Monday, August 23, 2010

The mosque thing

Yeah, I disappear for two months and then come back and write a political post, which is always a mistake. Oh well. This is half to share good links and half to expound my typically wishy-washy opinion.

First, links. They're better than what I have to say anyway. First, an article by the boss of a sort of second-degree friend on why the mosque actually helps us, national security-wise. The National Security Mosque.

Also: a comment from a National Review Online writer (dissenting from the majority view on NRO) that blocking the mosque would violate all kinds of conservative principles. A Very Long Post on Cordoba House (but read it all).

Salient paragraph from the latter: "Part of supporting limited government is understanding that sometimes, things you don’t like will happen, and the government (especially the federal government) won’t do anything about it. Getting to do what you want comes at the price of other people getting to do what they want—including build mosques where you’d prefer they didn’t." This is basically where I come down. The First Amendment means nothing if it doesn't mean that acts of speech and religious worship that offend or disturb someone aren't protected. You have a constitutional right to freedom of expression; you don't have a constitutional right not to be offended. As a Christian, and especially in my younger days when I participated in a high school Bible study that the school district decided to kick off campus for a year because they thought they had the legal right and/or obligation to do so, and as a descendant of all kinds of religious minorities who weren't always welcomed with open arms but found religious freedom in spite of nativist impulses (I mean Jews and Catholics, and also I'm descended from Quakers who got the heck out of England for similar reasons), I value my religious freedom. It would be hypocritical of me to deny it to anyone else.

This doesn't mean I'm totally comfortable with the idea of a Muslim religious center in that location (I am not proud to say this, but it makes me a bit uneasy), or that other people who live in New York or were more personally affected by 9/11 than I was don't have the right to voice their own grievances - their feelings may not be entirely rational, but they don't have to be rational to be legitimate. I often feel the strain between my desire to accept Muslims fully - and I've taught classes or sections of classes about Islam and had Muslim students and colleagues; I'm in a position that tolerance is important and necessary - and my anger at the violence Muslim extremists have committed. I also acknowledge that if the purpose of Cordoba House is to build bridges, it's a purpose that's clearly not being fulfilled. This is not really fair, since they can't determine how other people will receive them, but there's no way to begin public relations other than with the public's perception of you.

That aside, though, I'm becoming rather appalled at where public perception stands. I was not a big Bush fan and on the whole he probably did more harm than good in terms of winning the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide, but he did set the tone right after 9/11 of distinguishing a radical fringe of Muslim extremists from the vast majority of American Muslims who are good people and live in harmony with people of other faiths. We've regressed in the last nine years to the point that few people feel even the need to make that distinction, whether in sincerity or as a politically correct veneer (which perhaps it always was for many people). I don't know where this is leading, but probably nowhere good.