Against my better judgment (there seems to be quite a bit of that going around these days), I’ve decided to engage with a post at the Urban Times that comes out against the Cordoba House Project in Lower Manhattan. Or, excuse me, the GROUND ZERO TERROR MOSQUE. Replies Nicolas Samson to my earlier objection:
My argument stems from a practical, pragmatic standpoint. I wish to avoid steaming [sic] ideology whether it is religious or secular, Christian, Muslim, republican, or liberal. My objections to building that mosque right now are just that, objections to building that mosque there, now. Freedom of religion has nothing to do with it. Bigotry has nothing to do with it. It’s all about the greater picture.
Freedom of religion has everything to do with it. That’s the entire point. Would you be just as opposed to a church, a synagogue, or a local chapter of the Richard Dawkins fan club opening up shop in the exact same spot? And what is the greater picture? Your objections to building a community center that includes a mosque seems awfully limited in its scope. The greater picture is who we are as a society and whether or not we can handle the consequences of our own rights and protections.
I sit down and ask myself, what is the coveted result? My answer is: An open-society America. Not a liberal America, not a kick-ass America, but an open-society America.
Well, you lost me when you decided that you didn’t want a kick-ass America.
That entails policies that are applied judiciously and not wantonly.
For instance, the New York City Landmarks Commission deciding that the area in question is not, in fact, a historic landmark? I know, they totally made an exception to their standards by not allowing this defunct Burlington Coat Factory to be destroyed:
Because it would be such a shame to see the local Amish Market and Off-Track Betting establishment desecrated.
A right is not the same as a blank check. Just because I can doesn’t mean I have to, anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Discretion and common sense must rule the exercise of rights. Without it they become doctrines. And I am not in a hurry to replace the religious dogmas with libero-secular [sic] ones. Principles will do me fine, thank you very much, freedom of religion included. As long as I don’t see holy pyres [sic] in America I think things are pretty ok. Maybe not perfect, but ok. So no need to rape the point of freedom of religion home.
Well, that one is just a mess of contradictions. You’re right, just because you can doesn’t mean you have to. But then we get to the converse: you don’t have to, but you can. Because it’s the United States of America. Discretion and common sense are excellent benchmarks, to be sure, but there is no clause in the First Amendment that says “no law respecting an establishment of religion…unless people are being jerks.”
I don’t know where you get the idea that allowing the free exercise of religion is “libero-secular,” much less a dogma. I think things are pretty ok, too. And agreed, they’re not perfect. But this is why we strive as a nation to always do better. It’s what we were founded on – a constant optimism that we are better as a society, that we’re more just, more tolerant, more welcoming, more equal.
I’m also pretty sure I’m trying to defend freedom of religion from rape, to engage with your colorful metaphor. I just hope I don’t end up like that other guy who tried to stop a rape.
You talk about veiled bigotry. Granted. Much of the resistance to the mosque veils bigotry. Yet, that doesn’t mean that all resistance to the mosque is bigotry. Don’t throw away the baby with the water.
You’re right in that some resistance is veiled bigotry. The rest is overt bigotry. I submit to you Webster’s definition of bigotry: “obstinate and unreasoning attachment of one’s own belief and opinions, with narrow-minded intolerance of beliefs opposed to them.” Because again, why oppose this particular building project? If you can name for me a reason other than the fact that Cordoba House is an Islamic project, I’ll stop calling you and some other opponents of it bigots.
On the other hand, much of the support for the mosque veils liberal dogmatism. True. That doesn’t mean all support for the mosque is carried out by raging secularists. There’s good reason behind that argument too.
Yep. Some support comes from raging secularists, others from proud constitutionalists, and even more from the ACLU. Some also comes from Republicans, from Independents, from Christians and from Jews, from blacks and from gays. Isn’t America great?
The question is: What does Ground Zero need to transform itself from an ugly painful scar to a site of regeneration and hope? A mosque? Right now? No! The main thing this measure spells out is liberal dogma; or guilt; or tacky politics.
No, what Ground Zero needed to not be so damn ugly was for Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority to get the hell over themselves and restart construction. Which they did. And even today, with a building barely rising out of the earth at Ground Zero, you simply cannot see the location where Park51 is being built. I don’t understand why supporting a constitutional right equals liberal dogma or guilt. It’s not like a bunch of lefties all got together (presumably on JournoList) one day and said “we really need to get some patsy Muslim to build a mosque that will be extremely divisive and bring out the worst in Americans. That will really soothe my conscience.”
I mean if freedom of religion is the issue, then why not build a multicultural center? Why not house all religions under one roof on that sacred site? See how that fares, if anyone can say no to that proposition with any credibility! It will be an unstoppable initiative. Because it’s a smarter argument, a truly inclusive measure, a freedom-defending move. A true freedom of religion move. A mosque alone? Just reeks of vested interest.
I’m all for a multicultural center too. But so far no developers who own valuable land in Lower Manhattan has decided to do so, for whatever reasons. And just like the New York Landmark Preservation Committee didn’t say no to Cordoba House, I’m sure they wouldn’t say no to a multicultural, interfaith community center at a similar location.
Let’s also get something straight: the proposed project is not “a mosque alone.” It is, according to the very same Cordoba Initiative that’s building it, “a multi-floor community center open to all New Yorkers, much like a YMCA or Jewish Community Center (JCC) with a designated prayer space (mosque) in one area.” So yes, a mosque is part of it. But it’s not the whole thing. And anyways, what the hell religion do you know that isn’t a vested interest?
Consider this: the Christian Church rushes to Iraq, after all the bombing, and says, “We are not all bad. We didn’t bomb your country. A few thugs in suits did. Our people opposed the war. Christians are not Muslim haters. Please believe us. Please accept this cathedral in this flattened neighborhood as token of majority Christian solidarity to your plight.”
I really hope that there are Christians doing something like this right now. Think of poor General Petraeus in Afghanistan, “slogging away in the Hindu Kush, desperately trying to be culturally sensitive, watching GIs get killed because Afghans believe the U.S. is waging a war on Islam, and back home, the super-patriots on Fox News have… declared war on Islam.” What is your point, anyways? That Iraqis would probably block construction of the church? So instead you suggest that we should stoop to that level of religious intolerance. Interesting line of thought.
Coz this is what is happening in Manhattan right now. The only difference is that the perpetrators of the bombings were not elected officials but outlaws, and the ones who seek redemption are doing so by forcing the issue home. It doesn’t work that way. Rapprochement doesn’t just happen, nor can it be pressured to work. It takes common sense, from both sides. It takes hard work. It takes smart moves, pragmatic rather than doctrinaire, effective rather than dogmatic. Sensible rather than righteous.
This is even more illogical. If elected officials from Country A start bombing the shit out of your country, it would make sense to despise the same people of Country A who elected them. But if a couple idiots from Countries B, D, and R murder a bunch of your fellow countrymen not because of their nationality but their religion – clearly at odds with the vast majority of their fellow citizens – you would therefore condemn the entire religion?
The 9/11 hijackers aren’t trying to build a mosque. Mohammed Atta is not attempting to construct some sort of Second Taj-ul-Masajid with a big statue of Osama bin Laden giving the finger directly towards Ground Zero. It is a center designed for the community that also has a small place for Muslims to worship. And what sounds like a pretty bitchin’ swimming pool.
Want to promote freedom of religion and tolerance and peace and prosperity on Ground Zero? Build a Multicultural Center. Build a Multi-Spiridome, a temple to house all religions under the same roof, the first of its kind, or one with adjacent rooms, or one with adjoining rooms. Build religious schools of worship of all sorts. Build a place where kids will come and play together and learn new languages and international sports and games, supervised by teachers of all cultures and colors and religions, learning what solidarity and respect really are, from the ground up. Build something that will make a difference, a venue that will be a symbol of success, not a symbol that wants to succeed in becoming a venue. Build something to truly bring individuals together. Build a house, not a room. Build a vision. Build a future.
That sounds lovely. Why don’t you build it? Why don’t I build it? I suspect neither of us has the money, the land, the time, or the inclination. Why don’t we require this of churches or temples or yoga studios? Why is it just Islam that has to fit your idea of an acceptable religious environment? We have religious schools, be they Catholic school, or shul, or whatever else you can imagine. That’s because this whole country is your “Multi-Spirodome.”
Children and immigrants come to this country because here they can live alongside people from a hundred different nations, surrounded by diversity. Because here they can worship freely in the manner of their choosing. Because here they can express themselves without fear of retaliation. Because here you can buy land and own property and it is yours; it cannot be taken from you. Kids come and play together at the YMCA (I’m even told they occasionally offer language lessons there) – right alongside a couple people praying to Jesus in the room next door. What’s wrong with the same thing happening, only Mohammed is in the picture?
This isn’t even about solidarity. But it is about respect. This is America, and your disagreement or possible offense taken doesn’t really matter here. I respect your right to find it a bad idea. I don’t think it’s the most sensitive plan in the world myself. But I absolutely and unconditionally respect a private organization’s right to develop something on the land that they own and for which they’ve received zoning approval from the City of New York.
More than that, I’ve come to realize that we need Cordoba House built, if not only to remind ourselves of the freedoms on which we founded this country. We are all Americans. And we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights. Or at least they used to be self-evident.