Feelings.

20 Jul

Brian responds disapprovingly to my post about the anti-Muslim bigotry that seems to be more important to Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino than the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. He says that the Cordoba House “can” be built, but disagrees over whether it “should”.

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.

Commenting about politics and politicians is what I do. I don’t really care if Joey the longshoreman shows up to the public hearing to rail against Muslims. I do care when people angling to be the leader of all New Yorkers do so. The heart of the issue is the fact that there are, in this day and age, politicians who still feel comfortable exploiting ethnic, racial, or religious differences for political gain. I call it bigotry because if not that, it’s just opportunistic cynicism. Finally, I didn’t mention horse sex, and I didn’t “label everyone who opposes the building … a bigot or hater of the Constitution.” So, who’s calling whom lazy?

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.

Realizing that Brian isn’t your typical mouth-breathing right-winger, I’ll exclude him from my observation that right-wingers are the first to mock political correctness as bleeding heart liberalism run amok. I don’t understand the objection to what amounts to an Islamic YMCA. As I pointed out in my post, there are myriad religious structures and organizations within a few blocks of what used to be the World Trade Center site. Manhattan isn’t a place that enjoys Buffalo’s sprawl – where you can just get Benderson to cut down some cornfields and build you a brand-new plaza.

If the organization wanted a location in lower Manhattan, which is shaped like an arrowhead, it’s somewhat unavoidable that it will be near the World Trade Center. How many blocks would be acceptable, Brian? If two blocks is too much, would four blocks do? Five? Six? What arbitrary and capricious line shall we draw in terms of not trampling on people’s feelings?

Furthermore, while Brian admits that the Islamic group that wants to build this project isn’t even remotely close to the ideology of the expansionist al Qaeda terrorists who committed 9/11, he backhandedly equates them by stating that it would be better to succumb to ignorance, and choose a different spot out of a concern for others’ feelings. Since when did people’s feelings trump Constitutional freedoms, anyway? Apart from the fact that these people pray to a different God, in a different way, in a different direction, read a different book, and follow different religious rules, what possible objection is there to this?

If we’re talking about showing due respect to 9/11, then I answer (1) Muslims died in 9/11 – why is their faith excluded from any discussion of that tragedy, except as scapegoats? (2) There are several strip clubs within a couple of blocks of 9/11. Shall we close those, too? Is the World Trade Center site to become a downtown Vatican City? Purity cleansing New York’s density and diversity?

What is in bad taste about just another building in a city full of buildings? An Islamic cultural center in a city full of Muslims?

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.

You see this as a religious provocation. In all of your examples, it represents rubbing one’s nose in. Why didn’t you include a neo-Nazi rally at Auschwitz, or al Qaeda opening up a murder stand in Battery Park City?

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that there are probably tens of thousands of Muslims who live or work within walking distance of this Cordoba House – the group that is proposing to build a cultural center / YMCA two blocks from what used to be the World Trade Center. Do they insult the sanctity of the World Trade Center site by having the constitutional audacity of living their lives nearby? You treat this as if al Qaeda was proposing to build a monument of grenades in the shape of an extended middle finger on the site of the World Trade Center mass murder. Yet you already acknowledged that this group is nothing at all like al Qaeda, except that they all call themselves Muslims.

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.

One could argue that the 19 hijackers attacked out of a retarded bastardization of the Muslim faith – one where all Jews and Christians must be eliminated to make way for the next Caliphate. That’s not religion, that’s political. And protest as much as you want, but by making this plea for “empathy” you do equate the Cordoba House with al Qaeda solely because the former is a Muslim human enrichment organization, and the latter is a Muslim terrorist organization.

You don’t link the thread between:

I protest this development not out of bigotry, and the whole Islamic faith is not a scapegoat here … 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.

and this:

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.

In other words, even though you’re enlightened enough to realize that the Cordoba House isn’t even remotely the same thing as al Qaeda, and even though all Muslims shouldn’t be relegated to second-class citizen status thanks to al Qaeda, in this particular instance you’re going to lump them all together and make them second-class citizens because people more ignorant than you will be offended, their feelings hurt.

Maybe – just maybe – it’s time for people who aren’t ignorant to stand up for not being ignorant. Maybe it’s time to explain to our less informed brethren that no, not all Muslims are terrorists and Islam didn’t attack the US on 9/11 (neither did Saddam Hussein), but al Qaeda did. And al Qaeda isn’t Cordoba House, regardless of which direction they pray in, or how many times per day.

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.

There is nothing indecent or distasteful about a religious organization in a dense and diverse city choosing a location for a non-confrontational, non-terroristic cultural/sports facility in that city’s financial district. Part of the beauty of New York and New Yorkers is that they all live side-by-side, not really giving a crap whether so-and-so is Muslim or Jewish or Christian, because the city welcomes everyone from everywhere.

To oppose this project because of the organizers’ faith is to equate them with al Qaeda, your protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. When ignorant politicians rile up the ignorant to score political points, I’m not being lazy. What’s lazy is to argue that we should succumb to the prejudices of the ignorant, rather than making the effort to educate and inform them.

Here’s a video that was produced to inflame the passions and feelings of the ignorant. It includes the line that this “13-story mosque” “on Ground Zero” and that “that mosque is a monument to their victory, and an invitation to war”. It’s got 244 thousand views, and was featured by Andrew Breitbart.

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Now tell me that this isn’t about ignorance and bigotry.

29 Responses to “Feelings.”

  1. Rob July 20, 2010 at 7:34 am #

    For what it’s worth, here is the developer’s description of the facility:

    “Cordoba House is a Muslim-led project which will build a world-class facility that promotes tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City. The center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all New Yorkers to enjoy.

    This proposed project is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture. Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form – compassion, generosity, and respect for all.”

    Maybe you don’t believe this description, but if you do accept that this is accurate, what’s the objection to placing this two blocks from the WTC site?

    • Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 7:45 am #

      I believe the description – I don’t think the organizer of Cordoba House is lying or trying to hoodwink anyone. But like I said in my piece, if the Carnegie Endowment for Peace wanted to build such an outreach center in Baghdad, don’t do it at the symbol of American crimes, no matter how good the intention.

    • Rob July 20, 2010 at 8:10 am #

      Btw, the new US embassy in Baghdad (opened 2009) is “the largest and most expensive embassy in the world at 0.44 square kilometers — the size of Vatican City” (Wiki). That would be Baghdad, where US troops have killed (3,000 x _____?) Iraqi civilians.

      • Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 8:41 am #

        Yeah, its a bad idea, eh?

      • Rob July 20, 2010 at 9:52 am #

        Terrible idea, to which many Iraqis objected – but the US built it anyway. Rammed it down their throats, to use teabagger-speak. But peaceful Muslims should respect our fee-fees re the WTC site, because In God We Trust Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

      • Rob July 20, 2010 at 9:53 am #

        I screwed up the strikeout tags on “In God We Trust”, but you get the idea.

    • Ethan July 20, 2010 at 9:16 am #

      I would go so far as to argue that what the WTC site or neighborhood actually even needs is a

      “Muslim-led project which will build a world-class facility that promotes tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City. The center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all New Yorkers to enjoy.

      This proposed project is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture. Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form – compassion, generosity, and respect for all”

  2. Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 7:54 am #

    So “lazy” is your button I pushed, and I think you know “ignorant” is mine. . . .

    I am not defending any particular protestor, politician, or ad in opposition to this building, because I do not defend the indefensible.

    “Since when did people’s feelings trump Constitutional freedoms, anyway?” That’s the heart of the difference in our arguments, right? Feelings don’t trump Constitutional rights. Imam Rauf has every right to build it. You thrash about in the box all you want. You have every right to do so – empathy is not Constitutionally mandated. I’m not saying to temper the plans to placate the ignorant, but to sympathize with the victims. Recognition of the feelings you dismiss readily shows civility, not bigotry.

    • Alan Bedenko July 20, 2010 at 7:59 am #

      If every construction project that hurt someone’s feelings would be prohibited, there would be very few construction projects indeed.

      The hurt feelings you defend have their genesis in ignorance about this group, this project, and Islam generally.

      • Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 8:07 am #

        Not every project, but does 3000 dead, and the thousands more dead on all sides that came from the misguided wars aferward, rise to a high enough standard for you?

      • Alan Bedenko July 20, 2010 at 9:16 am #

        Brian, you can’t see Ground Zero from 51 Park Place, or vice-versa.  The right-wing noise machine would have you believe that this is being built on top of a mass grave, when nothing could be further from the truth.  

      • STEEL July 20, 2010 at 10:53 am #

        I just don’t get the link between this group and 9/11. What about this group of people is getting your panties in a bundle?

      • Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

        Shorter STEEL: But why male models?

      • STEEL July 20, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

        What is the link between these people and the 9/11 terrorists? What do you find offensive about these people?

  3. Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 8:05 am #

    One last thing – this idea that “In other words, even though you’re enlightened enough to realize that the Cordoba House isn’t even remotely the same thing as al Qaeda, and even though all Muslims shouldn’t be relegated to second-class citizen status thanks to al Qaeda, in this particular instance you’re going to lump them all together and make them second-class citizens because people more ignorant than you will be offended, their feelings hurt. ”

    Lets talk about symbolism, shall we? Owners of a symbol don’t have full control over its meaning. Human beings lump ideas and events into groups. It comes naturally – not everything is immediately parsed and fractured. The cross, the symbol of Christianity, has to bear the weight of all the good and bad done in its name. It does mean the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and conquest of Native peoples. It also means charity, good works, and, for some, salvation. When a church is built, and a cross put at the top, it means all those things, whether the poor old white Lutheran women who actually go to that church tortured innocent Spaniard women or not.

    The attack on 9/11 was done in the name of Islam. Not the Islam these Sufi’s practice, but the same catagory, the same symbol, the same holy book. Islam bears the weight of that crime now, and to parse out and dismiss the motivation as false on the part of the hijackers, denies history. You claim I encourage ignorance by not seeking to educate the masses on the differences between Sufism and Al Qaeda. I say you do the same by ignoring the nuance of what symbols mean – you can’t whitewash, and nothing is so purely good or purely bad, even if it makes you feel better by putting all the bad (Al Qaeda) in one bag, and leave all the good (the parts of Islam we like) in the other.

    • Eric Saldanha July 20, 2010 at 8:12 am #

      Brian – do you truly believe that Muslims in America “bear the weight” of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack? And is it the government’s job to enforce that “blame”?

      • Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 8:47 am #

        I didn’t say Muslims individually – I said the faith, traditions, symbols, in general. Big difference. Germany bears the weight of the Holocaust. The American military bears the weight of abuses at Abu Ghraib. The Catholic Church bears the weight of 2000 years of bad decisions – from the Crusades to child rapists. I don’t blame any individual German, soldier or Catholic. Isn’t that the difference between individual discrimination, and the historical recognition of reality?

        And what does the government have to do with any of this?

      • Eric Saldanha July 20, 2010 at 9:07 am #

        Brian – I understand your point on historical symbolism and the assertation that Islam as a faith (not an individual entity or government) is stained by the terrorist attacks carried out in a perversion of belief by terrorists. I side with BP’s point, though, that we, as a nation that professes to celebrate freedom and democracy, should strive to uphold those ideals and not give in to narrow-mindedness and fear. Though you believe you’re not doing so, saying a Muslim center should not be built near the WTC site because of 9/11 is absolutely equating Muslims who are peacefully organizing to the Al Queda terrorists who perverted the Islamic belief for their own political ends.

        I mentioned government because, if you believe that the center should not be built, who will step in to stop it? Are we at the point where we’re asking government to intercede and stop the construction of a legally permitted structure because it offends the sensibilities of people like Sarah Palin?

        Two more quick things: 1) thanks for the clarification on “children” in BP’s other post. I see what you did now. 2) Yours is about the only reasonable take from the conservative side on this issue that I’ve encountered. As usual.

      • Brian Castner July 20, 2010 at 9:21 am #

        When I started writing on this site, I did not intend to be a sole voice in the wilderness. It just turned out that way.

        Empathy is not narrowmindedness and fear. Every right must not be constantly exercised to its limit to ensure its continued existence. We are not less American when we build centers of Islamic learning all over the country . . . . except on top of the main symbol of violence in the name of that faith. When it comes to Al Qaeda and this center, I’m not equating, but you are equivocating (see: Macbeth).

        I think the government has absolutely nothing to do with stopping this center. It should not – that is not its role. I could make some snarky crack here about liberals always looking to government to solve all their problems, but I won’t (maybe I just did). If I lived in NYC and was involved in the thoughtful opposition to this center, I would organize a group to go see Imam rauf and chat with him. That we know what he’s trying to do, but reconsider for the reasons I relate. If he wants to do so much education and outreach, then he should understand the tarnish that exists, along with the potential for positive. If he goes through with it anyway, then it is not government’s job to stop him. The government’s role should only be ensuring zoning, building and historical codes should be followed, and the money is legit (I know this has been raised as an issue, but I don’t know enough about the charge to comment any more).

    • Alan Bedenko July 20, 2010 at 9:32 am #

      Lets talk about symbolism, shall we? Owners of a symbol don’t have full control over its meaning. Human beings lump ideas and events into groups. It comes naturally – not everything is immediately parsed and fractured. The cross, the symbol of Christianity, has to bear the weight of all the good and bad done in its name. It does mean the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and conquest of Native peoples. It also means charity, good works, and, for some, salvation. When a church is built, and a cross put at the top, it means all those things, whether the poor old white Lutheran women who actually go to that church tortured innocent Spaniard women or not.

      The attack on 9/11 was done in the name of Islam. Not the Islam these Sufi’s practice, but the same catagory, the same symbol, the same holy book. Islam bears the weight of that crime now, and to parse out and dismiss the motivation as false on the part of the hijackers, denies history. You claim I encourage ignorance by not seeking to educate the masses on the differences between Sufism and Al Qaeda. I say you do the same by ignoring the nuance of what symbols mean – you can’t whitewash, and nothing is so purely good or purely bad, even if it makes you feel better by putting all the bad (Al Qaeda) in one bag, and leave all the good (the parts of Islam we like) in the other.

      Germany started a war that murdered millions. 

      The CSA was an entity that was, at its core, based on a reactionary slaveholding feudalism. 

      Islam is a religion which offers a justification for terrorist acts for a very infinitesimal minority of its adherents.  No one is suggesting flying a green crescent over the 9/11 memorial or a monument honoring the lives of the 19 hijackers.  

      We’re talking about an Islamic YMCA that is far enough away from Ground Zero that one cannot be seen from the other.  

      It is not I, but you, who ignores the nuance here.  Not all Germans were responsible for Naziism or the Holocaust, and righteous Germans from that era are honored at Yad Vashem. To taint an entire religion based on the ideology of a small group of madmen – or even of one sect is to miss nuance and symbolism. 

      Finally, you ask what the government has to do with this.  The opponents of this plan are petitioning the government, whether it be through the zoning board or landmarks council, etc., to block it from going forward.  In the end, it is the government’s job to stand up for the constitution and against irrational emotion. 

      The crime of 9/11 may have been committed in the name of Islam, but it was not Islam that committed 9/11.  What we do is punish the guilty – not the innocent. 

      • Trader July 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

        Just curious, but what do you think the reaction would be if the YMCA built a “Christian-led project which will build a world-class facility that promotes tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of Mecca. The center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all Meccans to enjoy…” “…that is far enough away from Masjid al-Haram that one cannot be seen from the other.”?

  4. RonniNY July 20, 2010 at 8:29 am #

    My thanks to both of you. A refreshingly intelligent and well presented debate on this subject. Beats the bejeebers out of Twitter-based refudiating. Great points from both sides.

  5. Slothrop July 20, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Someone (maybe Brian) posted that while it is legal for the project to go forward, it does not respect the feelings or memory of the victims and their families.
    My problem with this statement is that not only is it “legal” for them to go forward with the project, it is ILLEGAL for the government to prevent the project based upon a like or dislike of a particular religion. That is exactly what Paledino, lazio, and others are promoting.

  6. AL July 20, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    Money is the main religion in NYC and the rest of the country. Spread enough of it around and no one really will really care what gets built where.

  7. Colin Eager July 20, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    Bravo, Alan.

  8. Hank July 20, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Yes—Lets talk about symbolism!!!
    Muslims like to build edifices near or on places where they have achieved VICTORY FOR THEIR FAITH. So I think they should build the fucking thing ON GROUND ZERO—-Your ignorance disguised as Tolerance should allow Islam the full measure of victory over the Americans whose wholesale death and destruction they work and pray for.

    What a gang of touchy feely assholes. Forgetting about the tolerance of Islam, where single women can be killed for being in the company of a man not related to them, and if your a homosexual, well you just need to die. They’re SO TOLERANT, aren’t they? I’m intolerant—not of American Muslims but to the throngs of liberals writing here who desire a sniff of their shlongs.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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

    […] Alan’s position, if I may mischaracterize it, was that it is legal to build it, the government should not stop any religious institution from building on private property, and in any case, the Muslims who would worship and study at Cordoba House should not be tarred with the same brush of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda.  […]

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