I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque

For a couple of weeks, conservatives have been in outrage mode about plans for a Muslim mosque to be built in New York only a few blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center. Liberals have been the main defenders of the mosque, arguing that religious freedom means freedom even for unpopular religions. I honestly don't see how this argument is going to sway a single conservative. The religious right is, let's face it, the Christian right. They are in favor of religious freedom, but the only religion they define as such is Christianity, with the occasional tip of the hat toward Judiasm. Other so-called religions don't deserve any protection or recognition in America because they are so self-evidently absurd or evil that to call them religions taints the word.

You can waive the banner of religious tolerance in front of the conservatives, but it's not a flag that they are ever going to salute. However, I'd like to see some of the conservatives who oppose the mosque respond to a completely different defense: People who own property should be free to use it for any legal purpose they wish. Presumably, the Muslims who want to build the mosque own the land or have a legal lease to it. I haven't heard anyone saying that use of this land was a gift from the city or the state, nor has it been reported that they've occupied the land by force. I know that there are Christian churches in this area, and presumably the new mosque must meet the same zoning requirements that the churches do. So, if they are using their property for a legal enterprise, what gives the government the power to step in and deprive them of this right? And, if conservatives are truly in opposition to the mosque, may I suggest that, instead of protesting or trying to rezone, they simply dig into the deep pockets of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and make an offer to buy the property themselves? This would be the free market solution instead of the authoritarian government solution. They could erect a giant museum there, the Museum of Right Thinking Conservatives that could serve as a shining beacon for the enlightenment of mankind. Just stay away from the men's room if any senators are in town.

If there's one bedrock principal that conservatives are supposed to defend, it's private property rights. If they aren't willing to defend these rights now, do they actually mean anything at all?


Eric James Stone said...

James, no one can come up with the money to buy the property from the group planning the mosque because it's not about building the mosque -- it's about deliberately insulting the memory of the people who were killed by Islamic extremists. The governor of New York offered to discuss trading the site for some state-owned land of equivalent value, but was rejected out of hand.

Most of the conservatives I've seen address the matter are expressing their outrage at the calculated insult. Even if the Cordoba Initiative is free to use its property to build a mosque, that doesn't mean conservatives aren't allowed to condemn it.

James Maxey said...

Eric, thanks for offering the counter argument. I'm curious: Is there a mission statement by the people building the mosque stating that the mosque is intended as a deliberate insult to those killed on 9-11? If not, it seems like people are taking offense simply to the notion that Muslims exist. The site is two blocks away from ground zero. Should there never be a mosque within five blocks? Ten? Twenty? Should we cordon off all of Manhattan and declare it a no Mosque zone? To me, the bedrock American freedom stance here is that, if you wouldn't object to a Christian Science Reading Room two blocks away, or to Big Jim Bob's House of Jesus Christ being built two blocks away, then you can't object to Muslims building two blocks away.

On the other hand, I completely agree that conservatives are allowed to condemn this project. I'm not calling for some government intervention to silence them, nor a privately organized boycott to go after their sponsors. They can shout about it as much as they want. I'm just pointing out that, in making such protests, they are mocking their supposed support of property rights. (And also displaying the sort of hypersensitivity to offense that they so often mock in liberals.)

Eric James Stone said...

> Is there a mission statement by
> the people building the mosque
> stating that the mosque is
> intended as a deliberate insult to
> those killed on 9-11?

Not in so many words, but it's a rational inference. If they were truly interested in promoting "dialogue" and "understanding" with non-Muslims, you'd think they'd be open to dialogue about putting the mosque somewhere else and might show a little understanding of why so many people object to them building a mosque there.

There are a couple of established mosques near Ground Zero, and as far as I know, conservatives are not calling for them to be shut down. So it's not "taking offense simply to the notion that Muslims exist." But some of the things said by the founder of the group behind the building of this mosque make his motives questionable. So his motives are being questioned.

> To me, the bedrock American
> freedom stance here is that, if
> you wouldn't object to a
> Christian Science Reading Room
> two blocks away, or to Big Jim
> Bob's House of Jesus Christ
> being built two blocks away,
> then you can't object to Muslims
> building two blocks away.

To me, the bedrock American freedom stance is that if the law would allow a Christian Science Reading Room or Big Jim Bob's House of Jesus Christ, the law should allow a Muslim mosque. And Americans would be free to object to any of them.

Just because conservatives support property rights doesn't mean conservatives cannot object to the use to which a property owner puts his property. There is nothing contradictory in saying that Bubba has a right to build a strip club on his property, but that we object to Bubba building a strip club on his property.

James Maxey said...

So, just curious, would you object to a conservative Muslim visiting the 9-11 site in full garb? Women in burkas, men in turbans and robes? Would you view this as provocative and insensitive? Would you complain to a guard or a cop and ask that they be removed? What if you learned that they had family members that worked in the WTC that were killed that day?

On my last trip to DC, I visited the WWII memorial center. Would you object to Japanese or German tourists visiting this site? I just don't see how the presence of Muslims is an insult unless you cast a blanket of guilt over all Muslims.

You definitely have the right to protest. I just haven't yet heard an argument based on any sort of rationality. The opposition seems to be purely driven from a gut dislike of Muslims in close proximity to the site. If this place were going to be called the Osama Bin Laden Worship and Praise center for the Subjugation of Christians and Jews, I could say you're on to something for the deliberate insult theory. (And would still say they should have the legal right to build such a thing on their own property with their own dough.) As it is, I'm truly not understanding what the harm is.

Eric James Stone said...

James, that's not the right comparison.

Would I object to a Muslim carrying a sign at the Ground Zero site that said, "America was an accessory to the attacks" (which is essentially what the founder of the Cordoba Center said)? Yes. Would I object to a non-Muslim with the same sign? Yes. Did I object when a Mormon professor at BYU claimed 9/11 was an inside job? Yes.

Would I object to German tourists at the WWII memorial? No. Would I object to Holocaust deniers protesting at the WWII memorial? Yes. Would I object to Japanese tourists at the WWII memorial? No. Would I object to anti-nuke protesters at the WWII memorial? Depends on how offensive they were.

Would I report any of them to the police and ask that they be escorted off the premises? Not unless I had reason to believe they were breaking the law in some way.

Eric James Stone said...

Here are the editors of National Review on the subject.

James Maxey said...

From that article: "The critics insist only that this particular location for a project led by these particular people — including an imam who cannot bring himself to condemn Hamas — is unseemly and ill-considered. That position in no way implies a disregard for the First Amendment."

My first question is, what does support of Hamas have to do with anything? I don't recall them being linked to the 9-11 attacks at all.

Putting that aside, the argument seems to boil down the fact that the editors of National Review find the placement of the most "unseemly."

Why is it unseemly for Muslims to practice their faith two blocks away from the former WTC? They may say their problem is with just these particular Muslims, but is there some group of Muslims who could build on this site that would be celebrated? If it's not unseemly for a church or synague to be built here, why is it unseemly for a mosque?

It all boils down to hating these people for what they believe. Which, of course, conservatives are perfectly free to do, just don't expect me to think that there's anything rational or persuasive about such hatred. And, again, if Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck can't pool their considerable resources to buy the site, maybe they could buy the lot across the street and put up a thirty story sculpture of a finger pointing at the Cordoba house with a plaque reading "You're to blame!" It might stir up some tourism and stimulate the economy in the area, never a bad thing.

Eric James Stone said...

> It all boils down to hating these
> people for what they believe.
> Which, of course, conservatives
> are perfectly free to do, just
> don't expect me to think that
> there's anything rational or
> persuasive about such hatred.

Pot, kettle.

James Maxey said...

Are you making the claim that my argument is based on irrational hatred of conservatives? I'm curious as to what your supporting evidence might be. Frequent readers of my blog know I come down on the side of conservatives, or maybe even a little to the right of them, on any number of issues. I'd support slashing the federal budget in ways that would make Ron Paul weep tears of joy. I'm an opponent of Obamacare, TARP, stimulus bills, and, really, just about every piece of legislation that's been signed since Obama took office.

I think my arguments in favor of the mosque are based on the fairly rational and defensible foundation of property rights and religious neutrality in the law. (Which, again, I feel are conservative values.) Every argument I've seen against the mosque is based on emotion, though I admit I paint with a broad brush in saying it's based on hatred. Still, can you name a single argument against the mosque that isn't based on emotion? The most frequent appeal is that this is going to cause emotional pain to the families of people killed on 9-11. But, this assumes that such families are unable to make a distinction between terrorists and peaceful worshippers who mean them no harm.

If there is a argument against the mosque that is based on dispassionate reason rather than hurt feelings, I'm certainly open to hear it.

Finally, I did a little Googling and found they only paid 4.8 million for the site. This seems like a bargain, and is roughly what Rush Limbaugh is paid when he burps. I again suggest that deep pocketed conservatives pool their resources and make an offer. If it's refused, they'll at least have an additional talking point.

Also, if they want to protect other sites in the area, perhaps they should start shopping now so that they can control who gets to build in these areas. Start a 9-11 conservation fund buying up every empty building in whatever radius they feel is appropriate to provide a buffer. I promise to support such an effort, even celebrate it. Using money to change the world is vibrantly American.

Eric James Stone said...

I just wrote a long response that got eaten by Blogger. I'll try again later.

Mr. Cavin said...

Well, this here seems pretty much like your idea, James. And while I rarely consider myself liberal, Mr. Stone, I'd have to say that, as an American abroad, the intolerance evident in the "debate" over this building is an embarrassment to me and also no small advance in the rapid deterioration of the United States' relationship with Islamic nations.

James Maxey said...

Eric, sorry the blog ate your homework.

Cavin, isn't Bosnia, like half Muslim? Do you have much interaction with actual Bosnians on a daily basis? Is this controversy actually reaching the news over there, or do you think it's just being discussed in the diplomatic circles?

Eric James Stone said...

[OK, trying again, and keeping a copy of the text elsewhere before submitting.]

> Are you making the claim that my
> argument is based on irrational
> hatred of conservatives? I'm
> curious as to what your supporting
> evidence might be.

You have an irrational hatred of religious conservatives. What is the evidence for this? The fact that you criticize what religious conservatives say. If you really believed in free speech, you would believe that religious conservatives have a right to say whatever they want and be immune to criticism for it. Since you criticize what they say, you must have an irrational hatred of religious conservatives.

Now, obviously I don't actually believe that you have an irrational hatred of religious conservatives. But since you seem to be accusing me of having an irrational hatred of Muslims, I felt turnabout was fair play.

I have given you ample evidence that I am not opposed to Muslims because they are Muslims. Neither I nor any prominent conservative I've heard of is demanding the closure of the mosques that already exist near Ground Zero. (Some liberals are trumpeting that fact as if it is an example of conservative hypocrisy and irrationality, while it is, in fact, evidence that conservatives are not opposed to mosques in general, but feel that this particular project, built by these particular people in this particular place, is objectionable.)

Why is this particular place objectionable? It's not just because it's a couple of blocks from where the World Trade Center used to be. This particular site used to be a Burlington Coat Factory. Do you know why the Burlington Coat Factory closed down? It was severely damaged when part of the landing gear and fuselage of one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center crashed into it.

In other words, it's not just near Ground Zero. It's the site of some of the damage done by the terrorists on 9/11. And that was -- according to the people who bought it to build the mosque -- part of the reason they wanted that particular piece of property.

Now, they claim it's because they want to help push back against what the terrorists did that day. But here's what a couple of members of the Muslim Canadian Congress had to say about it: "...we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as 'Fitna,' meaning 'mischief-making' that is clearly forbidden in the Koran." (You can read the whole thing here: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/sports/Mischief+Manhattan/3370303/story.html)

So, if coreligionists of those planning the mosque can believe it is being done in bad faith, is it unreasonable for non-Muslim Americans to believe it?

[I had to split the comment into two parts because it exceeded the 4096 character limit. The second part will follow shortly.]

Eric James Stone said...

Let me shift to a different subject for a minute in order to illustrate something.

Mormons believe in doing baptisms for the dead. What this means is that we do baptisms by proxy on behalf of people who died without being baptized into the Mormon Church. If we are right, then we are giving people who have died an opportunity to accept the benefits of the ordinance. If we are wrong, no one is harmed, because what we are doing cannot force someone to become Mormon in the afterlife (if there is an afterlife.) And obviously, we have a Constitutional right to perform baptisms for the dead as part of our religious freedom.

However, it came to the attention of some Jewish groups that some Mormons were using lists of people killed in the Holocaust to perform baptisms for the dead on behalf of Jews. Many Jews were offended by the idea that people who had died because they were Jews were being symbolically converted into Christians.

Now, it's clear that Mormons have a free religion right to perform baptisms for the dead for whoever they want. (Just to be clear, this does not involve digging up bodies -- it is done completely by proxy: A living Mormon is baptized using the name of someone who is dead.) And since Mormons view performing baptisms for the dead as an act of selfless service on behalf of the dead person, there was no intention to offend anyone.

However, the Mormon Church's leaders, understanding why Jews were taking offense, issued instructions that members of the Church should not use lists of Holocaust victims as a source for names for baptisms for the dead.

Now, it seems to me that if the people behind the building of this mosque were truly trying to build it because they wanted to help build dialog and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, then their reaction would not be to press ahead with the project in the face of tremendous public outrage. When Governor Patterson offered to try to work out a land swap so they could build the mosque somewhere else, you'd think they would have been open to at least discussing the idea. (Since I mentioned Governor Patterson's offer in my first comment, it puzzles me that you keep bringing up the idea that Limbaugh or someone should offer to buy the site, since at this point it seems fairly obvious they want this particular site for the mosque.)

What if when this started to become a controversy, they had said, "Oh, we're terribly sorry. Our intentions were good, but it didn't occur to us that you might take offense. This is why we need to build a cultural center, to spread understanding, but we will move it elsewhere." The whole thing would have blown over immediately.

Instead, their behavior seems consistent with the idea that they are deliberately trying to offend Americans. Therefore, it is rational to believe that is their purpose. (Note that I am not saying it is certain that is their purpose -- they may be sincere but lacking in judgment when it comes to the attitudes of Americans. I am just saying that it is not irrational to believe that they are being deliberately offensive.)

[Had to split it one more time.]

Eric James Stone said...

But your argument seems to go beyond whether it is rational to believe that these people building a mosque there are being intentionally offensive. It seems you don't believe emotion should play any part in the decision:

> If there is a argument against
> the mosque that is based on
> dispassionate reason rather than
> hurt feelings, I'm certainly
> open to hear it.

At the risk of sounding like an episode of Star Trek, it is irrational to expect humans to behave as if they have no emotions.

The Cordoba Initiative has the right to build a mosque even if it offends people, just as the Mormon Church has the right to use names taken from list of Holocaust victims to perform baptisms for the dead even if it offends people. Having a right to do something does not give you a right not to be criticized for exercising that right. And sometimes the right thing to do is to not do what you have a right to do.

James Maxey said...

The Patterson offer of an equally valuable property disturbs me because I don't think the government should get involved in providing land for houses of worship. Also, real estate values are a somewhat intangible concept. My girlfriend and I have found a house we'd like to buy. There are ten other houses currently available for roughly the same price we don't want to buy. If you want the mosque moved, going in with an offer of equal value is probably pointless. You'd have to offer a plot of land or a pool of money that the developers think is superior. And, I would oppose any government entity making this offer. And, since no private entity has made an offer, we really can't know what the results would be.

Just curious: Have the Mormons baptized the 9-11 hijackers yet? Do they plan on doing so? Do you baptize dead Muslims who aren't terrorists, for instance, the perfectly innocent Muslims who were in the twin towers when they went down? If you're willing to share Heaven with them, why not Manhattan?

Mr. Cavin said...

Well Mr. Maxey, it's complicated. To simplify it almost into fiction:

Obviously, Yugoslavia was nearly evenly split between peoples Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic before the catholic Croats split off to the south and west (and north, frankly) and the Orthodox Serbs split off to the north and east. Bosnia and Hercegovina, left in the middle, was also left with a nearly even three-way split. But the Serb separatist state, the Republika Srpska--Orthodox Serbs nevertheless considered Bosnian by Serbia, the other half of the terrible fighting here in the nineties--accounts for much of the Orthodox third. What remains, the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina (think of that as one state, named after the country itself), is now something less than half-and-half Catholic and Muslim, splitting the remainder with Serbs and Jews. The Muslim part of that is traditionally the Bosnian valley and Hercegovina is traditionally Croat, although these are not useful, or even necessarily accurate, distinctions.

So then Sarajevo? I think it really is about half. Official numbers indicate that it is a only a little over one third Muslim, reflecting its stature as Bosnia's brotherly and cosmopolitan historical capital. But the lines were drawn very finely during the siege and civil war. People who could leave did so at times, and not all of them have moved back now. Many people died. What is left seems very Muslim to me. The environs around Sarajevo are definitely majority Islam.

Then yes. This stupid ground zero nonsense is playing awkwardly here. Moderate Muslims across this planet are watching the US become more galvanized against Islamic culture and the world continues to slowly polarize. People here are very pro-America, but they are also pretty aware that some Americans are designating blame along religious, rather than criminal, lines; and they more and more frequently hear US leaders adopting the rhetoric of intolerance and ignorance and bigotry.

And whether you believe it or not, Mr. Stone, your long and articulate thesis here--carefully reasoned and astute as it is--does nothing much more than prove that reasonable and intellectual people are also willing to condone the actions of those who are intolerant and bigoted and operate from a basis of fearful ignorance.

The Muslim world is watching. Most of that world is still moderate and friendly toward the US. But that is changing, and it seems to me that it is changing faster and faster as new young Muslims are finally convinced that being persecuted by even just one half of America is enough to write us off completely. How can you trust half a state?

They'd just be falling into the same trap some of us have. Perhaps the ignorant in the US only think of Al Qaeda and other extremists when they think of Islam. Perhaps the self-interested and jingoistic hatred of these groups serve to supervene the reality of hundreds of millions of tolerant, socially interactive, and only normally-biased Muslims from the US (and, of course, a staggeringly high percentage of the rest of the globe). Perhaps if that can happen to us, we can imagine how it may happen to these regular Muslims too. When they have heard too many messages against them, their reaction may be that we are supervened in their minds by only the least tolerant extremists among us.

Mr. Cavin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric James Stone said...

> The Patterson offer of an equally
> valuable property disturbs me
> because I don't think the
> government should get involved in
> providing land for houses of
> worship.

Fine, although I think there's a huge difference between the government handing some land to a church to use for a house of worship and the government selling land to a church for fair market value (whether paid in real estate or cash). And frankly, if you think the government can sell/swap land to a non-religious entity but not a religious one, then that's pretty clearly anti-religious bigotry.

But the point of my bringing up the land swap proposal was that the unwillingness to even discuss the possibility tends to indicate that the mosque developers are acting in bad faith.

> Just curious: Have the Mormons
> baptized the 9-11 hijackers yet?

No idea.

> Do they plan on doing so?

My guess is that it would get done at some point, although since baptizing a living person who has committed murder requires a special dispensation from the First Presidency of the Church, I'm not sure what the policy is on baptisms for the dead on behalf of people known to have committed murder.

> Do you baptize dead Muslims who
> aren't terrorists, for instance,
> the perfectly innocent Muslims
> who were in the twin towers when
> they went down?

I don't know if the work has been done yet, but absent some policy similar to the one regarding Holocaust victims, I'm sure it will be.

> If you're willing to share
> Heaven with them, why not
> Manhattan?

Nice try, but if we do, in fact, end up sharing Heaven with them thanks to the baptisms for the dead, they'd be Mormons, not Muslims.

cheryl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cheryl said...

"Nice try, but if we do, in fact, end up sharing Heaven with them thanks to the baptisms for the dead, they'd be Mormons, not Muslims."

Eeek! Talk about some hijacking! I have issues with this Mormon practice.

James Maxey said...

I really am much more amused by the practice of baptizing the dead than offended. In fact, I would put my level of offense somewhere around, 1 on a scale of 100. That "1" comes from the notion that some wacko out there might think, "Hey, why shouldn't I be a bank-robbing drug-addicted dog-raper? I'll still be good for the afterlife 'cause the Mormons have my back!" But, on the flip side, so what? It's unfair to blame a religion if others misunderstand or pervert it. If I'd been aware of the whole baptizing Jews bruhaha, I would definitely have defended your right to keep up the practice. I'm a little mystified why the devout Mormons would have backed down. It seems like the Will of God should trump a few protesters.

Eric, I concede that I'm not going to change your mind. As you admit, this is mainly an emotinal reaction, and you are free to weight emotions versus reason however much you wish.

My biggest disappointment with this whole issue is that, for a couple of months, I thought the GOP might finally have figured out how to build a winning coalition. I heard a lot of Tea Party activists, the grass roots folks, not latchers-on like Palin, say they were focused only on economic issues. They were deemphasizing the social issues and running on deficit, deficit, deficit. Then the Arizona law was passed, which I disagree with fundamentally, but defend as a state right. Suddenly the cry of the right wingers got split to deficit, illegal aliens, deficit, illegal aliens. And when I'd read the comment threads at Big Government and World Net Daily, I'd find 1 person giving a rational defense of the Arizona law and 9 people shouting we should send the wet-backs home because they were to blame for all the unemployment, drug use, and crime throughout the nation. Very cringe inducing to me.

Now, republicans have stopped talking about deficits and it's just mosque, mosque, mosque. And I will take you at your word, Eric, that you have not a bit of animosity toward Muslims and love your enemy as you love yourself because, hey, in the next world, we're all Mormons. But, I have to tell you, reading message boards, the predominant thing I see is just outright demonization of Muslims. You may not be a bigot, but you're on the side of a whole army of bigots. Pop over to this article about the mosque at http://bigpeace.com/benjohnson/2010/08/19/dear-american-taxpayer-you-are-paying-for-the-ground-zero-mosque/#more-17101. In the comments thread, you see "TIme to kick the muslims out and help Britian do the same!" "We have to fight islam AND protect fellow citizens from themselves,and they're going to try to kill us while protecting them." "This is a Satanic and Very dangerious religion." "The more you learn about Islam, the more you'll learn how insidious it is. The English may have lost the will to save their society, but most Americans have not. We WILL NOT submit."

Now, I find myself strongly reconsidering my decision to vote republican this fall. As much as I want to support deficit hawks, I fear that my vote for any republican is going to be taken as a vote in favor of small-minded bigotry. It makes me sick to my stomach because I honestly thought that this time might be different. But, a libertarian going back to Republicans is like a woman going back to the boyfriend who beats her up. "I can change him! This time he'll be different!" I suppose I should be grateful this flared up before the election instead of after, like the Terry Schiavo fiasco.

Mr. Cavin said...

When it comes to the practice of Baptizing the dead, I am slightly offended and slightly amused. It is much the same way I feel about the idea of someone drawing a mustache on my corpse and taking a picture. Obviously I didn't choose to grow a mustache myself, and frankly this cannot be considered to jive with my conscious wishes; but also I'm dead--so why would I care about the good-natured prank of sporting frat boys?

James Maxey said...

Cavin, if I understand the baptism of the dead correctly, the better analogy would be that, after you die, a living person stands in for you for a few moments as the mustache is painted on. It strikes me as rather interesting theatre, and, since I assume the people doing believe they are actually helping people, I find it to be oddly pleasing to know that there are people out there doing what they can to improve the world, or the next one, at least. If it's their plan to baptize all of humanity, I'd love to meet the man who would one day stand in for Elvis. Or Ghandi. Or Hitler. Or me. And it pleases me further to think that they might all be the same man.