Defending sacred ground

At Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt enters the fray on the Cordoba House controversy and notes that America’s founders understood that “trying to impose religious orthodoxy on the new republic was a recipe for endless strife.”

The principle of religious tolerance is not a piece of clothing that one can don or doff at will, or as the political winds shift. Indeed, it is most essential not when we are dealing with groups whose beliefs are close to our own and therefore familiar; the whole idea of “religious tolerance” is about accepting communities of faith that are different from our own and that might strike us at first as alien or off-putting. Tolerance doesn’t mean a thing if we apply it only to people who are already just like us.

The latest example of tortured reasoning on this subject was New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s column a couple of days ago. Douthat explained the controversy as a struggle between “two Americas”: one of them based on the liberal principle of tolerance and the other based on the defense of a certain understanding of “Anglo-Protestant” culture.

In addition to glossing over the latter’s dark underbelly (slavery, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholic prejudice, etc.), Douthat’s main error was to view these two aspects of American society as of equal moral value. In his view, it’s legitimate to object to the community center because we have to respect the feeling of those Americans (including Douthat himself, one assumes) who believe that the United States is at its heart an “Anglo-Protestant/Catholic/Judeo-Christian” nation.

Even if one accepts this simplistic dichotomy, what Douthat fails to realize is that the history of the United States is the story of the gradual triumph of the first America over the second. The United States may have been founded (more-or-less) by a group of “Anglo-Protestants,” and defenders of that culture often fought rear-guard actions against newcomers whose practices were different (Jews, Catholics, Japanese, Chinese, etc.). But the founding principle of religious tolerance gradually overcame the various Anglo-Protestant prejudices, which allowed other groups to assimilate and thrive, to the great benefit of the country as a whole. The two America’s are not morally equivalent, and we should all be grateful that when those two Americas have come into conflict, it is the second America that has steadily given way to a broader vision of a free and open democracy.

The final disappointment, of course, has been the response of some prominent Democrats, despite the salutary example that Mayor Bloomberg set for them. President Obama gave a powerful defense of his own last week, and then promptly diluted his initial statement with some ill-advised waffling. (Obama’s desire to find common ground is sometimes admirable, but someone needs to remind him that when one side is right and the other is wrong, moving towards the middle is movement in the wrong direction.)

Even more disappointing was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s cowardly dissembling, in which he simultaneously claimed to support religious freedom but said he thought the community center should nonetheless be moved somewhere else.

Here’s the challenge I would pose to anyone pushing the “sensitivity” argument: How far from the site of the World Trade Center is an appropriately sensitive distance for constructing an Islamic center? Is some place else a few more blocks away or in another city? And what kinds of construction are or are not permissible inside the sensitivity zone?

These are of course redundant questions because the sanctity of so-called hallowed ground is not the issue. This is not about sacred ground; it’s about appealing to unreasoned sentiment. The demographic where politicians (and the press) make the easiest sale is filled with people who discern more clarity in their feelings than their thoughts. If it don’t feel right what more need one think or say? This is the sacred ground — untroubled by complexity — that the mosque’s critics so jealously defend.

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7 thoughts on “Defending sacred ground

  1. scott

    Yep, I read that on his blog and Chalmers Johnson at Lobelog. I guess it’s good to cross pollinate. But, I was hoping you’d contributed something today too.

  2. Chris Frazier

    What will it take for thinking people to recognize and acknowledge that the United States created by the visionary founders ceased to exist long, long ago? Or that perhaps THAT United States so idealized in our mythology died aborning. Don’t you get it? The Bill of Rights was aborted in utero, and the Constitutional Republic envisioned by Jefferson was hijacked en route to “the people.” There were the Alien and Sedition Acts of Adams, Hamilton’s Bank of the United States, Jackson’s racist genocide against the First Nations, slavery, the Civil War, “Reconstruction,” the Klan, lynchings, the gallop into imperialism and endless war, the Lusitania deception, the Pearl Harbor deception, the atomic bomb deceptions, the Israel deceptions, C.O.I.N.T.E.L.P.R.O. and myriad other criminal activities conducted by the F.B.I., the creation of the rogue cryptocracy (C.I.A., et al.), the Vietnam deceptions, the assassination deceptions, the 9/11 deception, the “terrorism” deception, the “war on drugs” deception, and on and on and on. Is it all that difficult to string the beads together? Well, is it? If we want a change, WE THE PEOPLE will have to revolt. Period. There is NO OTHER SOLUTION. Congress is as worthless as dry manure on fire. The President-regardless of who he is or where he was born or what political party he supposedly represents-is a liar. Nevertheless, this necessary revolt will never happen because most of WE THE PEOPLE are sound asleep and apathetic. We talk, whine, spend, eat, belch, eat some more, yawn, eat some more, fart, go to whatever jobs haven’t been “outsourced” to China, eat some more, watch some “reality televsion,” fart again, then fall asleep in the recliner. So, let’s do ourselves a great big favor. OK? Those of us who THINK. Let’s stop talking bullshit, stop patting ourselves on the back for being better informed, and do something. Please. DO something besides sling bullshit. Leave the Matrix or have a bake sale. Just STOP slinging bullshit. I’m choking on it.

  3. Christopher Hoare

    Good points — the sacred ground the opposition is defending is the internal space of illusion and misinformation. Surely the most solid ground on which to cultivate bigotry and prejudice.
    The loss and betrayal I think Chris Frazier is deploring comes from a public failure to keep the internal spaces of the mind pure — free from half truth, free from dogma, free from sloth, free from comfortable fantasy, free from unfounded assumptions. This reveals the herd instinct in full flower, attesting to the public training of decades of media lies, distraction, and obfuscation.

  4. Chris Frazier

    Don’t you know what’s going to happen next? Can’t you see it coming from miles away? The Cordoba House is a done deal, in more ways than one, and it will be built. The time for all this debate has passed. The political and legal processes of New York State have settled the matter. But that isn’t going to be the end of this story. No, not at all. This nation is aswarm with “Rabbi” Meir Kahanes. We are a hothouse for lunatics, fanatics, and maniacs. When the time is “appropriate,” a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews and/or other fanatics (“Christian Zionists?”) will go on a killing and bombing spree there in Manhattan. Many Muslim and non-Muslim visitors will be murdered at this shrine-to-be, and the fanatics will declare their actions “fully justified and authorized by the God of Israel.” Unfortunately, this is inevitable. The Zionists and their allies don’t need justifications for killing Muslims and Arabs. They live for it. They are convinced they have a Holy Writ. I suspect that no one is prepared for the incitement which will surely follow, and in typical Middle Eastern fashion, eyes will be exchanged for eyes. The victims will not be voluntary organ donors. What a catastrophe that we ever crawled into bed with that little rogue, racist terrorist state on the Mediterranean. I am far more fearful of Zionism-anywhere-than the sort of Islam now practiced by most Muslims in the U.S.

  5. Coldtype

    What’s perhaps most tiresome about the entire “controversy” is that it is animated by the false premiss that the 9/11 attacks were religiously motivated in the first place instead of a political act carried out by private actors representing no nation-state.

  6. Dieter Heymann

    “Der Jud Suess” was a perversion. Likewise the notion that 9/11 was carried out in the name of Islam is a perversion. The problem is that perverts will always believe perversions to be the truth.

  7. Dieter Heymann

    To me there are very few “sacred” grounds in our world. One of them is Yad Vashem in Israel because it is dedicated to persons of any religion and astheists who said no to almost unthinkable evil.

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