Newt Gingrich has weighed in: “Building this structure on the edge of the battlefield created by radical Islamists is not a celebration of religious pluralism and mutual tolerance; it is a political statement of shocking arrogance and hypocrisy.”
As has Sarah Palin: “This is not an issue of religious tolerance but of common moral sense. To build a mosque at Ground Zero is a stab in the heart of the families of the innocent victims of those horrific attacks.”
We can quibble, of course, about whether 45 Park Place is “at Ground Zero,” whether Cordoba House will be a “mosque,” and whether it constitutionally could be prohibited. But arguing about these points may be counterproductive, because to do so risks conceding that they matter. It gives credence to the idea that if this is a “Ground Zero Mosque” and can be legally prohibited, then prohibiting it could be the right thing to do.
Gingrich and Palin certainly seem to think stopping Cordoba House is the right thing to do. Here is what I would like to ask them:
Newt and Sarah, let us assume arguendo that Cordoba House is “at Ground Zero,” that it is a "mosque," and that it legally could be prevented. Please tell me which one or more of the following statements you agree with:
1. No general moral right exists to build a house of worship on one’s own land; or
2. Such a general moral right exists, but it does not apply in this case because:
a. Islam--the religion as a whole in all its variants--was responsible for 9/11, and a mosque at the site of 9/11 would therefore profane the dead; or
b. Islam is a profane religion, and to allow a mosque on the “hallowed ground” of 9/11 would therefore profane the dead; or
c. Islam is the enemy of the United States, and it is therefore an act of surrender to allow a mosque at the site of an enemy attack; or
d. All Muslims bear collective guilt for 9/11, and as a result have forfeited this general moral right; or
e. Not all Muslims bear collective guilt for 9/11, but because 9/11 was committed in the name of Islam, to become or remain a Muslim is implicitly to approve of 9/11, an immoral belief that forfeits the general moral right.
I’m sure that Gingrich and Palin would deny believing any one of these statements, if each were put to them in isolation. But if they are sincere in calling for the project to be stopped, they must believe at least one.
Unless of course, they don’t, and they’re just pandering.
There is a separate line of argument in the anti-mosque talking points, which holds that whether or not Cordoba House can be stopped by its opponents, the builders should have the “sensitivity” not to build it. The idea being that so long as some Americans, particularly survivors of the 9/11 dead, are offended by the construction of Cordoba House, its builders have an ethical obligation to prevent that offense by cancelling the project.
The difficulty is, though, that to take offense at the building of a “Ground Zero Mosque,” one must logically believe one or more of statements 2a, 2b, or 2c. If Islam as a whole is not responsible for 9/11, is not a profane religion, and is not the enemy of the United States, then a “Ground Zero Mosque”--unless built in explicit celebration of the attacks--is not offensive. (A 9/11-celebrating mosque would of course be a different story, but so would a 9/11-celebrating ice cream stand or waterslide.)
So those who advance the sensitivity argument on the basis that they personally take offense are merely affirming their beliefs in statements 2a, 2b, or 2c, with the added implication that “even a Muslim should recognize these things about his religion.”
But what most intrigues me about the sensitivity argument is those who purport to raise it only on behalf of others. Such a person says in essence to the builders, “look, you and I both know that your entire religion is not profane, not the enemy, and not responsible for 9/11. But these people... they're hurting. They’ve lost loved ones, they've been through a trauma--if they believe those things about Islam, let's not rub their noses in it."
After all, the general proposition--that looking out for people’s feelings is usually the right thing to do--is uncontroversial. But could this duty really extend to respecting others’ feelings when they are born from prejudice? Even if the prejudice is against you? That seems a step too far. Which is why I have my suspicions that, from people who have thought it through, the “sensitivity” argument in the end reduces to a general condemnation of Islam.
Unless of course, it doesn’t, and they’re just pandering.
UPDATE: a conservative friend pointed out to me that the Anti-Defamation League has come out against Cordoba House as well, and he asks whether I am “implying that it is acceptable for a civil rights organization such as the ADL to be against the mosque, but it is not acceptable for conservative politicians to take that stand?” To answer in no uncertain terms: no. I was unaware when I wrote this post of the ADL’s position, which I find equally unsupportable, and indeed more troubling coming as it does from an organization dedicated to fighting anti-religious bias.
I would put the same questions to ADL director Abraham Foxman. And in particular, to his statement that “building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain--unnecessarily--and that is not right,” I would respond as follows: Explain to me, Mr. Foxman, why a victim would feel pain at the building of an Islamic center unless he believes that “Islam”--all of it--is the same entity that carried out 9/11? And assuming you can’t, tell me why it is “not right” for the builders of Cordoba House to ignore those victims’ bigotry.