For many, the issue of the Islamic cultural center near ground zero has become personal. This hasn’t helped with the “dialogue” the project was supposed to start.
The personal is still political. “Michael R. Bloomberg is a former Wall Street mogul with a passion for the rights of a private property owner,” reports The Times’s Michael Barbaro. “He is a Jew whose parents asked their Christian lawyer to buy a house and then sell it back to them to hide their identity in an unwelcoming
suburb. And he is a politician who regards his independence as his greatest virtue.” Massachusetts
Where is this taking us? To ground zero, of course:
That potent combination of beliefs and history, those closest to Mayor Bloomberg say, has fueled his defense of the proposed Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan — a defense he has mounted with emotion, with strikingly strong language and in the face of polls suggesting that most New Yorkers disagree with him. “Something about this issue just really hooked into him,” said Howard J. Rubenstein, the powerful public relations executive, who is a friend of Mr. Bloomberg. “It deeply upset him.”
The mayor, of course, is not alone in taking an emotional stance on an issue that could be fairly described as a debate over “the rights of a private property owner.” Here’s The Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer:
A place is made sacred by a widespread belief that it was visited by the miraculous or the transcendent (
Lourdes, the Temple Mount), by the presence there once of great nobility and sacrifice ( Gettysburg), or by the blood of martyrs and the indescribable suffering of the innocent ( Auschwitz). When we speak of Ground Zero as hallowed ground, what we mean is that it belongs to those who suffered and died there — and that such ownership obliges us, the living, to preserve the dignity and memory of the place, never allowing it to be forgotten, trivialized or misappropriated …
It’s why, while no one objects to Japanese cultural centers, the idea of putting one up at Pearl Harbor would be offensive.And why Pope John Paul II ordered the Carmelite nuns to leave the convent they had established at
Auschwitz. He was in no way devaluing their heartfelt mission to pray for the souls of the dead. He was teaching them a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign.
The issue of the Cordoba Initiative’s cultural center a couple of blocks from the site of the
has been the summer’s slow-burning political issue, with a white-hot culture war at its center. (President Obama’s decision Friday night to support the mosque certainly won’t cool any tempers.) So, is it a “monument to tolerance” or to terrorism? That’s a question that, as The Times’s Ann Barnard discovered through some good reporting, the center’s planners were initially unprepared to answer. In fact, advance preparation seems to be a weak spot at the Cordoba Initiative; when asked on a radio talk show last week whether he considered Hamas a terrorist group, the group’s leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, responded, “I’m not a politician, I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” Fortunately, there’s nothing the blogosphere loves better than complexity. World Trade Center
(It’s worth pointing out that many on the left were angered by the Barnard article: “There is a constant temptation to publish articles like this that delve into the lesser known details of a topic or look at the small ways in which the mosque organizers, naively, brought some of the trouble on themselves,” wrote Josh Marshall at TPM. “But there’s nothing subtle or probing about glossing over who actually led the scurrilous jihad against this project in the first place.”)
In any case, the mosque debate is also a personal issue for Time’s Joe Klein: “I knew people who died in those attacks; nine people in my suburban town didn’t come home that night. I also have Muslim friends–some of whom live in that town, some of whom knew and maybe even were friendly with those who were killed–who are appalled by what they consider Al Qaeda’s perversion of their religion.” O.K., that’s an easy passage to mock (“some of my best friends are black …”), but he aims for a bit more substance in rebutting Krauthammer:
Krauthammer raises a second shoddy argument: You wouldn’t want the Japanese to build a memorial or cultural center at
Pearl Harbor. This is conflating ethnicity with religion. But I’d also be open to a Japanese monument that honored those who died on December 7, 1941, apologized for the attack and expressed the desire for continued close friendship between our two countries. The Polish government’s gesture of allowing Israeli jets to be photographed flying over Auschwitz–which Jeff Goldberg describes in his Atlantic cover story this month–is sort of like that. And so is the : as planned, it is a celebration of American diversity, a monument to those who died (including the Muslims who died) and a rejection of the extremist theology of those who carried out the attacks. Cordoba Center
’s Jonathan Chait uses a broad brush to accuse Krauthammer of using a broad brush: “We’re left with a stark contrast in strategic approaches to fighting islamic radicalism. One approach is to attempt to divide extremist Islam from the rest of Islam, demonstrating American openness to the latter in order to isolate the former. The other approach — Krauthammer’s approach — is to treat all Muslims as potential terrorists. After all, who is to say that any Muslim organization won’t hire a radical?You certainly can’t prove a negative, especially in advance.” New Republic
Speaking of proving negatives, Betsy Newmark thinks the mosque’s detractors are being asked to do so, on the charge of bigotry: “Our betters such as the Mayor and the White House which posted his remarks all think that the only reason that people would oppose such a mosque is due to unthinking prejudice against Muslims. Because, in their view, only someone of deep-seated bigotry would be against such a mosque. Well, then the majority of Americans are bigots. People don’t oppose this iman’s building of a mosque, but just one in that location. If he was truly interested in cross-cultural openness and discussions, he would pick another site. Instead, he is deliberately choosing a site to exacerbate relations.”
For Tapped Adam Serwer, it’s not exactly bigotry, but pure politics:
The reason this became a national controversy is because Republicans see a political advantage in harnessing anti-Muslim sentiment, particularly if that forces Democrats to defend an unpopular minority group. Rauf and Khan are merely collateral damage in a larger political battle in which the rights of Muslims are forfeit as long as Republicans see some political interest in curtailing them or forcing their opponents to defend them. But just as no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, no Republican ever went broke underestimating the political cowardice of the Democratic Party.
So what we’re left with is a largely uncontested notion that any observant Muslim is a potential national-security threat, a view that was once confined to the conspiratorial right-wing fringe but is now, thanks to Republican demagoguery, Democratic cowardice, and mainstream media know-nothingism, an entirely respectable, mainstream view. This isn’t just a setback for religious tolerance and individual freedom; it’s a setback for the fight against terrorism, which demands that the
marginalize violent extremists, not embrace their narrative and worldview. United States
Barbara O’Brien at the Mahablog doesn’t see what’s so sacred about ground zero:
Over the past several days here on this blog I have documented that within a three-block radius of the area called Ground Zero there are at least two strip clubs plus a number of bars (one popular with lesbians). This morning through googling I found a lingerie and porn video shop about two blocks south of Ground Zero that a reviewer calls “grimy” and “sleazy.” Those establishments have existed in close proximity to Ground Zero lo these many years, and no one seemed to care.
Yet talk about putting up a cultural center within this same area, one that won’t even be visible from the Ground Zero site, and suddenly people start squawking about “hallowed ground” and “sacrilege.” Give me a break.
It’s a different liberal’s view on the importance of the site, however, that’s garnering the most attention from the right at the moment. “Yes, the 9/11 attacks were horrific, but they were more about optics than actual harm,” wrote the diarist Something the Dog Said at Daily Kos. “The economy was already taking a hit before the
fell. The reaction of the nation to seeing two major buildings in Twin Towers fall on T.V. has boosted the attack out of proportion. While the loss of even a single life is to be condemned and the devastation these deaths caused the families of those killed, more than this number of teens are killed every year in car crashes. These are also tragic losses but we do not make the kind of high profile issue of it that the 9/11 attacks are.” New York
While not everyone will reject this equivalence argument out of hand, it seems unlikely to start the sort of dialogue among faiths that the Islamic cultural center’s backers are so keen on. Of course, neither will opening a gay bar next door to the mosque, although Greg Gutfield is at least providing a dog-days diversion. And in a week in which one of Feisal Abdul Rauf’s more influential supporters in the blogosphere made a convincing case that
Israel is within a hair’s-breadth of bombing , perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing. Iran