Gentle readers, I’ve had enough of the sabre-rattling, flag-waving, painfully irrational rhetoric about the “Ground Zero mosque.” For starters, it’s not actually a mosque (it’s a cultural center with a worship space) nor is it at Ground Zero (it’s a couple blocks north, sandwiched between a bar and a grocery store). But those little details—or the big detail of America’s codified freedom of religion—don’t seem to make any difference to the people who are absolutely determined to turn this into a brightly-lit public revelation of just how narrow-minded, ignorant and bigoted Americans can be.
Today, a friend of a friend defended her hatred of the “Ground Zero mosque” in a Facebook thread as:
I am not intolerant. I just believe in the honor of the american people from a purely patriotic stand. The mosque is a slap in the face. I think more people need to go to it and see Ground Zero and remember it.
This is the typical Sarah Palin-esque gobbledygook I keep hearing on this issue. It doesn’t mean goddamn thing. There’s no actual rational argument there—not a shred of one. You can wrap that religious intolerance in the American flag and blather about patriotism and the sacredness of Ground Zero while cueing up all of jingoism’s greatest hits, but at the end of the day, the arguments against the cultural center are motivated entirely by bigotry, plain and simple.
There are plenty of churches and synagogues near the World Trade Center site, and we could build a couple dozen more without a squeak of protest from anyone. But an American Muslim group wants to build in the same neighborhood and the firestorm goes on and on for weeks. This is despite the fact that the cultural center is run by a moderate, Kuwaiti imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, a leader in condemning Islamic extremism. In fact, conservative Middle Eastern expert Daniel Pipes has written, “The U.S. role [in the war on terrorism] is less to offer its own views than to help those Muslims with compatible views, especially on such issues as relations with non-Muslims, modernization, and the rights of women and minorities.” Imam Rauf is one of these Muslim leaders we should be supporting, and yet people hear the words “Muslim” and “Ground Zero” and their brains switch off and their prejudice switches on: They’re all terrorists or terrorist sympathizers! This is quintessential bigotry—otherizing and demonizing a whole group because of the actions of a few individuals.
Plenty of otherwise reasonable people seem to be willing to contort themselves into the oddest, most indefensible positions on this issue. A liberal, self-described feminist I know posted on her Facebook wall that since Americans can’t build churches or synagogues in Afghanistan or Iran, why should Muslims be able to just build a mosque wherever they want? I’ve heard the same specious argument from talking heads on various news programs.
The glaringly obvious answer: because this is America, not Iran or Afghanistan. The fact that radical Islamists perpetrate religious oppression does not justify us doing it ourselves. Emulating Islamic theocratic dictatorships is not something we should aspire to.
Newt Gingrich made a similar offensive foray with this gem: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.” Which is factually wrong—thanks to the First Amendment, they do have the right to put up a sign, or at least wave one—as well as a completely ignorant historical analogy: an isolated act of terror by foreign extremists is not even remotely like state-sponsored genocide. And of course, the mere mention of Nazis is a deliberately inflammatory cheap shot (as well as a violation of my previously stated ban on all mention of Nazis, which I should extend to a ban on all statements by Newt Gingrich, the herpes that pops up on the body politic in times of stress.) When you’re a right-winger and you can’t come up with a rational argument, just handwave! We understand. We know that bigotry defies logical explanation.
Sadly, Newt and his fellow Jesus-loving Fox Newsers are not the only right-wing bigots in town. The Anti-Defamation League, the pre-eminent Jewish civil rights organization, whose mission statement is: “to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens” has also come out against the mosque. Apparently unjust and unfair discrimination is a huge problem when it’s against Jews, but not so much when it’s against Muslims. ADL head Abraham Foxman is totally fine with denying freedom of religion in this case because “[9/11 victims' families'] anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.” One wonders if he’d apply the same rationale to…oh…maybe…Hamas supporters whose families have been killed by Israeli air strikes. But that’s a whole separate debate.
Foxman may be right that you’re entitled to hold whatever position you like, but that doesn’t mean your position is any less irrational or bigoted or just plain wrong. Regardless, the rule of law prevents us–theoretically at least–from using our irrational bigotry to infringe on other people’s civil rights.
To all the people fuming over Muslims praying in Lower Manhattan…take a walk somewhere nice and peaceful. Go pray on it at whichever house of worship you attend. And be thankful that you can attend that house of worship without a whole nation of bigots hating on you.