Friday, August 20, 2010

The NYC mosque "controversy"

Ah, it's summer and it's hard to set fingers to keypad to comment on the latest craziness on the American scene. However, I guess, it's the blogger's burden. (I'm not sure that my spotty record this summer entitles me to the title of blogger anymore.)

What could be more straightforward than the question of whether building a "house of worship" in a particular place should be allowed. If there are no zoning restrictions saying otherwise, this is a no-brainer. To forbid it on the grounds that you don't like the religion, or some practitioners of the religion, is so outrageously un-American and unconstitutional that one would hardly be tempted to discuss it except to state the obvious.

Unfortunately there seem to be lots of folks who never learned about the Bill of Rights or basic civics. Even more importantly, there is a political party which will use any tactic to discredit the President, even if the tactic involves basic perversions of the American ethic and appeals to any sort of prejudices or misinformation.

Here are some things I thought of

1. There are already several mosques within a few blocks of the proposed 9/11 park in New York City, as well a many other religious houses of worship in the area. The National Council of Churches supports construction of the mosque.

2. Opponents of the mosque claim that they are not biased against Islam, but that "the issue is one of safety and security" (Rick Lazio, Republican candidate of NY Governor). I have not heard of any facts to support this argument -- the people behind the mosque project all seem to be very moderate Moslems who decrie violence. Last I heard neither Tim McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) nor Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) was a Moslem, nor were those good ole boys who used their church associations to plan the harrassment (and murders) of civil rights workers. Nor was Yigal Amin, the religious fanatic who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Yes it's true that Islam currently has perhaps more than its share of murderous fanatics, but other religions have a rich history of the same, particularly Christianity of the last millenium.

3. It is not clear that even a majority of Americans would support most of the articles of the Constitution, even the Bill of Rights. If Obama came out for the them, the PTR would try to make him pay politically. I suspect that not too long ago the same majority of Americans who oppose the NYC mosque (7 in 10?) also opposed interracial marriages and supported the tactics of the late Senator Joe McCarthy. Civil rights are very fragile and it is dangerous to subject them to frequent tests of public support, especially during difficult times. (I though of the Japanese WWII internment, and of the fact that there was not a similar internment of German-speakers.)

4. A mosque that is two blocks away from some point in downtown New York City is like a mosque that it a mile away from a given point in most any other city. The population and building density of lower Manhatten is tremendous. You can't in general see point A from point B there if they are separated by more than a block. The Republican crazies of course don't say that when they rabble rouse in Topeka: they make it sound as if the mosque directly overlooks the park where the twin towers once stood.

5. Just because people believe certain things doesn't make their opinion necessarily worth considering. Apparently 1 in 5 Americans thinks that Obama is a Muslim. A majority think that ghosts walk among us. A large segment of the population denies that the earth is warming -- a fact that is undeniable, although the exact cause might be (almost) legitimately debated. Sarah Palin, whose opinions are actually taken seriously by lots of people, thinks that studying fruit flies is a waste of money. Some people are not only ignorant but don't even know they are ignorant. It may be a good idea to know what people think, but not because you take their opinions seriously: you should know what they are thinking because they may try to harm you when they find out that you disagree.

6. Just how far away does a mosque have to be in order that it not be an insult to the victims of 9/11? What about a branch of the NRA? Or a bordello or pornstore?

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