (and, read the side bar, highly distrustful of Democrats, particularly the most left-leaning).

    At any rate, this position I'm taking is not a defense of Islam (some of its followers are very bad people), and it certainly is not a denunciation of Christianity. Rather, it is a spirited defense of our First Amendment, particularly the part about the government impeding the right of free exercise of religion, and a criticism of those who would take away those rights because of popular sentiment (especially when they have been involved in whipping up that sentiment).

    For me (and this relates to how I would answer Sonagi's point), this issue is not merely private citizens expressing their disappointment about what they consider sacrilege at Ground Zero, but rather a blatant attack on our Constitution, because the politicians who would lead our country in a couple years are trying to block it. Sarah Palin wants to be our PRESIDENT and she is trying to block free practice of religion of an unpopular religious faith.

    Does that not shock and anger you as Americans?

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