Court of Public Opinion: Can v Should

I don’t preach on politics frequently, but I’m at my parents’ house all week and the television here winds up on Fox News a lot of the time. One of the issues of the week has been a plan to build a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan. With the last battalion of combat troops scheduled to leave Iraq, with mortgage applications up, with jobless claims rising again as Census work wraps up, with the Dow nearly 3000 points below its highwater mark of several years ago, with health care reform either the best or worst thing to happen to the U.S. since the New Deal … we’re talking about this shit.

Proponents of the mosque say that it will serve as a necessary place of worship and that they want this location because it will express a desire for healing. Opponents say that it is a slap in the face to everyone who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks nine years ago. The rhetoric has escalated to the point where President Obama has been drawn into the fray, a gubernatorial has already aired campaign commercials (in Florida, no less) arguing with Mr. Obama over the President’s phantom support for the project, and now Nancy Pelosi is talking about an investigation into who is funding the opposition. Absurdly, no one in the fight disputes that people have a constitutional and legal right to build a mosque wherever they can get zoning, but opponents nevertheless are begging someone in charge to stop construction.

It honestly seems to me that the arguments on both sides are specious. To equate the thousands of peaceful, devout muslims in New York and elsewhere with those that flew planes into the Twin Towers is bigoted and, frankly, stupid. Similarly, Ground Zero is not some kind of hallowed ground. People are acting like muslims should have a restraining order from getting anywhere near it, as if they’re vampires who can’t enter the doors of a church. Daryl Lang did a good job illustrating how “hallowed” are other uses of property within the same distance as will be this mosque. When it comes down to it, I may be insensitive to victims but I can’t see why this mosque shouldn’t be built. I haven’t heard a single legitimate argument that should stop this project …

Except that it’s assinine. This thing is slated to be something like 12 stories high and cost over $100 million — that’s quite an undertaking for a mosque is anticipated to serve, at most, 2000 people. There are more than 100 mosques in New York and I have difficulty believing that one more will suddenly have us singing kumbayah. I don’t believe for a minute that they’re building this because they need to; I think they’re trying to spark a debate about intolerance and provoke this fight, knowing that opponents are powerless to stop them. It amused me to read today that a television host has announced plans to build a gay bar nearby catering to Islamic men.

I’ve never thought it promoted tolerance to bait the intolerant. If feels like this situation brings out the ugliness and intolerance that we would like to think we’ve overcome, while ironically providing a rallying cry for those on the right who would use it as a wedge issues to galvanize their base. I don’t believe that millions of New Yorkers are going to flock to their therapists if this mosque actually gets built, but I do believe that the plan is ripping the scabs off wounds that aren’t fully healed. In seems a little disingenuous that those on the left that are screaming about tolerance seem like many of the same people who refuse to tolerate a nativity scene in front of City Hall around the holidays.

Sorry there isn’t any humor in today’s edition. I had a couple of other ideas but had to get this off my chest. I think my wise friend Darcey put it well in an observation today: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Freedom of speech and of religion is only important when you’re exercising it in a way that someone wants to stop, but that doesn’t make it any less obnoxious sometimes.

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