Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 13, 2010

ALL THE ERRORS OF FACT AND JUDGMENT ROLLED UP INTO ONE COLUMN.... I'm not surprised Charles Krauthammer opposes the construction of the Cordoba House at Park51 in lower Manhattan; I'm a little surprised his column on the subject is so astoundingly bad. Given all that's been said on the subject, it seemed likely he'd know what pitfalls to ignore, instead of aiming right at them.

He begins by trying to convince us that Ground Zero is a special, sacred place.

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.

That's why Disney's 1993 proposal to build an American history theme park near Manassas Battlefield was defeated by a broad coalition that feared vulgarization of the Civil War.... It's why the commercial viewing tower built right on the border of Gettysburg was taken down by the Park Service. 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.

Got it. In fact, I heartily endorse the premise of Krauthammer's observation -- Ground Zero really is special. I wouldn't want to see a fast-food place built at the site of the fallen Twin Towers, and I wouldn't want a strip-mall, either. I'd balk at the idea of building a church, a mosque, a temple, or a synagogue at Ground Zero, just as quickly as I'd oppose an amusement part at the site.

But Krauthammer is making a compelling case against an idea that doesn't exist. Literally no one is suggesting that the Cordoba House be built "at," "over," or "on" Ground Zero -- it's proposed location is a couple of blocks away. Indeed, within a two-block radius of Ground Zero, there are all kinds of establishments -- restaurants, coffee shops, office buildings, churches, strip-clubs, etc. -- and Feisal Abdul Rauf wants his proposed community center to be among them. What does Ground Zero's sacred qualities have to do with this? Nothing at all, which is why this debate is so ridiculous.

Also note the lesson Krauthammer believes Pope John Paul II was offering: "This is not your place; it belongs to others." In this case, who are we to believe "others" are? On Sept. 11, 2001, the victims included innocents of every race, ethnicity, and religion. Krauthammer seems to suggest Muslim Americans are the "others" who should stay away. That's as absurd as it is offensive.

But wait, it gets worse.

Religious institutions in this country are autonomous. Who is to say that the mosque won't one day hire an Anwar al-Aulaqi -- spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber, and onetime imam at the Virginia mosque attended by two of the 9/11 terrorists?

An Aulaqi preaching in Virginia is a security problem. An Aulaqi preaching at Ground Zero is a sacrilege. Or would the mayor then step in -- violating the same First Amendment he grandiosely pretends to protect from mosque opponents -- and exercise a veto over the mosque's clergy?

Great idea, Chuck. Let's have the government deny Americans their First Amendment rights based on a hypothetical scenario about a possible employment decision that may or may not happen at some point in the future. "Constitutional conservatives" should find this persuasive, right?

Location matters. Especially this location. Ground Zero is the site of the greatest mass murder in American history -- perpetrated by Muslims of a particular Islamist orthodoxy in whose cause they died and in whose name they killed.

Of course that strain represents only a minority of Muslims. Islam is no more intrinsically Islamist than present-day Germany is Nazi -- yet despite contemporary Germany's innocence, no German of goodwill would even think of proposing a German cultural center at, say, Treblinka.

Which makes you wonder about the goodwill behind Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's proposal.

Actually, it doesn't. I'm on board with "location matters," which is why I reject Krauthammer's point -- in this case, the "location matters" because the Cordoba House would be built blocks from Ground Zero, in the former home of a Burlington Coat Factory, which, with all due respect to the clothing store, isn't exactly hallowed ground.

America is a free country where you can build whatever you want -- but not anywhere. That's why we have zoning laws. No liquor store near a school, no strip malls where they offend local sensibilities, and, if your house doesn't meet community architectural codes, you cannot build at all.

These restrictions are for reasons of aesthetics. Others are for more profound reasons of common decency and respect for the sacred. No commercial tower over Gettysburg, no convent at Auschwitz -- and no mosque at Ground Zero.

Build it anywhere but there.

Sure, zoning laws exist for reason, but that's not much of an argument. As Greg Sargent explained, "[T]he United States Constitution does not expressly forbid government zoning against liquor stores or strip malls. However, it does expressly forbid government interference with 'the free exercise' of religion.... The comparison is also problematic in another way. While zoning codes do prohibit liquor stores and strip malls in some cases, the location for the Islamic center isn't zoned against such projects; and it has already been green-lighted by the city Landmarks Commission. So by what mechanism should government block this project? Krauthammer doesn't say."

That's because he can't. The entire column is a weak house of cards from a loaded deck.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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Comments

Gee Steve, you just don't get it. All those freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution apply only to white Christians, not to Muslims because, er, uh, um, they're different.

Now do you get it?

Posted by: rrk1 on August 13, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Are you suggesting that Ninnyhammer has ever written anything worth reading? I have yet to see anything he has done that has any relation to reality. Because he seems to have floated off into some gaga land (see Tom Tomorrow a couple days ago) where wingnuts have found a surreality that they can exist in, I long ago gave up reading his spews as a worthless waste of time that could be better spent reading something sensible and reality based.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on August 13, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Slightly OT, but I've never understood why everyone hated the Gettysburg observation tower so much. Sure, it wasn't part of the original battlefield, but neither are the fast food joints and cheap-ass motels that still stand there to this very day. And they're RIGHT ON the battlefield, unlike the tower, which was several hundred yards away from the main site. Why don't people get their undies in a bunch about them?

Maybe it has to with the fact that they're owned by national chains that can summon up phalanxes of lawyers and other assorted flaks to squelch any talk of removing them...?

Posted by: Severian on August 13, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'm going to go out on a limb and say I just don't get it that sites where atrocities took place are "sacred ground." Quite the contrary, they are about as profane as you can get.

But then again, I never bought that 9/11 was an "attack on America." It was a bloody crime perpetrated by a bunch of whackos. It deserves to be treated that way, and not given the dgnity of being an act of war. Nor is there anything "sacred" about it.

But people died there! People die all the time in all kinds of places for all sorts of reasons. Is the site of a particularly nasty traffic accident "scared ground?"

Posted by: Virginia on August 13, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Krauthammer compares the Cordoba House near Ground Zero with a German cultural center near Treblinka? What...the...fuck?!?!?

Also, the commercial development in Gettysburg goes to the very edge of the battlefield site, easily seen from the fields. And again, the WTC site compared to Gettysburg?!?!?

If the WTC site is so sacred, why are they rebuilding an office tower on the actual site?

In one sense, I am glad for this controversy. Maybe, just maybe, some independent voter out there watching on TV might get it through their skull that this discrimination, racism, and Constitutional radicalism is the distilled essence of right-wing reactionaries when they get near a microphone or a legislature. Maybe, just maybe, they will conclude, "No."

Posted by: Todd B. on August 13, 2010 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, there is already a Subway Restaurant at Ground Zero, for the construction workers. Sorry about your hallowed ground, Steve.

Posted by: Steve on August 13, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

George Bush said they hate us for our freedom. If we restrict the freedom of religion to, oh maybe being Baptist, Catholic or Jewish perhaps they wouldn't hate us as much.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on August 13, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

"Krauthammer seems to suggest Muslim Americans are the "others" who should stay away. That as absurd as it is offensive." This is the core of the conservative strategy: Fear of the "other". The "other" being Muslim, hispanic, or gay. It does not really matter, as long as he/she is not a straight white guy. And in many aspects, unfortunately it works.

Posted by: adjacent on August 13, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Christians killed thousands of Muslims, Jews and other Christians in their misguided attempts to recapture the Holy Land. The Crusades are even today cited as a reason for Islamic distrust and hatred of Christian Europe and America. Does that mean that Bethlehem authorities should deny Christians the right to worship there? We ALL need to stop holding grudges and seeking revenge for sins committed in the name of religious beliefs, because we are all guilty.


Posted by: Linda Costello on August 13, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Does it matter that Honolulu is loaded with Japanese restaurants, monuments, and cultural establishments? Also, if the Germans did build some kind of cultural center near Treblinka, wouldn't it show an intent to heal wounds and how that Germany isn't such a bad place after all?

Posted by: Badger on August 13, 2010 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Does it matter that Honolulu is loaded with Japanese restaurants, monuments, and cultural establishments? Also, if the Germans did build some kind of cultural center near Treblinka, wouldn't it show an intent to heal wounds and how that Germany isn't such a bad place after all?

Posted by: Badger on August 13, 2010 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

What we're not "getting" about this Cordoba House brouhaha is that the Right is using this to gin up the rubes for another crusade, the way they used to do with McCarthyite anti-Communism. Anti-Muslimism is the new Anti-Communism.

Remember that the two parties that came together to create the Republican Party were the Whigs and the Know-Nothings. This is the same steaming bucket of crap these people have been dishing up since the first Irish refugee boats arrived in 1841. The Republican have thrived on the demonization of "others" ever since - the Irish, the Italians, the Poles and other Eastern Europeans, the Chinese, the Japanese, etc., etc.

The sad thing is watching a Mick Moron like O'Reilly doing this when his ancestor was the one who had to read the signs "Dogs and Irish - Keep off the grass."

The Republicans do this because that's who they are.

Posted by: TCinLA on August 13, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

When the office tower at the WTC site is completed, who will get to pick "appropriate" tenants? Will the winguts allow a Muslim-owned business to lease a space?

Posted by: Michael Carpet on August 13, 2010 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Krauthammer is a sick, frustrated little man. Intelligent thinking and he have never been in the same room. Period.

Posted by: stevio on August 13, 2010 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

"Krauthammer is a sick, frustrated little man. Intelligent thinking and he have never been in the same room. Period." I disagree. He and and his ilk are very intelligent manipulators of less intelligent public.

Posted by: adjacent on August 13, 2010 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

To see just how truly stupid this whole discussion of "on/at/over Ground Zero" is, look at Google Maps
burlington loc: 74 Trinity Place, New York, NY 10006-2003 (Trinity Wall Street)

Between the Cordoba House and the Ground Zero memorials are - University of Phoenix, a large multi-story office and commercial building, the New York State Department of Health office building and St Pauls Roman Catholic Church, which is 1 block from the edge of Ground Zero. Can you guess why the streets are named Church and Trinity?

Posted by: OKDem on August 13, 2010 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

An Aulaqi preaching in Virginia is a security problem. An Aulaqi preaching at Ground Zero is a sacrilege. Or would the mayor then step in -- violating the same First Amendment he grandiosely pretends to protect from mosque opponents -- and exercise a veto over the mosque's clergy?

Would Hizzoner , Bloomberg , care to dignify the preceding bilge with a reply ?

Umm hmm .

Posted by: FRP on August 13, 2010 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

I'm inclined to agree with Virginia. The WTC site is a place where bunches of people were murdered, and that loss should be remembered as both a personal and a cultural tragedy.

But, if everytime people die, we turn the spot where they died into "sacred ground" every single spot on earth would be "sacred" and thus unavailable for development.

Obsessive rumination on the dead is not part of American culture... We have places to honor the dead they are called graveyards.

In so far as the comparison with the civil war goes, The civil war battlefields are places which are infinitely more culturally "sacred;" they faught and died for a purpose saving the union... except for the public service employees who died (In my humble opinion) trying to save victims of the attack, most of the 9/11 deaths while utterly tragic and horrible lacked that same depth of meaning as those of the civil war soldiers.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on August 13, 2010 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Has everyone forgotten that there were many Muslim deaths on 9/11 too? Not just the bad guys - ordinary people who were just going about their daily routines. Why is ground zero only for Christians and Jews? Can't Muslims mourn for the people they lost too? Not to mention the price the vast majority have paid for the actions of a few. Where better to do it than where they are proposing?

Posted by: Twin City Joan on August 13, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Sacred ground" where the one and only thing that cannot be built is a mosque is not exactly sacred ground.

Posted by: Steve on August 13, 2010 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

virginia's 'sacred ground' comments are -in MY view- spot on.

But, when she writes, "Is the site of a particularly nasty traffic accident "scared ground?" I have to point out the plethora of home made crosses, plastic floral offerings, and stuffed animals at traffic death sites all across America.

It is a relatively new phenomenon, perhaps a decade old, but it is just another version of the cenotaphs and mausoleums erected in the more traditional burial grounds by grieving survivors. The need to mark the passing of a loved one is strong- see the prehistoric human burials for examples.

I personally have no use for human remains when life has left the corpse, but this is just me, and I understand the needs of the majority to hang onto a tangible something, be it ashes in a can, or embalmed flesh in a sarcophagus.

i say, part me out, when I shuffle off this mortal coil. And for god's sake, don't risk anyone's life to recover my bits and pieces, be it from a deep sea disaster, or a frozen mountain top.

Posted by: DAY on August 13, 2010 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

All this brouhaha is a desperate attempt by conservatives to milk 9/11 for political gain one more time, ginning up the outrage that naturally fades over time. They are the ones who profane the memory of the victims, as they have since nearly the day after it happened.

Posted by: Redshift on August 13, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Are we to forbid all building within 2 blocks of this site? It seems to me that a Muslim community center is a great deal more respectful than a lot of the other options within the same radius.

Posted by: gelfling545 on August 13, 2010 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Gee Chucky, what with the Iraq war, I guess this means the entire country of Iraq is "sacred ground".

Posted by: ckelly on August 13, 2010 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

@DAY-Allow me to add to the sentiment, if that is what you call it. Dead bodies, AKA remains, are devoid of human life, as far as I know. What "remains" is the memory of the loved one, and that can be enshrined anywhere. Some people "need" a geographic location for their memory, but few can afford more than a small grave plot or ceramic urn of ashes. To dedicate several city blocks to such a shrine is ridiculous, especially when that dedication is restricted to a small minority's opinion of what is sacred and who may use that space. In reality, money is all that matters in this controversy. If people do not want an Islamic Community Center/Mosque in a certain location, let them purchase the land for more than the existing offer and build their own shrine.

The overt bigotry of this whole issue is what bothers me. And, I am encouraged that this and so many other issues that are being exposed are allowing us to see what has been hidden for so long. WikiLeaks is setting the trend for transparency, whether you like how they are doing it or not. And, the Pat Tillman Story will blow some more doors off the hypocrisy of the Pentagon and militarism. Obama is not the answer; he is the catalyst. If you don't like how he is handling things, then take responsibility for handling it yourself. Enough of us doing that will make the change we wish to see in the world.(Gandhi)

I am committed to Oneness through Justice and Transformation
peace,
st john

Posted by: st john on August 13, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Ground Zero is the site of the greatest mass murder in American history...

Krauthammer is right about that one. Americans murdered more than 100,000 Japanese people at Ground Zero...oh, he was talking about 9/11...nevermind.

Posted by: Winkandanod on August 13, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Because [Krauthammer] seems to have floated off into some gaga land (see Tom Tomorrow a couple days ago) where wingnuts have found a surreality that they can exist in
Posted by: Texas Aggie on August 13, 2010 at 1:05 PM

That Tom Tomorrow strip would be this one, and as usual, it's right on the money. Krauthammer's nonsense is just par for the course for these wingnuts: when inconvenient things like "facts," "knowledge" and "evidence" get in the way of their deluded worldview, they're simply ignored or dismissed as some concoction of the "liberal media." Like all cult members, trying to reason with them is an exercise in sheer futility.

Posted by: electrolite on August 13, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

There is an existing Mosque within four blocks of ground zero that's been there for over 40 years (before the twin towers were even built). Does that Mosque now have to close its doors becuase its existence is 'offensive' or desecrates the 'hallowed ground' of southern Manhattan.

Posted by: thorin-1 on August 13, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

One of the first anounced tenants for the tower going up on the actual WTC site is Conde Nast, the publisher of many magazines, including fashion magazines. No one seems to be too concerned that editors will be pondering photos of women in lingerie, to say nothing of the ingerie models themselves prancing about, not near, but on the Hallowed Ground itself.

Indeed, the 1,776 foot high tower will include all kinds of businesses, some of which will inevitably "dishonor" the site by engaging in disreputable practices. The new Freedom Tower isn't going to be filled with Carmelite nuns, but companies that can pay the high price per square foot demanded. See the tenants of the already rebuilt Seven World Trade Center (for short-term memory victims, the original was destroyed in the 9-11 attacks) now in operation for about five years.

Exactly what kind of the tennants do the Republican crazies think the new building should accept? And why so little interest in the quality of tenants already leasing on Hallowed Ground?

Posted by: Edward Furey on August 13, 2010 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

I'm surprised that Krauthammer has not said "Let them build it and we must bomb it!"

Posted by: AmusedOldVet on August 13, 2010 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with everything you say, up to the last line. Cheats stack decks of cards, load dice.

Posted by: Peter Belenky on August 13, 2010 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

It was also green-lighted by the local Community Board, the people who actually live in the neighborhood, unanimously.

Posted by: xtalguy on August 13, 2010 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

'should Germans build a cultural center at Treblinka?' - I'd say that today's Treblinka and Auschwitz sites are in themselves German cultural centers. Many if not most Jews murdered there were Germans, notwithstanding the Nazi's attempt to de-citizenize them. The Holocaust is, sadly, part of German cultural history.

Posted by: ashton webb on August 13, 2010 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

The whole to-do hinges on two words: "Two blocks." But two blocks of Manhattan are packed to the gills with all kinds of stuff in a way that two blocks of Anytown USA aren't. That's why people are getting all worked up over the proximity: because they don't have a good sense of the scale of things in Manhattan. Krauthammer and Kristol do, of course, but they're loathsome, bigoted propagandists, so they lie about it.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on August 13, 2010 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, how do you think Charles Krauthammer felt about the Crazy Horse Memorial?

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on August 13, 2010 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Apropos of the JP II reference: It had been a long-held dream of Wotyla's to have the Carmelites at Auschwitz. Though the Polish hierarchy made the decision to build the convent, it was at the Pope's urging. So JP II wasn't saying, "This is not your place." He was saying, "Oooops, my bad !"

Posted by: fignaz on August 13, 2010 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Ninnyhammer: "the greatest mass murder in American history." Oh, certainly Native Americans would tell a different and American history." Oh, certainly Native Americans would tell a different and more accurate tale.more accurate tale.

Posted by: Tomm on August 13, 2010 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

It would appear to be irrelevant since the lot for the proposed site is private property.
Krauthammer has to keep his spot on Fox with Brit Hume's current replacement Bret Baier.
So he has to push religious intolerance as related to the Moslem faith, I suppose, for the regimented lock-step right wing audience.

Posted by: Fox News has a propaganda game on August 13, 2010 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Reactionary Republicans/Teabaggers two very most favorite things: Private property and the Constitution.

Until they're idealogically inconvenient.

Posted by: emjayay on August 13, 2010 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

A simple map detailing the various businesses and other entities that are located within a 2 block radius of Ground Zero would be enormously, mindbogglingly helpful. How many strip clubs? Are they worth visiting? How many fast food joints? Can anybody provide a link or a graphic?

An Islamic cultural center dedicated to reconciling Islam with western culture would be near the top of my list of entities that should be within two blocks of Ground Zero. (A good strip club would also be high on that list.)

Posted by: Tim H on August 13, 2010 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

I've come to understand that the batty right can't be trusted. Their arguments are illogical only because they make a thinly veiled attempt to appear logical when the reasoning is anything but. They don't want to look like cretins who fight for policies that validate their lizard brains. No need to be mystified about why they can't see reason...

I was watching Chris Matthew's special on the Tea Parties tonight. For many, many months I have been wondering where this stuff comes from that Obama is "communist" and will "ruin our country". Then it dawned on me: he's black and they are afraid that any program that is vaguely socially responsible will "reallocate wealth" from whites to blacks. It's all about how Obama is NOT white, with a long family tree of American born relatives. It's OK to pass money out to those who are already successful. They "deserve" it.

We think that Obama's life is the "American Dream" in that he had to borrow money to go to college like the rest of us schmucks. What's not to love about that? They believe that those who are born with silver spoons in their mouths are really the ones who know how America should be run, since they are successful in their greed. Republican WASPS are the real elitists.

Posted by: Always Hopeful on August 13, 2010 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Reactionary Republicans/Teabaggers two very most favorite things: Private property and the Constitution.

Until they're idealogically inconvenient". (emjaya)

Their view: It only applies to WASPS. Anyone who argues otherwise isn't idealogical enough. It's no surprise that they are arguing repeal of the 14th Amendment because "illegal aliens aren't subject to our jurisdiction." (i.e. we are special they are not so it's not for them). It's OUR country, not theirs and certainly not Muslims'.

Posted by: Always Hopeful on August 13, 2010 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

if you read this nifty little rant at the *post* site, the commenters are pounding on dr. kraut pretty hard.

your pal,
blake

Posted by: blake on August 13, 2010 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

Fascinating insults at Krauthammer in most of your comments. You poor brainwashed heart bleeding pinkos are a classic example of what happens to empires in decline. It's populace gets soft, spoiled and common sense is no longer common. You will march with your muslim "brothers" not realising he sees you as a weak and spineless infidel to be beheaded at the end the march. More than third of muslims in Britain had favorable opinion of the London attacks. THIRD numbnuts !!
That's assuming that the rest told the truth to the poll taker.
Good luck to you schmucks and may Allah be merciful to you bitches.

Posted by: Carlos on August 13, 2010 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

You know what really shows common sense and strength? Panic over spooky fantasy Muslims! Oh no, they're everywhere! If we had only listened to Carlos Krauthammer!

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on August 14, 2010 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

Not sure if my comment will survive the fascists who decide what gets printed, but KurtRex, does this really need to be pointed out to you?
Ground Zero IS THE GRAVEYARD.

Posted by: bfh on August 14, 2010 at 2:24 AM | PERMALINK

"yet despite contemporary Germany's innocence, no German of goodwill would even think of proposing a German cultural center at, say, Treblinka."

Well, we would like to, but these Polish people just won't let us...

Posted by: Vokoban on August 14, 2010 at 6:07 AM | PERMALINK

"I wouldn't want to see a fast-food place built at the site of the fallen Twin Towers"

Too late:
http://laughingsquid.com/elevated-subway-restaurant-feeds-world-trade-center-construction-workers-at-ground-zero/

Posted by: Jim Pharo on August 14, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

try and educate yourself, instead of tolerating intolerance:

Rex Murphy: Testing America’s tolerance

Rex Murphy, National Post
Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010

[linked image]

Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images

A woman protests the planned construction of an Islamic centre near the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan on Aug. 3.

On the matter of the Islamic centre set to be built near the site of the downed Twin Towers, I dismiss utterly what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems to fear — that Americans will carry the mark of intolerance unless they permit the building to go forward.

From 9/11 onwards, from the White House to main street, Americans have made it sunshine clear that the attacks of that day were not going to warp their country’s values, were not an occasion for raining abuse or vengeance upon America’s Muslim citizens. George W. Bush himself, with the full weight of his office (and, I’d add, at some political risk to himself) was without stint in proclaiming Islam a “religion of peace.” He even went to a Washington mosque to underline solidarity with American Muslims and their peaceful co-religionists all over the world.

Which strips all force from Bloomberg’s lukewarm pleadings that there is now, a near decade on, the need for a 13- or 15-storey homage to Islam but a shadow away from ground zero, to supply some sort of architectural instantiation or proof of that tolerance.

How tolerant America has been on this issue is further shown in the near insouciance and ease which which the proponents of the Ground Zero mosque (as it’s become known) make their proposal. They think it’s the most normal, casual thing in the world to propose such a building next door to the greatest terror operation ever unleashed in America, executed by Islamist fanatics in the dead heart of America’s greatest city, and involving the murder of thousands, the desolation of families, unspeakable mental and physical sacrifices by first-responding fire and police personnel — not to mention the cataclysmic financial repercussions the destruction was also designed to achieve.

It is an almost boundlessly tolerant city and society — New York and America. But we must make a note on this point: A tolerance is being, and has been, shown, toward Islam, which Islam emphatically does not show to other creeds in regions or countries where Islam is predominant. In some Muslim places, a mere Bible in a suitcase is an indictable offence.

What is the numerical gap, I wonder, between the number of mosques in Western, nominally Christian cities, and the number of Christian churches or cathedrals in predominantly Muslim ones? In New York alone, there already are at least a hundred mosques. How many Catholic cathedrals, shinto shrines or Buddish temples in Saudia Arabia? On the subject of religious tolerance, that grand old rancid imperialist Kipling is still au courant: East is East and West is West, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

Islam has a voracious appetite for tolerance when it is the suppliant; when it is, so to speak, a sojourner among the infidels. It is aggressively, even imaginatively, vigorous in availing of the democratic rights of societies to which some of its followers have migrated. It has acquired an admirable expertise in taking advantage of the institutions and practices of host societies, from politics and the media, to protests and the courts, which aid the full pursuit of those rights.

This commendable agility finds no mirror in most Muslim societies. Tolerance received or enjoyed by Muslims in the West does not seem to awaken a concordant impulse to afford a reciprocal tolerance from Muslims to other religions in countries where Islam is dominant. So, again, America has nothing to prove in this domain. And if New York authorities are going along with this proposal because they are afraid what people outside America might think, they are being, needlessly, both callow and cowardly.

But if the Islamic centre is built; and if it is to be, as professed, a bridge to understanding and reconciliation, there are a few tests we could apply — a few thoughts or suggestions for what might reasonably be found in such a strategically placed building, shadowed as it will forever be by the spectral dust of 2001.

For example, a mosque in deliberate proximity to the scene of the Ground Zero slaughter will surely — unavoidably — have a section, a room, or a display, perhaps a miniature museum, on the events of that horrible day — giving some interpretation on what happened and why: what that day said, and did not say about Islam.

Could there not be, for example, photographs of the 19 fanatic terrorists? They could be presented in some sort of stylized rogues gallery: Here are those who plotted and executed evil jihad against America. Underneath, there could be a statement of categorical condemnation: These were a band of betrayers and corrupters of Islam, who did perverse deeds in Islam’s name. We Americans, Muslims all, in this holy place condemn and scorn their deeds and motives.

Maybe this could be accompanied by some work of art to commemorate the dead — those who died in the attacks themselves, and those who died during the attempt to rescue people within the towers.

If it is to be in the vicinity of 9/11’s wreckage, it must pay respectful and felt homage to 9/11.

A mosque, that by its instalations and presentations, derided the mischiefs done in Islam’s name, which in its declarations and stated understanding of 9 11 actually turned out to be a thorn in the side of fanatic Islamists everwhere, would be a worthy adjunct to the precincts of the now absent twin towers. It would be a work of understanding.

So, maybe the question now is not “Should it be built?” But, “What is to be built?” And if those who speak of understanding and reconciliation are serious, following a few of the suggestions here, or others from people much closer to this affair than I, could disarm all criticism and reproach. This should be, in this sense, if it goes ahead, the most American mosque ever.

If instead, it retains a purely claustrophobic Islamic character, if it is just an Islamic centre physically very close to where the towers once stood, but intellectually or civically remote and aloof from its all important site, it will be a failure. If it rejects any show of explicit condemnation or does not offer tokens of memorial, then I think the case of the critics will be immeasurable strengthened: that is, that this project is a none-too-subtle provocation, a tacit baiting of an already wounded America, and — worst of all, a kind of gaming of that precious tolerance to which it makes a spurious and offensive appeal.

National Post

Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on CBC TV’s The National and is host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup.

Posted by: Carlos on August 14, 2010 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

When I got in America in 1970, I was assured that there is religious freedom here, just as it is i The Netherlands, where I am from. When I became American Citizen in 1976, I was again assured that there is religious freedom in America, in fact I read a document you call "The Constitution" from cover to cover and I found it. Now I find that there is no religious freedom. shall I go back? Ask the Queen to give back my Dutch nationality? They have mosks in Holland.

Posted by: Jack van Dijk on August 16, 2010 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

That is so funny -- especially for your gays here who will be stoned when we all become muslim.
Allah Ak-bar.
Better get used to saying it.

Posted by: SecondAmericanRevolution on August 21, 2010 at 3:25 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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