Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On l'affaire Cordoba House

. Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I have learned, over time, to never trust the initial framing of a story, so when I heard "Liberals want to allow the building of a mosque at Ground Zero that preaches in favor of the imposition of sharia law in the U.S." I knew immediately that all or nearly all of the constituent parts of that statement were false before knowing exactly how or why.

It seems a bit late in the game to pile on the Cordoba House affair after Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama and many others have said most of all there is to say. The facts are not in dispute: The "mosque" is not just a mosque, but a community center with a variety of operations; the location is not at Ground Zero, but a few blocks away in the hallowed ground of a former Burlington Coat Factory; the ideology of Imam Abdul Rauf is not radical, but the opposite; the Cordoba group is doing nothing more than exercising their most basic rights as citizens. That Abdul Rauf was an employee of President Bush, and has worked for the FBI as well as the State Department, just ices the cake.

I do not usually write about the topics du jour in the punditry world because they are not usually interesting, and are almost never important. I usually don't watch cable news shows so I am rarely clued in enough to "what's hot" to offer a timely comment anyway. So why should I comment about it now? For two reasons. First is to add my voice who think that the Cordoba controversy is motivated by ethno-religious bias and calculated fear-mongering, and that is no way for politics to be run or for society to operate. I'm keeping a mental list of people who have called for Obama to "refudiate" the center, or for all Muslims everywhere to forego their rights in favor of other peoples' preferences, or who have equated all Islam with suicide-murder. I've kept a mental note of the people who resort to bullying and intimidation for no perceivable reason, other than as a way to ostracize Muslims and then blame them for it. And I'm keeping a separate mental list of those who have done the opposite, who are (mostly) not Muslims and will never set foot in the Cordoba House, but nevertheless feel the need to remain in solidarity with those being demonized and persecuted. And especially with those who believe that this not a conversation that should never be necessary in a pluralistic society. I think that where one falls on this divide is important, I am very proud to be counted among the latter.

Second is to note that the most important fact about the "Ground Zero mosque" controversy is that it is not a controversy at all. There has never been any doubt that neither the city of New York, nor the state of New York, nor the government of the United States would intervene to interrupt the construction of the Cordoba House. This despite the fact that former government officials such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, who may also be presumptive future government officials, have issued calls for the Cordoba House group to "voluntarily" scrap their plans on the grounds of sensitivity. And despite the fact that prominent pundits like Charles Krauthammer have called for the use of zoning restrictions to prevent construction, and the governor of New York personally offered to help locate another site for Cordoba.

That this is not a matter of policy, that it cannot be, is what separates the U.S. from every other liberal democracy, and it was one of the proudest accomplishments of the Founders.

In the end I completely agree with Ezra Klein that the whole thing is a summer storm that will blow over quickly with no lasting consequences. (Dave Weigel was smart to recall the long-forgotten 2006 "Dubai Ports" dust-up.) But the principle is important, and it's worth taking a step back to note who is in favor of intimidating and disenfranchising minority groups and who is not. I am not. Unlike Peter Beinart, I'm not willing to throw in the towel out of exasperation. We can and should expect better of our elected officials, pundits, and fellow citizens.


Naadir said...

This isn't something that just blows over. As someone from a Muslim background, I strongly considered pursuing emigration to the United States to escape the resurgence of the far right in Europe.

Now given that one of the two major parties is now adopting an openly racist position, I'm starting to think that there is no liberal, democratic society in which an (ex) Muslim can feel safe and secure.

Kindred Winecoff said...

I mean it will blow over as a political issue that's on the news every night. It clearly will not disappear overnight as a galvanizing attitude, you're right.

Emmanuel said...

The likes of Drezner should be careful when talking about the Founding Fathers in this context. The last time I checked, several were slave owners. They arguably set a pattern still evident in the US today: pen fine words, little follow through.

On <i>l'affaire Cordoba House</i>




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