I am amazed that the Park 51 Community Centre or the so called “Ground Zero Mosque” debate in still chundering on, with no end in sight, despite the paucity of cogent arguments on why it should be opposed by those who oppose it.
Alex Massie’s comment on the “Ground Zero Mosque” is spot on:
One of the recurring arguments against the plan is that, however well-intentioned its backers may be, it represents an unfortunate and unnecessary “provocation”. Even if those involved mean no harm and don’t mean to “provoke” they should have been wise enough to appreciate that their proposal was bound to provoke a hostile reaction. Which means they should think again.
That’s certainly an argument; I just don’t think it’s a very good one. It is a familiar one, however. Cast your mind back 20 years and remember the rumpus that erupted when Salman Rushdie had the temerity, the gall, the bare-arsed effrontery to publish The Satanic Verses. There were those – including plenty of so-called liberals – who effectively sided with the book-burners and maniacs who protested against Rushdie (and the Penguin group) calling for the book to be banned.
Rushdie, you see, should have appreciated that publishing was bound toprovoke people and, this being so, he should have been wise enough to pulp his novel. Yes, yes, of course we all believe in the right to freedom of expression but, in this instance, is it really sensible to insist upon it in such a provocative fashion? If there’s a backlash, well, poor Rushdie has brought it upon himself hasn’t he? He should have known better.
It was, as Christopher Hitchens has often argued a telling and not-so small moment that showed how willing many soi-disant liberals were to abandon liberalism as soon as that liberalism was tested. Liberty must be trimmed or even abandoned for fear its expression might upset someone else. The “right” not to be offended trumped all other more ancient and worthwhile rights.
But no-one has the right not to be offended and to try and insist upon such a right is a) absurd b) wrong and c) deeply inimical to the values of the kind of society we like to think we may, in our better moments anyway, be.
As with the Rushdie case, so with this “Ground Zero Mosque”. You can be as offended by it as you want to be but the mere fact that you may be offended does not trump other, more vital, considerations and nor does it give you any kind of moral, let alone substantive, veto over proceedings. Your outrage is not persuasive and nor does it shift the fundamental aspects of the matter.
Which is why the sub-Augustinian stuff we’ve been hearing lately is so depressing. Grant me religious tolerance lord – and a respect for the Constitution! – but not here and not yet, not now! That, you must understand, would be too hard.
To oppose the building of GZM on the grounds that it is “offensive” or a “provocation” or “controversial” is puerile and reactionary. The depressing fact is not so much that plans for a religious edifice near the site of “Ground Zero” could be shafted lest it offend anyone, it is rather that there is a large contingent of Americans today for whom building a mosque almost anywhere in the USA is an affront.
It is not “anti-American” to make this observation, nor does a mosque have to be in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre in south Manhattan to be considered an offensive “provocation”.
Take a look at the anti-mosque antics in Sheboygan Wisconsin, where:
a few Christian ministers led a noisy fight against a Muslim group that sought permission to open a mosque in a former health food store bought by a Muslim doctor.
At one time, neighbors who did not want mosques in their back yards said their concerns were over traffic, parking and noise – the same reasons they might object to a church or a synagogue. But now the gloves are off.
In all of the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself. They quote passages from the Quran and argue that even the most Americanized Muslim secretly wants to replace the Constitution with Islamic Shariah law.
Not every opponent of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is an anti-Muslim bigot with arguments rooted in prejudice. But if I were opposed to the GZM, I would be very keen to distinguish my set of reasons for opposing it from those by reactionary demagogues like Bill O’Reilly or Raheel Raza or even from a bunch of redneck farmers from Sheboygan, WI. Because at the moment, they are hardly indistinguishable at all.
If the reasons for opposing the mosque come down to not much more than being “offended”, then the response proffered by Stephen Fry in a conversation with Christopher Hitchens is without peer.
“So, you’re offended? So fucking what?”
Update: Good post from Gene at HP