Saturday, August 21, 2010

Of Mosques and Men, cont'd

The loudest parties in the ongoing national discussion of the proposed mosque at ground zero in New York seem to have gravitated to one of two major positions, which may be summarily stated as follows:
  1. Of course they ought to build the mosque (not really a mosque at all, but a "cultural center"): anyone who says different is ignorant, angry, prejudiced, or some combination of these, or something else bad.
  2. Of course they ought not build the mosque: it is insensitive to the families of the victims for them even to suggest such a thing, which, incidentally, poses a security risk.
This is a very sad state of affairs, and a sad commentary on the health of our national discourse, for both positions are obviously misguided, irrelevant, and vascillanting between maudlin and silliness.

First of all, it would have been impossible to use government power of any kind at any level in order to stop the construction of the mosque, simply because it would be a mosque: impossible, that is, for a people who - with a straight face - profess commitment to the kind of religious liberty guaranteed in our Constitution.

So, they can build the mosque.

Should they?

Well, I certainly do think the proposal is insensitive - although I do not think it is meant as a deliberate insult to the memory of the fallen, and one of the most frustrating recurrences throughout this whole debate has been the careless use of the accusation of "insensitivity" as though mere insensitivity were the equivalent of deliberate insult.

At this point, the most telling element of the whole discussion comes into view: we used to be of sterner stuff, and the 1st amendment supposes that we are.

That amendment is given (like the rest of our Constitution) for a society of persons who are capable of political freedom because they are capable of self government and rational public deliberation of all matters intersting the common weal, including religion.

The first amendment is not given (pace Jefferson) as a wall of separation between Church and State (nor do I think the Danbury Baptists agreed with him, either); rather, it is given in order to secure the place of religion, including vigorous religious debate, in the public square -and the debate over the placement of the proposed mosque is at once literal and physical proof of this.

Does Islam have a problem with violence?

The answer to that question is in lower Manhattan.

Is Islam compatible with Western civilization?

Frankly, I am doubtful: but America is the place for the question to be raised - and calmly, reasonably, frankly and respectfully debated.

Can Muslims be good Americans?

Let them come to lower Manhattan and prove it: America owes Muslims neither more nor less than it owed Catholics.



Maria said...

So, my bleeding liberal heart is convulsing (and it's not even that big). It's my understanding that the freedom of religion was that people are free to practice their religion as long as it does not interfere with the law of the land. Building the mosque is bizarre and tactless, but of course there isn't any real "reason" by law why they can't do it, so I agree with you there. I don't agree that religious freedom, ie the first ammendment, was given so that religion could be subject to "vigorous debate", although inevitable that is what arises. And many people in our society are not capable of "rational public deliberation", I think the legality of abortion demonstrates this, but their freedom of religion stands regardless. But yes, it would be a disaster if we were truly incapable of self-government. I know there's no getting around it, but to say that the answer to the question of Islam and violence is in lower Manhattan I find is unfair. I do. And I'm sure you know that Catholics even up to the election of JFK were thought to be unfit for public office because their allegiance was first to the pope, not America. I think America today owes as much to Catholics as it does to Muslims, which again, is fair, rational treatment: in the public sphere, in the media, and on the streets. Could one reasonably compare the damage of abused children by the Catholic church with the violence committed by Muslims on American soil? From my work with exoffenders, I have found that it's not unusual for victims of sexual abuse to become sex offenders (I know of at least two such situations just in my own unit). So the effects of that violence is ongoing. I know that's pretty bold, but I think it's worth discussion.

Maria said...

Sorry, I meant to say that victims of priest sexual abuse have become sex offenders in the case of two individuals I work with.

Lazy Disciple said...

Dear Maria,

Good to hear from you.

Can you draw out your disagreement a little further, please?

I suspect that you want more from my statement about letting Muslims come to lower Manhattan, etc., than I do.


Maria said...

I specifically disagree with your idea that the first amendment guarantees that religion will vigorous debate in the public square. The first amendment necessary leads to this, but it is my understanding that the amendment itself guarantees the right for people to practice their own religion.

I also don't agree with your answer to whether or not Islam has a problem with violence as being lower Manhattan. One could argue that Islam espouses violent tactics, but, and I probably sound crazy, I don't think the events of 9/11 are a fair way to portray the values of the Islamic faith. I think it does, however, portray a hatred for American capitalism and politcal strength, and a hatred that comes from losing corrupt political power.

I'm doubtful that that whether Islam is compatible with Western civilization is even a relevant question in our society. The answer doesn't seem to matter. What would answering or debating such a question accompish?