Histrionics Over the Mosque: Symbolism Crowds Out Reality

MosqueThe American media, and to a lesser extent the world media, focus on symbolism at the expense of underlying reality. And sometimes they can’t even make sense of the symbolism. The artificially generated controversy over a proposed mosque within about two blocks of the site of the 9/11 attacks is illustrative of this ignorance.

The “liberal” media, which can’t pass up a chance at controversy, has allowed conservatives, who often claim to be defenders of Philadelphia freedom, to shriek that this is not an issue of religious freedom but one of callousness and insensitivity in putting a mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center. The conservatives, however, were certainly leaning on government to use its power to prohibit the building of the mosque using zoning rules, a clear violation of the founders’ intent to ban any law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

Meanwhile, liberal President Barack Obama, in speaking about the mosque, first defended religious liberty, implied that opposition to the mosque violated such freedom, and then later seemed to back off by saying that he wasn’t commenting on the wisdom of building the mosque—just defending the right of a construction permit. Another liberal, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, also defended religious freedom theoretically, but insisted that the mosque should be built somewhere else. These comments flung the door wide open to conservatives to use public pressure to preempt the building of the mosque.

Yet conservative opposition to building the mosque is based on ignorance. Even if erecting the mosque is insensitive to the pain of 9/11, which I would argue that it is not, the Constitution doesn’t require people or groups to be sensitive to others’ concerns in order to enjoy religious freedom. For example, some Christians hold Jews responsible for killing Christ, but that does not preclude Jews from worshiping freely in the United States. Furthermore, the mosque is being proposed by the Cordoba Initiative, which is dedicated to improving Western/Islamic relations and promoting interfaith dialogue, and the leading person behind the project is from the most liberal and tolerant group in Islam, the Sufis. Lastly, two long-standing mosques are already in the neighborhood of “ground zero.”

Some proponents of building the mosque argue that mainstream Muslims should not be punished for the actions of militant Islamists. Since zoning laws or public pressure have not been used to prohibit the construction of evangelical Christian churches near the sites of abortion clinic bombings, these advocates have a good point. Moreover, not allowing this mosque to be built, whether because of government zoning restrictions or mere public pressure, could help radicalize moderate Muslims around the world. Muslims around the world pay close attention to how American Muslims are treated, because they fear a “war of civilizations” between the Christian and Islamic worlds. When they hear Newt Gingrich say that the mosque would be an example of Muslim “triumphalism,” they are fearful of such a cross-civilizational conflict or may be more likely to become radicalized and say “bring it on.”

Most important, stifling the construction of this mosque would further add to the delusions of the American public about the causes of the 9/11 attacks. Radical Islam had less to do with those attacks than retaliation for long-standing American meddling in and occupation of Arab and Muslim countries. At the time of the attacks, those delusions were fostered by then-President George W. Bush, who, while professing that he wanted no war against Islam, blamed the attacks on al-Qaeda’s jealousy of American freedoms (you know, the ones opponents of the mosque are trying to subvert). Osama bin Laden’s adamant denial of Bush’s assertion, and the al-Qaeda leader’s repeated statements that American intervention in and occupation of Arab and Islamic countries motivate his attacks on the United States, have not yet penetrated the psyche of the American public. Neither has empirical research done by Robert Pape from the University of Chicago, which shows that suicide bombing has a lot less to do with religion and more to do with throwing out foreign occupiers (especially democratic occupiers).

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So the media’s and public’s attention to trivia, such as the creation of a third mosque in the neighborhood of “ground zero,” crowds out a national discussion that is sorely needed about why terrorists are heinously attacking the United States in the first place. Perhaps then the contributory negligence of the U.S. government would be exposed to its own people, and an unnecessary, outdated, expensive, and dangerous interventionist foreign policy would be reined in.

Ivan Eland

This article first appeared in The Independent Institute and is republished with permission.

Published by the LA Progressive on August 23, 2010
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About Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He also has served as Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), and has testified on the military and financial aspects of NATO expansion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on CIA oversight before the House Government Reform Committee, and on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Eland is the author of The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, as well as The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool. He is a contributor to numerous volumes and the author of 45 in-depth studies on national security issues.

His articles have appeared in American Prospect, Arms Control Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Emory Law Journal, The Independent Review, Issues in Science and Technology (National Academy of Sciences), Mediterranean Quarterly, Middle East and International Review, Middle East Policy, Nexus, Chronicle of Higher Education, American Conservative, International Journal of World Peace, and Northwestern Journal of International Affairs. Dr. Eland's popular writings have appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Miami Herald, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Newsday, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, Washington Times, Providence Journal, The Hill, and Defense News. He has appeared on ABC's “World News Tonight,” NPR's “Talk of the Nation,” PBS, Fox News Channel, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, CNN, CNN “Crossfire,” CNN-fn, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), Canadian TV (CTV), Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, and other local, national, and international TV and radio programs.

Comments

  1. Paul McDermott says:

    Historypooper is a promoter of hysterical paranoia, misinformation, generalizations, and bigotry. His Islamophobic mindset is unfortunately shared by too many other Americans.

  2. “Radical Islam had less to do with those attacks than retaliation for long-standing American meddling in and occupation of Arab and Muslim countries.”

    Stop there. Only Muslims who believe in the Quran’s promise of paradise for martyrdom while fighting for Allah’s cause will stage a suicide attack like 9/11. There would have been many ways to attack the U.S. without suicide tactics, but Islam’s horrible insane ideology made the attackers seek martyrdom, which separates it from all other ideologies. And why die in an infidel country amidst thousands of dead infidels? To give a victory to Allah alone, not against the U.S. govt., but its infidel people. If 9/11 was only a foreign policy retaliation, what Muslim govt. sponsored it, and what Muslim govt. benefitted? None, it was done by a group of Islamists whose sole unifying ideology is Islam and who seek to erect a new govt. in the Muslim world with a caliphate. And I notice they didn’t do ditto to Moscow for invading Afghanistan, and seem to have forgotten that the U.S. govt.funded and armed their group to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. Talk about gratitude. Islamists are never grateful for what infidels do for them, they wants them to submit to them forever and never say thank you. So it was Islam that caused 9/11 and your analysis falls apart, sorry.

    As to the Ground Zero Mosque, it’s become obvious that it is part of a Saudi-funded plot to erect grant mega-mosques throughout the U.S. even in communities with only a few Muslims in hopes of mass Muslim immigration to fill them up and create an infrastructure to begin a Sharia takeover of the U.S. It’s the Saudis, who run the most horribly oppressive Sharia system on Earth whose money funded 9/11, and continues to fund many other Islamic terrorist orgs. all over the world all the time, and without it these groups would find it hard to operate at all. The arrogance and insensitivity of the Muslims in trying to erect a home overlooking Ground Zero as close as they can site it is a political statement and has nothing to do with a mere religion, and saying it’s 2 blocks away is a copout since they can build it higher and higher until it looks down into GZ, which is only 600 ft. away as a visit to Google Earth will show you. They can call it a community center to get it built, but it will house a mosque so they can do their 5x-daily prayers, and afterwards not the general community but only Muslims will find a home there, not just American Muslims but Muslims from all over the world, they’re a Umma or Borg Hive, and all the horrible aspects of Sharia will soon creep in, such as veiling and suppression of women, honor killings, hate against Jews and gays, radical extremists plotting violent attacks, etc.

    A mosque in Germany was recently shut down by the govt. after being discovered plotting such violence, one that was used by 9/11 attacker Mohamed Atta. All these new mega-mosques are disturbing to lovers of the American Constitution, which is being tasked to the limit to tolerate an intolerant ideology that seeks to undermine it, but the one at GZ is an insult to the victims of 9/11 as well as the American people, and articles like the above that try to claim that black is white and white black and that Islam had nothing to do with it are not based on reason but on submission to Islam’s demands, which is just what they want. Islam has its sights on every person in this continent to make them submit, if not this year, then next year, or the next, without limit. It’s like the Terminator, only it’s not a machine it’s an ideology based on holy writings whose authors speak from the grave and claim to be always right. All Americans of all religious faiths or none should wake up to the assault on America by Saudi-financed Muslim superiority Sharia that seeks to destroy their rights and make Muslims their masters like Allah commands. There is no way to take the political side away from Islam although many have tried, since other Muslims just label them as infidels who reject Muhammad’s example, sorry. http://tinyurl.com/islamwatch

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