In Lowell, there’s a debate about the future of the Pawtucket Falls Dam. There’s another debate about allowing alcohol to be served at a business adjacent to a temple. Behind the discussion are people’s feelings about the power of place, the meaning of certain special places. The concept of place is all over the news this week.  Do you have the same feeling that I have about the Manhattan zoning decision involving the Islamic community center? All of a sudden this is one of those issues where you have to line up and choose your side fast. The President jumped in with a strong defense of religious freedom and then clarified his remarks to say he wasn’t getting involved in real estate decisions, basically. The usual suspects on the far conservative side are beating the issue like a big fat bass drum—against the location, of course. Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe on MSNBC said he was dismayed at the tone of remarks coming from his party, the GOP. Democrat leader Sen. Harry Reid just separated himself from the President’s position, even though the President hasn’t explicitly endorsed the proposed address. The shorthand issue name has become “the Ground Zero mosque,” even though the building would be a couple of blocks from the 9/11 WTC site. What would an acceptable distance be? Five blocks? Ten? Where does the line get drawn? And what other kinds of non-conforming activity will have to be scrutinized now? The symbolism couldn’t be more loaded. If you start to search for facts and context, you find out more about the Muslim organizers of the project, the purpose of the building (13 stories, recreational and social uses, with a prayer room, according to one report), the local background (where did the idea come from?), and so forth. In this hyper-active media age we citizens seem to be expected to take a position on hot-button issues before there’s even a chance to ask questions and think about what we think. Mayor Bloomberg of NYC today said it will be a “sad day” if the opponents of the project prevail in blocking development at the proposed site. Some of the 9/11 family survivors object to the location. They have the personal high ground. Did the project’s organizers and funders see this coming? Were they prepared for this struggle? This feels like a political hurricane that is gathering speed and power by the day.

15 Responses to Mosque?

  1. Andrew says:

    It is also worth noting that their are 9/11 victim relatives who fully support the community center. And, to add to the strangeness of it all, Fox & Friends endorsed the President’s position.

    I have found that there are two types of opposition to this project. The first one might call “spineless,” as exemplified by Majority Leader Reid. The second is what one could term “absurd,” as exemplified by the conservatives who are terming the community center some sort of “victory monument” to 9/11. This is the same criticism being leveled as mosques across the country, which are suddenly controversial.

    This debate has absolutely nothing to do with the appropriateness of building a mosque and Muslim cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero. There is already a mosque four blocks away that no one has ever complained about. It has become a purely political issue at this point. Regardless, the “appropriateness” discussion begins and ends with the First Amendment. Whether the mosque can be built is a zoning question; the First Amendment doesn’t apply to only Christians.

    This debate is about bigotry. It is nothing more than a modern “southern strategy,” exacerbated by the current economic downturn. Would we stand for an assault on the First Amendment rights of Christians? Or what of the other form of bigotry that is apparently sanctioned for polite conversation, the attack on the 14th Amendment? Would we stand for that if it were white babies whose citizenship would be in question? We all know that to change the 14th Amendment would create a “birther” movement for every non-white candidate to run for office in the foreseeable future.

    Mayor Bloomberg assessed the situation very well in his speech after the historical commission approved of the project when he said of the police and firefighters who gave their lives on 9/11:

    “We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights — and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.”

    His speech was eloquent and, I hope, impossible to find fault with. It can be watched here:

  2. Corey says:

    Interesting that a larger percentage of New Yorkers (I believe in the 70s) support this plan than Americans in general (60s). My guess is that even amongst those who would be fully apposed to a Ground Zero mosque, those who actually know New York know that a few blocks in such a dense place translates into quite a distance in New York terms. Can’t explain this to Texans, but even in Lowell, this is a familiar concept.

  3. Righty Bulger says:

    You like pulling out the bigotry card, don’t you Andy?

    This is about common sense. There is absolutely no good reason for Muslims to pick this specific location, other than to generate a reaction. Pure and simple. I don’t care where other mosques are being built or have been built. I care about what this SPECIFIC location symbolizes. Knowing full well that the rising of a mosque most often signifies a victory for Islam over something or another, this is in poor taste at best. At worst, its a sinister way of spitting in the faces of 9/11 victims and most Americans’ sensitivities.

    Does the U.S. Constitution provide the right to do so? Yes it does. Does it make it right? Absolutely not. Let me put it this way, in terms that I believe perfectly capture what the Cordoba Institute is trying to accomplish here.

    The U.S. Constitution gives me the right to stand in front of a mosque and burn or urinate on the Koran. When that is no longer considered inflammatory behavior, then I’ll support their right to build the 9/11 mosque.

  4. Andrew says:

    Actually, to add to that, a majority of people who live in Manhattan actually support the project. The explanation is as you said: they actually know the neighborhood.

  5. Andrew says:

    Righty, I think you’ll remember that I never played the bigotry card in my gay marriage post, which you commented on. I simply said that opposition to gay marriage was irrational; calling it bigoted would give it too much credit.

    Is there anyone who seriously thinks that this hasn’t become a national issue because the Republicans have seen an opportunity to make political gains by attacking a minority group? Why are mosques across the country being protested? No, it’s not just about the mosque in New York. If that were to go away tomorrow, the rest of the mosques would still be protested.

    By your logic, no house of worship should be built. Have they all not been monuments to conquests at some point or another? And when’s the last time a Muslim nation conquered anything? 1453? Christians have been doing it since. Would you deny them their churches?

    What is perhaps most disturbing about this whole episode is that these are Sufi Muslims. Now, most Americans still don’t know the difference between Sunnis and Shia, so that may not mean anything to the protestors. But we would do well to note that it is Sufis who are being attacked by the Wahhabist terrorists; far, far more of them have been murdered than Americans. And why are they being attacked? Because they argue for peace and women’s rights. Because they are the best bridge Islam has to the West. And we respond by telling them that they are not welcome in our country? Al Qaeda doesn’t need to issue propaganda; we’re doing it for them!

    I see nothing provocative in the building of this mosque; no evidence whatsoever has been presented that this mosque is meant to “spit in the faces of 9/11 victims.” If you want to make such an absurd argument, come back with proof.

  6. Greg Page says:

    I think this is pretty clear-cut. As Paul said, where do we draw the line?

    I say, we don’t. I think this is about religious freedom and property rights, two things that I hold sacred and wouldn’t want taken away from me because of something someone who claimed to represent me did.

    I don’t even think there’s a moral high ground issue with the 9/11 families. To prove that point, let’s look at the counterfactual — what if someone called it offensive for ex-soldiers to walk around the Murrah Federal Building site in Oklahoma City? What if Long Island Railroad massacre victims’ families claimed to be “offended” by train passengers whose skin color reminded them of Colin Ferguson?

    As for the “look what happens in other countries” argument — it’s a red herring. The Left and the Right both use it when it suits them…as Peter Griffin might say, “It grinds my gears.”

  7. JoeS says:

    It amazes me how the “save the Con-sti-TU-tion” members of US society are so willing to trample on it when it serves their purposes to do so. So far it is the 1st amendment, the 4th amendment and the 14th amendment that they are finding do not serve their ideology. What’s next – the 25th?

  8. PaulM says:

    This comment by historian and occasional contributor Paul Hudon was sent to me for posting. Paul Hudon picked up the info on Slate:

    Subject: too good to miss

    The “Ground Zero Mosque” Imam Is In Saudi Arabia

    The imam behind the Ground Zero mosque just landed in Saudi Arabia! No, this isn’t the headline of Newt Gingrich’s latest blog post—it’s a fact. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Cordoba Initiative, has flown to the Gulf under the auspices of the State Department to “tell audiences what it’s like to practice Islam under our regime of religious freedom and equality.”

    It’s almost more irony than Josh Marshall can handle. It was Talking Points Memo that originally reported that the imam who has so inflamed the American right (and unsettled the American left) was once a partner in the State Department’s efforts to send moderate American Muslims abroad “to talk about religious pluralism and the glories of practicing Islam in America.” “As I write, he’s on a third trip to the region,” Marshall says now. “That must be going great, right? I can just imagine the fun moments with Rauf dispelling the myths of his benighted Saudi listeners about the place of Muslims in the West.”

    Speaking of place, Matt Yglesias would like you to know that he has a coat from the Ground Zero Burlington Coat Factory, and the New York Daily News wonders why people aren’t more offended by the Ground Zero Strip Club and the Ground Zero Lingerie Shop and the numerous Ground Zero bars.

    Talking Points Memo | Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010

  9. Righty Bulger says:

    They have their right to build. I have my right to protest and oppose it. If you’re worried about fallout at the ballot box in November, you should be. Americans are, and always have been forgiving. We’re not all suckers however. We’ll add this to the growing avalanche of issues that will rectify the 2006 and 2008 election mistakes.

    After November, you can go join your peace loving Muslim friends in their new mosque. While you’re at it, try getting them to actually condemn some of the atrocities committed here and worldwide on behalf of Islam. I’m still waiting to hear one, just one of them, condemn Islamic fundamentalism instead of using criticism or radical Muslims to paint themselves as victims. You’re only a victim when you allow yourself to be one.

  10. Righty Bulger says:

    Andrew, could you provide me a link showing the Cordoba Institute and other moderate American Muslim groups strongly condemning this action? I’m sure they were tripping over themselves to speak out against this type of barbaric behavior. Of course, the Imam is much more likely to approach these animals to help raise money than to condemn them.