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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My view on that Islamic memorial centre thingie in New York

I don't think I've actually blogged on this, though I've stated my view elsewhere.

If it conforms to the same neutral laws of general application (zoning regulations, health and safety requirements, or whatever) as anything else that might occupy the same space, whether it's an art gallery, a cinema, a restaurant, or whatever, then there should really be no issue. It should go ahead, and that's the end of the story as far as I'm concerned. To me, this is a no-brainer. If this issue even rates a mention in The Book, which it may not, the above is what I'll say.

But you are free to disagree with me about it. That's the important thing.

10 comments:

Spencer Troxell said...

You said all that really ever needed to be said about this issue.

Liberals, Conservatives, Secular, and Non-Seculars in my country all needlessly packed this issue with way too much pointless shit. It made my head hurt.

Theo Mastema said...

I think you are legally right and they are morally wrong.

keith123 said...

If the people behind the building of the mosque genuinely wanted to encourage good relations between Muslims and other Americans they would drop this unpopular plan. But of course they knew from the start that it would be unpopular and they didn't care.

Yes, as long as we are talking only about the legal aspect of the issue then there is nothing else to be said. Let them build it. However, I'm sure that if the boot were on the other foot and Christians, say, were planning to build a mega-church in Mecca, the people who are now insisting that the legal aspect is the only one that matters might well be singing a different tune. I'm sure there'd be plenty of wringing of hands and calls for a little understanding.

To me it's clear that we have double-standards where Islam is concerned and I think this is generated in part by fear and in part by an unconscious condescension towards Muslims. Yet somehow, we still manage to dress up our cowardice and feelings of superiority as 'tolerance' and proceed to smile smugly to ourselves as we tell others off for not being 'helpful'.

J. J. Ramsey said...

keith123: "However, I'm sure that if the boot were on the other foot and Christians, say, were planning to build a mega-church in Mecca, the people who are now insisting that the legal aspect is the only one that matters might well be singing a different tune."

Right, because building a church in a Muslim nation is just like building an Islamic center in a Christian nation. Oh, wait ... the U.S. isn't a Christian nation. Heck, there was already a Muslim presence in lower Manhattan even before the 9/11 attacks, including a couple mosques, one of which now doesn't have enough room for all its worshipers and since July 2009 has been using the site of the proposed Islamic center for overflow prayer space, with apparently no one complaining (Link). It wasn't until right-wingnuts like Pamela Geller started raising a stink around May 2010 that the proposed Islamic center was even an issue, so the whole idea that "they knew from the start that it would be unpopular" is bogus. It became unpopular because conservatives started stirring up hate propaganda.

Spencer Troxell said...

Keith: I've heard a lot of American exceptionalists (like Sean Hannity) make your 'if the boot was on the other foot', and I think it's a red herring. If America is supposed to be a pluralistic, democratic country based on protected freedoms, we can't begin prohibiting the expression of unpopular ideas and restricting the freedoms of folks who subscribe to minority worldviews.

If the structure met the standards Russell mentions in the post, I would support the freedom of the property owners to replace the twin towers with a pair of gigantic stripper polls.

Whether or not the structure is in 'bad taste' or is not conducive to ecumenical relations is besides the point.

ColinGavaghan said...

Keith, it would be terrific if Saudi Arabia became more tolerant of other religions & beliefs, and allowed Churches, etc to be built there, though I'm not holding my breath. However, your analogy between Mecca - the holiest place in the Islamic religion - and Ground Zero is very strange. Are you suggesting that the site of the 9/11 attack is somehow a holy Christian site?

I think you are right about having double-standards where Islam is concerned. No proposal to build a Christian Church in the USA would ever encounter such a level of opposition.

keith123 said...

Hmm, where to start. I think I would say that America is a Christian nation. I don't want it to be and the Constitution separates church and state, but I believe that it is a de facto Christian country.

Whether or not there was a Muslim presence in Manhatten before 9/11 is neither here nor there. The fact is that there wasn't a mosque there before.

Nothing is ever an issue until someone brings it to our attention. This time (I'll take your word for it) it was right-wing nuts. This says absolutely nothing about the rightness or wrongness of building a mosque precisely there, despite your suggestion that it does.

The stated aim of the Cordoba Center is to build bridges between Muslims and other Americans. As I said before, to insist on pressing on with plans in the face of such opposition should make people question whether this really is the raison d'etre of the centre.

keith123 said...

ColinGavaghan,

"Are you suggesting that the site of the 9/11 attack is somehow a holy Christian site?"

No, I'm suggesting that it is the site of a terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims and not an appropriate place to build a Muslim mosque. Religious reasons are not the only reasons. In my opinion good taste is another.

keith123 said...

ColinGavaghan,

"No proposal to build a Christian Church in the USA would ever encounter such a level of opposition."

I disagree. If Scientologists flew planes into the Empire State Building and then asked for permission to build a new Scientologist centre close by, I think the level of opposition would be as great, if not greater. However, neither one of us will ever know if this is true. However, it was you who started the speculation, not me.

keith123 said...

Spencer Troxell,

"I've heard a lot of American exceptionalists (like Sean Hannity) make your 'if the boot was on the other foot', and I think it's a red herring. If America is supposed to be a pluralistic, democratic country based on protected freedoms, we can't begin prohibiting the expression of unpopular ideas and restricting the freedoms of folks who subscribe to minority worldviews."

I'm sorry but Islam is not a 'minority worldview', though it might be in a minority in America at the moment. I think we will soon reach a point when a decision has to be made re Islam and neither option looks particularly enticing: either we allow a flourishing, quasi-fascistic movement to grow, or we compromise our ideas of what democracy is. Maybe it isn't workable for democracy to tolerate the intolerant after all.

I believe that the people who make a virtue of saying things like 'over my dead body will anyone tamper with democracy' haven't really understood what the problem is i.e. that Islam is an incredibly dangerous ideology, comparable to Fascism or Communism, that is perhaps capable of outmanoeuvring democracy at some time in the near future. I genuinely believe it constitutes a threat to civilised life in the west.

I also believe that many people's priority is to maintain the moral highground. They haven't yet realised that everybody would like to bask in the warm glow of their own tolerance. It's just that some of us feel that we can no longer afford such self-righteous posturing.

On the other hand, for those who see Islam as a relatively benign religion that is either not taken very seriously or is largely ignored by its votaries, or will somehow morph into something beautiful after prolonged contact with western democracy, then this is all just so much scare-mongering and fear of 'the other'. I find it impossible to say who is right. Either they are overly complaisant or I am paranoid. Both seem equally likely to me.