Ground Zero, Islamophobia in America, and the Future of the World


There is probably little to say that hasn't already been said in the so-called debate over the Muslim community center to be built near Ground Zero in New York City. Yet unlike so many other storms in a teacup in the blogesphere, this issue is important - and so lending our voice to maelstrom seems like something of a responsibility.

It is important for two principle reasons. The first has to do with the nature of America, and the direction it is going to take. The second is about the nature of the world, and the direction it is going to take. The two are of course related.

Let us start with the nature of the world.  As others have argued at much greater length, and with considerable eloquence, the natavist attack on Muslims over the proposed community center is a propaganda bonanza for the extreme radical Islamic fundamentalists. It plays to their narrative of a holy war between Islam and the West, in which Muslims in America are less than second class citizens with only the illusion of rights and a legitimate place in society. Even without Al Qaeda or anyone else having to raise a finger, the poisonous invective being heaped on Islam by the anti-Mosque crowd is likely to create anger in all Muslims, and to tip some into thinking about seeking out radical movements. To the extent that the anti-Mosque cabal is successful, the greater the potential damage will be.

That in turn, of course, has an impact on the nature of the world, in the sense that the more the so-called "global war on terrorism" morphs into a decades-long conflict between Western anti-terrorist forces and increasingly radicalized Muslim extremists, homegrown and all over the world, the more we risk sliding into a truly new dominant paradigm that will make the Cold War look downright tame and attractive by comparison. We keep turning the screw, increasing the downward spiral, militarizing and radicalizing, responding to terrorism and its threat in ways that play precisely to the terrorists' strategic objectives, and contrary to our long term interests.

Turning to the nature of America, the response to the proposed community center (for it is not really a Mosque, but a community center with some prayer rooms) throws into question the American commitment to the values and rights that lie at its very foundation. Bloomberg's speech pretty much summed up the argument for why blocking the project would be inconsistent with American values. People keep arguing that "they" may have a technical constitutional right to build there, but they ought not to do so, and indeed ought not be allowed to do so, because it is "insensitive in the context." What is more, it is said that it isn't really opposition to Muslims generally, but only to the idea of a Mosque on the "hallowed ground" of the lower Manhattan site. Both of these assertions are ridiculous.

To suggest that people ought not to be allowed to exercise a fundamental constitutional right whenever it might rub the sensibilities of others the wrong way is to say that there are no real rights. Rights only matter when they are enforceable against a majority, when the majority feels strongly about the issue. What this is about is a suggestion that Muslims should not really have quite the same rights as everyone else. Which brings us to the second point, which is that the anti-Mosque movement reflects a virulent anti-Muslim sentiment that is growing in America. It is the cover story in Time last week. It is reflected in the Koran-burning festivities planned by some groups for this coming September 11. It is reflected in the treatment of a the poor hot-dog stand vendor who was attacked by one anti-Mosque crowd last week.

It is reflected in the very fallacies that are bandied about in defense of the opposition. Newt Gingrich has famously said that a Mosque at Ground Zero is like a Nazi sign at the Holocaust Museum, and that we wouldn't tolerate the Japanese building a Shinto shrine at Pearl Harbor. But this is profoundly flawed. The Nazi Regime was the government of a nation state, which mobilized an entire nation to make war on the West, and engineered the greatest genocide in history. Signs representative of that regime are of course not acceptable at a site build to commemorate the victims of that very genocide. Similarly, Japan as a nation state attacked America at Pearl Harbor, and thus if nationals of Japan sought to build a shrine to the state-religion at the monument of the attack, it would be seen as offensive. But Al Qaeda is a small extremeist group. It may act in the name of Islam but it does not represent Islam or Muslims, and the attack of 9/11 cannot by any stretch be attributed to all Muslims in the world. A Mosque (even if the plan were for a Mosque) does not represent Al Qaeda or terrorism, any more than Christianity represents the actions of the Nazis - who were in fact Christian.

Lynching in Omaha, 1919.
America has of course had these moments before. The history of Jim-crow laws, and various other attempts to roll-back the equal rights extended to blacks through the 14th Amendment is the most obvious. There has been discrimination against other groups, and persecution too, with the internment of the Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the witch-hunt against suspected communists during the McCarthy era, are similar in nature. All of these events are stains on the honor of the nation, which are remembered with shame and bitterness, but also a sense that we are better than that now. Until the next time. And here we are at the next next time. What will we do? Learn from our past and embrace our true values, of liberty and equality for all; or backslide into yet another nightmare of persecution, prejudice, fear and anger, and ultimately shame?

So yes, the so-called Ground Zero Mosque issue is important. It represents a fork in the road of sorts, and we all need to make our voices heard to ensure we do not take the path that leads to the dark swamp. The nature of America and the world could very well depend upon it. - Gamma.



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