This morning, we have two editorials on the proposed “Ground Zero” (actually, it’s several blocks away from the World Trade Center site) Islamic center by conservative newspaper columnists. The first, “Obama’s mosque duty” by Michael Gerson, gets it exactly right. The second, “Islam in Two Americas”, couldn’t be more misguided. First, former George W. Bush Administration speechwriter (“smoking gun/mushroom cloud,” “Axis of Evil”) Gerson.
First off, I agree with Gerson that President Obama has, in this case, exhibited “a peculiar talent for enraging his critics while deflating the enthusiasm of his friends.” Thus, Obama’s Ramadan speech was “an unqualified defense of both religious liberty and religious tolerance,” but then Obama appeared to back off somewhat, at least in tone. Exasperating.
Other than being awkward and frustrating, however, I agree with Gerson that “Obama had no choice but the general path he took.” As Gerson explains, if Obama had come out in opposition to the right of Muslims – or any other religious group – to build a house of worship anywhere in America, it would have constituted “an unprecedented act of sectarianism, alienating an entire faith tradition from the American experiment.”
Also, as Gerson explains, this is not a matter of “poltiical correctness” but of “national interest.” The fact is, we were attacked on 9/11 not by “Islam,” but by a few lunatics/extremists/fanatics who pervert and misread Islam, prompting the vast majority of Muslims to renounce them, issue fatwas against them, etc. From a national intererst and national security perspective, that’s exactly the reaction we want to encourage, “draw[ing] a line that isolates the politically violent and those who tolerate political violence — creating solidarity with Muslim opponents and victims of radicalism.”
One great way to do that, by the way, is to demonstrate to Bin Laden and his despicable ilk that we represent his utter antithesis, that we are an open and pluralistic and tolerant society that even allows members of his faith to build a mosque a few blocks away from the scene of his assault on our nation. Is there a better way to raise a giant middle finger to Bin Laden and Company than that?
According to Gerson – and I completely agree with him – “those who want a president to assert that any mosque would defile the neighborhood near Ground Zero are asking him to undermine the war on terrorism.”
In fact, as Gerson – Christian evangelical, Heritage Foundation conservative, Karl Rove recruit, Bush Administration speechwriter – concludes, “[a] war on Islam would make a war on terrorism impossible.” I would add that a “war on Islam” would also be antithetical to everything America stands for, would be wildly counterproductive, and would appeal to the absolutely worst parts of our character. Why anyone, other than right-wing demagogues like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, would want to do this is simply mind boggling.
Now, we proceed to Ross Douthat’s latest apologia for bigotry, intolerance, and counterproductive policy. On August 12, we were treated to the full Douthat treatment – shoddy illogic, wildly confused “reasoning,” failure to seriously reconcile the contradictions in his own thinking, a fundamental misunderstanding of what America’s all about – on the issue of gay marriage. Today, we get Douthat’s muddle-headed, incoherent, misguided “Islam in Two Americas”, in which he attempts to argue that there is “real wisdom” in a “cruder, more xenophobic…second America [which] persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Well, yeah, just as there was “real wisdom” in Archie Bunker. I mean, seriously, we’re now supposed to admire not the ideasl expressed in the Statue of Liberty, but instead the people who persecuted our immigrant ancestors, whether they were Irish, Jewish, Chinese, Italian, African, Native American, or any other race, ethnicity or creed? Uh, no, I don’t think so.
Having said that, I certainly agree with Douthat that it’s wrong for Americans, including Muslim Americans, to describe our country “‘an accessory to the crime’ of 9/11.” That language is inflammatory, wildly offensive, and just plain stupid. But none of that justifies making excuses – as Douthat does in his article – bigotry, intolerance, or the rejection of America’s fundamental freedoms and values as expressed in our constitution and the first amendment. You’d think that someone who writes for a world-class newspaper like the New York Times would understand that. Apparently not.