I thought Josh Marshall would take the crown for most hysterical reaction to opposition to Cordoba House. His call for a Shoah-like project to document the evil as it happened (i.e. resistance to Cordoba House) seemed like a shoo-in, but in the end he’s only first runner up. The tiara definitely goes to Peter Beinart for his piece at the Daily Beast which is full of statements like this:
The super-patriots on Fox News have… declared war on Islam.
The ellipsis is his, I didn’t remove anything. This is what the left apparently takes for serious discourse on this topic now. There’s no attempt to engage with the actual arguments of critics, at least some of which are thoughtful. Instead it’s just one more typically unhinged leftist rant about the “intolerant” right:
Until a month or so ago, I genuinely believed that the American right had become a religiously ecumenical place. Right-wing Baptists loved right-wing Catholics and they both loved right-wing Orthodox Jews. All you had to do to join the big tent was denounce feminists, Hollywood, and gays. But when push came to shove, Sarah Palin didn’t care about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s position on gay marriage. In today’s GOP, even bigotry doesn’t spare you from bigotry…
People in Basra and Kandahar had better hope that America’s counterinsurgency warriors create a society in which they can practice their religion free of intimidation and insult. Because it’s now clear they can’t do so on the lower tip of the island of Manhattan.
Of course, as has already been admitted by the President and most opponents of Cordoba House, there is a difference between the freedom to do something and the wisdom of doing so. Muslims have every right to build whatever they want on property they own. That includes Cordoba House. It’s a right guaranteed in writing in the first amendment. Also guaranteed in the first amendment is the right to criticize that decision forcefully and even sarcastically. Apparently the left can only tolerate one degree of freedom at a time.
All this liberal hectoring about freedom of religion marks a strong contrast with the last time someone tried to place the Ten Commandments in a public building or keep a cross as part of L.A.’s city seal. Those cases were a sign of creeping theocracy. Creeping very slowly apparently since the Ten Commandments and the Christian cross have been part of American civic life for centuries. Yet the left was outraged and demanded the religious intrusions in civic life be removed immediately.
I know, I know. The difference here is about public vs. private. Only it’s not always. A few months ago someone unhappy with the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the Mojave cross cut it down in the dead of night. Funny, but I don’t remember Peter Beinart writing an outraged column about that.
The truth here is a bit more complicated than black-letter law and dictionary definitions of public vs. private. There is a real sense in which 9/11 happened not just to the 3,000 victims and their families but to America as a whole. The Towers belonged to Larry Silverstein while they stood, and the ground on which they fell belongs to the Port Authority, but the rubble belongs to all of us, now and forever. Amen. There is no more public piece of property in America than Ground Zero, in spirit if not on paper. And it’s the spirit of the place that matters most.
Something analogous is going on with Cordoba House. Imam Rauf may well be a good guy. It’s hard to tell since he’s not very forthcoming about who is supporting him to the tune of $100 million dollars. But in this case, the proximity to ground zero means ownership of this site will, in a real if intangible sense, extend far beyond those who hold the deed. Rauf’s less tolerant brethren around the world will see what he is doing as proof of Islamic supremacy. We saw this exemplified just this week when Hamas came out to offer their support for Cordoba House. Does anyone really believe their interest in the site is interfaith tolerance? And, no, that’s not a ham-fisted attempt to lump Cordoba House supporters together with terrorists. On the contrary, supporters of religious freedom like Beinart and members of Hamas couldn’t be more dissimilar.
What we have here is a genuine impasse between those who see Cordoba House as a private matter whose meaning is defined by its owners and those who believe its ultimate meaning is the one it will have for the people who reveled in the carnage a couple blocks away. These two aren’t really at odds. Ground zero and Cordoba House are both pieces of Manhattan real estate and potent symbols waiting to be infused with meaning by the rest of the world. Which side you take in this war of words depends largely on which level of reality you choose to believe is more important.
What I find dishonest however is folks on the professional left who claim to be able to see only one side of the larger context. Beinart, for instance, says he’s always felt Ground Zero was “hallowed ground” and I take him at his word on that. But if so, why is it so hard to comprehend that our enemies abroad and at home might feel something similar, albeit far less honorable, about Cordoba House? If Beinart’s spirit can be moved by the remains of office buildings devoted largely to high finance and state government, the terrorists can be equally moved by the construction of an Islamic “cultural center.” In short, even if Imam Rauf is the soul of interfaith diplomacy full of the best intentions, his site could still become a symbol for extremist around the globe.
Once you admit that Cordoba House will very likely bring a dark glee to the people who killed our fellow Americans at ground zero, opposing it becomes much less of a vice. There’s nothing the least bit un-American about wanting to wipe the smile off our enemies’ faces. If moving the Center or discouraging its construction on that site will achieve that, then I support private, legal efforts to do so.
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I’ll grant that both sides are playing politics with this issue, but it seems to me that folks on the left, Peter Beinart, Josh Marshall and Greg Sargent, are trying very hard to blinker the larger context (or at least half of it) for the sake of political expediency. When any resistance to the site — even private, legal and constitutionally protected speech guaranteed by the same amendment which Beinart claims to be defending — is portrayed as a declaration of Holy War, you’ve ceased being honest on the issue.