Wednesday, August 04, 2010

How Close Is Too Close

I'd echo Will Wilkinson's response to the overblown reaction to the "Ground Zero mosque."

The silly controversy over the downtown mosque is excellent evidence that the conservative movement has become obsessed to the point of derangement with a right-wing version of identity politics that sees everything through the lens of the assumption that American identity is under seige. The modus operandi of the populist right is patriotic semiotics gone wild. 9/11 was a Great Awakening and Ground Zero is a sacred scar representing the sacrifice of those thousands who died in fire in order to shake the rest of us into recognition of the great existential threat to the American Way of Life. To refuse to resist the placement of a mosque next to the grave of those martyred in the Great Awakening is to fail to have heard the call, to fail to understand the battle now underway, to complacently acquiesce to the forces slowly transforming America into something else, into something unAmerican, a place for some other kind of people, a place not worth fighting for. It is to, as they say, “let the terrorists win.”

I've been surprised at the extent to which otherwise reasonable conservatives have strained logic to justify the position that the Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero is "distasteful." One of the commenters from Wilkinson's piece cites the example of a Christian center near Auschwitz and the other example is that of an anti-government (perhaps a libertarian) museum going in next door to the site of the Oklahoma City bombing.

There are problems with both of those examples, but an even more pressing issue is this idea of space and just how far these "scared" areas should extend. Is a mile okay? How about half a mile? Or several blocks? No one is suggesting that a mosque be built at ground zero, so what we're talking about here is space adjacent to ground zero. If your argument is that x amount of space should be set aside as a memorial, so be it, whatever you want that memorial to be. But from what I understand, the space in question is an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory and the issue isn't about how much space to set aside for a memorial, but what's acceptable in this space near Ground Zero. What I have trouble with is the idea that a mosque is somehow offensive, but a Best Buy would be perfectly acceptable.

Virtually everyone agrees that Auschwitz should remain a solemn memorial, but that doesn't mean that a church built nearby the memorial would be any more offensive than a Starbucks. Something has to be there, at some point past the limits of the memorial and there'd be nothing wrong with a church, a mosque, a Best Buy, or a Starbucks. The Oklahoma City example is a bit more compelling, if only because it provides an interesting parallel between Timothy McVeigh's perversion of anti-government sentiment and the 9-11 attackers perversion of religion. As a libertarian, I'd probably have a problem if people complained that a museum celebrating the limited government legacy of say Thomas Jefferson, F.A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman was objectionable near the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. Because of the location, it does matter what the 9-11 mosque is all about. If it's a forward-looking mosque that preaches tolerance and works together with other religious groups in the city, I have trouble seeing what the objectionable aspect is without indulging in bigotry. If this was a mosque that preached anti-American rhetoric and expressed any sort of sympathy for radical Islam, well, then you've got a damn good reason for finding the plans offensive.

As we all learned in elementary school (or at least we did when I was in school), the very definition of prejudice means that your prejudging without having all the specifics at your finger tips. The worst part of this criticism is that it come based only on general impressions and not in regards to those individuals who are actually behind the project. I usually disagree with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (whom Wilkinson notes is supportive of the mosque) on just about everything, but he's always an adept politician and he's in the right here. I'd have trouble believing he'd be supportive of this plan if there were unsavory elements with questionable backgrounds involved.


Anonymous rose said...

(I'm against blocking the mosque from being built.)

First of all, only 20% of Americans favor allowing the mosque to be built there. More than just "deranged" conservatives oppose this thing. 50% of independants oppose this.

Second of all, yes, any movement that takes property rights seriously is being hypocritical here if they want some ad hoc policy to block the mosque.

Third, (and this is the most important point I wanna make), Islam is doing a really bad job of mending fences with the West. This Rauf guy who is leading the efforts to build the Mosque is an asshole. He claims to a be a peace activitist dedicated to making muslims and the west like each other, but he is clearly just an attention whore. The Mosque might be perfectly well intentioned, but everyone knew ahead of time that the net result of building a huge mosque so close to ground zero would be MORE animosity, not less. God forbid some lunatic shoots up the mosque after its built.

Last, I just wish someone would acknowledge that the US is one of the few countries on earth where we'd even consider letting this Mosque get built. France outlaws burqas, Denmark outlaws miniarettes. This is a pretty damn tolerant country and I'm sick of high minded jerks acting like half this country is one wrong look away from donning a Klan outfit. Reasonable people can be pretty ticked off that Islam's effort at peacemaking is so antagonistic.

1:44 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Fair points - And I wonder how many liberals are supportive only because the conservative voices they detest have come out against it? Politics I fear has become far too reactionary, to both perceived external enemies and domestic political ones.

And very, very good point at the end there that we should not lose sight of. It says something about this country that the majority of voices opposed to the mosque are not calling for government intervention.

9:52 PM  

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