Posts Tagged ‘mosque’

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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Ayaan Hirsi Ali is pretty awesome.

I read her memoir Infidel last year, inspired by the discussion about it on Skepchick, and their summaries of the book here and here. It’s a pretty amazing story, about her upbringing in Somalia and other parts of Africa, deeply entrenched in fundamentalist religion, and how she broke away from it as a young woman and became a philosophical and humanist spokesperson of some significance.

I made a note to myself a few weeks ago that I should comment on this article she wrote, and only just remembered about it. It’s about the recent constitutional ban on minarets – those pointy onion-shaped towers you sometimes get at the top of Islamic mosques – that was voted for in Switzerland, a country currently possessing a total of four such minarets. Like most people seemed to, I decided this was probably a pretty ridiculous over-reaction, but didn’t think a great deal more about it.

I didn’t expect there’d be a significant number of voices in support of the ban that didn’t come from the (probably Christian) conservative right. So Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s article, with the headline “Swiss ban on minarets was a vote for tolerance and inclusion”, kinda caught my eye.

Now, I’m very unsure of my footing here. I know that certain recent events have highlighted some of the dangers inherent in offering an opposing view in response to the position argued by people who are better informed and better qualified than you in every important regard. And yet, here I am, saying that I’ve given it more than a cursory mental glance now, and I’m still not convinced by Ali’s argument.

Part of her point seems to be that the Islam represented by the minarets is a political movement, not simply a personal religious faith, and that this political movement is oppressive and dangerous. She’s written before, and well, on the dangers of accommodating and pandering to religious extremists out of fear of alienating the more moderate majority. In Infidel, she described the tendency of many European politicians to make excuses for Islamic extremists and terrorists, to go out of their way to find ways to blame the West for these acts of terror, and to refuse to condemn any form of any religion, even when taken to such barbaric and deplorable ends, out of some misguided notions of “respect” and “tolerance”. I’m entirely with her on all this, and Islam should absolutely be open to criticism as a political movement.

But she also seems to be saying that allowing the minarets to stand and continue to be built would be an implicit endorsement of Islamic politics, and an assertion that any extremist or supremacist views associated with the minarets deserve equal respect in all public conversation. And I’m just not sure it would. I don’t see how restricting people’s rights to build their buildings, in which they like to air their views, however repugnant those views might be, is a tolerant or liberal act. Am I just being a wacky libertarian here?

She suggests we imagine a similar ban on “the building of an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles as a symbol of the belief of a small minority”. If my spatial awareness isn’t failing me, she’s talking about swastikas. But if someone wants to build a building on their own land, with their own resources, in the shape of a swastika, I don’t know how I can condone forcibly preventing them from doing so. It seems like that would necessarily make me a complete hypocrite with regard to every other time I’ve supported free speech when somebody’s complained about being offended.

I hope that a country like Switzerland would “reject the ideas and practices of political Islam”. But I’m not convinced that people have a right to extend their expression of that rejection, to the point where they’re telling other people what they can and can’t do with their own money, or build on their own land. I don’t need to be reminded how horrifyingly oppressive, misogynist, dictatorial, militaristic, and authoritarian some Islamist teachings are. But surely that’s not a good enough reason for us to start being oppressive and dictatorial ourselves. Find another way to reject their philosophy. One that promotes your own, and explains why it’s better, perhaps.

What are the odds I’m greatly over-simplifying things and missing the bit where all this has already been rebutted? I’m guessing pretty high.

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