Tag Archives: empathy


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.


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