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Moral Relativism

Be sure to read Douthat today, on the virtues (actually, I believe "real wisdom" is his phrase) of racism, anti-Catholicism, and xenophobia in American history.

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.



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Please... here is the quote, "But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiments success."

Douthat works hard to lacquer some respectability and intellectual rigor onto the reactionary positions taken by the less responsible members of the Conservative commentariat (like the National Review and the Weekly Standard). He'd be better off, I think, if he stopped trying to pretty up the editorials that appear in the magazines that publish his movie reviews. This is just a more high-minded setting for the same ugly nonsense: "Americans are entitled to be suspicious of Muslims without distinction; and if these Muslims were really so innocent, wouldn't they be working harder to accommodate our suspicion?"

That's clearly his strategy, Mollie. It's just like Brooks, except he's even more unwilling to criticize his own team, no matter how insane the position. This one is really over the top, though. It reminds me of that last scene from the Life of Brian. He could have entitled it "The Bright Side of the Klan."

Mollie and Eduardo - regarding your comments " high-minded setting" and " strategy" - so you have judged he has an ulterior motive ? Is his premise correct? Are there two mindsets in America? And why is one better than the other? I hear the talking points of each side but what matters to me is how the people of each mindset act in their everyday encounters when they disagree.

A good essay, making some very basic and very valid points.The mosque controversy is essentially one of respect for others and good taste. Many things are legal but highly undesirable. If we're to live together amicably, and not constantly at one another's throats, mutual respect and polite behavior are absolutely necessary.No, it's not over the top and it's not reactionary. Please, try to respect people with whom you're certain you disagree. Name calling is primitive stuff. It's never necessary, never desirable, never helpful in the smallest way.

To its credit National Review Online is at least presenting several viewpoints about the mosque controversy. Here are two thoughtful posts, one pro-mosque, and recommended by Richard Lowry, NRs editor: another from a conservative Muslim echoing Douthat. In fact its by Douthats co-author (they wrote the well received Grand New Party): to their credit, n neither post do the authors take the easy road of portraying the battle as one of brights vs. dims or as a simple conflict of tolerance vs. bigotry.

The mosque controversy is essentially one of respect for others and good taste.True enough. Those who have labeled Park51 a "Ground Zero Mosque" that desecrates "sacred ground" -- and have worked very hard, in the face of every fact, to convince others to join them in opposition -- have shown enormous disrespect for the people of that community and for American Muslims in general, and their exploitation of the WTC attacks to justify suspicion of all Muslims is in very poor taste. And they know exactly what they're doing.

I live in Shelbyville, Tennessee, and I work in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Both towns have seen active efforts to prevent mosques being built. Apparently, Islam would sully the sacred ground of a 1912 lynching (Shelbyville) and a Civil War battle that seems to be far more important to Tennesseeans than anyone else (Murfreesboro). David, let me assure you that Tennessee opponents of the mosque do not share your fine sentiments regarding name calling. Here's some country wisdom that yankee liberals just might not care for. For many in the anti-mosque movement, a new mosque equals the impostion of a cult determined to destroy the Constitution and replace it with the sharia - since many of the opponents do not believe Islam is a religion after all. Our lieutentant governor Ron Ramsey is inclined to agree. Somalis and Egyptians working at a Tyson slaughterhouse in Shelbyville (the county's biggest employer) and Iraqi Kurdish refugees in Murfreesboro (the greater Nashville area has a very large Kurdish community) are apparently the front line of al-Qaeda. Polite behavior for Somalis means not living in Tennessee for many people down here. I bought a dog chain in my local Walmart last year and the cashier asked if I was going to use it for Somalis. Name calling can indeed be very helpful. In this area, it is a means of mobilizing people to vote for the GOP. Just ask GOP Congressional primary loser Lou Ann Zelenik, who tried to use the anti-mosque issue to score some votes. But when it comes to New York City, perhaps it means something else?

From Douthat: Nativist concerns about Catholicisms illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.Isn't this the classic Commonweal type of thinking (except maybe the first two words of the sentence)?

I posted this link elsewhere this morning, but I'll repeat myself here, because I think it's important to keep in mind how this "controversy" got started in the first place -- at Salon's "War Room" blog, Justin Elliott explains in detail "How the 'Ground Zero Mosque' Fearmongering Began." Anyone now saying the Cordoba Initiative folks should have been more sensitive (...than to build an Islamic Community Center in their own neighborhood) is really saying they should have anticipated that Pamela Geller et al. would launch a vicious smear campaign against them just to prey on anti-Muslim sentiment. I'm not comfortable blaming the Park51 planners for that.

Maybe Douthat doesn't deserve a charitable reading, but on the off chance that he does, perhaps his point is that when we think about our nation we can approach it (to use the categories of Ferdinand Tnnies) in terms either of Gesellschaft (i.e. society) or Gemeinschaft (i.e. community). If we think of American as a society, we emphasize formal structures such as law and governmental bureaucracies that allow individual to co-exist and to pursue their individual goals. With this approach, it is pretty hard to imagine why anyone would object to anything that does not have a personal negative impact on them, or why one would ever want other people to adopt particular ways of thinking or feeling. But if we think of America as a community, we emphasize those "habits of the heart" (to use de Tocqueville's phrase, later taken up by Robert Bellah) that give people a sense of belonging and common identity. Here is becomes a bit easier to understand why someone might worry about things like a common language or a sense of shared history or even the limits of religious tolerance. I take it that his point is that the controversy of the "mosque" at Park51 is utterly incomprehensible if we think of America in terms of Gesellschaft. However, if we think in terms of America as Gemeinschaft, the controversy becomes more comprehensible. Or rather, it becomes comprehensible as something more than a bunch of redneck yahoos wanting to run all the ragheads out of their lilly-white America on a rail.For the record, I don't have a problem with the Islamic center at Park51. In fact, I think it could end up being a very good thing. But I also think someone can raise concerns about it without necessarily being entirely beyond the pale of rational discourse.

I usually find a lot to agree with in Douthat's columns, but this one was over the top. The notion that the threat of discrmination against immigrants was historically a positive because it encouraged them to assimilate strikes me as a strange attempt to put a benign face on some very ugly historical episodes. Also, I don't think it is true. The desire to assimilate usually emerges quickly among the children of immigrants and there were strong economic and social forces pushing immigrants to America to join the system in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That said, some of the criticism I have seen of Douthat on this Blog is unreasonable. Putting this column aside, he is usually very thoughtful and if people can't tolerate his voice in the New York Times then it means they are unwilliing to listen to any conservative at all.

I would like to hear a response to Studebaker's comment. The prejudice and discrimination against Catholics up until 1950 or so was unjust, but it didn't come totally out of nowhere, right? The Church had a shaky relationship with democracy and religious freedom until Vat II. Islam is much less centralized than Catholicism; however, I think the comparison still makes some sense. On the other hand, Douthat should have clearly condemned unjust discrimination and prejudice, which most of the vocal opposition seems to speak from.

Since Douthat has a hidden agenda (is "strategizing" and setting us up for "ugly nonsense"), do others have a right to say that the Imam and others are doing the same? Jeremy Rich - name calling is what you just did - those who oppose the Islamic Center are not racists because you say so.

When I read Douthaut this morning, I yawned and turned to Paul Krugman. Now I have gone back to read it a second time, and (yawn) it seems to me this is Much Douthat about nothing. In fact, historically many immigrant groups acted as he says; they thought it was in their self-interest and it turns out they were right. Learning English was a good idea, sending their children to school ditto, and integrating a tolerance for other religions, per the 1st amendment was a benefit to all (especially Catholics).Douthat has got this wrong though: "The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics. The first America, i.e., high-minded WASPS of the 19th century did not welcome the huddled masses and the second America was the huddled masses, at least until 1920.

Two ironies that strike me:One is that Douthat's "second America" seems analogous to the fundamentalist, nativist Islam that many bemoan -- and cite as a reason to reject Cordoba House. If that "second America" has virtues, would that not argue for allowing space for an "ugly Islam"? Two, I find it odd that Douthat would praise the assimilationist tendencies (commandment?) that he and other conservatives also bemoan. There seems to be a constant lament that religions, Catholicism in this case, have sold out to the regnant culture. Now he's saying that's a good thing, and Muslims should too?

"Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes."If you substituted the word "Catholic" for "Muslim" in this passage, it would reflect the view toward Catholics of many major American news organizations in the nineteenth century. As late as 1880, the New York Times argued against the election of a Catholic as mayor of New York because New York was "an American Protestant city." Douthat seems to feel that this kind of bigotry was somehow helpful. This wasn't one of his better columns.

BTW, I am increasingly struck by the relative (or perhaps complete?) silence of New York's Catholic leaders, namely Archbp Dolan, on this issue. Catholic leaders in Europe were admirably out front against the minaret ban in Switzerland and the burqa bans elsewhere, as infringements on religious freedom. Anyone see/heard anything similar here?

Assimilation is hardly the same as cultural suicide. If we want to live peacefully side by side with our neighbors, we all need accept and adapt. This has a special practical relevance for the newcomer.

Jeremy Rich: Thanks for reminding me whay I'm very glad that I don't live in Tennessee!That being said, I'll repeat my question of those who are opposed to the proposed location of the cultural center (not mosque, folks): exactly how far away from Ground Zero will be an acceptable location for this center? Or is the entirety of Manhattan Island off limits?I do hope, by the way, that these proponents of the sacredness of the area around GZ are as concerned about what will be going into the new comples.As was pointed out here ("Some claim the area near Ground Zero is too sacred for a mosque, but there is going to be 2.6 million square feet of office space and 500,000 square feet of retail space on Ground Zero. One wonders what restrictions will be in place to turn away potential tenants whose presence would constitute sacrilege."From what I have seen, the area near GZ has more than its share of sleazy bars, "gentlemen's clubs", fast food joints, etc. Is this New York's idea of acceptable venues on sacred space?

"One wonders what restrictions will be in place to turn away potential tenants whose presence would constitute sacrilege.As Tobias Haller says, "Similarly annoying are the claims that this is somehow 'sacred ground.' Utter nonsense, unless one considers Burlington Coat Factory sacred."

Another take on Douthats two Americas: he seems to be drawing a contrast between two political outlooks often in conflict -- procedural liberalism and communitarianism. Those on the left are proceduralists on this issue but quite often they can be found in the communitarian camp.FWIW, I'm in favor of the mosque in this location, partly because of its obscurity. In fact if one wanted to hide a mosque the best possible place would be in an unremarkable building on an uninviting block that no one will notice. Muslim presence on the proposed site will be nearly invisible.No one is asking me but they're wasting most of their $100 million. They could get much more bang for the buck in a better location.

Douthat: "By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a moderate Muslim. But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, theyll need leaders who dont describe America as an accessory to the crime of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June)."That sounds about right to me.Jimmy Mac: "the proposed location of the cultural center (not mosque, folks)"Wrong."Q: Is it just a mosque?A: The developers have planned a 13-story, $100 million Islamic community center, complete with a pool, gym and 500-seat auditorium, of which the mosque would be a part.

"Douthat has got this wrong though: The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics."I'm not sure Douthat's first and second Americas and your first and second Americas are the same thing. His may be simply communities of welcomers and rejecters, not necessarily coincident with any specific socioeconomic breakouts.

I agree with P Flanagan. The penultimate paragraph of Douthat's article nicely sums up the case against. In fact, the rest of the column, which I can understand people taking issue with, seems to be a labored prelude to the cogent points made in that paragraph. Those who would mock people's concerns about the motivations of Muslims who insist on constructing a mosque so close to Ground Zero would do well to address dispassionately Rauf's troubling behavior, and the tone-deaf responses of Muslim "leaders" in general.Of course, when that's too much effort, mocking at least makes you feel good for a time.David G--I believe you are confusing assimilation with secularization--two very different things. Conservatives have always espoused assimilation, so far as I know.

Thanks everyone for your thoughts.I disagree with Douthat's interpretation of American Catholic history. My reading of that history is not that "(n)ativist concerns about Catholicisms illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American". Rather, generations of immigrants repeatedly had their loyalty and citizenship questioned because they were Catholic. It happened to early Catholic immigrants in colonial times, and in the early years of the republic. It happened to the first great wave of Irish fleeing famine and Germans fleeing political turmoil in the mid-19th century. It happened to Italians and Poles and French Canadians arriving in the late 19th and early 20th century. It continued until Jack Kennedy's election in 1960, after which it started to die out.Additionally, there's a long history of American immigrants (including Catholics) supporting violent and revolutionary movements in their home countries. Several generations of Irish Catholics fighting for independence came to America to raise money, to win political support, to buy weapons, and when necessary, to flee for safety from the British authorities. Surely I'm not the only one who remembers pubs and taverns in Dorchester, the Bronx and other Irish Catholic enclaves of the 1970s and 80s that had jars collecting for NORAID at the end of the bar. Some of those bars were patronized regularly by what we now call "first responders". And surely I'm not the only one who remembers Irish Catholic politicians of that generation who were hesitant to denounce the IRA, or to denounce it in the language chosen by people who'd never shown much care for the Irish on either side of the Atlantic. Tip O'Neill used to say he got along well with Ronald Reagan because they came from similar backgrounds. He attributed their political differences to the fact that Reagan "forgot where he came from". When Douthat starts talking about what's required "for Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life," I hear echoes of nativist movements throughout the 19th and 20th centuries who were quite confident that they knew what was necessary "for Catholic Americans to integrate fully into our national life". It sounds like he forgot where he (or his ancestors) came from.Finally, a story: This one is still told by older Catholics in Maine of the time back in the 1960s when the bishop spoke to the state convention of the Knights of Columbus. He began by quoting from the New York Times about the murderous rioters, the horrendous destruction of property, and the breakdown of civil order. Looking out at the audience nodding in agreement, the bishop then said that this excerpt was from 1863, not 1963, and that the rioters were Irish Catholics, not Negroes. He then proceeded to lecture the assembled Knights as to why Catholics should be in the forefront of the struggle for civil rights for all people---regardless of race, creed or color. He was right then; he'd be right today. It's not that people can't have different feelings and viewpoints about the proposed community center and about the zoning board's decision. It's that American Catholics, particularly those prominent in public life (like Ross Douthat), should be in the forefront of defending the First Amemdment rights of all Americans.

I hesitate to draw comparisons in cases like this. For what it's worth, though, let me recall that during the Civil Rights movement's activities, it was not uncommon to hear some whites say something like" If only they would have picked a different place to picket, or a different time to march, or to have a less controversial speaker, we whites would be all for them and their objectives." For those of us who lived through these days, we recall that it always seemed to be the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong speaker. Nobody should expect people who have felt the brunt of discrimination in some form to be any more "sensitive" to all the supposed niceties of being "wise enough not to invoke their rights" than most of the rest of us are.If I were a Muslim and heard the likes of Gingrich, etc. and someone told me that I ought to be more sensitive lest I offend Gingirch's or Lazio's sensibilities, I'd not know whether to hoot in derision or to throw up.

Re Archbishop Dolan...The link below is to a story almost two months old, but the Archbishop has condemned any and all the prejudice associated with the mosque issue.

To clarify a bit --When Douthat talks about two Americas, the assumption here seems to be that one of them is composed of old-family elites and the other is descended from post-Revolution immigrants. However, even before the American Revolution and the arrival of huge numbers of mainly Catholic immigrants in the mid-19th century there were many, many non-elite (non-rich, not well-educated) Americans who formed a second non-elitist America. If I'm not mistaken the South had more such people because the waves of immigrants went largely to where he opportunities were, that is, the North and Mid-West, though New Orleans (I suppose because it was Catholic) became home to many Irish, Germans and Italians. But there were Germans in the area even before the French got here, and a noticeable mix of Protestant Americans (Scotch-Irish they were called before the mid-19th century.

Those who would mock peoples concerns about the motivations of Muslims who insist on constructing a mosque so close to Ground Zero would do well to address dispassionately Raufs troubling behavior, and the tone-deaf responses of Muslim leaders in general. Mark Proska,Here's what I don't understand. If Rauf is not acceptable by American standards, why is a major project built by him objectionable only near the World Trade Center complex? If he's outside what Americans have a right to consider the mainstream for American religious figures, why would moving the community center and mosque a few blocks farther away make everything okay?Also, notice this sentence from the paragraph you think so highly of:

And theyll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.This is simply begging the question. The American people will not approve of Raufs building a high-profile mosque in this location because he is insensitive to the feelings of Americans that a high-profile mosque should not be built on this location. It seems to me the argument against the mosque would be a lot like pro-choicers arguing that a pro-life crisis pregnancy center should not be built near an abortion clinic because pro-lifers murder abortion doctors. And many pro-lifers who don't themselves murder abortion doctors have a hard time unequivocally condemning those who do murder abortion doctors.

Coding error! Only the first paragraph of the blockquote above is from Ross Douthat. The following two paragraphs are my own.

David-Dolan posted the below on his blog on June 8:Welcoming the OutsiderJune 8th, 2010Last week, I was on the steps of St. Patricks Cathedral with Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis, who has become a good friend this last year. The Rabbi and I were among other religious leaders in support of legislation proposed by Senator Jeff Klein to tighten the laws punishing those who would vandalize or deface a church, synagogue, or mosque.Rabbi Potasnik related the story of the arrival of his Jewish grandparents decades ago. The neighbors who welcomed them most warmly, he recalled, were the sisters at the local Catholic parish. Without the warm embrace of those nuns, Rabbi Potasnik concluded, his grandparents would have felt excluded, isolated, and unwelcome in their new neighborhood.Doesnt surprise me at all. The Catholic Church in America has a well-deserved reputation of hospitality to outsiders. That is readily understandable, since we ourselves were (and sometimes still are) considered aliens and foreigners. In the 1850s, for instance, prominent American leaders such as Lyman Beecher and Samuel F. B. Morse warned society about hordes of Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Germany, the Italian Peninsula, and Poland. These foreigners, Beecher, Morse, and company warned, were un-American, from a strange religion led by a fanatic in Rome, who wanted to impose their tyrannical beliefs on the United States, and even destroy American democracy, by violence, if necessary.We laugh at that caricature now, but it certainly made Catholics, at their best, embracing of newly-arrived immigrants and religious groups in our country and neighborhoods.We Catholics are welcoming to the outsider, not only because of our own experience of sometimes being scorned in the past, but also because our faith teaches it. As Pope John Paul II remarked during his visit to a mosque in Syria, We are all members of the one human family, and, as believers, we have obligations to the common good, to justice, and to human solidarity. He and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, even went-to-bat for the Islamic community in Rome in their yearnings to build the first mosque in Rome.And we Catholics are hospitable to newcomers, not just because we faced hostility and closed-doors in the past, not only because our Church teaches this value, but because we are loyal Americans. Our beloved country is predicated on religious freedom, toleration, and the innate dignity of every human person, regardless of race, ethnic background, or religion. And we New Yorkers have been a sterling example of making genuine the words of hope held out by the Statue of Liberty.This is hardly pie-in-the-sky, but very timely. We now have controversy surrounding the hopes of our newly-arrived Islamic community to build a mosque downtown, and to purchase an empty convent on Staten Island as a center for study and community life.Legitimate and understandable concerns about these two endeavors have arisen, and it is good these are being aired and discussed. Please God, such airing and discussion will be done with charity and civility, and reach a peaceful resolution.Yes, it is acceptable to ask questions about security, safety, the background and history of the groups hoping to build and buy.What is not acceptable is to prejudge any group, or to let fear and bias trump the towering American (and for us Catholics, the religious) virtues of hospitality, welcome, and religious freedom.

David NI think you are missing the obvious. Moving the mosque outside the scope of Ground Zero would indeed not make everything okthe things Rauf has and hasnt said would still be troubling. However, moving the mosque would be a tangible expression of empathy towards those murdered at Ground Zero, and towards their loved ones. It would be a necessary first step in his rehabilitation. Given the presidents declining poll numbers, at this point I would put the over/under on the timing of the decision to move the mosque at 72 hours. If he makes the right decision, I hope its for the right reason.

Mark Proska,This controversy isn't about Feisal Abdul Rauf. It's about a mosque -- any mosque, built by any Muslim -- near Ground Zero. It's about saying that the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center were Muslims, and therefore it is objectionable for Muslims to build a Mosque near Ground Zero. It is about not making a distinction between Muslims who are terrorists and Muslims who are not. To quote George Bush:

The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. Thats not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists dont represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And thats made brothers and sisters out of every race out of every race. America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect.

But . . . how dare they build a house of worship and a community center near a sacred American space!

Luke Hill,I appreciate your comments. I think Douthat is a convert, so "forgetting where he came from" might mean something else.

Look Douthat is merely being liturgically correct. "O happy fault which merited so great a redeemer!" Or "Where sin abounded, grace superabounds." Like the former is desirable because of the latter. Better still. Thank the Donatists for giving Augustine a platform. What would Ratzinger be without Kung. Or O'Connell without Sunday baseball. Where would Dolan be without food. I mean the possiblilities are endless.

Part of the American culture we want immigrants to assimilate to is being a good sport when you lose. Conservatives have definitively lost this one and they should exit gracefully. I believe it is the near-universal consensus of the lawyers that they have a right to build there. (Isn't that right?) The Constitution says they can't be refused a permit for purely religious reasons. (Is there any dispute about that?) We tried "Please don't" and we tried "We will be unfriendly to you if you do" but they want to do it anyway. Why is that not the end of it? I especially wish Newt Gingrich would behave a little more decorously, just in case he ends up with the nomination in 2012.And, if one can say it without exciting New Yorkers' ire, I think all this nonsense about "sacred ground" is a little bit ridiculous. Three thousand people is not a massacre. It's terrible if one of them was your mother, of course. But terrorist attacks happen all the time in this world and an awful lot of people live in neighborhoods where thousands of people have been killed. So can we lose the melodramatic histrionics, please? It's been a decade. I thought New Yorkers liked to think of themselves as tough guys.

@Felapton, actually, three thousand people is a massacre. Maybe it's not the largest or worst in the world, but it's the largest and worst inflicted on US soil for quite some time. And, in defense of New Yorkers, they're not (for the most part) the ones who've ginned up this controversy. It's been people like Newt Gingrich who have made it clear over the years that they don't consider NYC a "real" part of America.@Anthony Andreass, thanks for posting Archbishop Dolan's statement.

I appreciate the idealism of all of you. With that said, comments that everyone opposed to the building of this Islamic Center is "prejudiced" or not "hospitable" is very judgmental. You are prejudging others. No doubt some may be. More Americans oppose the building now than a few days ago having heard the Imam's words which they deem irresponsible. The more I read Douthat, the more I see him boxing everyone into two categories. I am not in either.And please get it straight, conservatives and liberals both agree Muslims have a right to build - some believe it is insensitive. Obviously those on this blog do not.

Felapton, with the exception of the massacre part, I agree. Even more, I like to remind people that many of those complaining were at the forefront of passing federal legislation that makes it even more difficult for cities to apply restrictive zoning rules to places of worship than other structures. If New York tried to stop this center, it very well may be illegal under the very law that conservative Christians sought and obtained from the Bush administration for the express purpose of tying the hands of local authorities faced with similar projects. What goes around comes around, I guess. I suspect that many of those opposed also don't understand the topography of the area where the center is to be built -- they have a visual idea of mosque complete with minarets right on or next to WT Center -- when it's amidst a hodge podge of not too striking or important urban buildings that can't even be seen from the WT Center. As for the enduring impact of 9/11 -- it WAS a massacre, but I think if we compare it to Pearl Harbor, it's sobering to think how quickly many would -- and did -- pitch our ideals overboard as a result of fear and prejudice. Most people realize in retrospect how wrong the internment camps were, but it takes effort and leadership to actually avoid repeating wrongs like that precisely because the allure of revenge and cultural solidarity are so strong. For that reason, I think Gingrich's speech and actually, the whole over the top chest thumping, are frightening in their implications. We were supposed to have learned something after WWII.

Felapton,According to polls, a plurality of Manhattanites (of which I am one) do not object to the mosque, although sentiment in the other boroughs (particularly Staten Island) is high enough so that the city as a whole is opposed. The New York politicians making such a stink about the mosque such as Rick Lazio and Peter King (both Catholics, by the way) do not live in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg strongly supports the mosque. The issue is not whether Ground Zero is "hallowed ground." It is whether American Muslims of good will should be denied First Amendment rights because Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia attacked the World Trade Center.

And please get it straight, conservatives and liberals both agree Muslims have a right to build some believe it is insensitive.Jim S.The religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution means very little if political parties (the Republicans and the Conservative Party of New York State) achieve by demagoguery what they cannot achieve by law.

The comment I posted on this thread yesterday is far too restrained. Here goes a rant.What is this idolatrous claptrap about "ground zero" as somehow hallowed or sacred ground? The World Trade Center as "sacred"? How about Wall Street? Or Madison Square Garden? Or the Statue of Liberty?Of course, 7/11 was a massacre of innocent civilians. So to were Hiroshima and Nagasaki! so too was Dresden! So too were all too many sites of massacres throughout the world! I readily acknowledge that the notion of sacred ground has some real significance. There is Jerusalem and Rome and Mecca and some other places of historical religious significance that deserve to be regarded as sanctuaries especially deserving of special status. And I would also grant that thee are some cultural sites that also deserve special status. But the World Trade Center???7/11 has been the demagogic excuse for a disastrous orgy of American exceptionalism, How could anyone or any group dare attack the divinely instituted "Shining Light on a Hill? For shame! Let's attack Iraq? Let's keep talking about terrorists of any and every stripe. We are surely innocent, with only the purest and highest motives. Watch out for all those who don't look like or talk like us. You know, Muslims and Hispanic immigrants and, and --well, you know. And if you happen to be unsure, just listen to Gingrich and Kyl and, yes not a few Democrats as well.Yes, we are a shining example of some very good things. But we are also all too often noteworthy for our selfishness (think about our pitifully weak safety net, our poor record on foreign aid, our weapons industry, etc) and our self-righteousness. We do have national treasures that we are rightly proud of. But in the U. S. there is no "sacred ground" in the current sense of the term, except perhaps some ground sacred to the Native Americans.

Even if we grant the most charitable view of the imam's statements regarding his intention to build bridges between Islam and America; and even if we grant the most uncharitable motivation to the opponents of the mosque, the fact remains: given the opposition, building this mosque at that location is obviously NOT the way to build bridges of understanding between Islam and America.

David Nickol - Do people have a "right to think" that it is insensitive to build an Islamic Center near the World trade Center site? Do you think it is insensitive???? Those opposed are not all Republicans (King and Lazio). And those opposed are not all "prejudiced"!!

Douthat's premise of two Americas -- one loving freedom more, and another loving America more -- is close to true, if not entirely correct. I have a problem with his description of "the second America" and would be very surprised if no one else does. He starts off innocuously describing it as "cultural", but uses increasingly negative language. Affronted, disrespected, lurking darker suspicions about Islam give way to cruder xenophobia, placing obstacles, persecuting and discriminating. And then he makes an ends justify the means type of argument so that we will recognize wisdom in this second America.No Catholic should fall for such an argument from moral relativism. Eduardo made this point perfectly in his original post. He left out only how offended the second America should be by this portrayal. It strains credulity at the end by placing himself among this crowd by opposing the mosque. He can place obstacles, persecute and discriminate because good will come of it???

Bernard,You go too far. There's Gettysburgh battlefield.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

There's Arlington National Cemetery. There's the Vietnam War Memorial -- equally sacred, I believe, to those who supported the war and those who opposed it. If the World Trade Center site were truly sacred in the same sense as Gettysburgh battlefield, we would not be filling it up with retail stores and office space. But nevertheless I will never forget watching smoke pouring from the site from the roof of my apartment building (about five miles away), and I am not going to forget what happened.

Just want to note Cardinal O'Malley has chimed in -see America's All Things blog.

Jim S.I believe that those who oppose the building of the mosque because Muslims terrorists from Saudi Arabia attacked the World Trade Center and therefore American Muslims should not build a mosque nearby are exhibiting bigotry and prejudice in one of its classic forms. They are judging all Muslims by the acts of some Muslims. As I said previously, it is like blaming everyone who is pro-life for the acts of those few who have murdered abortion doctors.

David Nickol,Thanks for your comment. I disagree with you. Nations can rightly have memorials to those who have performed great deeds or made great sacrifices for them. These memorials are appropriate commemorations that help to promote responsible citizenship. Nonetheless, they are not sacred. They cannot rightly be regarded as inviolable because they are somehow divinely sanctioned. No one can rightly claim that they are in any proper sense divinely blessed. It is one thing to be patriotic and quite another to suggest that the society to which one is loyal enjoys special divine favor.

David - But is that the mindset of the majority? You think so - I do not think so. You make the point that those who oppose the building based on judging all Muslims by the acts of some Muslims exhibit bigotry and prejudice (I agree), yet you are judging all who oppose the building by the words and acts of some opponents. Again, I love the idealism of most of the Commonweal bloggers, but those who oppose your views are no less a "peacemaker".

Jim S.,I take the majority opinion to be "Muslims killed 3000 people at the World Trade Center site, and consequently it is offensive for Muslims to build a mosque near that site." I believe that to be bigotry. Can you suggest some other rationales that those in the majority might have to oppose the mosque that would not involve judging all Moslems by the acts of the 9/11 terrorists? There has been some criticism of statements made by Feisal Abdul Rauf, but I would be amazed if more than 2% of the population could identify him and give even the vaguest account of what he said, so I don't believe the overwhelming national opposition is based on distrust of Feisal Abdul Rauf.

When you oppose this center on the grounds of "insensitivity" because radical Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 tragedy and assert that proponents should voluntarily move, YOU ARE ASKING THE PEOPLE BUILDING THE CENTER TO SELF-IDENTIFY WITH RADICAL ISLAM WHEN THEY OTHERWISE DON'T. Why do you have the right to insist that their actions in the world reflect your view of them rather than their view of themselves? This case doesn't even begin to approach the kinds of dilemmas that arise, for instance, in personal care situations where racial or religious sensitivities collide with equal employment requirements -- and still, most of the time, even in those cases, the equality imperative will override those sensitivities. Indeed, we should be more than willing to accommodate Muslims in some respects because, the next time someone asks Christians or Jews to self-censor themselves out of sensitivity to Muslims over, for instance, the portrayal of Mohammed, we can rightly say, no, you get no more but NO LESS consideration than the rest of us do. If we, the rest of us, want Muslims to emulate our own ideals of tolerance and respect we had better be ready to live up to those ideals as well.

That is not the majority opinion of almost 2/3s of the nation - most Americans believe they need more information about Islam, more knowledge about the Islamic Center before they can decide - then they will decide - they just do not know enough yet about what is an Imam and who is this Imam - they don't know what type of activity will go on - they are asking questions - instead they are termed prejudiced and bigoted by the intellectual elite who always know best - look at the terminology being used in this blog - it is an ISLAMIC CENTER not just a MOSQUE - people want to know the difference - Is this Imam a Sunni Imam or a Shi'a - what's the difference - is this Imam connected in any way to radical Islam? Why should not Americans have more information before deciding - if a poll asked yes/no/ I don't know yet, it would probably go 30% yes, 30% no, and 40% I don't know yet - but when the intellectual elite start calling the 40% names like "bigot", they certainly will not choose that side. Why should they associate with those kind of people?

Jim S.Where do you get your figures? A CNN poll found 29% in favor of the mosque, 68% opposed, and 3% with no opinion. A Rasmussen poll found 20% in favor and 54 percent opposed. (Whether the third category was no opinion, undecided, or something else was not said.) So I would say a maximum of 26% would fall into the I-don't-know-yet category. Are you saying the "intellectual elite" favor the mosque? Where do people like Ross Douthat, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and Newt Gigrich fit in? Do you have to be a liberal to be classified as belonging to the intellectual elite? If so, then of course the intellectual elite always take liberal positions! I have made it clear that what I think is bigoted is to say, "Muslims attacked the World Trade Center, therefore Muslims should not be able to build a mosque near the site." That is judging all Muslims by Islamic extremists. That is a classic example of bigotry. People who say they would like to know more before taking a position would be perfectly reasonable. People who said they had doubts about Feisal Abdul Rauf would probably qualify as reasonable, too. But people who say there can never be *any* mosque built by *any* Muslims near Ground Zero, because Muslims slaughtered 3000 Americans there, are religious bigots.

Now I am clear and agree with you - my point was to emphasize that not everyone who opposes the Islamic Center are bigoted - that they are bigoted is the general impression throughout all the Commonweal blogs thus far - regarding the word "elite", it can pertain to both sides - in this case, it seems to me that the liberal elite is hanging a hat on the "right to build" hook without gathering sufficient facts and informing the American people about what is being built and who is building it, so as to convince them of what is right. It may be clear to some minds and not to others. best thing written that I have read so far on this subject.

"Insensitivity" has become the acceptable word to use rather than the true expression: anti-Islamic prejudice.I will continue to ask: how far from Ground Zero is far enough before an Islamic Cultural Center's location is acceptable? (Forget Tennessee; who would want to build one there anyway?)What about the Muslims who died on 9-11? Can only the non-Muslims dictate what is acceptable construction near (not on or at) Ground Zero?Some interesting facts that poke holes in this Nativistic apoplectic fit:1. There is a mosque in the Pentagon, another sacred space post 9-11 (,-Tim:-What-about-the-...)2. There is a Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor (is this not a sacred space?) ( I have been told, but cannot verify this, that sometime in this decade the Japanese navy was invited to send a ship (and did so) to participate in a commemoration of December 7th. Google has been singularly unhelpful to me. If anyone can prove/disprove this contention, I will appreciate that information.

I thought I'd post here some comments I made on a blog post at America:Some thoughts on the "Ground Zero Mosque" - I've been saddened lately to read about all the problems the Church faces, how people are drifting from the Church, etc. So I find myself being very sympathetic to and supportive of any increased presence of or commitment to so-called "organized religion." I think it can only be good to have more mosques in the country, since hopefully it may prompt non-Muslim Americans to return to their religions (or come to them in the first place) -- and ultimately, perhaps non-Catholics of any kind practicing their religions more would put pressure on Catholics to stay Catholic, to return to the Church, etc., etc. That is what I ultimately want, and perhaps the "Ground Zero Mosque" could help advance that.I say build as many mosques as you want near Ground Zero, so it'll shame people from Christian backgrounds back into their churches, shame non-practicing Jewish people to return to their synagogues, etc., etc. To do a humorous paraphrase of a common saying, "the answer to offensive prayer is not repression of prayer, but more prayer!" ;) Of course, no prayer of any kind is offensive (well, OK, some prayers can be offensive, but any prayer no matter how offensive is good, since God will answer the underlying desire for God buried within it). And to continue on that line of thought -- shouldn't those families of 9/11 victims and any others who are offended by this community center/mosque be happy to see any prayers offered in close proximity to the site where so many lost their lives? I mean, these people are praying to God -- regardless of any errors or gaps in their beliefs about God from the perspective of Catholicism, they're still praying to God. Anyway, in closing, to Catholics who are upset about the "Ground Zero Mosque," stop protesting and say a novena. ;)

David N--One of the great things about this blog is that we can read, and sometimes appreciate, the opinions of others who may focus on aspects of a controversy that we might have overlooked at first. In that context, ex cathedra pronouncements as to what the controversy is about, and what the controversy is not about, are not helpful."The comment I posted on this thread yesterday is far too restrained."Bernard--That opening sentence is classic. I will probably use it myself in the future so if there's a charge let me know. But why get so exercised about a convenience store?

Mark Proska,I am afraid you have misunderstood something very basic. When I speak ex cathedra, I do not use the pronoun I, as I am doing here. I use we. We do not require you to agree with us when we refer to ourselves as I.Given at New York City, seventeenth day of August, feast of St. Clare of Montefalco, in the year 2010, the forty-second of Our pontificating (give or take).

Mark, most of us sometimes need to take a break for a beer. Perhaps I'm wrong, but maybe you'd find it soothing to take a beer break in the next day or so.

JJimmy Mac --Your remarks about Tennessee and the Deep South are just as bigoted as anything that has been said here about the American Muslims.

"When I speak ex cathedra, I do not use the pronoun I, as I am doing here. I use we. We do not require you to agree with us when we refer to ourselves as I."David - from what kind of chair do you (y'all, I should say) make your pronouncements? I'll be mighty disappointed if it's a La Z Boy!

Ann: while in the military I spent more than my fair share in the deep south. I base my comments on personal experience of that place. Re: Tennessee: read how Murfreesboro has been dealing with the proposed Islamic COMMUNITY CENTER there. plan to build an Islamic community center in the middle-Tennessee town of Murfreesboro sparked an eruption of ugly criticism --- "We are FIGHTING THESE PEOPLE, for crying out loud, we should not be promoting this."Some at the Thursday meeting wore religious or patriotic-themed clothing, and no one defended the plan in two hours of public commentsIf calling a spade a spade is bigotry, so be it.

Jimmy, all that may be true but it's also the case that mosque and/or community center projects have now been opposed by local residents in Southern California, Wisconsin, and Northern Virginia, and not just Tennessee. I will be the first to admit that the proportion of people who are motivated by ethnic or religious or racial bias might be higher in some places than others, but there is likely no place where they -- or their opposites in tolerance -- are totally absent. It's just not useful or fair to tar with such a broad brush.I do, however, mourn for the past, where it really wasn't such a big deal to build a temple or mosque. The first Hindu temple in the western world was built practically in my backyard with nary a peep from anyone. The second was built a couple of miles up the road when the first congregation had a dispute and a splinter group left. Yes, indeed, even Hinduism has something in common with Christianity -- which is to say, human nature seems to be remarkable stable across cultures!

Jimmy Mac --You fault the Southerners for objecting to *all* Muslims because of the behavior of *some* of them, yet you yourself are condemning *all* of the Deep South because of your experience with *some* of it. That's the pot calling the kettle black.How do you account for the liberal Al Gore being produced by your despised Tennessee?

Jimmy Mac: the proposed location of the cultural center (not mosque, folks)Wrong.Q: Is it just a mosque?A: The developers have planned a 13-story, $100 million Islamic community center, complete with a pool, gym and 500-seat auditorium, of which the mosque would be a part.So, then, the part defines the whole?If that is true, then the annoyance in the previous 2 comments is without merit.

Jimmy Mac, you simply reflect how easy it is for individuals to nurture and excuse their own biases even as they see the irrationality and darkness of those held by others. I am not annoyed at you. I just think you're wrong.

Jimmy Mac ==No, parts don't define wholes, and some don't define all. Surely you must know that.

The letters section of todays Times has two well-crafted responses to Douthats editorial of August 6th: from letter #1): The opposition to a mosque (really a cultural center) at ground zero (really two blocks away) is not the legitimate expression of some second America that is cultural rather than constitutional it is the American underside, the America of the Klan and of McCarthy, and it is to be repudiated, not excused.(snip from letter #2): Mr. Douthats vision of two Americas seems to grant special designation of Americanness to the predominately white, Christian Americans who are only one part of our country. They are no more American than a Muslim immigrant or a third-generation Latino American.I would qualify the snip #2 and eliminate the third-generation from Latin American. Once one is an American citizen, it is no less valid to be a first-generation citizen than to be a fifth-generation citizen.

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