The Difference Between Can and Should

19 Jul

Alan wrote today on the controversy surrounding the building of a mosque/prayer site/learning center/conference hall near Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan, beating me to the punch. Consider our views dissimilar.

Pundit starts with a fabulous quote from lightning rod Sarah Palin, and continues with a list of “bigot” politicians. Choosing to start a discussion with a list of the hot-button politicians who support (or refudiate) something is an excellent tactic for missing the point. It gets everyone riled up (39 comments and counting), instantly dividing everyone into camps who can safely retreat to their talking points and name calling, but never gets to the heart of issue. Lazio! Palin! Paladino! Horse Sex! Please. Labeling everyone who opposes the building a Islamic prayer center at that site a bigot or hater of the Constitution is just lazy. Let’s see if we can all take a breath for a second.

Can Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf and his Sufi organization (a very very different form of Islam from even mainstream Islam, much less the hate-filled brand practiced by Al Qaeda and jihadist groups in Pakistan) build a mosque/cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero? Of course it can. But should it? That’s a different question.

In America we focus on the Can and not the Should. The Constitution and (specifically) the Bill of Rights provide us a sturdy six sided box of protections. Within the box, you are free to do as you choose. You can say what you want, be what religion you want, get what job you want, and build what you want, on your own land, within building codes. But why must we thrash about in the box, with no regard for others, as violently as possible? Some say we are our most American when we constantly test the limits of the box. Perhaps, but not the parts we should be most proud of. Let me argue for a bit of temperance, empathy, and taste.

Simply because it is legal and allowable to do something, doesn’t mean it is sensitive to do so. In a civilized society we should be able to empathize with the whole and not just concentrate on what I am able to do now. Placing a symbol of the motivating force behind a terrible act of violence at the scene of that violence is legal, but distasteful. Protestants should not build a new church (even a Unitarian Universalist one) at the site of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Northern Ireland, or on top of the ex-home of a killed abortion provider. The Japanese should not put it’s consulate near Pearl Harbor. Confederate flags should not be flown near sites of lynchings of African-Americans in the South. This project’s organizer’s tin ear is Constitutional, but unfortunate. Someday it would be wonderful if the Carnegie Center for Peace wanted to establish a center for communion and understanding in Baghdad . . . but maybe it shouldn’t be in Abu Ghraib. Such decisions, while not legally binding, show a sensitivity this project lacks.

I protest this development not out of bigotry, and the whole Islamic faith is not a scapegoat here. The 19 hijackers were Arab, but this is not a protest against an Arab cultural center. The 19 hijackers were men, but there is not a protest against the men’s portion of the health club. This is not the cudgel of ignorance seeking a target. Let’s be honest here – could President Bush even spell “jihad” before 9/11? The Islamic faith is the sticking point because the 19 hijackers not only self-identified as Muslim, but they used that faith as sole justification of their horrific actions. They did not attack for money, race, or politics, particularly (though the line between faith and politics is not at all clear in orthodox Islam). Simply calling all terrorists crazy, or extremists, and sticking one’s head in the sand, out of a misguided sense of acceptance or understanding, to ignore that basic truth does a disservice to our understanding of history, and removes a key relevant fact from the story of what happened at Ground Zero to all victims of all faiths. The brand of Islam that motivated the hijackers may bear little resemblance to the Sufi version of the Cordoba House organizers. But a whitewash serves no one. This is why an Islamic Cultural Center stirs such emotion, when other projects would not.

I protest this development out of a sense of the liberal (small “l”) ideals of tolerance, empathy to the victims and families, decency, and taste. I’m sure there are many Muslims in downtown Manhattan in need of this center. Those Muslims are not to blame, from their faith alone, for 9/11. They did nothing wrong. But that doesn’t mean the new center has to be two blocks from Ground Zero. Build it somewhere else.

8 Responses to “The Difference Between Can and Should”

  1. STEEL July 20, 2010 at 12:00 am #

    Still not getting why American Muslims practicing their faith, an activity protected by the American constitution, should be dusted with the taint of foriegn terrorists who wrap their craziness in religion. Should we fear all Christians becasue KKK crazies claim their actions are justified by that religon? This is exactly the kind of thing the constitution was designed for – to protect people who find themslves on the wrong side of simplistic thinking that can harm them.

    Your argument is garbage and has no merrit. “Muslims crazies committed a horrific crime therefore all Muslims must bear the guilt and consequences of that crime” WTF is that?

    By the way – It was the Japanese nation representing all the Japanese people who attacked the US this is a very different thing than than a handfull of people representing themselves and claiming to represent others. If you can show no connection between this mosque and any terrorist group then your comparisons are baseless. But lest examine your argument. Perhaps we should not allow any Japanese people to visit Pearl Harbor even if they are American born. No Japanese should be allowed to live in Hawaii? The next step is Muslim internment camps. You right wingers should think through your arguments to the end before you speak. Funny how the second amendment is so sancrosanct when its language is not even that clear yet basic things like letting innocent people lead their lives like anyone else are trampled to death.

    • Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 8:36 am #

      I might stop responding back to you unless you read what I write, and then respond to that, not every right-wing rant you’ve heard in the last 48 hours. For an open minded liberal, you sure do like to lump and stereotype. What did I say about interment camps and the 2nd Amendment? Huh?

      So, to review, yes, it is Constitutionally protected, and that’s why the Constitution exists. I’m not saying to change any of that. I’m asking for a civility you lack. You should not fear all Christians because of the KKK – this has nothing to do with fear, or hatred, or dusting anyone with anything. It is about recognizing that the KKK is part of Christianity’s past (and unfortunate present), just like 9/11 is now part of the history of Islam, for good or bad. You are free to ignore that – it is your Constitutional right. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

      • STEEL July 20, 2010 at 9:43 am #

        NO-what I am saying is that the KKK is NOT part of the Christian past or present. Nor is 9/11 part of Islam. I see no link between this mosque and 9/11. I see no reason to link the two. Why do you? Unless you have some knowledge that it is tied to terrorists I don’t see your point.

        Why should these Muslims be penalized or held to some special standard just because a group of ignorant crazies go around screaming Islam? What you are doing is the same as equating all Christians with KKK lunatics. I read you piece and that is the only meaning I can get out of it. Maybe you should read it before posting.

  2. DV July 20, 2010 at 1:02 am #

    Just wondering how far away they should build this mosque? three blocks? four? You guys are acting like its being built at the top of the new WTC. It’s two blocks away.

    This anti-muslim movement isn’t really winning over any hearts and minds. America is a melting pot. All citizens can, and should be able to practice their faith anywhere. As an atheist I’m not a huge fan of any religion and its superstitions. At the same time I respect people’s right to practice them.

    Are some religions a little more “crazy” than others? Yes. But all religions are going to have their own extremists that will use their faith as an excuse to do something terrible. If christians are going to protest a mosque for 9/11 why shouldn’t atheists protest a church because of a hate crime towards gays?

    If you get this mosque moved, where are you going to draw the line?

    • Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 8:38 am #

      I don’t know how many blocks is right. If you say 6, what about 5? 4 1/2? Its not the number that is important. Its on a site of a building damaged and removed from the 9/11 attack. That’s the symbolism. And this is hardly an anti-Muslim movement – I hope it doesn’t win hearts and minds. I am not affiliated with any particular group or institution protesting this develop – my views are my own, and only.

  3. Ethan July 20, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    It totally fails to offend my sensibilities, and I do think most of the play on it right now is based on ignorance & political cynicism.


  1. A New Voice on Cordoba House | - August 5, 2010

    […] My position is that while the government should not stop the construction, and it should be legal for the construction to continue, out of a sense of decency, sensitivity, taste and respect, one should not place a symbol of terrible violence at the scene of that violence. Symbols are complicated, and just as a Christian church now means love, child abuse, salvation, and the Crusades, all in one, so does a mosque (or Islamic prayer center) now mean terrorism and 9/11, in addition to charity, prayer, and peace. […]

  2. Diverse Coalitions | - August 16, 2010

    […] state again for the record, I believe there is every legal right for Imam Rauf to build a mosque/cultural center at 51 Park […]

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