Posts Tagged ‘ground zero mosque’

An attempt to change the damn record already is edging into sight. To that end, I’m just linking to a few things tonight, some of which will continue the Popey protesty theme, but with strictly limited accompanying ranting from me:

– It’s annoying when the Guardian gets stuff really wrong. It has many excellent regular columnists, a political stance largely not far from my own, and a clearer interest in at least making an effort at things like impartial fact-checking than I’ve come to expect from most tabloids.

It doesn’t render the whole paper worthless or deplorable whenever they simply print something I profoundly disagree with, but it is frustrating. This column by Andrew Brown especially so, for the reasons Greg Laden explains.

You don’t have to like or agree with Richard Dawkins about everything, or about anything much – I’m not going to link to that Neil deGrasse Tyson clip again, but it can certainly be done. But to think that he was really “comparing every Catholic in Britain to Adolf Hitler” is just bafflingly wrong-headed. It makes me wonder how badly someone would have to want to hear Dawkins expressing unadulterated contempt for all religious people (because it’s such a convenient narrative to suppose that that’s what he always does) for them to so completely misconstrue his point. It’s almost like something you get from creationists who’ve taken half a fact about evolution out of context to make it sound ridiculous.

I said something about limiting the ranting, didn’t I? Sorry.

I’m with Jerry Coyne. There, much pithier.

– Also, when the Pope was here, you may have recalled the terrifying conspiracy that was bravely foiled, in which foreigners had been scheming a devilish plot to explode the Pope to bits.

Except none of it was ever really happening. There was a massive furore, with incredibly blatant speculation about “Islamic terrorists” with “links to Al Qaeda” that seem to have been entirely fictionalised by the tabloids. And then, depending on what papers you’re reading, you get a tiny paragraph on page nine later on, explaining that no charges were ever made against anyone.

Mark Steel’s summary of events is excellent.

– Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is the latest prankster comedian to hit the headlines with her wacky in-character antics. Forget Borat and Joaquin Phoenix – she’s been doing this full-time for years. And the results are hilarious.

– There already was a Mosque at Ground Zero (neither of which was true about the “Ground Zero” “Mosque”, remember). It was there before it got that name, though, back when the site was called the World Trade Centre.

– Apparently it’s offensive to suggest that some Muslims aren’t terrorists. A newspaper recently apologised to its readers for printing a photo which implied that sometimes Muslims are just pretty ordinary people who pray – on September 11th, of all days – without even bringing up all the mass murder they’re probably thinking about. This was clearly a grave error of judgment. Muslims aren’t a diverse, complicated demographic encompassing much of the variety to be found in humankind as a whole; 9/11 is the only thing that there is about them, and it’s important that we never ever forget that. Or let them forget it.

– Finally, there’s one point I’ve seen raised by detractors of the Protest The Pope campaign which deserves highlighting. It was still couched in “stop banging on about the Pope and his pedophile army” whining, but aside from that it’s worth considering.

Not everyone who’s been tormented or abused as a child was suffering at the hands of a religious authority figure. Without looking up any actual numbers, I believe sexual and other kinds of abuse are likely more prevalent among families than churches.

So, while highlighting the crimes of the Catholic church, don’t let’s end up inadvertently marginalising victims of abuse from other directions, whose needs aren’t served by waving signs at a man in a dress. I’m not saying this has been happening, but it’s worth being careful about. And I wanted to give the protest-bashers partial credit for getting something nearly right.

That’ll do for today. Comment with your thoughts on any of this. Or say something about the protests to piss me off again, if you prefer the way things used to be.

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So the big news story of the past week was that some guy owns some books and that’s it.

I just spared you several million words and many hundred hours of pointless news coverage. He’s not burning them. Nothing is happening.

There are four distinct fails worth reporting on here, I think, from different people letting the side down in different ways. In increasing order of egregiousness:

4. Me

My productivity has sucked lately, which is why this post is arriving several days beyond its moment of relevance. I was ill for a while, then I was travelling across Kent to see the Scott Pilgrim movie and my friend Sara, both of which were fantastic. But I’m getting back on the wagon now.

3. Pastor Terry Jones

The guy pretty much sounds like a dick.

He made a massive deal out of his intent to burn some books, as a protest against the “Ground Zero” “Mosque” (which is evidently neither), then called it off, as may have been the intent all along. Having got all the press attention conceivable, there’s really no need to actually go through with it now.

But it was an obnoxious form of protest in the first place. And it’s worth my explaining why, as someone who has defended – and indeed taken part in – a deliberately provocative protest against extremist Islam before.

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day was a response to the threats, violence, arson, and murders committed by religious extremists in response to some cartoons being published in a newspaper that precisely zero people were forced at gunpoint to read. It was a way of telling the dangerous lunatics that they do not get to make the rules for the rest of us, and we will not accept their barbaric attempts to enforce a blind adherence to their theocratic dogma on the rest of us.

Most of the people who took part in it accompanied it with an explanation of their intentions, and were careful to contextualise any offence given. The protest was a legitimate one, against unacceptable acts committed in the name of religion, and I think it made its point well.

Pastor Terry Jones is not protesting against anything worth making a fuss over – the “Ground Zero” “Mosque” is in no way an oppressive or extremist action, and infringes not even slightly on anyone else’s rights. He has no sensible reason to be upset, and so his protest seems unmeasured and ill-conceived.

Moreover, the way he’s going about it is distinctly hostile. The Muhammad drawings were, for the most part, unobtrusive and friendly. There were a lot of smiling stick figures, comical cartoons, sketches that were parodic without descending into tawdry piss-taking. Even the less respectful ones were just images which can easily be looked away from.

Burning a book, on the other hand, is an inherently violent and destructive act. Not a criminal one, by any means, but far from conciliatory. As Rebecca Watson pointed out on the SGU podcast this week, book-burning is aggressively symbolic of silencing others, and suppressing free speech, even while not being an explicit act of censorship in itself. It represents the destruction of ideas by force, regardless of their merit, which is entirely anathema to rationality or humanism.

I was never among those standing by Pastor Jones on this, or planning to acquire a copy of the Koran just to take a match to it. I did not endorse his protest, and I don’t think I want to associate with those who did.

2. The media

One lone idiot decides he wants to make a spectacle of himself, by means of an unoriginal idea which the Westboro Baptist Church have been keen to point out they were doing years ago. And the media fall over themselves to help him do just that.

Although they’re deplorable on many other matters, the HuffPo pretty much have this one right. It’s been a media circus of the most infuriating kind – the kind where I’ve been compelled to put on the clown make-up and join in, lamenting at great length that people are still talking about this non-issue at any length at all.

It’s just some guy who doesn’t like the Park51 centre – and there’s no short supply of those – and his congregation of fewer than 50 people, making their tedious point known to anyone who’ll listen. Nobody should know anything about these people. It doesn’t merit anything like the attention it’s received. But the circus has already come to town.

A special mention in this category goes to the politicians who have assisted in drawing attention to this nonsense and making it a story of even greater media interest by publicly condemning it. Obama’s come out against it, and Pastor Jones apparently received a phone call about it from Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary.

It’s depressing that someone with a job title that makes him sound like he really ought to be a very busy man is personally bothering with stuff like this. This one guy is a very small part of the problem here. Much bigger is the artificial furore that’s been constructed around him, and which he’s no doubt been delighted by.

That’s still not the biggest part, though.

1. The religious extremists

Let’s not forget why someone destroying their own property in a way that harms no-one is even a problem in the first place.

What Pastor Jones is doing (or not doing, it now seems) is offensive. I’m not saying that as a condemnation – that’s me downplaying it. All it is is offensive. The worst it does is offend some people. Its not their books being taken from them and destroyed. The ideas in their heads remain intact. Those who take offense are diminished or physically wounded in no way whatsoever by someone else’s decision to mutilate their own copy of these printed pages. It neither picks their pocket nor breaks their leg.

But the response has been predictable. It’s as clear as ever that large numbers of Muslims want to force us to abide by their rules, and will feel righteous in their use of violence against us if our expression of our rights ever goes outside their own concept of the sacred.

So there’s eleven injured here, one shot dead there, and probably more victims scattered around the globe.

The reason for this is a little bit because of one lone idiot stating his intention to burn some books. It’s partly because of the media almost universally deciding that this should be a matter of worldwide interest and immense gravity.

But it’s mostly because some people think they have a god-given right and duty to react with violence when their sensibilities are offended.

Those dangerous maniacs are the prime failures here.

Another special mention, though, goes to those commentators who have been asserting the need for tolerance and a more sensitive approach, but who act as if Pastor Jones is the one most in need of this lecture, and effectively become apologists for religious brutality. At a mosque in London recently, a Muslim spokesman said:

A number of churches have condemned this act. There is nothing wrong with intellectual or theological debate, but this should be conducted within the bounds of decency and tolerance. Instead, what we are seeing is hatred being spread.

He was talking about the proposed book-burning. Not the rampaging mob charging down the streets to attack a Nato base, because of something going on thousands of miles away which they heard about on the news and which does not concern them in any material way.

Others have been calling for the book-burning, if it’s attempted, to be “prevented”. The US government have been urged to “take steps” to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The idea of holding free expression as a valued principle doesn’t seem to occur to them. But the lectures about tolerance continue.

There are also those who, while not personally offended, still consider Pastor Jones’s stated intentions “irresponsible”, because of the inevitable incitement of the Muslim communities who will take offense. That was the point of Robert Gates’s phone call, after all – it was feared that there could be violent repercussions.

And, well, clearly they’re not wrong about that. But there’s a problem with simply saying that people shouldn’t exercise their rights, because of how someone else can be trusted to react. Specifically, it fails to suitably condemn and place the responsibility for violent acts on the people actually doing the violence.

The logic is identical to that employed by those devout Muslims, and others, who refuse to allow women to be seen in public without being covered head to toe in thick fabric, because the mere sight of a wantonly flaunted ankle may incite men to acts of violent, lustful passion. If the sight of women being allowed some basic autonomy will do that to men, then it’s the men who need to get a fucking grip.

I don’t buy that someone else’s evil, unhinged, unjustifiable arrogance and fury is enough reason to warrant limitations being placed on my rights.

Well, there’s the chart run-down. I hope some of your own favourites made it onto the list. Next week: the top eight things I hate about Buddhists. Those bald wankers have had it easy for too long.

There’s more on this from PZ, Index On Censorship, and PZ again.

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Well, this is just tragic.

So the “Ground Zero” “Mosque” is being loudly opposed by many, who are against the idea of allowing Muslims to build a place of worship sort of near to where some extremists did something terrible nine years ago.

But a lot of the time, their arguments are focused on the sensitivity of the centre, rather than the legality of it. They think that it lacks compassion or respect to establish this building, with its basketball court, swimming pool, theatre, and other such un-American abominations, a mere five-minute walk a couple of streets away from the “hallowed ground” where the World Trade Centre once stood. The fact that this private organisation might not be legally permitted to build on this privately owned ground hasn’t seemed to be a big part of the dialogue.

The protestors don’t want it to happen, certainly, but this always seemed to be more on the grounds of personal offense than any real legal objection.

Clearly much of the offense is itself misguided, too. There’s a lot of divisive rhetoric that seems to assume that “we” were attacked by terrorists, and now “they” want to build some kind of terror-shrine on the site of “their” victory. Fox News are doing a fine job of making the scary Muslim bigwig with the suspicious foreign-sounding name who’s behind the community centre (and who also owns a large chunk of Fox News) sound scary.

But critics have tended to try to steer the discussion away from being a legal argument. Perhaps this is just because they know they have absolutely nowhere to stand in a legal argument, and so trying to brush aside people’s rights by constantly parroting that it’s “not a matter of religious freedom” is the best they can do.

Except it turns out that maybe I’m giving people too much credit. I’d assumed they were mostly just stupid enough to think that their personal indignation means a damn when it comes to other people’s freedom to exercise their own business. But apparently a lot of them are a whole different breed of idiot.

Just barely half of people recently polled believed that there is a constitutional right to build a religious building on privately owned property. Almost half either were convinced that no such right exists, or were not sure.

And although there is a notable split along party lines, that’s not especially comforting either. One in four Democrats also gave this question a firm “No”.

I’d really like to see the answers to some follow-up questions here. Do this quarter of Democrats – and more than half of Republicans – think that a Christian church would also be illegal in this location? Or do they think that the First Amendment contains a special provision to account for when people would be upset? Maybe they’ve read a little-known footnote added by Thomas Jefferson at the last minute, reading “unless they look foreign and weird”?

The most elaborate argument any of them have against this centre – the most profound and compelling reason they can find for restricting other people’s rights – is essentially a tutting noise.

I sometimes wonder why it always seems to be the lunatic right who are incapable of distinguishing their own personal preferences from everybody else’s rights, and why they’re the ones who assume that anyone else is ever obliged to give a fuck about where their moral outrage is pointed this time. Apparently this is my answer. There’s no hope on the left, either.


No, you know what, fuck that. I’m not ending this on a sigh, and just exasperatedly concluding that the world is doomed. There are still large swathes of people out there – millions of them, perhaps even a majority – who are capable of looking beyond the still raw wound of this colossal violation, and not letting it taint their perception of the entire world from then on. A lot of people can still maintain the presence of mind to distinguish the hateful from the innocent, even in the wake of national and personal bereavement. There are many people responding to the Islamic community in America with compassion, and establishing relationships even with those religious people who share a faith with the terrorist monsters behind this atrocity.

Also, here’s one Republican who supports the liberal, decent position on religious rights: Ted Olson, Solicitor General under President Dubya, whose wife was on a plane and killed on 9/11.

That’ll have to suffice as a unicorn chaser for now. I’m having a lazy evening at home, and sometimes at work I have to actually, like, work, so I’m a bit pushed for time.

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I haven’t weighed in at length on the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate yet. You’ve heard other people sum it up well already, but N.K. Jemisin is who I’m going to quote, in part, from John Scalzi’s blog:

And so much of the rhetoric on this issue ignores the basic facts: that the building’s nowhere near Ground Zero (it’s 2 blocks away; in Manhattan, that’s miles, figuratively speaking); that many Muslim Americans died on September 11th, so this “disrespects the victims’ families” crap is just that, crap; that the site is by no means sacred; that there are already two mosques in the area and they’ve been there for years; and that this is mostly furthering the political ambitions of people who don’t even live here. Per that link, the people who do live in Manhattan are in favor of Park 51… yet for some insane reason the media seems most concerned about what people in Florida think. Florida.

So, yeah.

Someone on Twitter was recently wondering whether whoever came up with the phrase “Ground Zero mosque” was also responsible for Obama’s “death panels”. It’s nearly as provocatively misleading, conjuring up sinister images of minarets towering triumphantly over the exact spot of the disaster. It’s an entirely dishonest way of trying to make people scared of a community centre half a mile away [Edit: Maybe rather closer, “two blocks” is what people are saying, but it makes no real difference], and it’s clear that the people using it don’t actually have anything substantive to argue with.

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