Still missing the point

Daniel Larison goes another round with Ross Douthat:

On the one hand, Ross urges us not to believe that “all religious cultures are identical, or that the intellectual climate in contemporary Islam is no different from the intellectual climate in Judaism or Christianity,” but he wants to apply “a high standard” to high-profile moderate Muslims, which in practice means that they are supposed to act and speak as if their religious culture is no different and the intellectual culture in Islam is the same. At least, that’s what his call for “swift pushback” against “forays into dubious territory” suggests. If all religious cultures are not identical, might it be the case that what Ross judges to be a foray into “dubious territory” is actually a “necessary part of the moderate Muslim package”?

The call for pushback brings us once again to the matter of what constitutes “dubious territory” and whether or not American Muslims are going to be permitted to say politically controversial things without being absurdly vilified as fanatics. As far as I can tell, what Rauf’s critics want is not merely someone who is a moderate Muslim, which presumably means someone moderate in his interpretation of Islam as a religion. What they would apparently also like is someone who has no sympathy for the political causes or grievances of any other Muslims in the world. If moderation is defined in that unreasonable way, there probably aren’t very many moderate Muslims after all.

Of course, I think Larison is absolutely correct. But I can’t help feeling that the more we wander off into this territory – essentially into a debate over the Imam Rauf or over moderate Islam and so forth – we’re straying away from the crux of the matter which is: do they have a right to build the Park51 project near Ground Zero? The answer to that question is simple: yes, they do. All the rest of this is just a sideshow – an important discussion to have, maybe, but still a sideshow. Yes, of course critics have a right to do whatever they like, say whatever they like about the project, about its planners. But that’s not really the point either – nobody is telling them they don’t have this right. The only people interested in waylaying rights are the critics of the project.

Furthermore, the only reason Imam Rauf is setting up shop “as an arbiter of Muslim-Western dialogue” is because this so-called scandal was manufactured in the first place. Prior to this, hardly anybody knew or cared one way or another about Rauf or the Cordoba House plans. Sans the manufacturing of this scandal, nobody would know still and nobody would care.

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33 thoughts on “Still missing the point

  1. The right to protest is as important as the right to build — they both have the right to do what they are doing. The only ones who are wrong are the ones who want government to deny them the right to build the center. Who is doing this? I venture to guess the number is insignificant. I agree the controversy was manufactured — mostly by the media and those who want to frame the protesters as bigots. I support both sides — the right to build and the right to protest — my position on whether it should be built is I don’t care.

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    • @Mike Farmer, “The only ones who are wrong are the ones who want government to deny them the right to build the center. Who is doing this? I venture to guess the number is insignificant.”

      Except that it’s not insignificant. How do I know this? Because we have things called polls that ask questions such as “Whether or not you think the Islamic cultural centre and mosque should be built near the World Trade Center site, do you think that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque there?”

      An overwhelming majority of respondents from a political party that is weeks away from claiming the House of Representatives answered this question “no.” Less than a third of respondents from this political party were even capable of agreeing with the statement “Muslims should be able to build mosques in the United States wherever other religions can build houses of worship.” Meanwhile, 20% of respondents from this party were capable of agreeing with the statement “Mosques should not be permitted anywhere in the United States.”

      And I can – and have previously – name a litany of prominent Republican politicians and conservative opinion leaders who have expressly called for the use of the law to prevent construction of this mosque (not to mention other mosques around the country). Just off the top of my head: Newt Gingrich, Hugh Hewitt, Rick Lazio, Rush Limbaugh, Bill Kristol, to name just a few. Not exactly minor figures (except for maybe Lazio).

      As I’ve said from the beginning, I’ve got no real bone to pick with those who are merely offended by this – I certainly think they’re being irrational and where the make claims about Islam that are patently untrue I’ll call them on it, but 9/11 is an emotional issue and I’m not going to deign to tell someone else what emotions they should feel. But to say that there are only an “insignificant” number of people calling for the government to block construction is demonstrably untrue.

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      • @Mark Thompson,
        I haven’t seen any of these suggesting the government prevent them from building the center, but I’ll take your word — and if they did, then they are wrong, but the poll is questionable — it’s just too easy to fix polls –I just don’t see a mass movement to get the government to prevent them from building. I believe the majority of conservatives would rather talk about the economy. I think the whole thing is inflated to attack conservatives. I hope some polls are taken which ask the direct question — is it right for government to use its power to prevent private citizens from building mosques?

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        • @Mike Farmer, What evidence would it take to convince you that this is much more than just a few yahoos? If you have a sizable portion of the most prominent conservatives expressly calling for the use of government intervention to stop the mosque and a poll then shows that, in fact, a sizable portion of conservatives and Republicans believe that government intervention is appropriate to stop the mosque, well, it’s pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that a sizable and influential portion of conservatives and Republicans are in fact advocating the use of government intervention.

          If your response to clear evidence that this is a significant problem is to suggest that the evidence is rigged and that the story – which is being covered especially heavily by the explicitly conservative media – is being driven by a conspiracy to attack conservatives, it’s rather difficult to conclude that anything will convince you.

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          • @Mark Thompson, I’ll take that as a yes. Of course, if the polls say so, who can question? Plus, you didn’t produce any evidence that the ones you accuse actually want the government to simply deny the building of the mosque. If they are looking for laws that prevent it, then that’s different — laws are laws, right? The statists wrote the laws to protect us, right?

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            • @Mike Farmer, I note you did not answer my question: what evidence would it take to convince you that this is a position held by a large enough number of people as to be worthy of concern? Is there some kind of evidence out there that gives a better picture of what people think and believe than polls?

              As for whether I think most Republicans are bigots…..I don’t consider that terribly relevant. Why? Because I think everyone has their own set of bigotries, and I’m surely no different. Being a bigot on one issue does not discredit one’s views on other issues. It doesn’t even necessarily discredit your views on the particular issue.

              Moreover, with regards to this specific issue, it is entirely possible to think that Muslims have a right to build this project but shouldn’t and still be a bigot towards Muslims. Indeed, it is entirely possible to think that Muslims should build this project and still be a bigot towards Muslims.

              Indeed, it’s even possible to conclude that Muslims don’t have the right to build this project without being bigoted towards Muslims.

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            • @Mike Farmer,
              And you didn’t produce proof that the ones you accused are calling for government to deny the builders to build the mosque, even if they have the lawful right. If you provide that proof and a poll where the questioning is clear, I will accept that. But reasonable people who know conservatives, and people in general, can make a judgement that the majority of conservatives don’t believe the government should just deny private citizens the right to build mosques when they have the legal right to do so. Let’s use a little common sense and quit the gameplaying.

              I’d like to see a poll asking liberals if it would be right for the government to stop the construction of a 13 story White Power cultural center being built close to a MLK memorial building. And before I’ve condemned for comparing racists to moderate Muslims, the issue here is supporting the Bill of Rights in cases like this even if you find the construction abhorable.

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            • @Mike Farmer,

              1. Here’s Rush justifying government intervention:
              “RUSH: Now, wait a minute. This is very key here. If you’re gonna bring the First Amendment into it that’s where your argument’s going to fall apart. There are 23 mosques in New York, the Constitution does not guarantee you can put your church anywhere you want, it just says you cannot be denied the practice of worship. There are all kinds of mosques in New York, 23 already. They could put another one anywhere they want. This site is purposefully provocative. There’s nothing good that can come of this. Nothing good. It’s a bad idea all around. Nobody’s against mosques, and the First Amendment does not guarantee you can put one up wherever you want it to go.

              BREAK TRANSCRIPT

              RUSH: Ladies and gentlemen, zoning laws. I’m sure have encountered them. Zoning laws tell churches where they can and can’t go all the time. There’s a group out there called the Alliance Defense Fund. The last few years they’ve been running all over the country suing cities and counties and states over churches being turned down by zoning boards, and they have not yet won a case, I don’t think. So zoning laws already dictate where you — the First Amendment’s got nothing whatsoever to do with building a church wherever you want to put one.”

              Hugh Hewitt(http://www.hughhewitt.com/blog/g/b1d033d7-0044-42c3-a506-220486221caa): “If the City of New York will not protect the property from politicization or the use by any religious group, then the federal government ought to use its spending power to secure the result. Federal laws routinely interfere with the use of private property and the decisions of state and local government –see, for example, Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act– and the federal government has every right to closely patrol the purposes to which the Ground Zero area will be put. It was a national trauma, felt most intensely and uniquely in New York, but there is an issue here for every American.”

              I trust I do not need to link Lazio’s voluminous calls for government intervention. Ditto Gingrich’s, which include his infamous (and phenomenally incorrect) justification that it’s right to prohibit the construction of Park51 because “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

              And none of this says anything about the numerous Republicans and conservatives calling for government investigations of this group, which is certainly pretty severe “government intervention.”

              As for whether liberals would support government intervention to block a hypothetical White Power cultural center, it seems worth noting that the ACLU represented the Nazis in Skokie.

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          • @Mark Thompson, it would have been helpful had the poll actually said “Given that they own the property and it meets with all zoning requirements, should the government prevent them from building a mosque?”

            For someone that doesn’t want the mosque to be built, it’s easy to reframe the question in your mind in a way that leads towards the answer you prefer (that the mosque not be built). You can tell yourself, “Well no, they don’t have a constitutional right if it doesn’t meet X or Y zoning requirements” or some other rabbit they pull out of their hat. It’s sloppy, lazy thinking. But such thinking is common. And a lot of people are misinformed on this issue.

            I happened to be flipping through the channels on my new satellite dish the other day (yay!) and ran across some guy filling in for Greg Gutfield on his show talking about the mosque. Less than two minutes in, on this network (rightly) criticized for its conservative bias, speaking to a conservative audience, said that they had the right to build it but that wasn’t the question at hand. Krauthammer has said similar things. I would be surprised if Douthat thought any differently.

            Now, those of us who don’t want the mosque to be blocked can choose either to address what these people are saying… or we can simply ignore it and debate with people that are not at the table. The latter makes for a much, much less interesting conversation.

            This is particularly important in light of the fact that we’ve won the argument over constitutionality with independents (and Democrats). We need to win over those that think it’s constitutional but still oppose it being built. Arguing that because it is constitutional that it should be built is not a good way of doing that. They don’t care. Even if we convince them that it’s constitutional, they’ll simply oppose it on the same basis as those 25% of independents that think it constitutional but a bad thing nonetheless.

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      • @Mark Thompson, I’ve spent a few minutes googling “Ground Zero Mosque Poll” and found a ton of stuff saying that most people oppose it but that’s very different from the proposition that most people feel that the government ought prevent the mosques from being built.

        The only site I found that mentions this is here:

        cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20014737-503544.html

        And that one points out that 67% say that they have a right to build anyway.

        It doesn’t break down Democrat/Republican, though.

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  2. “But I can’t help feeling that the more we wander off into this territory – essentially into a debate over the Imam Rauf or over moderate Islam and so forth – we’re straying away from the crux of the matter which is: do they have a right to build the Park51 project near Ground Zero?”

    Straying away from the crux of the matter is, I would say, precisely the point amongst the elites who are driving the story.

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    • What is the crux of the matter. Let’s say Gingrich et al successfully stop the construction of the GZ mosque. What have we lost?

      Before you asserted it was about property rights but the direction of your thoughts leads me to believe it’s something else. Do you still think this is about property rights?

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  3. “And in the master’s chambers,
    They gathered for the feast
    The stab it with their steely knives,
    But they just can’t kill the beast

    Last thing I remember, I was
    Running for the door
    I had to find the passage back
    To the place I was before…”

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