I recently got an e-mail from a young friend who wanted my input so she could make some sense of the Ground Zero Mosque controversy. Hopefully, my answer helped.
Here is the well-reasoned, frustrated query:
I need a favor from you. I am having trouble with the mosque issue. Here are my thoughts:
1. I do not agree that a mosque should be built in such close proximity to Ground Zero. I find it to be disrespectful and it feels completely contrived. Someone is trying to create waves and I think it’s absolutely inappropriate. I would have hoped that the Islamic community that spends so much time trying to convince us that they do not subscribe to the radical anti-American beliefs would not do this. It seems to say “Yeah we were just kidding about all that. We really have no respect for you.”
2. I am also very disappointed that Obama chose to enter into this debate. I think it fueled those who already don’t like Muslims. From a purely political standpoint it doesn’t sound like either party wanted to have to talk about this in the upcoming elections. Just because you have a soapbox doesn’t mean you should use it. I find this to be an incredibly irresponsible use of his influence, power, and time. I would hope he would be more concerned about improving education, healthcare, etc.
On the other side of things I am increasingly fearful that the same people who are so quick to condemn the Muslim community are throwing out the very document that makes our country so different from others. The Constitution guarantees us all the right to free speech and freedom of religion. These are fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens of this country whether you like what they have to say or not. My fear that the controversy in New York would spread to other jurisdictions seems to have happened. I read an article today that the Muslim community is being prevented from building worship and community centers in Tennessee and Florida as well as other states. My question is: where does it stop? Will we feel better if they are all locked in internment camps?
The thing I love about this country is that we move forward and we get better. We grow in tolerance and acceptance of all people. I feel like this debate sends us backwards by a hundred years and is fueled by a fear of the other that brings out the worst in us. What makes me even more sick is I feel like this is exactly what the radical Islamic groups want. A divided America targeting Muslim Americans just because they’re different then us.
I think that by denying the Muslim community their freedom of speech and freedom of religion, we are limiting yours and mine.
I was also unexpectedly moved by the recognition of the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment last week. 100 years ago I couldn’t vote. The government of this country thought that my opinion and my voice didn’t matter. I see how far we have come and how far we have still to go. But I also see how lucky I am that those who came before me were strong enough to fight for freedom in all its forms. This debate seems to be about taking away freedom, and I don’t think that debate belongs here.
So now here comes the favor I need from you. Tell me the other side. My concept of this issue comes from the quick snatches I get on my lunch break since my mornings now consist of a mixture of Sesame Street and Playhouse Disney. Elmo and Mickey Mouse really haven’t entered into this discussion yet. Am I out in left field?
And my lengthy but hopefully illuminating reply:
You sure don’t ask easy ones, do you? Well, okay. Here goeth my ramble, and hope it makes some sense to you.
You’ve done an excellent job yourself of outlining “the other side.” I fully agree with you that building the “Islamic cultural center” on Ground Zero is disrespectful and morally wrong. Jihadis destroyed the WTC, therefore jihadis should not cap their success by building a Moslem facility anywhere near there. And Imam Rauf is a jihadi, regardless of what he says while schmoozing gullible pols; moreover, Wahhabi jihadis finance him. The project is explicitly poking a finger in the eyes of survivors, victims and their relatives, and of America. Of note, Rauf refused Governor Paterson’s offer of a free chunk of land in another location; to me, that is quite telling.
It’s location, location, location, just like in real estate – and how you use your location is a show of respect for society’s sensitivities. This is something that anyone who wants to live in a pluralistic society must understand. I don’t know if you remember the planned Nazi march through Skokie, Illinois. It was technically legal under formal (written) law, as the ACLU rightly argued, but for Nazis to march intentionally through a neighborhood where there lived a large number of Holocaust survivors and their relatives was offensive and immoral under informal law (societal mores). Again, intentional poking of a finger in our eyes. Or to bring this home to Virginia: imagine a purposeful demolition of an old African-American cemetery to build a store that sells Confederate memorabilia and is a KKK meeting place? Legal yes, but immoral and infinitely offensive – which is precisely why a certain kind of mentality would push it.
Nota bene: I hope you know that I’m not exactly a slave to societal mores – it cuts both ways and often very painfully – but in the case of the Ground Zero Mosque, I think society happens to be right.
About the Moslem lack of respect for us that you hope is not behind all this…
I myself think that that’s exactly what is happening. I think that Moslems today see their religion as being on the march, the way Christianity was in the Middle Ages. And so they tend to behave accordingly: as present and future conquerors. Throughout Europe, Moslems already act as if they were above the local law, and they have Europe tied up in knots using Europe’s own laws and humanist ideals. The very liberal Scandinavians, for instance, don’t know how to cope with the notion that raping scantily clad Norwegian beauties is not really rape because, to a Moslem, flaunting your female assets is “asking for it,” therefore young Moslem men cannot be held accountable if the are overcome by primal passion when “provoked” like that. This we’re-above-your-laws attitude is developing in the United States, too, the Ground Zero mosque being a prime example.
I do not base my conclusions on fine points of Islamic dogma – I don’t care about that. You can find plenty of bloodthirsty let’s-kick-unbeliever-butt stuff in every ideology. But I do care deeply about the comportment, the actual practice, which so far bears out my understanding of jihad as an offensive to bring all the world into the House of Islam. In other words, colonization, subjection and/or outright conquest. And then, Sharia law. Sharia signifies the death of democracy and freedom, and that is what scares me about Islam today the most.
A couple of asides on this subject.
First, to be fair, conquistador-like behavior is not explicitly an issue of Islam. All self-appointed superior beings tend to act like that. The Skokie affair is a classic in this respect. And you, as a historian, can think of plenty of other examples (except, of course, among the Czechs, who have always been paragons of decency ;-}).
Second, not all Moslems are jihadis. It may even be that most do not think of jihad as conquest of others. But – and please don’t get offended until you’ve finished this whole paragraph – they don’t matter. You don’t need more than a dedicated 10-15% to dominate any movement or organization – or country. As an example, if you add up the numbers of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, the military, the secret and uniformed police and all the informers and other active supporters, that’s roughly the number you come up with. The rest of the people will stay put as long as they have something real to fear, and often as long as the leaders bring them success (that was said about the Germans: as long as Hitler brought them victories, etc. etc.). If they disagree, they pay the price. You may yell Enablers! Collaborators! but ultimately it’s about saving your a$$ and your family.
Finally, it is a great tragedy of our current troubles with Islam (and past and future troubles with other militant faiths) that we who are outside it must protect ourselves against the behavior of the leading echelons at great cost to the vast majority of followers. This is because the latter will follow and/or stay passive until their fear is gone. Hence, I would have unhesitatingly shot down fellow Czechs if the Cold War had gone hot because they were tools, even if unwilling ones, of the leadership elite; and a bullet fired by an unwilling tool kills just as surely as one fired by a commie, and occupation by an unwilling tool is still occupation.
Obama’s part in this.
You are right to be disappointed in Obama’s entry into the debate, or at least the manner of it. I myself think he had to say something, but as usually, he pulled a real boner, first by saying it’s the Moslems’ right and then making it worse by saying that he wouldn’t comment on the wisdom of it. A real leader of all Americans would have said that of course it’s the Moslems’ right to build where they want but that he, as President, wished they’d do it somewhere else, out of deference for the feelings of so many others. His moral strength as a leader, and the moral strength of his office, might easily have done the rest. Unfortunately, when it comes to heeding the people’s wishes, Obama’s tin ear is by now legendary, as are his inability to resist a soap box and to talk down to us, and his propensity to inject himself into things in the most sophomoric manner possible. Remember his silly a priori claim that Cambridge police had “acted stupidly” when they arrested professor H. L. Gates? And then the “beer summit,” supposedly a “teachable moment.” Well, enuff said.
Moslems, non-Moslems and the Constitution.
The key dilemma here is what to do with people who do not respect the Constitution, as I think is the case with today’s Moslem leadership elites, with great masses of passive enablers behind them.
Your ability to worship freely is protected by the Constitution. Unquestionably right. Your worship can include almost anything you want except, one hopes, ritual murder and similar “delights.” Again, unquestionably right. However, when your ideology begins to dictate that you must trample the rights of others, or force others to submit to you and do your will, and you begin to act that way, then you’re on the wrong path and the Constitution and the law of the land should – indeed must – kick in to protect others from you.
The conundrum is when that point comes. Is it when Moslems build thousands of Wahhabi-financed madrassas in foreign lands and teach the Wahhabi doctrine of jihad-as-conquest, even as they go on a propaganda offensive to convince well-meaning natives that theirs is solely a religion of peace? When they use a country’s our own formal laws and its own humanist ideals (such as freedom of religion and expression) to push something that a vast majority of people sees as offensive and immoral, even if it is legal? When they decide to build a Moslem shrine on the site of a Moslem triumph and name it after another Moslem triumph? Or do you withhold judgment until there is an actual armed insurrection, or until your institutions are so penetrated that armed insurrection isn’t even necessary? There is no easy answer, and I think that a big part of the uneasiness vis-à-vis Islam today is driven precisely by this question.
Thus, I’m not surprised that so many in our society feel outrage at the idea of the Ground Zero Mosque, nor am I surprised at the angry helplessness in the face of cynicism with which Rauf and other Moslems use our own formal laws and our own humanist ideals to push things that a vast majority of us see as cruel, offensive and immoral, even if legal. And this, after listening since the 1970s to ever-louder proclamations of Islamic supremacism, experiencing Islamic terror throughout the world, and quietly watching thousands of mosques and madrassas being built throughout the world, including the United States, with Wahhabi money. And after 9/11. It strikes me as a wonder that the American people are as tolerant as they are.
Also, by way of comparison, look at other minorities. In the last fifty years, Sikhs and other Indians – Asians in general – haven’t made any kind of a loud splash in the United States, except for winning admiration (and envy) for their work ethic and dedication to family and education. The worst I remember were troubles in Louisiana where refugee Vietnamese were making too quick of an inroad into the fishing business (the so-called fisherman conflict) and the locals were upset about it. Or, of course, those darn Asians being too smart, and progressive colleges like Berkeley having to institute a numerus clausus against them. (The latter is a very “liberal” thing, by the way…)
The crucial point is that none of these minorities follow a supremacist ideology that speaks of world conquest and demands a return to a pre-medieval lex talionis. Anger at consistent violations of societal mores and often formal law must surely tempt many to take shortcuts around the Constitution, but despite all the yelling and screaming, I haven’t seen many such shortcuts succeeding. Honestly, at this point, I see the dissent as healthy democratic dissent, not a wholesale call for internment camps. (And believe me, I’ll be the first relative non-entity to howl if anything like that is ever proposed.) However, you’re absolutely right on one thing: radical Moslems do want dissent to result in division and weakness. The only trouble is that, in a democracy, dissent – sometimes very passionate dissent – is normal. In my view, it is wrong to view it as regression. I’m not sure that Islamic supremacists get that.
As to “targeting Moslem Americans,” it is best to look up crime statistics which tell a more reliable story than anecdotes, however sad those anecdotes may be. How many cases have there been of discrimination against Moslem Americans and their institutions, versus how many cases of discrimination against other ethnicities/religions? (nota bene: opposition is not discrimination…) So, keep your eye on the stats (hint: as always, the most frequent targets are Jews), and keep loving this country for what it is: a hotbed of healthy dissent which, by definition, can get pretty ugly at times.
The 19th Amendment.
I am glad that you’re so moved by the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. I see it as a transition from women being essentially property which wielded informal power (sometimes quite effectively) to wielding formal power – a huge qualitative leap in humanity’s yet-to-be-completed tale of human equality. Keep celebrating!
By the way, I can’t resist being a little catty here: what rights would you have under Islamic law?