A clear-eyed blogger has pointed out (in a post that I can no longer locate) that much of the ongoing sturm und drang over the
mosque community center that includes a mosque presently in construction nearly tragically underfunded right on top of two blocks away from Ground Zero is really all just so much pornography of opinion. As I’ve mediated on before, what may really be going on is a massive miscommunication resulting from the poverty of the English language — “should” there be a mosque at this location can imply either a normative assessment of the social appropriateness about this proposal, or it can imply a legal assessment of whether the government possesses the power to prevent it from going forward. My initial take was the second facet of the question, but I’m not so sure that many of the objectors to the mosque project aren’t simply being foggy about the distinction between the two issues because either they aren’t able to intellectually distinguish between the two concepts or because they are motivated to prefer not to do so for, among other possible reasons, political advantage.
But there is a class of mosque-project protestor who clearly does understand the difference between the normative “should” and the governmental “should,” and that class includes the editorial board of the Washington Examiner, Newt Gingrich, and Andy McCarthy. They have all made the point that there are no Christian churches in Saudi Arabia, but there are plenty of mosques in the United States and even in New York City. There is some ill-defined boundary of good taste within which mosques ought not exist, they claim, sometimes rather gruesomely (but nevertheless illogically) claiming that because debris from the 9/11 attacks fell on Park Place, this mosque project is nevertheless still on “sacred ground.” By pointing to a nation where the government actively prohibits religious diversity and imposes a state religion, these authors are squarely addressing the question of whether the government should intervene in this increasingly vapid issue.
I think the comparison with Saudi Arabia is insulting. Insulting to the United States. Since when do we evaluate our own Constitutional standards of the limits on governmental power against those set by a monarchy? Since when do we judge our own measure of social tolerance against a yardstick created by a nation with a fanatical, barbarous, and murderous state religion?
America is the judge of herself. The Constitution of the United States is the ultimate yardstick against which we should measure ourselves. I don’t give a damn how the King of Saudi Arabia governs his subjects. We don’t have kings here, we don’t have subjects. We are self-governing citizens in a nation ruled by law and administered by a Constitution whose core function is to limit the powers of the government. We are more than capable of judging and evaluating ourselves; we have an active marketplace of ideas and opinions in which to do that; we are possessed of higher ideals than the rest of the world and we do better than the rest of the world when we aspire to fulfill our own ideals.
As to the second question, whether the project is in good taste, I’ll reserve judgment. I’m willing to give the guy a chance to actually say what he wants to say (if he can raise the money to do it) before I evaluate it one way or the other. But mainly, they have exercised their rights and said what they choose to say. After all, this is a free country.
In Saudi Arabia, I’d likely be deported for saying this — and if I were a Saudi citizen I’d be gambling with my life to say it — but the King of Saudi Arabia can suck it because he and his nation don’t matter to this debate. In America, the owner of private property may put that private property to any lawful use he chooses, even if that means a house of worship for an unpopular religion; in America, a citizen may express whatever opinion he wishes, even a political opinion that Sharia law ought to become the law of the USA and the government has acted immorally; in America, we draw strength, power, and our communal identity from the differences among us. This is not Saudi Arabia.
Notwithstanding the efforts of religious fanatics to impose the phrase “In God We Trust” on their fellow citizens who do no such thing, our national motto has always been E Pluribus Unum. Nineteen religious fanatics with box cutters who committed mass murder ten years ago aren’t worth giving that up.