A little over a month ago, I wrote about the Park 51 Project
, the proposed Islamic Cultural Center that has, cynically (and disingenuously), come to be known as the "Ground Zero Mosque". Truth, be told, I was pretty incensed about the whole thing at the time, but it was mostly a local issue and all of the official City and State Agencies seemed to be doing and saying the right things at the time...namely that the government had no right whatsoever to stand in the way of a Cultural Center or
a Mosque or whatever
to be built anywhere that was zoned for it. Most
of the anti-mosque crowd consisted of random loudmouths and a couple of local political opportunists who didn't really seem to be gaining all that much steam. I figured the mosque would overcome any official hurdles and the whole furor would die a quiet death and we'd all move on to something else.
As you know by now, I was completely wrong.
Since then, I've got to admit that I haven't been entirely sure why
I was so worked up about it. I don't have any personal stake in it...I'm pretty sure I could count my Muslim friends on one hand and have fingers left over. The fact is, that, aside from not believing that Islam exists solely to subjugate the rest of the world, I rarely think much about them at all. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Catholics or Baptists or Seventh Day Adventists or Hindus or Rastafarians either. They're just not terribly relevant to my daily life. Nor can I think of the last time I counted houses of worship in a specific area and thought that one group might be winning
because they had more square footage in the neighborhood.
Nonetheless, every day I seem to read something new -- to watch the rhetoric ratchet up another notch and I grow more depressed over it. The truth is, I think the debate, if you want to call it anything so genteel, has become scary. Every time I've considered chiming in again, events have overtaken me...meaning some other jackass has started spouting nonsense and gotten me too worked up to attempt coherence.
I'll try to keep from nattering on for too long, but I wouldn't feel right if I didn't say anything at all.
For starters, I know a number of people, myself included, have made the point that the proposed Cultural Center is hardly at
Ground Zero...it's a couple of blocks away. I won't go into how geometry and sightlines work, but here's a clue. If you enlarge this handy little screenshot I took from GoogleEarth, you'll notice that, in order to see
the mosque over that 17 story building in the way, you'll need to get up to a pretty high floor in the new World Trade Center...if they ever finish building it. If that's supposed to be taken as some triumphal monument to our attackers, I'm unclear on the concept.
More importantly, a lot of people have objected to the fact that suddenly, politicians from all over the country are expressing opinions. I remember, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, how much it meant to New Yorkers to have the support of the rest of the country. There was a sense of unity in the country -- we weren't in this alone. There was moral and material support from all over the country. So, I guess I'd feel like something of a hypocrite if I said only New Yorkers should be allowed an opinion now.
But it's not the fact
of these opinions that bothers me...it's the fact that they're not genuine.
I don't doubt that some
of the rhetoric is heartfelt (if completely wrong), but most
of it is cheap Political Theater...plain and simple. Let's look at some
Newt Gingrich finds no contradiction in stating his staunch support for Freedom of Religion while proposing what amounts to a "Mosque-Free Zone" in some ill-defined radius around Ground Zero. He says he wouldn't have any objections to a new Mosque near Central Park or up near Columbia University. Thanks Newt. He also points out that you wouldn't be free to build a Synagogue or Church in Mecca. Really? Really Newt? I'm capable of swallowing a certain amount of bile to acknowledge that the U.S. is better off having a friendly relationship with Saudi Arabia, but are we supposed to emulate
them now? Are you really taking your fucking lead from what the Saudis think is right and proper? Unless I was lied to about everything, I was taught that America was supposed
to be the example the rest of the world aspired to. Thanks for clearing that up.
Rick Lazio -- at least he's a homegrown asshole -- is running for Governor on the GOP ticket. He thinks we should investigate the Mosque's finances before allowing them to proceed. Will we be doing that for every
church that wants to build from now on? Is there a new set of rules nobody told me about. Feh! (Since I first wrote this paragraph, Nancy Pelosi called for an investigation of who is funding the anti-Mosque
clique. Nancy's statement caused Peter King (R-NY) to find the first thing in this sad affair that he calls "reprehensible". He should listen to some of the things his constituents have been saying if he really
wants to know what reprehensible sounds like.)
Sarah Palin Tweeted, “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts.”
I actually don't have all that much to say about Sarah, except that her qualification about "Peace-seeking Muslims" reminds me of a time when people talked about "innocent AIDS victim"...because even devout Christians could discern between poor babies who got AIDS from transfusions and evil faggots who deserved
what they got. She seems to be saying, "There must be some
Muslims who don't want to kill us all...I've heard about 'em". STFU Sarah.
Rick Scott, who's running for Governor of Florida, ferChrissakes, released a commercial called "Obama's Mosque"
. I'd say I was at a loss to figure out what any of this has to do with running the State of Florida, but I guess the opportunity to run against Obama and to paint him with a Muslim brush again was too much to resist. (Scott apparently feels the need to comment on events in NY, but I can't find any comment of his regarding the May firebombing of a Mosque in Jacksonville, Fl. I, for one, want to know if he's for it or against it!)
The thing is, I don't believe any of the politicians toeing the anti-mosque line have any heartfelt opinion on the issue one way or the other. You can bet your ass they're just jumping on a bandwagon of political expedience and appealing to the lowest common denominator. It's cynical and it's short sighted -- but I'll get back to that.
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement calling on the developers to place their mosque somewhere else "out of sensitivity". Since then, he's issued a statement attempting to clarify the League's position
. Sorry Abe, I'm not buying it. I've questioned some of the ADL's positions before as over-reactions or paranoia, but I've never doubted the moral clarity behind
those positions. I don't care how many statements or acts you can point to in the past
, you're still wrong on this
issue. Freedom of Religion doesn't come in shades or degrees -- it's either absolute or it doesn't exist at all. If you want to regain your moral high ground, you'll reverse your position. (Since writing this
paragraph, Gov. Paterson (NY) offered to help find an alternate site - on State property? -- and was rebuffed. Archbishop Timothy Dolan also wants to see if he can mediate finding an alternate location. They both may be well meaning, but they're wrong.)
All of these statements boil down to what I heard one "man-on-the-street" saying on the local news last night..."I believe in Freedom of Religion...just not here." And all of these politicians are falling all over each other to pander to this deep-thinker and his ilk.
If you want to know what constitutes an actual desecration of Ground Zero...it's the fact that we're still referring to it as Ground Zero. Nine years after the attacks, when we should be looking at a towering new World Trade Center...something like this:
We're still looking at a hole in the ground. This is an AP photo from a week or so ago, showing the progress, or lack thereof. One of (I think) five new buildings has reached 20 stories of structural steel. Impressive, huh?
Immediately after the attacks, I had the knee-jerk, childish idea that flags should be flown at half-staff until there was a topping off ceremony for the new World Trade Center. Something about replacing those buildings as quickly as possible seemed an important goal to me and the idea of raising the flag back to the top of flagpoles only when the last beam was hoisted to the top of a new World Trade Center seemed an appropriate memorial and
statement of resilience. But then, I figured that was a stupid idea, since it would probably take four or five years to actually put up the new towers. At the rate they're going, my stupid idea would have had the flags at half-staff until 2017 or so.
And I'm realizing that even that isn't what gets me so worked up every time I hear some new proclamation from another blowhard. It's this. Since the last election there's been a lot of talk about "taking back our country". There were lot's of slogans that obliquely (and not so obliquely) hinted at armed revolution to prevent our country from being taken from us. Right wing politicians latched onto the anger and fed it with more and more mindless slogans...while disavowing any consequences that might result. And as soon as that had a chance to die down a little, we start this shit.
There are a lot of politicians grabbing onto this issue because they've got nothing else. Some of it is opportunism. Some of it's a lack of imagination. Some of it, as I said, is an appeal to the lowest common denominator. And some of it is the craven fear that if they don't jump on the bandwagon, they'll be seen as soft on Terrorism. (Harry Reid is just plain terrified and will apparently take any position to avoid unemployment.)
Regardless, it's all really fucking dangerous. During the 50's and 60's, all a Southern DixieCrat had to do to get reelected was to spout off about segregation. It was easy and it got populist votes from poor and lower-middle-class whites (when there weren't many black votes to worry about), and the people mouthing off about it didn't really give a shit one way or the other...their socio-economic position wasn't threatened by an empowered black population. So, George Wallace stood in the school's doorway and when the National Guard made him move, he smiled and waved at his white constituents and announced that he'd done his job -- safe for one more election. Eventually, Black America decided it had eaten enough Jim Crow, resulting in a horribly painful period of American History. Let enough pressure build up because it's easier to ignore it and eventually, things are going to blow. And nobody gets off easy.
It's easy now
for politicians to go after easy votes over an issue they may or may not honestly care about. It's easy now
to claim you're not anti-Muslim...just "sensitive" to the emotions of some people you've never met or spoken to. It's also easy to claim that you've never vilified all
of Islam -- while making it clear that they're actually all
suspect unless they make a daily declaration renouncing terrorism and
account for every dime they spend on anything larger than a Halal pushcart. They're not suspect as long as they can prove
they're not suspect.
Mayor Bloomberg, who has been one of the rare lights of reason in all of this, gave a speech on August 3rd
, the day the NYC Landmarks Commission rightly decided that 51 Park Place is a building of no historic significance and removed any block they might have made toward the mosque. One of the things he had to say was,
...I believe that this is as important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime ... and it is critically important that we get it right.
the Founding Fathers felt so passionate about the idea of Freedom of Religion was because they, themselves were escaping centuries of State-sponsored despotism in the name of religion. They had a variety of religious convictions and had no intention of letting anyone dictate to them or their children on that score ever again. (I'm personally aghast at the idea that crowns actually changed hands over things like the question of Transubstantiation.)
BP thought they could continue on the path of least resistance in the Gulf of Mexico -- drilling away happily while refusing to make sure there was a working Blow-out preventer in place. We've all seen what that got us and how difficult it was to cap the well once it got out of control. Now a bunch of politicians are blithely hollering the first thing that comes into their pointy little heads and thinking that getting their constituents angry won't have a blowing-point.
There is no truth to the idea that all of Islam is at war with America, but if we keep trying hard enough, I'm certain we can make it true.