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.


Deanna said...

This, I think, is the bottom line...
Leaving all arguments of religious tolerance and First Amendment rights aside, the mosque/"community center" was supposed to be an "outreach to the community to build bridges." Since that clearly isn't going to happen, and since the majority of New York residents are hurt and offended at the idea of a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero (which, for all intents and purposes, is a graveyard for thousands of people whose physical bodies were annihilated to the point where their loved ones could not even bury a part of them), hasn't the "building bridges" part of their mission clearly failed? And IF "building bridges" is truly a part of what they wish to accomplish, the mosque should be moved. It would be seen as an act of goodwill toward NYC and prove to the general public that Muslims can reach out and compromise. The ball is in the Cordoba House's court at the moment.

Juliet said...

Well, that is probably true. After getting into one of those typically pointless blog arguments recently about Islam, I'm sure there are people who wouldn't want it *anywhere*, but bridges need to be built, and if both sides are acting in good faith, then finding another location shouldn't be difficult. (Although I don't suppose NYC zoning laws make building anything particularly easy.)

As is typical of so many debates, I lean liberal until I start reading self-righteous sermons from liberals about how anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant. This happened with someone I know on Facebook - I didn't see the original debate, but her husband, who does not mince words, flat-out called one of her friends an ignoramus, and it probably added another day or two to my coming to the more leftish position I'm at now. Another one of my friends who I know is fairly moderate to liberal but also lives in New York expressed a perfectly reasonable level of discomfort with the whole idea, and who am I to argue? I've been to New York and specifically the Financial District, but I don't live there and I wasn't anywhere near it on 9/11. This is naturally a highly charged issue; I'm just worried because on the extreme end I see a generalized hostility toward all Muslims which I think is not only misdirected, but contrary to the spirit of religious liberty and ultimately our own national security.

This is a good essay that gets at the sort of thing I'm talking about (contrary to what she says, I think American tolerance toward Muslims has noticeably declined in recent years, but her legitimization of people's very strong emotions about the whole thing and the speech she invents for political leaders are right on):

Brian Robinson said...

I would say that at THIS point it doesn't seem to be building bridges. But, on the other hand, the same thing was said about many incidents during the Civil Rights movement in America during the 50s and 60s.

Obviously many Americans will feel queasy about people and a religion they have little real information about and more than a healthy dose of propaganda against it. So, yeah, people will see things like this as an affront or attack. On one hand it's not surprising, and on the other it's nearly horrific.

But, let's see what time brings us. Especially after the elections in November and some of the spotlight is off of the actual spot. With time, it may be one of the steps we all remember to more unity as Americans. We can hope...

(Brian, from the Broken Telegraph)

Juliet said...

Brian, thank you for visiting my humble blog and for your comments. The American Civil Rights movement is an interesting analogy to the present time. I have been thinking about this a lot in terms of the anti-Catholicism rampant in America particularly in the nineteenth century, but also beyond. The ultimate result of the American experiment in permitting religious liberty to all, including Catholics, was that Catholicism in America became an example of how Catholicism and religious freedom could coexist and mutually benefit from one another. The Declaration on Religious Freedom from Vatican II owes its existence to this experience, and to John Courtney Murray, the American priest who was instrumental in its composition. The change from 1960 (is JFK too Catholic?) to 2004 (is Kerry Catholic enough?) demonstrates how change there was in Americans' belief in the possibility of a political leader who was fully Catholic but owed his primary political allegiance to the United States rather than Rome. But this was a long way off for Know-Nothings, and while it doesn't legitimize nativist rioting and and church-burning, it does explain the mindset of nativists when you realize how far the Catholic Church a century before Vatican II was from being able to conceive of, let alone accept, the basic human right of religious freedom.

I hope, however painful it may be now, time also demonstrates the power of religious freedom in American to transform the way Muslims around the world conceive of being a Muslim in a religiously free society, to our mutual benefit. And I hope Cordoba House, wherever it is built, demonstrates that power in the shorter term.