Building a Mosque Two Blocks from Ground Zero

Sorry about the recent hiatus on blogging, I’ve spent the last week pretty busy working in LA. I did meet a very cool new friend, however, who I’ll post on probably tomorrow.

I do want to say something about the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, though. Because it has been occupying mine (and most of the country’s) mind this week. If you haven’t heard, the controversy is over the plans to build a Islamic mosque and cultural centre in Manhattan a couple of blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center towers, attacked and destroyed by Islamists on 9/11. Some articles and pundits have been claiming that the mosque will be ‘on the site of 9/11’ or ‘overlooking Ground Zero’. Neither of these are true: the site is 2.5 blocks away without direct line of sight. The controversy is over whether the mosque should be allowed, or whether it is insulting to the memory of those who were murdered 9 years ago.

And right there is the problem, slipping in on that last sentence. Unnoticed by almost every pundit I’ve read.

Should the mosque be allowed, or is it insulting? Erm… Yes.

The mosque should be allowed. Nobody is talking about a state-run mosque. The mosque authorities have to buy the site, build their building, obey all local ordinances. They have the right to the free exercise of their religion, and their free speech rights allow them to declare their message anywhere they choose. The mosque should absolutely, 100%, be allowed on that spot. This, from a careful reading of his (politically naive, IMHO) speech, is what Obama was saying when he endorsed the right for the mosque to be built.

The mosque will be an insult to a large number of people. Okay, the mosque administrators and many liberals claim that the purpose of the mosque is to be a beacon of moderate Islam, to counter the radicalised caricature that poisoned the terrorists’ minds. Well, okay, fair enough, nice intention, I guess. But the mosque will be an insult to a large number of people. No-one has the authority to tell people whether they are allowed to be insulted. And the fact is, overwhelmingly, people who are polled find the idea insulting. You may want to change that, great. But that doesn’t change what is current reality. The mosque will be an insult to a large number of people.

Now, in the US, you have no right not to be insulted. The constitution is very clear that the rights lie with the person doing the insulting. That’s the way it goes. If you feel insulted, tough. You have no comeback on the person doing the insulting.

But someone who goes around insulting people: doing something that in advance they knew would cause insult; while pretending that they don’t want to cause that insult; well, that person is a dick. You have the legal right to be a dick, but that doesn’t make being a dick into a good thing. It just means you are a dick.

So, why isn’t this clear? For the country right now, with feelings and prejudices and emotions as they lie, right now, building the mosque on this site is a dickish thing to do. But let’s not forget that everyone in the US has the constitutional right to be a dick.

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Building a Mosque Two Blocks from Ground Zero

  1. Ian

    Thanks Boz, the Slacktivist article was also a great response!

  2. Alyosha`

    I disagree that the mosque is insulting. People choose to take offense to it, but that’s a reflection of them, not the mosque itself. Intent is what matters, and nothing I’ve read said that this mosque is being built where it is simply out of spite.

    It wasn’t very long ago that to see a black man drinking from a white water fountain, or sitting in the front of a bus, was considered by many to be an insult to white people. Even today the sight of two men walking down the street holding hands is taken as an insult to traditional family values. But we’re getting past that sort of manufactured rage. I hope we get past this one.

    No free man should ever be beholden to the prejudices of his neighbors, compelled to circumscribe his actions for fear of what others might think. Worse yet is to be held captive by the tyranny who claim to speak for the dead. Who’s to say that we shouldn’t chase the halal carts out of Ground Zero? It’s what the victims would have wanted.

    Personally, I hope one day it’s considered insulting to Muslims to take offense at public displays of Islam, and to cavilierly equate their beliefs with the beliefs of those who attacked the WTC.

  3. Sabio Lantz

    The controversy is over whether the mosque should be allowed, or whether it is insulting to the memory of those who were murdered 9 years ago.

    I heard some are worried about yet another mechanism for fun raising and money coming from known individuals who have promoted the violent dismantling of other states.

    They have the right to the free exercise of their religion,

    I have heard the Saudi’s do not allow churches in their country and yet money will be funneled in to support theirs. Maybe we should treat these like embassies — you allow ours, we allow yours. You give ours freedoms and we give yours freedom. Tit for Tat ethics.

    their free speech rights allow them to declare their message anywhere they choose.

    Speech which preaches sedition, murder and the like is not protected.

    All these concerns are real.
    We can deal with them after the fact or before. The world has changed with dirty bombs and worse. People here are trying to decide if naive interpretations of the Constitution in the time of simple rifles is appropriate.

    (*sabio writes knowing this will be very unpopular to those who read here)

  4. Ian

    I agree Alyosha. I think to me the issue is intent. And that is about informed intent.

    For example, a lot of what I write and think is insulting to people. I think it is important to be said (or thought), so I will intentionally insult people because I think it is important to do so. Rosa Parks intentionally insulted the system: that was important, should she have done that? Hell, yes!

    Where I think this mosque is a problem is that, the insult it is claimed is *not* the intent. They intend this mosque to be a beacon of Islamic moderation and normalcy. But they *know* (because of the fact that most folks are racist and ignorant of any nuance in Islam) that it will cause insult. So what to do then? Well either you say: “yes, this is insulting – if you find it insulting then you’re a bigot and you need to grow up”, or you say “hey, maybe there’s a better way to foster our unity with the wider Amercian culture”.

    Deliberately ignoring people’s liability to take insult while pretending to be something else is just dickish.

    So I have no problem with people causing insult on important topics. I could even agree with some arguments that say this is important. But I just don’t get the duplicity.

  5. Ian

    Sabio – I hope it won’t be unpopular. I’m not quite sure how to respond to your point though.

    Isn’t it somewhat tangential? You’re not here describing any issue with the “Ground Zero Mosque” but about the free practice of a particular type of Islamic faith at all, surely?

    A mosque that was a fund-raising front for Jihadists, or that preached sedition and murder would be equally unacceptable anywhere, surely? One can say that this mosque will have closer scrutiny on those grounds than others, but that doesn’t change the moral question, does it?

  6. Sabio Lantz

    I don’t really understand “moral question” in this situations. Your post addressed political law in the USA. Are we discussing politics, law and morality? That is wrapping a lot of intellectual problems in one question. (smile)

    When do traditional laws hold and when do they change? Circumstance is what decides that balance, I guess. It is an agreement. When communities are stressed beyond their tolerance, laws can change quickly just to catch up with their choices.

    Imagine the mosque is allowed, their are riots, there are deaths. Laws then change. A dirty bomb goes off. More laws change. Would you write the same post?

    The tension is not over right and wrong, people are deciding what they can tolerate.

  7. Alyosha`

    I don’t think it’s that dickish. I think both statements are true. They want to promote the image of Islam in America, and that those who are offended by the mere practice of Islam anywhere near the WTC should grow up. From a PR standpoint, which message should they focus most on … the positive one, or the negative one?

    Telling people they need to grow up is itself kind of dickish. Sometimes necessary, but certainly being combative is no way to make friends.

    I am surprised by the magnitude of the controversy (it seems awfully ginned up by the right-wing media to me), but I don’t think anyone is disingenuously pretending *there is no controversy at all*.

    Now, you could say they’re being dicks by insisting on the location. Why there? Why not somewhere else? Well, certainly there is a Rosa Parks-esque “why NOT here?” dynamic at play. But I’m sure that’s not the only factor … there are always more mundane considerations like price, availability, suitability, demographics of the area etc. I don’t think they chose that location out of spite.

  8. Ian

    @sabio – I just meant that your comments seemed to be about mosques in general, not about this one. Maybe you are advocating a moratorium on mosque building throughout the USA. That is going further than anyone I’ve heard. To use this mosque plan as a cover to have that debate seems a little disingenuous. As for what I’m addressing, the point I was making is that the debate seems to be between morality and law, which *are* different things, and therefore the blows on both sides aren’t landing.

    @alyosha – Okay, if you want to be a Rosa Parks, you need (IMO) to be clear that’s what you’re doing. If Rosa had said “oh, sorry I thought I was on the right seat”, that would have undermined her position, surely? But the rhetoric I’m getting from the pro-mosque side is that the mosque is supposed to be this unifying, conciliatory thing. Even though they *know* it is not (regardless of how desirable that situation is). Okay, so they want a fight, that’s fine, in my book. But let’s not pretend that such overwhelming opposition isn’t front and centre in everyone’s mind now. [PS are you named for Aleksy Karamazov? – great book, but interesting choice of which protagonist to go for 🙂 ]

  9. Alyosha`

    Well, I think we’re mostly in agreement at this point: that the mosque (eh, why do I keep calling it that?) Islamic community center is in itself not insulting, nor was the choice of location particularly dickish, but that some people may have dickishly defended it.

    Iiih. I guess. I interpret “we just want unity” as charitably as possible. It’s probably true, after all. And it means something different than “we just can’t understand how anyone could take offense”. But whatever. That people may or may not have been dicks about the mosque hardly seems a point important enough to debate.

    Yes, I adopted Alyosha as a internet pen name long years ago after reading the Brothers Karamazov — not, as many sometimes wonder, because I identify with his religious beliefs (I don’t), but because I identified with his even temperment.

  10. My point was that people need to have say in their lives. People need to have voice in their governments. If this is suppressed, fascism will breed. The press, the streets, the radio, marches and all of these are branches of the US government — not just the noble three (Exec, Judicial, Legislative). Laws exist and can be changed — arguing law is one technique, arguing the law is misinterpreted and must be changed is another. As long as all this disagreement and anger is handled without violence, it is healthy for a nation. I welcome the voices against the preaching of violence, I welcome voices against the sanctity of privacy at the expense of deadly violence, I welcome voices worried about their communities. As long as they are voices, we need them. Maybe we do need to reconsider and restructure things to adjust to a new world. We won’t know until we explore.

    Your post seemed to me to say, “Look, this is the law. Suck it up.”
    I say, “No.”
    [but I could be misreading your post — in which case please excuse my voice]

  11. Ian

    “People need to have voice in their governments. If this is suppressed, fascism will breed. ”

    By definition, I guess.

    “The press, the streets, the radio, marches and all of these are branches of the US government — not just the noble three (Exec, Judicial, Legislative).”

    For some very lose definition of “US government”. I spy a rabbit going into the hat here 🙂

    “Your post seemed to me to say, “Look, this is the law. Suck it up.”
    I say, “No.””

    Well that was part of it. But the other part of it was that it really isn’t nice to premediatively offend people while claiming that you are trying to reconcile with them.

    But yes, “Suck it up”. Or rather “there are specific processes that will allow you to change the law, which you are at liberty to follow. But the law as it stands is clear.” I don’t want to live in a society where moral panic can rapidly change the law based on how efficiently bigotry can be whipped up. Prop 8 is a minor example of that. McCarthyism another, Salem another, the first months of National Socialism in 1936 a fourth. Seems to me that “Suck it up” tied to a *slow* judicial and legislative process is the best security we have against what Mill calls the tyranny of the majority. Okay, *no* set of laws is right, by being universal any law is always bad in a proportion of circumstances. But inertia and the ‘suck it up’ bottom line is important for all our freedoms. I think.

  12. Sabio Lantz

    Right. We agree.
    I just want to encourage those voices to loudly protest, organize and try to change the law. I agree, the dangers of majority democracy or even vast-majority democracy are huge. So I want the checks of all the other systems but I want those voices. And voices who say, “Ah shut up, it is the law.” are worse to me.

  13. Ian

    @sabio In which case we’re definitely in agreement. Yes, peaceful voices, lobbying for change, and even civil disobedience are essential and vital parts of changing the law which should not be stifled. I used the example of Rosa Parks above as a heroine – I think there is a place for deliberately disobeying the law too (providing you are willing to suffer the consequences – such suffering is as big a part of the message as the lawbreaking)*.

    But pretending the law is different seems like a pretty pathetic thing to do. Which was the impression I got listening to talk radio and reading various blogs. Saying “it shouldn’t be allowed” could mean “we should make it so it can be disallowed”, but that wasn’t the impression I got. Mostly it seemed to me to be “the authorities should stop it” – and clearly they shouldn’t, since that would be an egregious and unlawful misuse of power.

    * It is curious to note, however, that Rosa Parks was technically not breaking the law… but still, she understood she would be arrested.

  14. Sabio Lantz

    I understand and partially agree with their outrage. Maybe they don’t get the law. Maybe they think loud voices are enough. But as long as no guns are fired, no lynching (or threats there of) , I encourage them to explore the edges of the law or even break it (as you said) if they are willing to suffer the penalty.

    Maybe enough voices will help the opposition to reconsider or the local American supporters to reconsider or more dialogue about the mistrust to come out front more.

    I am biased: my exposures to Islam in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India, China and Indonesia were all negative. I met many fantastic people in all these places, of course, but where ever I saw it, large communities were always trying to push for Sharia control of the government which means fascism. Compromises to freedom can be insidiously dangerous, they must be resisted. Freedom is very tenuous.

    But likewise, tolerance and patience can be fleeting virtues if not cultured.
    The balance is difficult. I sometimes worry, you country has leaned the wrong way on that issue.
    (hope that clarifies my reaction)

  15. Ian

    Yes, that’s helpful.

    “I sometimes worry, you country has leaned the wrong way on that issue.”

    In what way, particularly? Have we compromised freedom? Because of having a historical empire we have larger muslim immigration and therefore a much higher proportion of muslims than the US. But are there specific measures that you think show that the muslim minority have been able to enact supportive legislation or otherwise push a particular political viewpoint?

    It seems to me to be quite the opposite, to be honest. That given the large community, they are quite systematically under-represented in government and the law. Certainly when compared to their Hindu counterparts (of whom we also have very large communities), who have far, far more economic, social and legal clout, and who make up a far higher proportion of many top professions.

    I think the UK is sometimes used as a kind of fake example by certain right wing US commentators to say “wouldn’t it be horrible to have lots of muslims around – look at the UK.” But I’m always at a loss to know what they actually mean by that. Sure there are muslims in the UK crowing for all kinds of special legislation, for the right to have Sharia courts, and so on. But in terms of actual legal effects, when compared to other ethnic and religious minorities?

    And compare *any* ethnic or religious minority in the UK for governmental influence to the influence of Zionists on the US government and there’s no comparison.

  16. Sabio Lantz

    I’d have to go through and look up the things over the years that gave me that impression — you know how impressions are formed. And thus I obviously would love to change the impression.

    The Zionist influence on the US government is disgusting. Fortunately, they aren’t demanding women to be kept in the house, uneducated and other disgusting agendas. Wait, that sounds like the USA in the 30’s and 40’s, doesn’t it? Smile

  17. Sabio Lantz

    Ian, have you read, “Life at the Bottom“?
    I thoroughly enjoyed it about 7 years ago. I showed how family and social values, given the same economic status, can have incredibly different outcomes.
    Curious how it was received in its mother country — England.
    It contrasts poor Pakistani and Indian families — among others. In the US, if contrasting similar groups here, it might have been accused by the politically correct of being racist.

  18. Ian

    I haven’t. I’ll put a copy on my booklist.

    Indian/Pakistan is often used as a significant distinction in UK political discussion because the structure of the immigration is very similar, but the outcomes are starkly different.

    “Fortunately, they aren’t demanding women to be kept in the house, uneducated and other disgusting agendas.”

    Quite. It was interesting I think to see the firestorm that Archbishop Williams started when he suggested that “Sharia” should be given the same legal recognition that, for example, Jewish church law is given in the UK* He was forcefully and almost universally pilloried in all the press and on TV. He tried to ‘clarify’ his statements, but was roundly shouted down on the issue. I think rightly. The low opportunities given to muslim women in the UK is a national shame I think. It is the equivalent of those evangelical groups in the US with similar viewpoints. Fortunately we do have compulsory and universal education until 16, but my wife taught in a school with 90%+ muslim pupils, and long before they get to 16 the cultural and religious messages they have been bombarded with have destroyed any chance of them living a life of opportunity. For all but a tiny minority of exceptionally wilful and bright girls, that is.

    This isn’t a feature of the law – there are no special rights given to muslims who want to treat their daughters in this way (in fact there are several laws directly aimed at mitigating this abuse). But the endemic misogyny of the culture makes it very difficult to break.

    * This is a complex legal thing that I don’t fully understand, but basically it means that as long as all parties agree to it, certain small civil cases – such as property disputes – can be handled by a community court, including certain religious courts. The results of those rulings will be recognized by national law. So a very minor thing, but still obviously a completely barmy idea.

  19. Boz

    sabio said: “I just want to encourage those voices to loudly protest, organize and try to change the law. I agree, the dangers of majority democracy or even vast-majority democracy are huge. So I want the checks of all the other systems but I want those voices. And voices who say, “Ah shut up, it is the law.” are worse to me.”

    Do you think there should be a change in the relevant law? If so, what should the change be?

    or do you think the law should stay the same?

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