Sunday, August 15, 2010
Tyler Cowen comes out in favor of the GZ mosque. He says we should come up with ways to increase the status of Muslims in (American?) society.
I find this odd. To the extent that the average American, if there is such a thing, has a negative association for the religion of Islam, I'm not sure he or she is wrong. Here are some of the reasons, in no particular order. First, the country of Iran, led by its religious nutcase president and a class of Muslim clerics, seems intent on developing nuclear weapons in order to finish the job Hitler started. Unless we are lucky, their high jinks are going to start another regional war in the Middle East. You can say they are not acting as Muslims, really, but they say that they are and they are in fact a Muslim theocracy. Second, Muslims declaring themselves to be acting as such perpetrated the ghastly crimes of 9/11. Third, the religion of Islam evidently espouses views about the status of women that it has been one of the great accomplishments of Christianity to establish the opposite of, starting in the 11th Century or so, namely that women are fundamentally, essentially, in all important respects, the equal of men. Obviously the principle of equality has been picked up and extended in many directions from there, to include people of all races and so forth. There is a lot to be said for the rise of the West. I'm no expert on Islam, but is it clear that it as a religion signs on to the, let's say, Jeffersonian idea that "all [persons] are created equal"? To the extent it does not, I have a problem with that. Fourth, there seems to be a lot on sentiment in the Muslim world against the general principle of freedom, of thought, economic activity, religion, you name it. Freedom is my most revered political principle and I would argue that of my country as well. Fifth, there seems sometimes to be a kind of unholy alliance between Muslim advocates and various left-wing critics of freedom. Am I wrong to have these concerns? So yes, I do have my doubts about Islam as a world religion and its consistency with freedom as that ideal has been articulated and refined over the course of European and American history. I wonder how unrepresentative the suicide bombers really are.
Now you can say, this misrepresents the Muslim religion and Muslims in general, and no doubt there is some truth to this defense. I would argue pedophile priests are not representative of the Catholic Church, by analogy. But no Catholic wants to defend these crimes against children nor are they in any sense an expression of Catholic doctrine. You won't find anything in the New Testament that says, go forth and abuse children. The Church has put in place extraordinary measures to make sure these terrible crimes don't happen again. The pope and bishops have apologized profusely and paid hundreds of millions in damages and will pay more. They should be deeply ashamed of what they allowed to happen, and they are. Perhaps this is not enough and the church should do more. But, by contrast, I remember the dancing in the streets of Gaza and Cairo when the towers came down. I do not remember any great rush of apologies or self-examination by prominent Muslims after 9/11. Perhaps I missed them. If I had to generalize, I would say instead what I saw was the expedient taking of the ground of victim or potential victim -- as if to say, just wait! The Americans will now start killing Muslims in the streets! Of course, no such thing happened. But terrorist attacks by self-proclaimed Muslims certainly continued, in Madrid, London, Fort Hood, and one could go on and on if one counts American soldiers not to mention civilians killed by Muslim fanatics in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is not clear why these acts should not be included. The perpetrators certainly see them as part of a holy war against our civilization. As to any fervent patriotism for the motherland of the US or UK or France felt by Muslims citizens, this seems to me to be more something we are instructed by our leaders to believe exists than something we must infer exists based on the evidence before our eyes.
Lots of ethnic minorities have felt the need through our history to prove to their fellow Americans that they loved their country as much as anyone. Irish Americans bled profusely in the Civil War, as did African-Americans fighting for the Union, as celebrated in the movie Glory. Japanese-Americans volunteered out of the internment camps, risking and giving their lives to make a simple point: They loved America, so much they were willing to die for it. When people do that, what can you say but, they're Americans alright. Is that the message this mosque will be sending, that Muslims love America so much they are willing to die for it? It is hard to see how. It's not like it is a scholarship fund for the children of dead firefighters or Marines.
There is this idea that nobody should ever have to prove that they love their country. I'm not sure why that should be the case, however. I see the point that attacks on the patriotism of fellow citizens are a dangerous and scurrilous business, but that is not the same thing as wondering where the Muslim voices were after 9/11. No doubt I missed some of them. But it's not like it was a chorus impossible to ignore. One also wonders, is this mosque something that Muslim-Americans want? Do they see it as a good thing? I was glad when the Pope told the Carmelites to move their convent away from Auschwitz. As to that, how could one's attitude be anything but, for God's sake, respect the wishes of the Jews?
Then there is the point few people seem to want to address directly, though I suspect we will hear more of it. It hardly seems impossible that building the mosque so near Ground Zero will be seen by some or most of the donors behind it, and whatever their intentions, by many in the Muslim world, as a deliberate provocation of the Great Satan, as a kind of sick joke, a deliberate desecration of ground made holy by the ashes of thousands of innocent men, women and children and the firemen and policemen who tried to save them. Our laws are such that we can't stop those behind the GZ mosque from doing this if they are determined to do so, as we are powerless to enjoin those evil anti-gay Christian fanatics who demonstrate at military funerals and elsewhere. I know there are powerful people in the Muslim world, I hope not in this country too, to whom such an abomination would appeal. Look, we are speaking of people who think in terms of "filthy Jews" and of murdering innocents with suicide bombs. One may reasonably worry that this mosque is the architectural equivalent of sending a mentally disabled suicide bomber into a crowd of school children, that is, an act so depraved we could not even conceive of it, except that we must, because our enemies have. The project is certainly susceptible to being interpreted as, See how vulnerable their so-called freedom makes them! We build a mosque on the ashes of their dead! Inevitably, this is a project that will not comfort the victims of 9/11 but will comfort our enemies. On the other side of the balance is, what precisely? Architecture is a statement and the builders of this mosque have their work cut out for them if they want to prove that this is not what they are saying, and it is not the skeptics of this project who cut that work out for them.