Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Building up

I want to revisit the ginned-up "controversy" over Park51, the proposed Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. Just over two weeks ago, I asked those who insisted that their objections weren't based on bigotry or expressions of fear-mongering but were only about "sensitivity" to "hallowed ground," just how far away the project would have to be to be acceptable. "A half-mile? A mile? Delaware? How far?" I asked.

Well, it seems that the other day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose refusal to buckle to the shrieking banshees has been admirable, asked the same question.
“The question will then become how big should the no-mosque zone around the World Trade Center be?” Bloomberg told a Muslim-American audience at a dinner celebrating the breaking of the fast during Ramadan. “There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it, too, be moved?”
In response, the Daily Caller tried to get an answer to the question of "how far away is far enough" from some opponents of the project. Not surprisingly, the effort was a failure.
[F]ew of them have specified, (even when pressed), just how far away the mosque needs to be in order to receive their approval. Many of them oppose it on grounds that it is insensitive.... But when asked to suggest a specific distance that the site needs to be from Ground Zero, few are willing to elaborate further.
One, Robert Spencer of the paranoid website Jihad Watch, not only refused to answer the question, he claimed even asking it was an attempt to "trap" him.

Those who did offer an opinion on the matter were as revealing as those who refused. One such was Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who said another "two or three blocks" would be enough.
“Something that would not be within eyesight if it weren’t for intervening buildings or that you couldn’t hit with a rock from Ground Zero,” [he said.]
First off, if you can throw a rock two and a-half city blocks (something over 200 yards) there are several NFL teams that want your phone number. Second, if it weren’t for intervening buildings? What the hell kind of crap is that? I could see Australia if it weren't for intervening ground. Taking Land at his word, two or three blocks wouldn't be nearly far enough; if "intervening buildings" must be ignored, the project would have to be over the horizon. In other words, the answer is bullshit, utterly meaningless.

Then there was self-described neoconservative Stephen Schwartz, executive director (and apparently sole full-time employee) of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, which he helped found in cooperation with Daniel Pipes. It's a rabidly right-wing (in the political, not a religious, sense) outfit that claims the mantle of moderation while spewing David Horowitz-style venom at anyone and everyone who isn't sufficiently rabid. (And for a website supposedly devoted to issues related to moderate Islam, it spends an awful lot of space on Israel, defending it and attacking Palestinians, particularly Hamas.)

Schwartz said there is no "specific distance that should be maintained between any given mosques and Ground Zero." It's just a "question of insensitivity." Which is kind of odd since his website keeps publishing articles he writes smearing Feisal Abdul Rauf with a lot of guilt by association and six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon dot-connecting. It also just reprinted a piece from the right-wing Toronto (Canada) Sun claiming that the project is actually an attempt to
tak[e] hold of the legal-political framework of liberal democracy to secure grounds for their anti-liberal agenda of advancing acceptance of Sharia in the West.
That is, Park51 is actually part of a vast conspiracy to turn the US into an extreme Islamist state operating under Sharia law. It seems that "insensitivity" is or at least should be rather low on the list of Schwartz's actual concerns.

He went on to say that
[i]f the Rauf-El Gamal plan goes forward, it should be located in a place where it will not call attention to the horrors of September 11 and not stir conflict over Muslim/non-Muslim relations. Such a location could still be in lower Manhattan - but it must be carried out without the associations with 9/11 that Rauf and El-Gamal, I think naively, have attached to it.
"Naively?" Did he just say "naively?" Schwartz has accused Rauf of being "involved with Islamic groups aligned against America," of association with "fanatical Jew-haters," and of spreading "propaganda for the Iranian clerical dictatorship," among other things. But now, when his words might circulate among folks beyond the bug-eyed droolers who populate his fetid section of the political landscape, we're supposed to believe that Schwartz just thinks Rauf is merely "naive." Again, I call bullshit. Indeed, I call liar, liar, pants on fire.

In fact, I call bigotry. This doesn't have a goddam thing to do with naivete on Rauf's or anyone else's part. This is about politics, about political power, and about advancing a reactionary agenda.

That's why the opponents keep screeching "too close" while refusing to suggest what is not "too close." Because that doesn't matter to them. It's not the point. If the project did get moved, even if it was moved just a couple of blocks, they'd be slapping each other's butts in a victory dance. Which is why all the watery-kneed suggestions for "compromise" from some who say such an act of "understanding" would create some kind of "unity" are so thoroughly idiotic: At root, this is not about the location of the project - it's about making the developers move it. It's about proving that "they" have to be "sensitive" to "our" feelings. It's about, that is, emphasizing that "they" are "they" and "we" are "we."

Schwartz said it himself: "If the plan goes forward, it should be located in a place where it will not call attention to the horrors of September 11." Muslims are not allowed to have any connection to 9/11. They are not allowed to say that they reject the extremists who plotted destruction. They are not allowed to make any distinctions between those who attacked and those who didn't. No, 9/11 belongs to "us" and "they" can have no connection to it. Because "they" are not "us."

William Saletan, writing at Slate, expressed a similar notion. Referring to Rauf, he said:
A man who was born outside the United States (he's a naturalized citizen), speaks English with an accent, and preaches a minority religion that was invoked by the 9/11 plotters is claiming insider status against Christian, native-born Americans. This might work in the ethnic mixing bowl of New York. But in the broader United States, it sounds pretty crazy.
Bottom line and I've said this before but it bears repeating: This is about exploiting American nativist xenophobia - the kind which, to our shame, we have seen numerous times before in our history and which Saletan comes dangerously close to endorsing with his "claiming insider status" crack. It is about labeling some people or some group as "other" and "foreign" and "alien," as not us, as not part of the American community, in pursuit of a radically reactionary political agenda. In this case, the target is Muslims and the intent is to brand them as non- or even un-American, as dangerous and a threat to be guarded against and resisted, an argument made by people who know keeping you scared, perpetually scared of the threatening "other," is the best way to protect and advance their own power.

If that seems overstated to you, recall that the aptly-named Newt Gingrich called the project “an assertion of Islamist triumphalism” and part of “an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization,” adding that those who approve the project are “apologists for radical Islamist hypocrisy.”

(He also said “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” Exactly why he wants to make Saudi Arabia the arbiter of religious freedom in the US escapes me, but understanding the lizard brain is always difficult.)

All this makes it important to remember that the single most important factor in enabling discrimination, in empowering hatred, indeed in justifying murderous violence, against another person or group, in finding them undeserving of rights even down to the right to live, is defining them as "other."

There can be no legitimate compromise with people such as Stephen Schwartz. They are not interested in it and see your proposals for compromises as weakness on your part and as an encouraging victory on theirs. You have to fight them. You may lose - but that's better than playing a rigged game.

Footnote: Just as a sidebar, another argument against Park51 is that the site, indeed the whole surrounding area, "belongs to the survivors of those who died."

No, it doesn't. 9/11 was not an attack on those who died - which, as has been noted, included some Muslims. The victims just happened to be there. It was, as I've argued before, an attack on the symbols of economic (the WTC), military (the Pentagon), and political (the fourth plane was believed to have been intended for the White House or the Capitol) America. It was, that is, both a physical and a symbolic attack on the US. Symbolically, on all of us regardless of our political, ethnic, or religious persuasion. The site is no more the possession of those families than, say, the families of those who died at Pearl Harbor can claim exclusive philosophical possession of that site.

Oh, and since not all "the survivors of those who died" oppose the project, just which of the survivors would people like Schwartz say get to make the decision?

Like the saying goes, some questions need only be asked.

Another Footnote: Something I always wonder, prompted by Saletan's reference to "native born Americans." So those people are here and are citizens by a geographical accident of birth. Rauf, on the other hand, came here deliberately and went out of his way to become a citizen. Doesn't that in at least some sense give him cause to say he's more of an American than those who reject him, since he's American by conscious choice and they are by pure chance?

And One More Footnote: Just to give you a bit more insight into the dark recesses of Stephen Schwartz's "thought" processes: Remember the May flotilla that tried to bring supplies to Gaza before it was attacked on the high seas by the Israeli Defense Force? According to Schwartz, that wasn't a nonviolent direct action to challenge the illegal and immoral Israeli blockade. No, it was a "sea raid by Turkish-led radicals." Which, interestingly, is exactly the Israeli government's position.


DaisyDeadhead said...

Second, if it weren’t for intervening buildings? What the hell kind of crap is that? I could see Australia if it weren't for intervening ground.


Don't forget... Sarah Palin can see Alaska from her house!

DaisyDeadhead said...

Duh, I meant Russia.


BTW, wanna read something sad?:

Facebook thread (mine) about the mosque

And these are my friends, people I know are not bad people, repeating all this bullshit.

:( I fear the whole country is going to shit. (like, for real this time.)

LarryE said...

I fear the whole country is going to shit.

Back atcha. My hope is based - solely - on the fact that we as a nation have been down this xenophobic road before and at some point managed to find an off-ramp, to stretch the metaphor. Doesn't change the darkness of the current moment, however.

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / jeffcouturier.com (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src="https://sites.google.com/site/occupybanners/home/isupportoccupy-right-blue.png"}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src="https://sites.google.com/site/occupybanners/home/isupportoccupy-right-red.png"}} document.write('');