Lindsay’s Clarifications Don’t Make Him Any Less Wrong

I now want to address Ronald Lindsay’s statements vis a vis my argument (which I emailed to the proper address). His arguments are starting to look more and more like the ADL’s, which weren’t good either. The outcry is warranted. I couldn’t find Lindsay’s full remarks online, but they’re being released by the Department of Communications, so I’ll keep an eye out for them. I was emailed them because of my complaint email. Anyway, the important parts are as follows:

CFI in no way called for a “legal ban” on the Center. “Defense of the rights of believers and nonbelievers is part of our mission, as reflected in our mission statement.” But, “Whether such a building would be a good thing for humanity, all things considered, is another issue.” Part of the message is that “faith-based reasoning is not a good thing and, further, without in any way implying that Ground Zero is “sacred,” there is a special poignancy to a new faith-based institution being placed at Ground Zero when the 9/11 attacks were an instance of faith-based terrorism.”

The problems with this are many. Firstly, of course CFI didn’t call for a legal ban on the center. It’s part of their role as an institution to protect freedom of religion, and anyone who cares about the Constitution at all is staying far away from legal arguments, because they obviously hold no water. I didn’t mention anything about a legal ban. I used the phrase “freedom of religion” not because I felt CFI was attacking the principle through legal means, but by targeting this particular edifice unnecessarily, and thus putting undue pressure on the most prominent example of a religious building built around Ground Zero rather than applying the principle equally and consistently. That is cowardice; there is huge controversy surrounding the building already. It’s all too easy for CFI to just jump in the mix, rather than address all religious buildings, such as the Greek Orthodox Church being proposed (though its future is uncertain). By the way, that one is intended to replace the one that was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. There is just no way to apply this principle consistently, and so it isn’t useful.

Secondly, he says that the building might not be good for humanity. I demonstrate above that if the CFI Board of Management really felt that all houses of worship were bad for humanity, they’re doing an awful job of demonstrating that consistently. But let’s look at this for a moment. All houses of worship are bad for humanity? We’re equating Unitarian Churches, Reform Synagogues, the Westboro Baptist Church and a Buddhist monastery? Not that I think it matters much; to defend the Islamic Center solely because it satisfies our notions of progressiveness is just as bad as opposing it on Islamophobic grounds. We either support people’s ability to worship as they will or we don’t. But still, it’s a massive oversimplification.

Thirdly, I would argue that there is a tenuous causal link between the existence of places of worship and the flourishing of faith as an epistemology. If all religious buildings evaporated, that wouldn’t eliminate religion, it would just drive it further into the public square. The buildings are just the outward expression, and opposing them does little. If we were discussing the environment created by prominent religious buildings, that’s a different issue, but Linsday didn’t address that. Opposition to this cultural center (which contains many services besides a place of worship) also does nothing to promote rationality and humanism, just a very militant, French-like secularism, which I don’t much support. It’s also, as I say above, an impossible task and one that is, in many ways, counterproductive, offensive and alienating.

Fourthly, let’s look at the alternatives. Does it really appear that public opposition and heckling of a peaceful Muslim community is good for humanity? Because I would like to address the environment created by our actions, and I think it promotes misunderstandings, lack of a public, reasoned response, and xenophobia, especially when we look at the general tenor of the debate. I seriously doubt that CFI would have released a press release if this were a church, mostly because there would have been no public furor to hide behind, which implies that they’re just taking advantage of other people’s bigotry, even if not promoting it themselves. Not much better, in my opinion. Honestly, this brouhaha has made me think that this community center would be excellent for humanity; we need way more Muslims in this country, so that they cease to become the “Other” and become another facet of Us.

Lastly, and I hope this is obvious, there being a “special poignancy”, which is itself up for debate, to building the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero is not reason enough to oppose it. Again, it simply dovetails with the notion that these Muslims are the same as all Muslims, who support organizations like Al-Queda. I do not claim that CFI believes this, and they’ve certainly been clear about stating that they don’t, but the fact remains that the ideas complement each other.

I appreciate Mr. Lindsay responding to the outcry that has erupted in response to his remarks, but unfortunately, the clarification is not better than the original, and all of my arguments still stand.


The Ground-Zero Mosque, Islamophobia and General Bigotry

And so the controversy rages on. The problem? Muslims. Or traffic. It’s unclear.

What is clear is that there is a growing group of people opposed to any obvious or growing Muslim presence in their communities. It began, of course, with the “Ground-Zero Mosque” which is anything but. It’s not a mosque, but rather an Islamic cultural center, and it’s two blocks away from Ground Zero, where a 12 story building will hardly be seen. Not that any of that should matter in the least. What are the arguments here? That a mosque will be a signal of triumph for the Islamic world over the Western world?

Well, I suppose that makes sense. Except that Islam is no more a monolithic religion than any other, and has given rise to many sects and denominations over its millennium and a half existence. There are liberal Muslims and moderate Muslims and fundamentalist Muslims and Sunnis and Shias and Iranian Muslims and Afghan Muslims and Egyptian Muslims and Arab Muslims and many many more. And in case this isn’t stunningly obvious, while many current terrorist organizations appear to be influenced by a violent strain of Islam, the people they’re fighting are often also influenced and living in the name of Islam. Or isn’t it understood that Muslims fight Muslims, and that mosques are blown up on a regular basis, or that the radical Sunni elements in places like Iraq are fighting back against marginalization executed by American forces, which have placed only Shias in power and oppressed Sunnis, who feel that they have no voice in their government. I’m sorry, is that too complex? I know, political theory and history actually take thought to understand.

It would also be just delightful if it were understood that 9/11 was hardly a triumph for Islam. It was a superficially successful endeavor undertaken for political reasons in order to throw off a foreign invader. In case this wasn’t noticed, the campaign generally failed. We still have troops in Saudi Arabia, whose presence likely began the resentment Al-Qaeda used and grew out of, and now we are killing people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and possibly Yemen and/or Iran next. Ignoring for the moment that these are separate nations with distinct histories and relationships with Islam, it doesn’t look like much of a success. I’m sure all those dead civilians are just thrilled that 9/11 “worked.” For whom, exactly? Certainly the military-industrial complex, the Defense Department, the CIA, Blackwater, other mercenary groups and plenty morally bankrupt organizations, but we won’t go there right now. Not for Afghanis, not for Iraqis. And not even for al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

You know who it certainly didn’t work for? American Muslims. Yeah, they’re celebrating the tremendous triumph of being blamed, mistrusted, marginalized and discriminated against for going on a full decade for things they did not do. I’m sure the peaceful Muslims who want to build a cultural center and are being widely opposed by a rapidly formed and well-organized set of organizations, including from groups like the Anti Defamation League who should be on their side, are just giddy with glee at their ‘triumph.’ Get real, people.

So given that the arguments are pure bullshit, what is left? A metric fuckton of bigotry, racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, ignorance, right-wing paranoia and dangerous idiocy, being fed and encouraged both by the entire right-wing in this country and enabled by the centrist bias in the media.

Let’s start with the first part. How do we know that these influences are at work? Well, it’s blindingly clear that their supposed arguments are absolutely worthless, which would seem to imply some sort of antipathy towards Muslims. But that’s silly, because it’s just about the symbolism of Ground Zero. Oh, wait. No it’s not. Tennessee, California, Wisconsin, California again. People are turning out in droves to opposed Muslim groups building places of worship or Islamic culture anywhere in their community. Sometimes they hide it in the transparently idiotic argument of traffic, and sometimes they don’t bother.

“Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators recently who wore “Vote for Jesus” T-shirts and carried signs that said: “No Sharia law for USA!,” referring to the Islamic code of law.”

Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Opponents worry it [a 25,000 square foot mosque] will turn the town into haven for Islamic extremists.

Temecula, California

Anyone see something wrong with the first one? Vote for Jesus sounds a lot like a political message rather than a religious one, which is exactly what they’re accusing the Muslim groups of. Sometimes the Muslim centers are just bigger versions of those that were already there. A haven for Islamic extremists? What blatant idiocy and fear-mongering. And everything else I said before.

Here’s what’s up. Right-wingers feed into the paranoia and ignorance of their base in order to create issues where none exist. And that’s how we get the brilliant framing of the ‘Ground-Zero mosque” that drives the right into such a frenzy that they become incoherent. (Not that she wasn’t already). This is evil, disgusting and immoral, for the Muslims, for the possibly well-meaning protestors who are being pushed by groupthink further right/insane, and certainly for America at large.

Then the centrist bias comes in and says that this is a legitimate issue, that there actually is a debate here. “These local skirmishes make clear that there is now widespread debate about whether the best way to uphold America’s democratic values is to allow Muslims the same religious freedom enjoyed by other Americans, or to pull away the welcome mat from a faith seen as a singular threat.” NO! No they do not! There is no debate here! We have a first amendment! We place value on acceptance and tolerance. We do not demonize and marginalize politically less powerful groups. Islam is not all the same. It is a religion that is not fundamentally at odds with American values or the Constitution. Most Muslims, like most Christians, most Jews and most atheists are entirely peaceful citizens. Quote-mining the Koran leaves open the very distinct possibility of opening the gates to a demonstration of all the horribly shameful and violent parts of the Torah and the Bible and any other holy book you want. And this is just the principled stuff. Empirically, most Muslims have committed no act of violence. They have been a part of American culture for decades. And also, mosques stop terrorism. So suck on that, idiots.

There is no debate. None whatsoever. This is blatant bigotry in its worst form, and should be fought at every turn. Muslims, like all other religious groups, are welcome to believe and practice as they wish. Those are the freedoms they hate us for, right? And as a constitutional right, no amount of popular opposition can undermine that. By the way, too, further marginalizing this population is a viciously unsuccessful way of breaking down the fear and resentment towards Muslims that have been present since 9/11.

Let’s get our heads on straight and fight for real American values (that happen to be basic human values), shall we?