Sunday, August 22, 2010

Of Mosques and Men III - some clarifications

More than a few correspondents have asked me to answer, point-blank, whether I support the proposed mosque construction near ground zero in New York.

Here is my reply: no, I do not support the mosque proposal.

I actually think it is ill-conceived and in poor taste, at best.

Frankly, I am rather more than a little offended at the idea.

My earlier remarks (which may be found here and here) apparently gave the impression that I am in favor of the construction.

The unfortunate phrase was, "Let [Muslims] come to lower Manhattan and prove [they can be good citizens] (- and yes, this is something all of us have to prove in America, in each generation)."

His scriptis, I do not find Rauf's idea offensive as such - offensive is the idea of executing the project in such proximity to Ground Zero, and on such a scale.

I am at pains to clarify that, despite my doubts about Islam's compatibility with Western civilization, I cannot as a Catholic (whose ancestors faced and overcame similar and comparably virulent public conviction of their religion's basic, irreducible and insuperable incompatibility with the American way of life) begrudge Muslims in America the chance to prove me wrong.

There are also several questions outstanding, such as:
  1. Is Rauf, a Sufi, really representative of mainstream Muslim thinking?
  2. Is Rauf, a Sufi, an effective dialogoue partner within the Muslim world, itself?
Just a couple.

There are several dozen others where those came from.



Damian said...


I, too, was under the impression from your last blogs that you felt a different way about it.

Saying that it is "at best" in poor taste implies that there's an "at worst" corollary. What, out of curiosity might that be?

And then, I suppose, I wonder more about why you think it's in such poor taste. The argument might go something like this: the terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers were practitioners of an extremist form of Islam; therefore, an Islamic prayer center near the site is sure to cause painful associations to the victims' families.

But I'm putting words in your mouth, based on what I've heard from other anti-mosque people. Can you elucidate what yours would be?

I think there isn't an easy answer to this, and I do think that certain people (who deserve our deep consideration) will suffer emotional pain if it is built. But I also can't convince myself that that alone is a reason for denying "the better angels of our nature," as Lincoln would say. Islam did not attack the Towers, just as Christianity did not set afire the compound in Waco years before.

I think, in other words (and after some consideration), we lose something vital if we become obstructionists here.


Lazy Disciple said...

Dear Damian,

Let me try to take your first two queries together, and obliquely.

The point is that, quite apart from the proponents' intentions, the building of an Islamic "cultural center" on such a scale, so close to the site of the 9/11 attacks, is an affront (to the victims, and to everyone who was touched by the atrocity).

The name of the proposed cultural center is Cordoba House. The FAQ Page of the Cordoba Initiative offers the following explanation:

The name Cordoba was chosen carefully to reflect a period of time during which Islam played a monumental role in the enrichment of human civilization and knowledge. A thousand years ago Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted and created a prosperous center of intellectual, spiritual, cultural and commercial life in Cordoba, Spain.

This gloss of the historical nrecord strikes me as particularly unfortunate.

Cordoba was a city in which Christians and Jews lived in dhimmitude, i.e., as "protected" minority groups segregated from what we might call or recognize as political life, the life of the larger community. To invoke Cordoba is to invoke Muslim rule.

Now, suppose that the proponents are sincere in their expressions of desire to aid in healing, reconciliation, dialogue promotion, etc., and that their choice of "Cordoba" as a name for their project is a simple case of innocent cultural tone-deafness (I am thinking of some of those great HSBC ads): why not agree then to move a few blocks further away, as soon as the concern has been voiced?

As for the the better angels of our nature: remember that Lincoln invoked them in his 1st inaugural - before the outbreak of war.

I think the better Lincoln quote to cite at present would be:

We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

Any Muslim immigrant might see himself in the place of Lincoln's Europeans, and feel the electric cord in him, and be an American.

Whether Islam can find the intellectual and spiritual wherewithal to embrace the theoretical distinction of spiritual and temporal spheres, and so find a way to conceive itself otherwise than in irreducible opposition to Western civilization, is another matter entirely.

Let these remarks be only the beginning of an answer.


Andrea said...

I am not a big fan of Islam, just as I am not a big fan of any religion. I don't understand the message Obama is trying to convey with such a proposal,and it may be interpreted in many bad ways:

Is he associating sept 11 with the mainstream islamic culture and saying we forgive you all? (bad choice)
Is he giving up and saying: ok you won here's your mosque now stop attacking? (even worst choice)

I think a much more interesting message would be conveyed in the following way.
Let's get the first 4 or 5 most influent religions in the world and build for each of them one small Church/Temple very near to each other to show that all religions can coexist in peace...

As an atheist I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen (the peaceful coexistence i mean), but nevertheless it would be worth trying.


Lazy Disciple said...

You know, Andrea - I have thought about something like that, myself.

The problem is that "religions" cannot coexist peacefully.

Irreducibly different systems need not conflict - so long as they do not encounter each other.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a common historical matrix, however, and the claims of Islam are in direct and explicit rejection of the claims advanced by Judaism and Christianity.

The difference is that Christianity would spread itself by reason and charitable witness, while Islam would use the sword.

More later.


Andrea said...

Three borthers each claiming the right to inheritance.
one of them is "armed"....

Is Christianity going to face a trade off between survival and adherence to its essence in the next few centuries?

By induction, and examining current trends, I forecast a reduction of the impact of any religion on society by a factor of 10 in the next millenia if not less. But again, by induction, the turkey thinks to be loved by the man who feeds it until Thanksgiving comes... ;-)

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Andrea, I am glad to find a self proclaimed atheist following our blog. If you go back in our archive, you might find some posts of mine in which I refuse the current notion of religion as utterly nonsensical. There isn't the secular world and, on the side of it, as an optional, religion. It is not possible not to have a religion, because anyone's religion is nothing else than what interests him, i.e. involves him giving flavor to his life. And, being we humans "social animals", it has to be something that also involveds us in a communal life. Here it is where theological questions arise, which concern the relative inclusiveness or exclusiveness of what interests us so as to make us capable of living in justice and peace. Here it is where the differences of religion come in that make the present debate of the greatest import. But on the specifics LD has very well answered.

Andrea said...

HP, it is always my pleasure to discuss topics of interest with people like you and LD.
I like your view, unfortunately it is shared by a very small fraction of believers.
What I witness is a set of "Churches" (of any belief) trying to cater and force people into abandoning their own interests, and personal notion of giving flavour to their lives, giving up on the values of Charity and Reason (those highlighted as the foundations from LD, and which I think are intrinsic to our nature and don't need external influence) in favor of real estate investment, political intervention, misinterpretation of the findings of science and so on.

The only fault in your reasoning is that although we are social animals, it is not mandatory, or necessarily better, to get involved in a specific type of communality over any other. Actually by following the same reasoning I don't see why a person should be coherent with one "religion" instead of picking what he feels is best from any source. I favour a love for sports over a single soccer team addiction… (to simplify ;-).

Sorry for going off topic.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Dear Andrea,
I'll try to expand what I wrote in my comment in a post. Hoping then to have your further reactions.