Diverse Coalitions

16 Aug

The continued general debate over the Islamic Community Center in Manhattan is a fascinating insight into the state of America’s capacity for respectful and meaningful public discourse. It is an intersection of civil rights and civility, and challenges your definitions of tolerance and acceptance. Who’s views and feelings should we be more tolerant of: the continued pain of some families of victims of the 9/11 attack, or the Muslim families who wish a place to worship near their homes in southern Manhattan? We don’t always rise to the challenge.

The predictable arguments on each side reveal deep seated preconceptions. From the Right, anyone for the mosque is inherently naive to the threat of Islamic and Islamist influence and terrorist activity. Oh, and you are un-American. My favorite charges are from Liberals, however, where Racist has been revealed as the reflexive Go To “-ism” epithet of the Left. I’ve never been called a racist so many times in so short a timeframe. That’s as moranic as the healthcare screamers who told the government to stay away from their Medicare. Repeat after me: I’m a racist if I oppose the mosque because it’ll be full of Arabs, not Muslims. If its about Muslims, its religious discrimination, not racial. I mean, goddamn, you’d think latte-sipping lefty intellectuals could get their slurs straight.

Lost in all this is the views of the Muslims in southern Manhattan, or the 9/11 victim’s families. How do they feel? Split, and uncertain, on both counts. This is America.

The frames have been roughly been set: your use of the term “Ground Zero Mosque,” “Park51”, or “Cordoba House” now puts you generally in the same camps as if you use the term “illegal immigrant”, “undocumented worker,” or “alien;” i.e. Conservative, Liberal and Behind The Times. But unlike the abortion and immigration debates, this discussion is relatively new, so the potential still exists for strange bedfellows as the ideologues sort themselves out.

Which is how I, the ADL, Charles Krauthammer and President Obama ended up on the same side.

To state again for the record, I believe there is every legal right for Imam Rauf to build a mosque/cultural center at 51 Park Place, but simply because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The ADL likewise does not dispute the legality, but believes that graveyards are not appropriate places for outreach and understanding, using the now oft-cited case of the Carmelite Nuns at Auschwitz as an example.

Charles Krauthammer, regular right-wing bogey-man of the Left, was perhaps a predictable opponent. But his argument bears some further examination and fleshing out. He correctly notes that most of the supporters of the mosque, speaking out of both sides of their mouth, say that First Amendment rights shown rule here, and freedom of religion should be preserved. . . but, in any case, don’t worry because these are good moderate Muslims who aren’t the bad guys anyway. Which begs the question:

If the proposed mosque were controlled by “insensitive” Islamist radicals either excusing or celebrating 9/11, he [Mayor Bloomberg] would not support its construction. But then, why not? By the mayor’s own expansive view of religious freedom, by what right do we dictate the message of any mosque?

One doesn’t have to buy into a conspiracy theory to ask what this Muslim group being moderate has to do with the mosque being constructed or not. Under the First Amendment defense, should not more radical Islamic views be protected as well? I don’t even mean Al Qaeda, or a front for Hamas providing materiel support (both illegal). I just mean the occasional fiery speech supporting strict Sharia law. Where is the line? If less than moderate Muslims preaching at this site gives you pause, then we are not so far apart.

Krauthammer’s second argument is less persuasive, in my opinion, but amusing because of the current Canalside debates in Buffalo:

America is a free country where you can build whatever you want — but not anywhere. That’s why we have zoning laws. No liquor store near a school, no strip malls where they offend local sensibilities, and, if your house doesn’t meet community architectural codes, you cannot build at all. These restrictions are for reasons of aesthetics. Others are for more profound reasons of common decency and respect for the sacred. No commercial tower over Gettysburg, no convent at Auschwitz — and no mosque at Ground Zero.

Anyone else find it ironic that we debate the historic character of a concrete hole on the waterfront, and want to ensure any construction there follows strict Green and stylistic standards, but its a free for all at the site of the biggest mass murder in our nation’s history?

Krauthammer emphasizes the sacred argument, as does Hugh Hewitt in the Washington Examiner. Both reference a failed American History-themed Disney park outside of Civil War battlefields as an example of trampling on the sacred. An underlying argument made by Park51 supporters is that this site is not really sacred, two blocks from Ground Zero, out of line of sight of the former towers, and not particularly special. On the other hand, the building that sits at the site now, and would be torn down for the mosque, was hit by the fuselage of one of the hijacked planes, and may contain human remains. Note that large amounts of human remains continue to be found all over southern Manhattan.

This definition of the sacred is important. Is there hallowed ground at Ground Zero? If so, how big is its footprint? The site of the old WTC only? Where human remains were found? If the building was hit by a piece of a plane, should it be included? Once that footprint is established, what should be allowed inside of it? I have been trying to research the history of how the “historic district” of the 9/11 site was chosen. The controversy, from 2002 on, seems to have focused on what should be built on the WTC site (Freedom Tower, Memorial, etc), and how slow construction has been, not what the outline of the district is. If that was assumed, it is obvious New Yorkers have very different ideas of how much of the site is sacred. It is, and was, a flourishing business district. Business should certainly happen there. But it seems to me that we are only now, 9 years later, talking about what is sacred and what isn’t, and it was the mosque that finally brokered the conversation, though it is not the end of it.

Which leaves us with the last unlikely member of the coalition, President Obama. “But,” you say, “he supported the mosque!” Well, yes and no. His position, as outlined in speeches Friday and Saturday night, quite clearly states that he supports their fundamental right to build the mosque in that location, but he offers no opinion on the wisdom of doing so. Which is as close as a sitting President can get to saying “Yeah, that’s a bad idea.” Or at least, “Please don’t make me say that’s a bad idea on an election year.” The President understands the difference between Can and Should.

29 Responses to “Diverse Coalitions”

  1. Christopher Smith August 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    I hope we never build a US military base anywhere near Hiroshima, that would be insensitive.

    • Brian Castner August 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

      I agree – I don’t blame the Japanese for wanting to close Iwakuni. There are lots of other places we can use to project American power, er, I mean, defend Japan.

  2. lefty August 16, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    For me this boils down to precedent.

    It’s funny you mention health care and CanalSide in this post. The reason is all 3 of these events are going to set a precedent that I am pretty sure the groups of people using them are not going to be happy when they are used against them.

    When the Republican party returns to power, and at some point they will, the reach of the Federal Government will be an expanded one. I wonder what the right will take out to stroll with that reach now that the left has showed what can be done with health care? After all, we have been told that public opinion should not really be considered when legislation is being made.

    When the next Babeville project is announced and it looks for public funding, and it will, lawsuits will be created. Regardless of if it is a pathetic stall tactic or a general dislike of public money being spent in the private sector, precedent will be set.

    I think a comparison can be made for the Cordoba House are the Westboro Baptists protests in Clarence after the Flight 3407 tragedy. Maybe it is a bad comparison but I think there are some similar lines.

    Please note, I think the The Westboro Baptist folks are in fact “monsters”, as Pundit described and would not shed a tear if they were removed from this earth. I think what they do is in bad taste and I would not mind being in a dark room with some of them.

    I also think that there is not a hatred coming from the folks who want to build the Cordoba House. I really think they simply want to build a Mosque for all of the positive reasons that they claim.

    The comparison I am making is both the folks at the The Westboro Baptist church and the folks behind the Cordoba House are moving forward on what they want simply because they CAN and really have little or no regard if they SHOULD.

    Pundit is someone that I hardly ever agree with but I respect his thoughts. Which is why I am curious as to why a lawyer of all people would have such a contrasting opinion on CAN v. SHOULD when it comes to Westboro Baptists v. Cordoba House.

    Remember…The CAN argument is only black and white. There simply is no grey area. The SHOULD argument is subjective.

    Are we watching the death of subjective opinion? Is it dead already?

    • Brian Castner August 16, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

      The precendent of Dems filibustering Supreme Court nominees during Bush’s term led to R’s filibustering EVERYTHING (except Supreme Court nominees ) in Obama’s. Progress is a bitch.

      Subjective opinion is not dead (read the bazillions of blogs in this world). Taste and sensitivity are dead. I think the metaphor from my first post on the mosque, of the sturdy Bill of Rights box we thrash around in simply because we can, is the state of America right now. Civility vs civil rights.

  3. AidentheCat August 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    if you guys want to talk about precedence, then really in this situation it has already been set. The biggest glaring hole in this entire argument over can v. should is the fact that there is already a “Ground Zero Mosque.” I don’t understand why no one, for or against, has brought this up. A mosque was opened in the Pentagon in 2005. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that people have demonized this mosque, however, they don’t even know that the heads of our military proposed and built a mosque at the site in the Pentagon. I think that those protestors’ heads would collectively explode if they had to try and explain this… Oh yeah, the military also has socialized healthcare too…

    • lefty August 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

      A couple of points

      First off, A Mosque in the Pentagon is not the exactly same as a Mosque in NYC. The Pentagon is closed to the public and therefor was not really subjected to the same public opinion when it was constructed. I do not see many outlets where the US DOD weighs the ‘feelings’ of the people who work in the Pentagon.

      Added to this, the Mosque in the Pentagon is not private property and not subject to similar privacy freedoms that the NYC Mosque will have. I know it is a batshit crazy idea but some are concerned about what the teachings would be behind closed doors at the Cordoba House. I doubt there are similar concerns in regards to the teachings at the Pentagon Mosque.

      I see the point you are making but there are some distinct differences between the two.

      Secondly, I really am not against the building of the Mosque. I think it is in poor taste but that is my feeling. My core belief is that they have every right to build it. My core beliefs rule out my feelings.

      I was merely pointing out once you cross that line in the sand of “we can do this” you can not go back and use the “you should not do that” argument in the future against a differing view.

  4. Christopher Smith August 16, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    It’s not a mosque.

    • Brian Castner August 16, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

      Actually, it would be more accurate to say its not JUST a mosque.

      • Eric Saldanha August 16, 2010 at 11:15 pm #

        Actually, it would be even more accurate to say that hospitals that have chapels in them aren’t JUST chapels.

  5. STEEL August 16, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    Am I missing something here. Personally I am more offended by the “freedom” tower that is already rising. It is an obnoxious bunker of fear built directly on land that people died on. Isn’t this mosque/clubhouse actually a few blocks away from ground zero – what’s all this talk of building it on a graveyard? Sounds like hyperbole. And no one has ever explained what this mosque and its members have to do with 9/11. Is there a list of other activities which should somehow be sensitive to the feelings of a group of victims of these terrorists? How close can these restricted activities be to ground zero before they must become sensitive? Are there similar restrictions in place in Oklahoma City? Should WNYers refraiin from visiting the sight of that tragedy? Would it be insenisitive for Anyone from the Buffalo area to be there being that McVeigh is a former WNYer.

    • lefty August 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

      UB should have built a campus in Buffalo. But they CAN and DID build in Amherst. Will you now STFU about that?

      White people SHOULD have stayed in Buffalo. But they CAN and DO move for Amherst. Will you now STFU about that?

      Businesses SHOULD build to the curb and design for surroundings. But they CAN and DO build what makes sense for their business. Will you now STFU about that?

      Building owners SHOULD take care of rotting buildings and rehab them even though the economy sucks. But they CAN and DO decide to spend money on money making ventures. Will you now STFU about that?

      From one of the most pompos blow jobs who loves to tell others what they SHOULD do, it is refreshing to see you pulled your head out of your ass and now take the stance that people can do whatever they want as long as it is legal.

      So now will you just STFU?

      • STEEL August 16, 2010 at 6:44 pm #


        I have given what I believe to be valid reasons why people SHOULD do those things that you listed and none are based on religion or nation of origin or the type of clothes people wear or their skin color or other unsubstantiated links to terrorists. I have seen no valid reason why these Americans SHOULD NOT build this mosque – can you give any? And please refrain from the insults. They are boring and add nothing to the conversation.

        By the way I have never advocated that buildings be built to the curb since this would leave no space for a sidewalk which I think is a very important aspect of a successful urban space. Though now that I think of it there some wonderful very small streets in Europe and even in American cities which leave no room for a sidewalk. This works great on a limited basis but would not be desirable on a city wide implementation.

      • lefty August 16, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

        No. You gave your opinion on those items. You have a right to have an opinion and others have the right to disagree. You can back up your opinion with your personal reasoning but at the end of the day it is personal. Just as others have shared their opinions that UB is better off in Amherst, business owners are better off when the develop and design to their needs and white people are better off in Amherst.

        From what I can see, the majority of people in NYC think they have the right to built it but the majority of the people think they should not build it. The first number really does not matter because rights are not decided by polls. The second is an opinion or a feeling.

        I have no idea why most people in NYC do not want it to be built on that location. I do not know their reasoning nor do I need to. Simply not wanting it is valid opinion and you, nor anyone else, has to right to deny their opinion or feelings on the issue.

        Just as stating my opinion of you as pompous blow job. I could state several reasons why I feel this way but at the end of the day it is my opinion of you. I have every right to say it and it is not boring and I feel it adds context to my first comment.

        Of course, you trying to insulate your countless rants of opinion of white flight as something more than a personal opinion clued in most people to the same view.

        The Mosque is going to get built. Most people will get ‘over it’ after some time but what I can not wait for is when something like the Arch of Triumph gets enough funding and finds a plot of private land.

      • STEEL August 17, 2010 at 1:47 am #

        Not every opinion or idea or want or need is valid.  Biggoted opinions are not valid reasons for oposing this mosque.  No one has stated why these people SHOULD NOT build other than they are muslim and that muslim is the same thing as terrorist.  That is not valid reasoning.  It is just biggotry. 

  6. Eric Saldanha August 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    This article on the prosposed Cordoba House from a lower Manhattan resident is a good read. This one is a little more brusque.

    And I will reiterate that I cannot take seriously any discussion of the neighborhood surrounding the WTC site (rather than the site of the demolished towers itself) as “sacred ground” as long as there are three strip clubs closer to the WTC site than the proposed Cordoba House.

  7. Eric Saldanha August 16, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    I am of the firm mind that there should be no Irish bars opened in London’s financial district.

    • Brian Castner August 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

      Your continued insistence to trivialize the death of 3000 is perplexing and sad. For a Humanist, I’m not sensing a lot of empathy.

      • Eric Saldanha August 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

        How am I trivializing the deaths of the victims of Sept. 11 (which include more than a thousand Muslims)? By comparing the ridiculous argument that Muslims should not open a house of worship near the site where radical Muslim terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center towers to the equally ridiculous notion that the Irish should not open any establishments in Bishopsgate because IRA terrorists blew up almost five city blocks there?

        But, then again, I didn’t stand on a pile of rubble (probably containing fresh remains) at the WTC shouting tinhorn bullshit into a megaphone and I didn’t clap hard enough (or, at all) for the invasion of Iraq to avenge the fallen secure the WMDs stop the WMD development program bring freedom and democracy to the region create a clusterfuck at which historians while marvel for decades. And I’m not the one digging into their graves for the umpteenth time to defend an unconstitutional argument, like many prominent Republicans are doing. So, in a bizarro world context, I would be trivializing the deaths of innocent people by supporting the First Amendment application here and not leaving it up to popular opinion.

      • Eric Saldanha August 16, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

        sorry, strikethough FAIL

      • Brian Castner August 17, 2010 at 9:29 am #

        You trivialize the scope of the tragedy by equivocating 3000 dead with 1, and the mocking of mourning by black arm comments from a previous post. The fact that you can’t take the discussion seriously (on the footprint of the “historic district” for lack of a better term) does not mean reasonable serious people should not have it. We have endless discussions in this country about a fucking fishing store – the least we can do is ask what is reasonable for the 9/11 “sacred ground,” instead of assuming it.

      • Rob August 17, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

        Ah, “Seriousness”. If you’re Serious you can claim that two blocks from Ground Zero is such “sacred ground” that no mosque should go there, although strip clubs and fast food joints are apparently OK – and that your opposition to the former is certainly not anti-Muslim bigotry. If you’re Serious, you can claim that “Muslims in southern Manhattan” are “split” or “uncertain” on the Cordoba House issue, citing to two sources that say exactly nothing about what Muslims anywhere think. If you’re serious you can claim that arguments from Charles Krauthammer and Hugh Hewitt (??!!) “bear further examination”, apparently without a trace of irony. Thank you for the Serious Conservative take on Cordoba House, that was very entertaining.

        Count me among the Coalition of the Unserious a/k/a The Frivolous Nincompoops. I doubt we’ll come up with a Manifesto, but who knows?

      • Eric Saldanha August 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

        What’s perplexing to me is your obstinate refusal to acknowledge the reality of the neighborhood surrounding the WTC site. Yes, we all agree that the big gaping hole at Liberty and Church in lower Manhattan is a sacred site where 3000 innocent people were killed by terrorists – no one is disputing that. What will happen with that specific site is a discussion for another thread.

        The neighborhood surrounding the WTC site, though, is another matter. It is not Antietam, not is it Gettysburg. It is certainly not Auschwitz (Newt Gingrich’s charming contribution to the discussion notwithstanding). It is not some sprawling field or meadow, unencumbered by development…it is a vibrant, thriving neighborhood, which it was before the Sept. 11th attacks and continues to be. And, as long as the Lower Manhattan Community Board and the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission don’t have a problem with development in this neighborhood (including the construction of the Cordoba House), then neither do I.

      • Brian Castner August 17, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

        Are you going to make me go and pull and the quote from my own piece: “it is obvious New Yorkers have very different ideas of how much of the site is sacred. It is, and was, a flourishing business district. Business should certainly happen there. But it seems to me that we are only now, 9 years later, talking about what is sacred and what isn’t, and it was the mosque that finally brokered the conversation, though it is not the end of it.” So no, I do not ignore what is happening in the neighborhood. I am diagnosing the situation, and saying the underlying issue is that some feel this site is sacred and some don’t. I recommend having a community conversation about it. You say such conversation is unneeded.

      • Eric Saldanha August 17, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

        But it seems to me that we are only now, 9 years later, talking about what is sacred and what isn’t, and it was the mosque that finally brokered the conversation…

        Gee…do you wonder why that is? Why the folks screaming the loudest about the alleged “desecration” of “sacred ground” are only now raising an objection, even though there are two long-established mosques in the neighborhood?

        There’s already been a “community discussion” about the mosque, specifically the community board in the lower Manhattan neighborhood in question approved the construction of the center. What Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin or any other craven conservative loudmouth who could otherwise care less about the neighborhood thinks about it is of absolutely no relevance. “Some feel this site is sacred…”? Yeah…we’ve heard from the insane batshit conservatives…who else wants to tear the neighborhood down to declare it a national park?

  8. BuffaloFailing August 16, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    There is nothing civil about this debate. The fact that this is becoming a national issue, and mainstream media are giving credence to people who are opposed to building an islamic community, just shows how uncivil we are. The fact that you are parroting the ignorant notion that is the “families of the victims” on one side, and “muslim families,” on the other, just demonstrates how polarized this issue is. The fact is MUSLIMS were also victims in the 9/11 attacks as well, some of them rescue workers who died in the towers trying to save other people’s lives, some innocent passengers on the plane. Pretending you are moderate by saying you accept they have the right, but saying it is in poor taste is equally ignorant. Islam is not responsible for 9/11, any more than Christianity is responsible for the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian.  If a Catholic Center opened up down the street from his old house, would anyone so much as bat an eyelash? No. 

    Most people who haven’t really spent time in NYC, and only watched the towers fall on TV are unaware of the fact that NY has a huge population of immigrants, many who are Muslim. Muslims are integral part of the dynamic and incredibly diverse population of NYC, and the building of community center in Lower Manhattan is in no way a slap in the face of 9/11 victims (again victims that included Muslims). The funny thing is most people in NYC are actually a lot more tolerant of other religions and ethnic groups, because the city is so diverse. Most of these objections are from people who don’t even live near NYC. 

    • Brian Castner August 16, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

      Hey Fail, thanks for joining the conversation. I think you should reread what I wrote – I said there are NY Muslims and 9/11 families on both sides of this debate. And that’s pretty typical of America. Also, I quote surveys in the previous post that Manhattanites are split on the issue, and NYCers in general are opposed. Less opposed than America as a whole, but still against it. To me, though, public opinion makes something neither right nor wrong – I reference it for background.

      • Alan Bedenko August 16, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

        Are we to subject every house of worship or sectarian community center to commissioned polls or referenda? The fact that we don’t, and the fact that legally we can’t, is part of what makes this country great.

      • BuffaloFailing August 18, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

        Most of the people being polled are still being misinformed that there is a mosque being built right on top of ground-zero. The simple fact is, this whole issue is being trumped up to whip up right wing hysteria. Obama is walking on eggshells because his middle name is Hussein, and he knows the far-right teabaggers, are going to use this issue as fuel for their fire of hatred. Hate is a powerful motivator for your political base.

         I almost swear that you edited the word “some” in front of families AFTER I posted that comment, but my mind might be playing tricks on me. I also find it laughable, but entirely unsurprising, that in your second paragraph you use the old, tired tactic of invoking the image of latte-liberals. using the “race card,” and striking down that straw man with you superior semantics. How is your imaginary liberal friend? Do you keep him in your pocket? Do those latte bills from Spot Coffee cost you much?

      • Brian Castner August 19, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

        You think I’d change my post to make a point arguing with YOU? I don’t know whether to be pissed you question the integrity of my writing, or laugh that you think I’d do it on your account. No, your anger and vitriol are playing tricks on you – take all those accusations of the what the right is doing to their base, and look at your ownnavel for a second.. And as for the race card, look at some of the comments to things I have written in the past on Park51, and you will see I have been called a racist (and other liberal sites have occused detractors of the project as racists). It was their laughable choice of word, not mine.

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