Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mosque Madness Brings iPOPA Back to Defend President Obama

President Obama was stupid, stupid, stupid.

He could have stayed mum about the controversy surrounding the construction of an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero.

Yes, let's make that "two blocks thingy" clear from the outset.

Nothing Islamic is being constructed on the site where the Two Towers fell. For a sturdy analysis of how the national media is perpetuating that myth, see Michael Calderone's outstanding article.

In addition, nobody who has been two blocks in every direction of where the Two Towers once stood could call two blocks away "hallowed ground" unless Dunkin Doughtnuts, discount jewelry stores, and strip clubs are America's new definition of sanctity.

But back to Obama's idiocy.

Why not stay silent or oppose construction of the mosque, which was the much smarter political play? Certainly, other Democrats, such as the beleaguered Harry Reid, have done so.

Instead, Obama waded in and gave Republicans, conservative pundits, and all those who think Obama harbors a secret (or even a not-so-secret) allegiance to Islam, a huge talking point, and one with staggering political resonance. To the degree most Americans are united on anything, it is their suspicions of Muslims.

So at a time when many political observers believe Democrats are already going to get walloped in the midterm elections, what was Obama thinking making any statement on this?!?

Before I answer, let me say two other things.

First, most people have not read the President's entire remarks on the controversy. Do yourself a favor and do so now:

That is not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities – particularly in New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.

We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who have led our response to that attack – from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us always remember who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. Our enemies respect no freedom of religion. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam – it is a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders – these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion – and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.

That is who we are fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms – it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race or religion; wealth or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us – a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.

Second, I understand why many Americans do not feel this opposition is about freedom of religion because, in the strictest sense, it isn't. There's no law saying you can't be a Muslim now or that you can't build a mosque where you want. So for any political official to pitch it solely in those terms is a bit misleading. But Obama had to frame the issue under a noble constitutional freedom because he can't tell the real truth, and it is this:

The Americans who oppose the construction of this mosque do so out of prejudice, as defined below, and any objective person would recognize this.

"Prejudice" is defined as "making a judgment, usually negative, about an individual or group of individuals (say, for example, a group who want to build a cultural center) on the basis of their social, physical, or cultural characteristics." One of those cultural characteristics is clearly religion.

Opponents believe that because some so-called Muslims were responsible for 9/11, no Muslims should build anything identifiably Muslim within two blocks of Ground Zero.

But is that the real demarcation line? What if the community center were three blocks away? How about four? Or five? Precisely how many blocks away from Ground Zero would be acceptable to the Sarah Palin's of the world?

Would I be wrong in suggesting that at least one of the 9/11 victim's families would suggest you shouldn't even have a mosque in New York City? Should we kowtow to that person's wishes, no matter how prejudiced, because they had loved ones die? (For the record, Toby Harnden notes that two blocks is a quarter of a mile away from Ground Zero, and there is already a mosque a third of a mile away. Do we need to relocate that one? Oh, also, as Justin Elliott with Salon has reported, there's also a mosque in the Pentagon, where Muslims have been praying since 2001. Do we need to move that, too?)

Also, what of the sixty Muslims who died on 9/11? Of course you didn't know until now. Nobody wants to talk about them because they make the conversation too inconvenient.

But back to the prejudice.

If a KKK-Christian (and, yes, the Klan does claim Christianity as its abiding faith) had destroyed the Two Towers, would anybody protesting the cultural center now say that a Christian Church couldn't be built two blocks away from Ground Zero? Of course not. Nor would anybody question whether those who wanted to build the church were doing so as some kind of victory dance. What people would recognize is that some racist "Christian" psychos can't discredit every other practitioner of Christianity. In fact, most of us would recognize that the Klan members had engaged in a perversion of Christianity, which is precisely what those who want to construct the center say about the 9/11 terrorists' view of Islam.

If an African-American snipered a bunch of people in Times Square, would anybody say the NAACP couldn't build a center within two blocks because some of the victims's families were upset? Of course not. Most likely because, even if the victims' families felt personal racial animus toward the sniper, they wouldn't even think to project it against an entire race.

But many Americans cannot (or will not even try to) differentiate a handful of Muslim terrorists from the hundreds of millions who peacefully practice Islam, and therein lies the completely transparent conflict. While claiming there is no prejudice at play, many Americans also will tell you without any qualifiers, limitations, or irony that "Muslims" are intent on destroying us all.

One analogy Rush Limbaugh has used is to compare the outcry over the construction of the Islamic center to the expected outcry over building of a Shinto (predominant Japanese faith) Temple next to Pearl Harbor. And to Rush I would say that prejudice would cause that outcry as well because it would be saying that just because someone is of that faith, they were somehow responsible for what others of that faith did.

Or, let me put it a way Rush's fans might understand: "Religions don't kill people; people who pervert religions kill people."

Now, having said all of this, had I been hired as a PR consultant for the financiers of this center, I most certainly would have told them when the outcry began to accept offers for an alternative location.

But I also would have recognized that by doing so, they would legitimize for the rest of America the perception that their faith - and not a bunch of psychos - was what caused 9/11.

So why was Obama so stupid, stupid, stupid? Because he was right, right, right, and if he turns out to be a one-termer, at least he'll know he didn't cave to the darkest instincts of some Americans.

As Michael Douglas says in The American President:

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

I'm proud to have a President who will take a massive political hit because he sees a chasm between our deeds and our most cherished ideals.

If you're not, maybe you're not ready for advanced citizenship.


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19 comments:

stAllio! said...

standing up for your principles when you know doing so will be unpopular is not "stupid".

welcome back.

Dave Stone said...

Googlemaps this phrase: Shinto shrine Hawaii plantation village. Then zoom out to see just how close it is to Pearl Harbor . . .

iPOPA said...

stAllio! I was being tongue-in-cheek.

Even when I disagree with someone like, say, Barry Goldwater, you have to admit that sometimes the way they stick to their guns when they know it may doom them politically is very admirable. And it's the same for Obama here. This deserves a Profiles in Courage-type recognition.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! You've been sorely missed.

CW said...

Well done Chris. Admittedly I wasn't happy about the Obama's timing on this, but I can't argue with his point. We don't deal well with sticky race or religious issues in America and this red herring supports that fact. Welcome back!

TheBlawger said...

Chris,

As usual, a well-thought out and presented piece, and I actually agree with the majority of what you have said here. I think most educated people agree that legally, developers have every right, within the bounds of the law, to build whatever they want on private property. However, I think the issue transcends basic prejudice.

First, as to distance, this location apparently was the recipient of the landing gear of one of the planes that hit the towers, causing the Burlington Coat Factory that was there to close. Second, I think this primarily involves the exacerbation of a PR problem already faced by the Islamic community in America.

I agree that not all Muslims are terrorists, but Islam is much more than a religion. Unlike Christianity or Judaism, Islam encompasses not only religion, but politics and culture as well, often dictating every aspect of one's life as a Muslim, especially in matters involving Sharia Law. There are large sects of Islam that follow the Qur’anic teachings to essentially make war on all non-believers, which isn't a very peaceful or endearing quality to non-Muslims.

Is there prejudice? Of course. Is there misunderstanding of Islam? Absolutely. However, given the previous statements and stances of the main developer, and the push to build at this particular location in light of the controversy, I question the intelligence and reasoning behind the decision to build the Islamic center on the proposed site.

iPOPA said...

B-Law(g):

Thank you for the kind words. I completely get what you are saying on the PR, and I thought your comment was very thought-provoking. But I guess I found myself thinking two things in response.

First, as I said before, people can't have it both ways. They can't say this isn't about religious bigotry while saying you can't trust Muslims because Islam is all-encompassing, unlike Christianity.

I also agree there are extreme sects of Islam that want war against the infidels, and I would even say that the raw number in those sects substantially outnumbers the wackos in Christianity who think you should kill abortion doctors and protest at the funerals of dead soldiers.

But that's what's bothersome. Aren't we using numeric line-drawing to determine the acceptability of prejudice?

Yes, I know the human mind must combat stereotypes because we are, by nature, generalizers.

But we have decided as a society to tackle our inner demons and to try as hard as we can to NOT do so about people.

What about this analogy?

If, in the 60's, I could have verified that 5% of black folk said they wanted to "kill whitey," would I have been justified in discriminating against the remaining 95%? What if that 5% only said it, and only .01% actually acted in any manner in furtherance of that goal?

No?

Well, that's Islam, a religion with anywhere from 800 million to 1.5 billion adherents, and over the last fifty years, we can account for how many total acts of terrorism against "the infidels?" Say it's 5,000 total acts committed by 10,000 total people. That .00125% percent.

And on that basis, we're going to cast doubt on an entire faith? Seems kind of suspicious to me, in particular, because I know quite a few Muslims here in the United States, and NONE of them subscribe to any of the tenets of Islam that most Americans find reprehensible.

In other words, they're just like the Jews I know who don't think wayward children or adulteress woman should be stoned, though that's what is explicitly stated in the Old Testament.

I know people are going to chuckle when I say this, but "one of my best friends is a Muslim," and while he has no problem with applying Sharia law in disputes between two Muslims who want to use it, neither he, nor any Muslim I know, has EVER advocated any interest in having it trump American law in any other circumstance, though if you listen to anti-Islam pundits, fighting for the imposition of Sharia law over all others is a religious duty.

Of course, those same anti-Islamicists also say he has a religious duty to kill me. If he subscribes to this view, he must be doing it by continuing to buy my lunch at India Garden with the thought that I might get heart disease if I eat there enough.

iPOPA said...

B-Law(g):

Thank you for the kind words. I completely get what you are saying on the PR, and I thought your comment was very thought-provoking. But I guess I found myself thinking two things in response.

First, as I said before, people can't have it both ways. They can't say this isn't about religious bigotry while saying you can't trust Muslims because Islam is all-encompassing, unlike Christianity.

I also agree there are extreme sects of Islam that want war against the infidels, and I would even say that the raw number in those sects substantially outnumbers the wackos in Christianity who think you should kill abortion doctors and protest at the funerals of dead soldiers.

But that's what's bothersome. Aren't we using numeric line-drawing to determine the acceptability of prejudice?

Yes, I know the human mind must combat stereotypes because we are, by nature, generalizers.

But we have decided as a society to tackle our inner demons and to try as hard as we can to NOT do so about people.

What about this analogy?

If, in the 60's, I could have verified that 5% of black folk said they wanted to "kill whitey," would I have been justified in discriminating against the remaining 95%? What if that 5% only said it, and only .01% actually acted in any manner in furtherance of that goal?

No?

Well, that's Islam, a religion with anywhere from 800 million to 1.5 billion adherents, and over the last fifty years, we can account for how many total acts of terrorism against "the infidels?" Say it's 5,000 total acts committed by 10,000 total people. That .00125% percent.

And on that basis, we're going to cast doubt on an entire faith? Seems kind of suspicious to me, in particular, because I know quite a few Muslims here in the United States, and NONE of them subscribe to any of the tenets of Islam that most Americans find reprehensible.

In other words, they're just like the Jews I know who don't think wayward children or adulteress woman should be stoned, though that's what is explicitly stated in the Old Testament.

I know people are going to chuckle when I say this, but "one of my best friends is a Muslim," and while he has no problem with applying Sharia law in disputes between two Muslims who want to use it, neither he, nor any Muslim I know, has EVER advocated any interest in having it trump American law in any other circumstance, though if you listen to anti-Islam pundits, fighting for the imposition of Sharia law over all others is a religious duty.

Of course, those same anti-Islamicists also say he has a religious duty to kill me. If he subscribes to this view, he must be doing it by continuing to buy my lunch at India Garden with the thought that I might get heart disease if I eat there enough.

iPOPA said...

B-Law(g):

Thank you for the kind words. I completely get what you are saying on the PR, and I thought your comment was very thought-provoking. But I guess I found myself thinking two things in response.

First, as I said before, people can't have it both ways. They can't say this isn't about religious bigotry while saying you can't trust Muslims because Islam is all-encompassing, unlike Christianity.

I also agree there are extreme sects of Islam that want war against the infidels, and I would even say that the raw number in those sects substantially outnumbers the wackos in Christianity who think you should kill abortion doctors and protest at the funerals of dead soldiers.

But that's what's bothersome. Aren't we using numeric line-drawing to determine the acceptability of prejudice?

Yes, I know the human mind must combat stereotypes because we are, by nature, generalizers.

But we have decided as a society to tackle our inner demons and to try as hard as we can to NOT do so about people.

What about this analogy?

If, in the 60's, I could have verified that 5% of black folk said they wanted to "kill whitey," would I have been justified in discriminating against the remaining 95%? What if that 5% only said it, and only .01% actually acted in any manner in furtherance of that goal?

No?

Well, that's Islam, a religion with anywhere from 800 million to 1.5 billion adherents, and over the last fifty years, we can account for how many total acts of terrorism against "the infidels?" Say it's 5,000 total acts committed by 10,000 total people. That .00125% percent.

And on that basis, we're going to cast doubt on an entire faith? Seems kind of suspicious to me, in particular, because I know quite a few Muslims here in the United States, and NONE of them subscribe to any of the tenets of Islam that most Americans find reprehensible.

In other words, they're just like the Jews I know who don't think wayward children or adulteress woman should be stoned, though that's what is explicitly stated in the Old Testament.

I know people are going to chuckle when I say this, but "one of my best friends is a Muslim," and while he has no problem with applying Sharia law in disputes between two Muslims who want to use it, neither he, nor any Muslim I know, has EVER advocated any interest in having it trump American law in any other circumstance, though if you listen to anti-Islam pundits, fighting for the imposition of Sharia law over all others is a religious duty.

Of course, those same anti-Islamicists also say he has a religious duty to kill me. If he subscribes to this view, he must be doing it by continuing to buy my lunch at India Garden with the thought that I might get heart disease if I eat there enough.

iPOPA said...

B-Law(g):

Thank you for the kind words. I completely get what you are saying on the PR, and I thought your comment was very thought-provoking. But I guess I found myself thinking two things in response.

First, as I said before, people can't have it both ways. They can't say this isn't about religious bigotry while saying you can't trust Muslims because Islam is all-encompassing, unlike Christianity.

I also agree there are extreme sects of Islam that want war against the infidels, and I would even say that the raw number in those sects substantially outnumbers the wackos in Christianity who think you should kill abortion doctors and protest at the funerals of dead soldiers.

But that's what's bothersome. Aren't we using numeric line-drawing to determine the acceptability of prejudice?

Yes, I know the human mind must combat stereotypes because we are, by nature, generalizers.

But we have decided as a society to tackle our inner demons and to try as hard as we can to NOT do so about people.

What about this analogy?

If, in the 60's, I could have verified that 5% of black folk said they wanted to "kill whitey," would I have been justified in discriminating against the remaining 95%? What if that 5% only said it, and only .01% actually acted in any manner in furtherance of that goal?

No?

Well, that's Islam, a religion with anywhere from 800 million to 1.5 billion adherents, and over the last fifty years, we can account for how many total acts of terrorism against "the infidels?" Say it's 5,000 total acts committed by 10,000 total people. That .00125% percent.

And on that basis, we're going to cast doubt on an entire faith? Seems kind of suspicious to me, in particular, because I know quite a few Muslims here in the United States, and NONE of them subscribe to any of the tenets of Islam that most Americans find reprehensible.

In other words, they're just like the Jews I know who don't think wayward children or adulteress woman should be stoned, though that's what is explicitly stated in the Old Testament.

I know people are going to chuckle when I say this, but "one of my best friends is a Muslim," and while he has no problem with applying Sharia law in disputes between two Muslims who want to use it, neither he, nor any Muslim I know, has EVER advocated any interest in having it trump American law in any other circumstance, though if you listen to anti-Islam pundits, fighting for the imposition of Sharia law over all others is a religious duty.

Of course, those same anti-Islamicists also say he has a religious duty to kill me. If he subscribes to this view, he must be doing it by continuing to buy my lunch at India Garden with the thought that I might get heart disease if I eat there enough.

Jon E. Easter said...

WELCOME BACK!!! It's been difficult holding up the (somewhat less) painfully objective world over here.

Wilson46201 said...

Gary Welsh has been channeling his inner Pam Geller and is shrieking against Mosques, Muslims and especially André Carson. I tried several times to post a simple comment on his blog:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

of course this was all too incendiary for an Officer of the Court like Gary Welsh. Yup, he censored the U.S. Constitution!

Athena said...

Thanks for coming back to address this Chris. Agree with you, agree with the President -- I don't agree with most forms of organized religion but I don't argue with their right to practice. The Constitution can not be part and parceled out according to public opinion -- if indeed we are to uphold it as the framework of this nation.

Ben said...

Wilson, when did the internet come back on at the trailor park?

I assume when you got your welfare check?

Anonymous said...

Purdue Exponent–Friday, August 20

Todd Rokita, Republican for U.S. Rep. District 4

“I defend the rights found in the U.S. Constitution, including those that ensure the free practice of one’s faith. No right is limitless and they can be constrained when they infringe on other Constitutional rights and duties of citizens, such as the duty to not give aid and comfort to enemies of the United States with whom we are at war. Erecting a mosque near Ground Zero does just that – it would be seen as a victory to the Islamic terrorists with whom we are at war and would further put our troops in harm’s way. Therefore, I am against the erecting of such a mosque.”

Marycatherine Barton said...

Yes, hatred of Muslims is really being cranked up, to the point that the polls today indicate that 75% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats admit that they think that Muslims are bad for the USA, showing that hatred of them is fashionable. Last night, a very young man stabbed his taxi driver in NYC, when the gentleman answered that yes, he was a Muslim.

Marycatherine Barton said...

Yes, Islamophobia is being cranked up, and the poll from yesterday demonstrated that 75% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats answered that they thihk that Muslims are bad for America (in other words, hate them). A couple of nights ago in NYC, a 21 year old stabbed a cab driver who had answered him that he was a Muslim.

Marycatherine Barton said...

In fact, a comment at the Press TV website, "Obama Created by CIA: Report, this date, quotes from a media report that the slashing of the face and neck of a Muslim taxi driver was done by Michael Enright, a 21 year old college student, who had performed volunteer work in Afghanistan, and before this attack, uttered an Arabic holler, and then, "Consider this a checkpoint".

bbgcmac said...

First off love the blog!

I have to partially agree with you. Where Obama was stupid to me was not in the statement where you him making the case for the right of the mosque to be built. It was his additional rhetoric where he spoke of the 'wisdom' of building the mosque. Basically he was pandering to both sides of the argument... That has been his problem most of all.

He may be a one termer indeed but that won't be because he spoke out on this issue or any other for that matter.

Many White democrats are both divided and stupid. They want Obama's juice but then they want to run from him when it comes to healthcare and the economy. Simply put, they are what they are. Liberals who like Negros when its convenient but gravitate back when it's expedient.

The beef I have with Obama, as with many politicians is that you can't be a great political leader if you govern to get re-elected. Being the first 'black' president has its own challenges and as we have learned many will not support his policies just because it's him. So he may not get elected again anyway. I would rather him not get as much accomplished as he would like but at least going for it rather than to try to play the middle and make everybody happy. But most of the time that is not the case. So he may end up being a one termer anyway and STILL not get half of what he wanted to accomplish.

This mosque issue is an example of what I'm talking about.

"Oh they have a right to build it. It’s what America is all about." "But I won't speak on the wisdom of building it there however." This is CLASSIC Obama.

And that will epitomize his presidency. His legacy will be, 'The First Black President.' And I think he's cool with that.