The Mosque and the Meta-Debate

Related Post Roulette

49 Responses

  1. Robert Cheeks says:

    I dunno, these people:
    1. Don’t have the wheel yet.
    2. Want to overthrow your gummint and make you a serf.
    3. Cut your sorry head off if you protest.
    4. Already massacred over three thousand of your countrymen.

    …and you’re worried about their 1st Admendment Rights…only in America! It does appear that the only religious freedom the Left is concerned about is Islam’s.Report

    • Shannon's Mouse in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      “these people”… Heh.

      See, I have no no problem calling Robert Cheeks a bigot because, assuming he’s not just being a ham-fisted troll, what else is there to say?

      I do think Park51 opponents fall into two broad groups: (1) the demagogues and cuckoo-bananas bigots who think it’s a “Victory Mosque”; and, (2) the folks who complain that the Park51 project isn’t sensitive to (some of) the WTC victims’ families.

      There’s nothing to be gained by trying to engage with (1), but it’s an interesting topic to discuss how productive it is to hold (1) up to ridicule. There might be avenues of productive engagement with (2). I like to point out that forcing all of Islam to be held responsible for the actions of it’s most extreme minority is the sort of assignation of collective blame that is the province of terrorists like… Osama bin Laden, and something Americans should be very loathe to do.Report

  2. Trumwill says:

    Extremely well said. Some of the arguments coming from the pro-mosquers (of which I am one) come very close to saying that taking offense at the building of the mosque is de facto opposition to the first amendment. Those that are indeed advocating government action need to be called on it. Those that are not advocating government action do not need to be accused of being disingenuous, bigots, and so on. They need to be convinced that they are simply off-base or when applicable misinformed and should reconsider.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Trumwill says:

      @Trumwill, This is exactly right. A corollary of the First Amendment should not become that we as private citizens must take certain public positions with respect to particular actions by religious groups in order for it to have meaning. I intend to preserve my right not to care what religious houses get built where. I don’t want to have to be “pro- religion” in the sense of having to support discreet actions that are entirely their prerogative, even of a persecuted religious minority, in order to get myself on the right side of a First Amendment debate.Report

    • Murali in reply to Trumwill says:


      Look, at one point, bigotry is not just confined to violations of any particular ammendment of your constitution. All the first ammenment says is that government expression of bigotry stops in certain places. i.e. it is showing the barest of tolerance while openly gritting your teeth if you just leave it by saying that yes they have a right to build there, but they ought (morally) not to.

      i.e. religious tolerance/plurality is an ideal which can have different levels of commitment. The bare minimum is just merely respecting other’s rights. Just because people have satisfied this minimum, it does not follow that they cannot be faulted for failure to show a greater commitment. The freedom to express a particular view does not mean that it is not morally wrong to do so. In order to feel offended by a mosque 2 blocks away even when the mosque is self conciously and publicly moderate you must be tarring all muslims with the same brush. That is bigotry.Report

      • Trumwill in reply to Murali says:

        @Murali, the bigotry charge may well be accurate, but it is not particularly helpful to the discussion. It is pretty rare I see a man be convinced the error of his ways by someone calling him names.Report

        • Murali in reply to Trumwill says:


          Oh, on it being unhelpful, I’m inclined to agree. But that is far away from David’s original claims.Report

          • David Schaengold in reply to Murali says:

            @Murali, I’m inclined to agree that calling people bigots is generally unhelpful, and I made no statement at all about the bigotry of your average mosque opponent in the post. Here’s what I said about it: “When you accuse the demagogues of bigotry you’re taking their bait and probably saying something probably untrue, unjust, and irrelevant.” By “demagogues” I mean the people like Gingrich who started this whole nonsense. Gingrich, I would venture, almost certainly bears no personal animus towards Muslims and is certainly well informed enough to distinguish between the backers of Park51 and al Qaeda. Which is just to say I think it’s likely that his objection to the project is in bad faith. What he’s guilty of is a failure of patriotism, not bigotry.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to David Schaengold says:

              @David Schaengold,

              What Newt is guilty of is being willing to demonize a group of his fellow Americans for partisan gain. (And without the redeeming silliness of his belated appreciation of the sacredness of marriage.) If that’s what you mean by “a failure of patriotism”, I agree.Report

            • Murali in reply to David Schaengold says:

              @David Schaengold,

              Look, lets us suppose that Newt Gingrich is not actually a bigot, but merely a demagogue. In that case, his churning the waters is basically sociopathic. If its the case that I am being unjust by calling him a bigot, then its only in virtue of being too charitable to him. i.e. the principle of charity suggests that we attribute to people motivations which are a lesser evil. Bigotry is a second order failure to reconsider your judgements such that you are culpable for not doing so. Sociopathy points to a total lack of a moral compass, a zeroth order sin/moral error if you will.

              The question is not whether those of us raising charges of bigotry etc may have been technically wrong, or may not have used the most effective tactic of convincing the other side, the question is whether we behaved unreasonably, uncharitably or even unjustly (in terms of demonising mosque opponents more than they deserve). And for all three, the answer is no, we have not.Report

  3. Thoreau says:

    the vast majority of the voices publicly opposing the mosque aren’t calling for Congress to send in the troops, though of course being coy about saying so explicitly is a tactic of long-standing in arguments about race, where conservatives frequently make intentionally ambiguous and provocative statements so they can cry foul when a foolish and frustrated liberal calls them racists.

    Eh, it isn’t solely a left-baiting tactic. It’s also a dog whistle, of sorts. They never actually say that they want Congress to block something by force, but they sure sound sympathetic to it, and there’s a segment of their base that likes the sound of that. And there’s another segment that appreciates the wounded “How dare you call me racist!” act.

    The left has its own version of what you described, in regards to racism accusations. I’ve seen liberals of a certain sort criticize somebody quite harshly and talk a lot about race in the process, but never actually call the person racist. Then, when the target denies the racism accusation, besides the LBJ angle* the attacker also gets to say “I never called you a racist. Why are you making this all about you? See, that’s what privileged people always do, make it about themselves. You’re just a typical privileged person…”

    *LBJ said that he wouldn’t actually call his opponent a pig-fucker, but he’d make his opponent deny being one.Report

  4. Confused Kiwi says:

    It’s obvious, or it should be, that some hypothetical incarnation of this project really would be offensive even if it were perfectly legal. Suppose a wealthy family — bin Laden’s, for example — had bought the Millennium Hilton on Church St, directly adjacent to Ground Zero, and deployed from the roof a massive banner reading “Glory to the holy warrior Osama for the victory won here against the Great Satan.”

    I don’t much care for this point. Should we allow people who publicly admit to being Catholic to be elementary school teachers? I assume you would disagree, (and think that the suggestion was absurd) since you can’t lump pedophile priests into the same category as all other Catholics. Your argument seems to assume that your hypothetical is not entirely nuts since they are all Muslims. You say that liberals defending the project need to be more explicit in acknowledging the possible good faith of those who oppose the project . In every discussion of Christianity should we begin by stressing that unlike some Christians we think raping little boys is bad?Report

    • David Schaengold in reply to Confused Kiwi says:

      @Confused Kiwi, “You say that liberals defending the project need to be more explicit in acknowledging the possible good faith of those who oppose the project .” I say nothing of the sort, and in fact I suspect the most prominent opponents are entirely in bad faith. I say that liberals should be clear that opposing the project on moral or sentimental grounds is not in se tantamount to denying anyone’s freedom of religion, and moreover that the general principle of acknowledging someone’s right to build while looking askance at the decision to do so is perfectly reasonable. Of course the mosque/community center being proposed isn’t anything like my hypothetical banner, and in fact it’s about as inoffensive as can be imagined.Report

      • Confused Kiwi in reply to David Schaengold says:

        @David Schaengold,
        moreover that the general principle of acknowledging someone’s right to build while looking askance at the decision to do so is perfectly reasonable

        I just don’t see how this general principle applies at all in this case. I fully accept that the Phelps family have the right to protest at the funerals of servicemen, but I am quite content with looking askance at them, and have no respect for those who would call them reasonable. Were you to suggest on your blog that Michele Bachman should use her private money to hire a security guard any time she is in a room with Barack Obama, (she is a white woman, after all) I would have no problem looking askance at you, even though you are not recommending any use of state power or even state money.Report

  5. Murali says:

    The proponents get to call the opponents bigots, the opponents get to caricature the proponents as multi-culturalist appeasers

    Is multi-culturalist appeaser supposed to be an insult?
    I could be vicious and insulting and imply all sorts of things about Mr Schaengold’s morality but I won’t. I merely ask everyone to ask:

    1. What the @#$%ing hell is wrong with multi culturalism?
    2. Do you really want to count other cultures or Islam to Hitler?
    3. Do I have to throw this in your face?

    Well what do you know, I can be nasty and vicious.Report

    • Mike Farmer in reply to Murali says:

      I think the biggest criticism of the multi-cultural movement has been the tendency toward moral relativism, that we don’t have the right to criticize other cultures, that cultural norms of a people override universal principles or judgements of right and wrong, because who are we in our culture to say that another culture has it wrong?Report

      • James Vonder Haar in reply to Mike Farmer says:

        @Mike Farmer,

        You’re critiquing two entirely separate phenomena. Multiculturalism is not moral relativism.Report

        • Murali in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

          @James Vonder Haar,

          Precisely. Especially when we look at things like bilingualism, and different cultural practices which are not immoral, we should not only merely accommodate but try to celebrate and respect each other’s cultural differences. For example, this is the Hungry Ghost month (according to chinese belief, the gates of Hell are opened and ancestral spirits are released to roam. Offerings are often burned and left at the road side.) It is certainly incumbent upon me to avoid stepping on or disrespecting those offerings whether or not I share their cultural beliefs. It would be a jerk thing to disrespect their beliefs. And even if we have a right to be jerks, we ought not to be.Report

      • gregiank in reply to Mike Farmer says:

        @Mike Farmer, A big part of the idea behind multiculturalism is to prevent the many past horrors that came from people making judgments about others cultures. For hundreds of years a lot of people had their cultures destroyed by , often well meaning, people coming over to them and saying “nice land you got here, but you really aren’t Christian enough. We’ll take you kids and make them correct. Oh and here are some crosses, forget those crappy gods of yours.” And then there was the bonus of people saying “hmmmm we really should rule over them or keep them as slaves since they really don’t really have our correct god and culture.”

        Very few people who would ascribe to multiculturalism would follow the moral relativism strawman you set up.Report

  6. Jason Kuznicki says:

    I’ve been asked again and again why I’m a mosque “proponent.” But I’m not one. I’m an opponent who is answering to a still higher principle.

    That’s because I am an atheist. I’m against all mosques. (All churches, too.) If it were purely up to me, no one would ever build any mosques — or churches — anywhere, ever.

    Private property, however, is the recognition that it isn’t purely up to me. Not even if I can get a political majority on my side. Running the world that way doesn’t work, and compromising on private property just shortens the distance between here and totalitarian hell.

    So while I’m against mosques, I have to admit that I’m in favor of private property, and that means leaving them alone. Despite the fact that their god is false, like all gods, and their religion is disagreeable to me in the extreme. Like nearly all religions.Report

    • David Schaengold in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, this seems like a perfectly consistent position. I’d be interested to know, though, whether you follow the general principle that what happens on private property is a legitimate subject for public debate even granted the right to do it. It seems like you could either take a kind of rights-based minimalist position and say that as long as no one’s coercing anyone, any discussion is fair game for public debate, or else you could take a more substantive view of private property and religious liberty, and say that it’s better not to object publicly to anything that you don’t have a constitutional right to stop. I could imagine a committed libertarian going either way.Report

      • James Vonder Haar in reply to David Schaengold says:

        @David Schaengold,

        I think these are ultimately the wrong poles to hash out on this position. It doesn’t really matter whether one believes that it is proper to protest the exercise of that which you don’t have a constitutional right to prohibit. Even if it’s valid to protest such situations, the protests in this case are immoral since they’re based on a bigoted conflating of all Muslims with terrorists.Report

  7. Eagle Driver says:

    Thank you Mike Farmer for addressing a significant aspect to this current political football game – and it is simply a game for politicians that’s for sure. Thank you for articulating the core issue of “multi-cultural” movement. Outstanding:

    “I think the biggest criticism of the multi-cultural movement has been the tendency toward moral relativism, that we don’t have the right to criticize other cultures, that cultural norms of a people override universal principles or judgements of right and wrong, because who are we in our culture to say that another culture has it wrong?”

    In all this beating one’s chest on the rights/wrongs of one’s position, has any of these talking heads, pundits, etc. ever considered what must be going through the hearts of those relatives of the passengers and airline crewmembers employed as a weapon? The families are the causalities of this barbaric (oh there is a concept not used in today’s twittering lingo) destruction of so many human multi-cultural lives. I find it interesting that this BARBARIC ACT in the name of a religion is not the issue just a simple excuse for a political football game. “Lest We Forget” is a famous saying for those of us who served in the military and lost fellow warriors in the battle for freedom. Let us remember, please, that many Human Beings brutally lost their lives in this barbaric “religious based” act. So for those of us who write, let us not simply use an event to justify one’s political side and attack the opposing political side. Let us in our pontificating remember that human beings (not doings) have perished leaving many, many people and kids asking the most profound question, “Why?”

    The religion-required-government that espouses this type of jihad is not “multi-cultural” it is as Jason just spoke of: a “totalitarian hell”.

    OK, I’m better now that I vented my anger – pardon the interruption, please continue.

    Eagle Driver
    Airline Pilot
    Former Fighter Pilot
    Father of 4 sons (1 with 2 tours in Iraq as a US Marine)Report

    • Travis in reply to Eagle Driver says:

      @Eagle Driver, no, I really haven’t.

      I have deep sympathy for those who lost loved ones in a horrible terrorist attack. But that sympathy does not extend to granting them veto power over the First Amendment to the United States Constitution — the very freedom which those terrorists would like to strike down.

      Every freedom-limiting act of government for which 9/11 is used as an excuse, is a victory for Osama bin Laden’s quest to destroy our American way of life.Report

      • Eagle Driver in reply to Travis says:


        Agreed, Mike Farmer’s reply truly struck a cord on the “multi-cultural” movement and got sidetracked on society’s requirement to bow down to moral relativism. As I was commenting I realized we are addressing a freedom (which you brought out, thank you) that was again paid for by many American lives and wanted to take a moment of time to remember the cost demanded for the freedoms that we enjoy and write about, so as not to get lost in the political gamesmanship.

        I am, as my father before me who served and my #2 son who served, strongly against freedom-limiting government. Let us remember who the enemy is.Report

  8. Chris says:

    David, can you point to some of the liberals or even conservative mosque proponents (I assumethat if there are a lot of them, at least some of them have blogs) who argue as you claim? I mean, I’ve seen plenty talk about how arguing that the cultural center is offensive because it signals victory for Muslim terrorists, or celebrates the people who attacked us, assumes that all Muslims are the same as the terrorists, or at least support terrorists. They also often point out that this is about as classic an example of bigotry as you’ll find. However, I haven’t seen any simply argue that it’s not offensive, so there! Or anything close to that.Report

    • Murali in reply to Chris says:


      The claims are related. In so far as people are going to be offended by the mosque they are conflating it with the terrorists. The claim is not that people will not be offended. The claim is that people are not reasonably offended. i.e. they are being unreasonable when they are offended. The claim I think is correct, but I can conced it is debatable whether it those being offended are being reasonable or not. therefore people claiming that those offended are being unreasonable (i.e. biased/bigoted) are not themselves unreasonable. An actual victory mosque by osama may be genuinely offensive. But this is so far from the other that opposition to it is attributable to either demagoguery or bigotry or both.Report

      • Rufus in reply to Murali says:

        @Murali, See the problem I have with “bigoted” is that it has very little heuristic value- if only because someone who is bigoted can look identical to someone who is tragically misinformed about some group of people. With people who are tragically misinformed, you need to have a discussion with them and try to explain why they should accept your position as more logical, appropriate, correct or whatnot- and I mean this about all matters of debate. But calling someone “bigoted” ends the conversation and calcifies people’s convictions.

        Admittedly, I think I’m (as usual) out of the loop on this issue. I wasn’t really aware that people were condemning the mosque protesters for expressing their opinions. Having lived in France for some time, I far prefer people marching around with signs, screaming at each other on street corners, and so forth. Over there, you find plenty of people with bigoted opinions about… well, pretty much anyone who isn’t French. But the bigotry isn’t expressed very openly, or even really admitted. People just keep their bigoted opinions to themselves and quietly refuse to rent rooms to or hire Algerians, for instance. What you end up with is isolated, ghettoized Sowetos. So I think it’s much better to hash out these debates loudly in public, even if makes for some ugly scenes.Report

        • @Rufus,
          “But calling someone “bigoted” ends the conversation and calcifies people’s convictions.”

          Two thoughts:
          (1) Putting a “poison” sign up next to a poisoned pond doesn’t remove the poison, but it does warn the unwary.
          (2) It’s important to make sure, when doing this, that you not say “you are a bigot,” when you mean “what you just said was bigoted.” Make it about the person’s actions, not about the person.Report

          • @Phillip J. Birmingham, Okay, I can see that, but wouldn’t it be better to say, “Look, I know you don’t mean it this way, but here’s how what you said can be taken as bigoted”. That gives them the chance to back out and reconsider. I think a lot of times people say outlandish things because they’re assuming you agree with them and want to really win approval. Instead of outright rejecting them, I think it’s just better to say, “okay, now you don’t really mean that, do you?”Report

            • @Rufus,
              I agree — that’s what I was (inartfully) trying to express with point 2.

              There’s a danger, though, of diluting the message you send to others. You have to make it clear that bigotry is more than a mere difference of opinion, else your “poison” sign becomes a “some people say that this water might make you a little queasy” sign.Report

        • Murali in reply to Rufus says:


          There are two separate issues at stake here.
          1. Throwing the B-word around can be detrimental to the debate. This is not in dispute. The B word is therefore unhelpful
          2. You also seem to be arguing that there is a distinction between being bigoted and being tragically misinformed. Since it seems to me that moral error is just a subset of logical error, bigotry is just one of the ways in which people could be tragically misinformed. People could be misinformed about empirical facts believing that a particular group possesses properties that we would rightly think warranted different treatment, when in fact the group did not possess those properties. Or they could be accurately informed about the empirical characteristics of the group but falsely believe that some property they actually possessed supervened on moral reasons. That is to say that they thought that a particular difference warranted different treatment when it did not. The thing is, when people say things like Islam is the ideology of the enemy etc, it is not clear which sort of mistake they are making (probably both).Report

  9. Scott says:

    The Catholics were respectful enough to move nuns at a death camp but the Muslims can’t be asked to do the same at Ground Zero. Why is there a double standard?Report

  10. Jaybird says:

    The whole “of course they should be allowed to build there” thing strikes me as so obvious that it seems trivial.

    The interesting part of the discussion for me is the meta-debate of “tolerance”. This is why I thought that the Muslim Gay Bar across the street was so terribly brilliant.

    The response of the Park51 folks was indignation mixed with “of course you have the *RIGHT* to do it, but if you want to build dialog, you shouldn’t do it.

    Which is exactly what the most reasonable of the folks opposed to the mosque are saying.

    Whether one focuses on the “THEY HAVE EVERY RIGHT!” or on the “well, of course they have the right, but if they really wanted to build dialog…” depends on whose ox is getting gored.

    Kinsley recently had a similar experience with Beck’s speech the other day:

  11. CharleyCarp says:

    So the lynch mob doesn’t want to have the state hang the prisoner, they want to do it themselves. After shaming the sheriff not to resist.Report

  12. gregiank says:

    @jaybird- I’m all for sensitivity. People should try to be decent to each other and treat each other as they would like to be treated. But sensitivity is not a universal solvent for all problems or issues. And if people are “sensitive” to other people existing or apply one of many misguided ideas like guilt by association then we’re talking about more things then sensitivity.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to gregiank says:

      @gregiank, in practice, that tends to present identically to caring only when one’s own oxen are being gored.Report

      • gregiank in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, If you say so. I’m sure we can each come up with examples to show how we are correct, but i stand by what i said. It would be best if people tried to treat people decently, people should at the same time be sensitive to each other ( read as, try not to be an asshole) and not be oversensitive when other people are expressing their opinions.Report