Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Muslim Center in NYC Can and Should Be Built

The "mainstream" (corporate media, beltway politician) discussion regarding the Muslim community center near the former site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan (a.k.a. the giant mosque at Ground Zero) has been framed as follows: "they have the right to do it, but should they?"  My response: "Why shouldn't they?" and "Now that Gingrich, Palin and the right-wing bigots have made it their idiotic (yet dangerous) cause, it really should be built."

For one thing, it would be a message to the world about our values as Americans. I know some on the right think "they" hate us for our freedoms (perhaps that's why those folks on the right are trying so hard to extinguish those freedoms - to keep them from hating us); but those of us who understand that people the world over are just as logical and moral as Americans, understand that people dislike the U.S. because we bomb them and occupy their countries, not because of our freedom.  As an antidote to our official actions in the Middle East and South Asia, allowing and even celebrating the building of this Islamic Center would be a powerful step in the right direction.

The only arguments against the Muslim Community Center being built are based on bigotry, ignorance and fear, nothing more. Plus, since this became controversial and a few evil weirdos got obsessed with it, it has become ever more important to actually build the thing.  Giving in to the right-wingers now could be disastrous.  It would be a victory for people who would redouble their fear-mongering.  They would be empowered to move on to the next target: it might be another mosque, or it might be a Christian church that marries gay people, or it might be a group that leaves water in the desert of Arizona for people who may be struggling to cross the border, or it could be something that affects you (if none of those other examples resonate with you).

These wingnuts, who build themselves up by tearing others down, are clearly not fans of Democrats, so it is sad that some Dems have refused to defend the project, even sadder that others have followed the lead of the right-wingers and publicly stated that the community center should be built elsewhere. The political opportunists in D.C. have, by and large, treated this issue in the most opportunistic way, but even leftists have made some weak arguments.  In attacking the right-wing "they have the right but should they" rhetoric, some have said that it shouldn't matter whether they should or should not; they have the right and that's the end of the story.  That argument, however, misses the most critical aspects of this campaign of hate - the "hate" part.

The argument throws our Muslim sisters and brother under the bus by embracing this logic: "Sure, some people hate you, but rather than quibble with their ignorance and bigotry, we're just going to argue that it doesn't matter because they have the right and that's all that should matter"?

I actually agree with the underlying logic of "just because someone or some group has the right to do something doesn't mean they should."  For example, I don't think those nuts who show up at funerals of American soldiers with signs that read "God Hates Fags" should do that - even if they have the right to do it.  If those same cult-members wanted to protest in San Francisco, I would recognize that they have the right to, but I would help organize a protest to kick them out of town.

Similarly, I've heard some on the left emphasize that the center is not really a mosque and really not at "Ground Zero."  But if it was an actual mosque, should we not defend it just as much?  And, if they were planning a mosque right at Ground Zero, that might be problematic, but only because, if it is going to be a public monument, it really shouldn't have any places of worship or should somehow be inclusive of all faiths (symbols representing particular individuals who died would make sense and perhaps a place for reflection and/or prayer would be o.k. but not a Christian chapel and not an Islamic mosque).

The community center should be built, because there are no good reasons not to, and because, if it isn't built now, the most wretched characters who thrive on scapegoating, racism and Islamaphobia will be emboldened.

There are instances where actions are legal but offensive.  Even in those cases, there should be a very high bar before ordinary Americans raise any objections (much less politicians or state actors).  The building of a Muslim Center in Lower Manhattan in the midst of a controversy among right-wing, reactionary, ignorant, demagogues, is not only something that can be done, but something that should be done.

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