It seems like whenever you tear down a building, rats always come out.
Likewise, there’s a certain stink of hypocrisy that always surrounds controversial topics like Park 51, (also known as the Cordoba Project), the 13-story Muslim cultural center (and small mosque) planned for construction in Lower Manhattan. If you haven’t heard, it’s a mere two blocks from the World Trade Center site, where thousands of Americans (of all faiths) lost their lives in a jihad carried out in the name of Islam by extremists almost nine years ago.
Because 9/11 is such a sensitive topic for so many Americans (especially New Yorkers), it requires extra critical thinking by both sides–especially, I hate to say, by those hurting the most. Those most inclined to yell and those in best stead to do harm to other people. But instead of tolerance or listening or ratiocination, we have instead the pastiche and passion play that now pass for democracy: screaming tantrums, threatening, bulling, political posturing, recrimination and thumb sucking cries of persecution by the people who actually hold the real power.
And of course there are lies. Stinking piles of them reeking like a colony of dead rats behind your drywall. Untruth can be found on both sides of the debate. Opponents who know nothing about New York City think the mosque is going up right on the site, not two blocks away (and if you’re not familiar with the place, two blocks in New York City can take you through as many cultural dynamics as the Epcot Center). Some liberals (even, sadly, the otherwise heroic Keith Olbermann) have said there will be no mosque at all, which is odd considering that the Park51 site itself advertises a small mosque.
But it’s probably no surprise that Cordoba House opponents are the ones lying more, not only about the specifics but about the big picture. Do they have a good reason? After all, politics play a role in how we use our space. Yes, the First Amendment protects Muslims and whatever the hell they want to build even if they want to build it within homogeneous white enclaves. That’s an irrefutable fact.
But you’ve got to pick your battles. Law is not the only yardstick with which we measure our relationships to each other and at some point you have to turn to the Cordoba House builders and ask … did you have to plan one so close to the World Trade Center? It’s just two blocks away. If the objective of Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam, was to build interfaith bridges and span the gulf between cultures, as he says, I would argue that not every beachhead is a good one for a bridge. You have to find the shortest span where the goods are really going to flow and where there can be some real commerce between us. It might be right for you to fight on legal points, but it wouldn’t further your stated cause.
If you are going to fight, I would have to start arguing again, for opponents, that lots of churches in the United States get denied permission to build for all sorts of reasons all the time. It mostly happens because they run afoul of municipal ordinances–their domes are too high, or their driveways cause traffic problems, or the planned use of the adjacent community centers do not square with local zoning and cause disruption. If I were on the New York City planning commission, I might make a reasonable argument that safety and traffic and historic use of the land are all factors to take into account before I let, say, Oral Roberts build a giant golden egg in an overdeveloped downtown. Some have argued to protect the building that’s already there with landmark status. A nice argument unless you’ve seen the building. There’s also the argument that the developer is a bit unsavory, so why should the city help him out?
But if it’s reason you’re looking for, why do I feel the Muslims have more of it?
Hopefully, if you are paying attention, the month of debate has reinforced the point for you that bigoted conservative pundits lie as easily as Kelly Slater surfs. After fanning across the country for the past year and a half like self-flagellating monks, they have cried that their Constitution has been under attack–and by that they mean the universally prescriptive, strictly constructionist view of the Constitution that allows no “experiments” like Social Security, the Federal Reserve, Medicare, the CIA, presidential cabinets or greenback money. If you want proof, you have only to go to YouTube where these zealots insist that their freedom has been hijacked by extra-Constitutional chicanery, thus they have every right to harass health care reform supporters and bray like mouth-frothing fanatical anabaptists.
Yet when the time comes for them to defend the actual text itself, the Elephants are no longer in the room. Not one high profile Republican has stood up for the First Amendment in this case except for always reliable libertarian Ron Paul. Who’s against? Palin. McCain. Gingrich. Giuliani. The Tea Party leadership. Meanwhile, others such as George W. and Mitt Romney are conspicuous by their silence.
Of course, some high profile Democrats like Sen. Harry Reid have also showed us the white feather, turning tail against the haters and coming out against. But in a courageous move (one badly needed from him lately) Barack Obama did, and for that he was falsely labeled a Muslim (again). Mike Bloomberg stood up for freedom of religion, and for that he was called a hypocrite for not supporting the Second Amendment also. In other words, no other notable right winger (unless you label Paul right wing) will fight the merits of the issue itself. Nobody supports the First Amendment here when it’s a Muslim right that’s being discussed. Why? They are playing a game of reverses and switchbacks. They want only to win.
I had hoped that eight years of George Bush running up enormous deficits and doing away with civil liberties by creating a law outside the law would expose the simple truth that most conservatives don’t believe what they say about big government. They have had plenty of chances to prove the purity of their libertarianism and they fail repeatedly. Only recently have some of them come around to the idea that gay marriage is an issue that ought to be accommodated by their “leave me alone” view of government. But most of them haven’t, and the 9/11 mosque just shows us again that right wing libertarianism is a smokescreen for conservatives whose biggest desire isn’t freedom but power. I’m talking about the usual suspects: Rush, Newt, Side Show Glenn, Laura, Ann … etc.
But those are just extremists. Let’s talk about the people who really matter: New Yorkers and 9/11 victims’ families. Most New Yorkers don’t want this mosque. But in Manhattan proper, the vote swings toward Park51. (The borough most against is dependable Republican bastion Staten Island, whose opponents are 73% strong and a good five miles away by boat.) Even if most New Yorkers don’t want the mosque built, they have also said Imam Rauf has a right to build it. That might seem like an unimportant distinction to you (or The New York Post), but it isn’t. When New Yorkers say “I don’t like what you’re doing, but you have a right to do it,” it’s important for you to read the inflection because it defines the statement. It suggests that New Yorkers might understand the bigger picture here–individual liberty–than the people from Scottsdale operating Web sites.
We also have to remember that Muslims are New Yorkers, too. “A small community!” you say. Try about 600,000 (according to one conservative estimate). Let’s do some math people: the Muslim population in New York might be bigger than the total population of all other U.S. cities except the top 25 or 26. If I told Christians in any city under 600,000 in this country that they couldn’t build a new church there because of Christian persecution of the Indians, I’d be laughed out of town.
Which brings me to the next point about 9/11 victims. The idea that we were attacked by Islam rather than Islamic fanatics is a fantastically awful meme that has to stop in this country. If you are a well-meaning Christian, you must be aware that this sort of criticism opens you up to personal responsibility for the Crusades, the Inquisition and the genocide of indigenous American peoples. Newt Gingrich, a man considered a serious contender for president in 2012, has made the comparison that a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero would be the same thing as hanging swastikas near a Holocaust museum (in other words, he’s calling a mosque an implied threat). Honestly, if you really find it odious that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls the Holocaust a hoax, how can you sit still when such a high profile American politician calls a quarter of the world’s population murderers?
Then we have to talk calmly with the victims’ families. Not all of them are against the Mosque. Those who are against have to concede a few points for their pain. They refer to this crime scene as hallowed ground. I’d like to say you had me at “hallowed.” But as we all know from The Wall Street Journal and the phone book, there are topless bars right around the corner from this hallowed ground that nobody has ever complained about. And as much as we might like to see the entire area turned into a park, the fact is that we’re putting up new giant commercial buildings with vast business space. That’s political reality and ought to be a much bigger pain to victims’ families. Helpless to do anything else, it’s much easier to project anger on Muslims. The families opposed now seemed not to care that there have been other mosques in the area over the last decade (within four blocks, if not two). Why are they bothered now by something that hasn’t bothered them before? If anybody is injuring them more, I’d say it’s the people inciting them to hatred. In fact, since the horrible day that our country was attacked (a day in which the ashes of the World Trade Center flew down on my house in Brooklyn), the people we have had to distrust the most are the people telling us whom to be angry at. Newt Gingrich is Iago. Sarah Palin is Cardinal Richelieu. Glenn Beck is Lady MacBeck. It was bad enough that we had to attack Muslims in the street after 9/11. But it was people who used that hatred to convince us to invade Iraq, a country that had not attacked us, that are just as culpable. They have the same strategies. They have the same political interests. Your pain is their gain. Your anger is their medicine show.
If your family member was a victim on 9/11 and you are at peace with this strategy … you find you must indeed continue to hate all Muslims for what happened on 9/11, then I can’t tell you anything other than that’s a war you’re never going to win.