I'm not getting why the right has grabbed this as a big thing. McCain, Gingrich, Palin, Liz Cheney--people who are definitely right-wingish, not just the usual knee-jerk anti-Islamists like Daniel Pipes, Andy McCarthy, Pam Geller and that sort, have spoken out about this building, in a neighborhood that already has a mosque, that is not for the sole purpose of worship, and that actually does not have anything to do with 9/11 except for occurring in the same material universe. I mean, I have ideas about why, but I'm loathe to boil down a First Amendment battle over freedom of religion to mere tropes of bigotry and cheap publicity. Just because I darkly suspect that some people have decided to make a big issue of this is because they are utilizing distrust of "the other" and trying to look vaguely "crusaderish" in a fight against something they are making out to be worse and bigger than it is....
I'm cynical, what do you want from me?
That being said, I think these people are misguided--it's fine to have an opinion, to think something is in "bad taste", to voice displeasure. But to wage an ideological war over something you simply dislike where larger principles are at stake seems foolish to me. And I think freedom of religion in this country, even though I don't believe in any religion or particularly believe religion is necessarily good, is a positive thing. A phrase that stuck with me from Gene Robinson's invocation at President Obama's inauguration was the phrase "mere tolerance". Mere tolerance isn't always enough. Sometimes, you have to try a step further--understanding. If I tolerate--I hold you at arm's length. We are separate, and passably equal. But if I understand you? Then we have a dialogue where there used to be misunderstanding.
And in this situation, people aren't even being merely tolerant anymore. There are protests against not just mosques in the area surrounding the place where the towers fell, but throughout the country, and this I have to think is driven by distrust of "the other": people who may be different, culturally and ethnically; people perceived to be newer to this country--and so, less American. And that strikes me as being a horrible way to be. It is about being hateful, distrustful, and prepared to be offensive to people who themselves have not offended--who just are.
So when I see that the NY transit authority allows an ad like this:
which directly associates the people who did 9/11 with the people building the Islamic community center, I cringe. They are not the same people. At all. And I think making this mistake is very wrong.
But I've read so many good blog-posts that say what I want to express, but better, so here's what I've read and encourage others to:
Christopher Hitchens points out that the rhetoric of victimology and unreason are detrimental to the debate.
Jeffrey Goldberg points out that Faisal Abdul Rauf is a moderate Muslim whose ideas are actually dangerous to the cause of extremism.
William Saletan expanded on the theme that the us vs. them religious paradigm is pretty much playing into the propaganda of the terrorists.
Also, I'll note that a recent study suggests that acceptance as opposed to alienation, of Islamic communities, might be the a solid anti-teror move.
It isn't my business to defend religion, but I think it's everyone's business to defend people and their freedoms, and the right to worship and form communitites strikes me as basic. To slander people with the charge of terrorist connections with little basis is always wrong, and I think has potential to backfire.
And I can't even begin to address all that's wrong with pronouncements by the AFA's Brian Fischer, who if he wasn't real, I swear, an atheist blogger would have to invent him to personify the odd reasoning of the Christian Right). Or the claim by TN Lt. Governor Ron Ramsay that Islam is a cult.