In this Issue:
Thursday, September 16, 2010
© Copyright 2010, The Ultrapolis Project – May be used freely with proper attribution. All other rights reserved.
The Mayor & the Mosque
A ‘disaster’ is averted in Florida (at least for now), and Islam is spared an inflammatory insult that would result in a violent reaction from Muslims around the world. Yet, we still the face the specter of another violent reaction by Muslims around the world, or so we are told, if the “Ground Zero” mosque is not built. And thanks to the Obama administration, now any single backwater preacher can hold our nation’s security interests hostage. But, for all the acrimony and anxiety surrounding these two controversies, they actually do us a service by spotlighting how 1) Until Pastor Terry Jones was pulled into the national stage, mosque supporters would not recognize the difference between what is a constitutional right and what is appropriate; and 2) More broadly, how this cognitive dissonance reflects on the larger issue in question of Islam, anti-Islam sentiment, and our national security.
Until the threat of burning Korans (Qurans) loomed imminent, a wide swath of liberal commentators and politicians argued strenuously in favor of the mosque’s legal right. They indignantly expressed outrage and incredulity at the alleged hypocrisy and lack of erudition on the part of those who are against the controversial mosque being built in the Ground Zero area of New York City, as they patted themselves on the back for their superior morality and intellectual consistency. A perfect example of this was Jon Stewart’s August 26, interview with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on The Daily Show. Below is an excerpt from that exchange between Stewart and Mayor Bloomberg.
Stewart: “You have spoken out very eloquently in favor of people being able to do what they are able to do on private property, is that your feeling?” (What a poorly worded question!)
Bloomberg: “When I went to school I [sic], we studied the Constitution. It says you have a right to say what you want to say, which means pray to whomever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. And, it’s just not the government’s business to tell you what to say.” (Oh how lofty and high-minded of Mr. Bloomberg, in defense of nothing less the freedoms afforded to us by our Constitution.) The audience erupts into supportive applause and hoots of approval. Then he follows up with comments on how all the 9/11 families he talked to are in favor of the mosque, and closes with a remark about a recently returning war veteran telling Mr. Bloomberg that “’this is what we were all was fighting for. ‘You keep at it’.” More eruptive applause.
The disingenuous nature of Mayor Bloomberg’s comments was so complete, it was left to an otherwise sympathetic Jon Stewart to gently ask about other 9/11 families and veterans overseas who perhaps don’t agree with the idea of the mosque being built at that controversial location. But, the more serious beef is with the mayor’s pontification, and that of almost everyone on the left of this issue on the national stage and at cocktail parties, is the implication that the right of anyone’s freedom of speech is being questioned, let alone being threatened, and that those who oppose the mosque somehow didn’t have the benefit of the mayor’s education on American freedoms.
Practically no one of any consequence out of the 308 million Americans of all stripes and beliefs has made any demand or claim to legally deny the constitutional rights of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his friends to build a mosque on the site of a building damaged by the terrorist acts of 9/11. If anything, except for Newt Gingrich’s lonely assertion that New York consider using its powers of eminent domain, even the most conservative ardent opponents of the mosque from Sean Hannity to Glen Beck have taken pains to make clear that the imam has a legal right to build the mosque. The argument has been from the beginning about the appropriateness of the mosque location. The distinction is clear to the American public at large that opposes the mosque’s location by huge margins (63% in the latest Quiniac University national poll), while at the same time also supporting by even larger margins (70% in that same poll) the right to build the mosque at the same location. Considering that most elections won by majorities of 55% or more are considered landslides, these numbers show an overwhelming, and yet nuanced consensus among the American public.
1,001 Islamophobic Tales
Still, that does not stop those in the media to continue to insist that America is innately bigoted and irrationally Islamophobic. Time magazine ran its own story on similar polling results it found, with the following headline: “Majority Oppose Mosque, Many Distrust Muslims.” The article closes, after spinning every poll result as another indictment of American views, that “…the poll revealed that prejudice toward Muslims is widespread…” (To read more: Time Mosque Poll Sep 13). Why does Time say this? Because it found that a minority of Americans are distrustful of Islam. Really? Note that even their own polls show most Americans view Islam as a peaceful religion. This, despite repeated attacks against Americans in the name of Islam. This, despite what we know about what happens in Muslim countries against women and gay people, and people who are openly non-Muslim, and what we know about the ‘honor’ killings that occur in our own country. This, despite the destruction of humanity’s religious heirlooms, and gruesome video-taped beheadings of people screaming for their lives, in the name of Islam. This, despite the horror of 9/11, which unfolded as Muslim children danced for joy in the streets. With all that, American majorities still give Islam the benefit of the doubt as to its intentions, and insist by overwhelming numbers on its legal rights in this country, even as they also find that exercise painful. And this for a religious minority with very little voting power. If anything, this kind of national self-restraint is new to world history.
It is interesting that those who had the most favorable view were those in Manhattan Island, who viewed Islam as a peaceful religion by 2 to 1 margins. We would love to know how many of those in Manhattan (and those elsewhere who are so certain of America’s xenophobic impulses) have the same view of Christianity. In our own largely liberal neighborhood near the center of Houston, it is not unusual to hear at social gatherings very ugly things openly said about Christians and Christianity in general by the very same people who become indignant at the association of any act in the name of Islam to Islam itself. One pastor out of hundreds of thousands threatens to burn Korans? Obvious proof provided by a loon, that all Christians are bigoted and intolerant rubes. Mass killings, mass female subjugation, mass religious persecutions, EXPLICITLY in the name of Islam? Well, we must take each and every incident into context and examine the psychological issues, economic circumstances and possible emotional trauma of each, let’s not say perpetrator, let’s say misguided, troubled soul, as we did with the Muslim murderer of twelve in Ft. Hood last November.
That’s why, coming back to the good mayor, when he was asked by CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric to speculate, before there was an arrest, about who might be behind the Times Square bomb attempt back in May, he ventured that the culprit may be “Home-grown, maybe a mentally deranged person or somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the health care bill or something. It could be anything.” (So, an anti-health care bill Tea Partier comes first to mind to the mayor of New York City, not someone with an agenda more similar to the one that has propelled so many deaths, and so many different attempts since 1993, in his own city.) And, It’s why when it was discovered that the bomber was indeed Muslim, a recently naturalized citizen from Pakistan, MSNBC’s Condessa Brewer crudely blurted out that, "there was part of me that was hoping this was not going to be anybody with ties to any kind of Islamic country, because there are lots of people who want to use terrorist intent to justify writing off people who believe in a certain way, or come from certain countries, or whose skin color is a certain way. They use it as justification for really outdated bigotry.” Yes, that’s right, the bigotry against Muslims that is rampant across the country. How much happier she would have been had it been a white Christian, to help illustrate to the public where the problem really lies. Except that according the FBI’s 2008 statistics (the latest available) since 2001, hate crimes attributable to anti-Muslim sentiment have actually fallen dramatically (a total of 108 nationwide - an American is 150 times more likely to commit murder for any reason than to commit any act that could be seen as ‘hateful’ to Islam). When this was pointed out by Reason editor Nick Gillespie to the Rev. Janet Vincent of the St. Columbia Episcopal Church on the Newshour on PBS last Friday, (the reverend strongly favors insisting the mosque be built at the current location) she simply ignored the fact, made no effort to disprove it, and then later maintained that “Islam is now being persecuted.” If that’s so, then Judaism is under a horrendous onslaught, as ten times as many hate crimes were attributable to anti-Jewish sentiment. Interestingly, there were an almost equal number of anti-Christian hate crimes as anti-Muslim ones in 2008.
Islam’s Unique Moral Burden
So is all Islam to be vilified? No. Still, it is correct to examine and recognize the nature of the enemy that is targeting our way of life, particularly the idea of freedom of thought and religion. And, it is merely an act of sanity and self-preservation to accurately identify that at this time a subset of Islam is taking aim at us; that this religious movement, aggressively animated by a particularly violent interpretation of the Koran (not the Torah, not the Gospel, not the Analects of Confucius, not the Buddhavacana - but the Koran), has openly declared it’s hostility to everything we believe, has killed thousands on our city streets, and will kill millions given the chance. As comedian Dennis Miller so aptly put it, to note that the 9/11 terrorists were all Muslims is “not racial profiling, it is being minimally observant.”
Just as the sexual abuse scandals that have tainted the Catholic Church make it appropriate to focus on that church and its practices, to put pressure on it to act to address the problem, and to explicitly state its position, without assuming that all Catholics are pedophiles, it is also right to do the same with Islam in regards to the violence that is emanating from within its professed ranks (especially since those acts - unlike the molestation cases - are actually done in the name of the religion). To spend billions of dollars on security measures, and strategic and tactical policy that pretend that an 80-yeard old elderly woman from Finland is just as likely a threat to our lives as a group of young men from Arabia sternly reciting verses from the Koran, is asinine, and ultimately suicidal.
In one of the many retrospective articles that appeared about 9/11 in the following year in the Wall Street Journal, one related the experience of an airport security screener that noticed Mohamed Atta as he passed thru security, and the screener was struck by how Mr. Atta looked like the archetype of a terrorist, and how his expression seemed “full of hate.” The screener then said he felt guilty for his own apparent racism, and opted not to single Atta out for further scrutiny, so as to not do so out of his personal bias. When he later learned that this same man was on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center, he felt guilty again, for assuming the worst of this poor man who was now dead. What was especially striking about the interview was that the man expressed no guilt over the result of his multi-cultural angst. (If a common failing of conservatives is focusing too much on results, without enough principled concern for how we get those results, a mirror image of that fault is how liberals seem so often only interested on process, and not on at all on real-life consequences.)
So, it is correct to note the Muslim component of the threat; not to malign a whole religious tradition with a rich heritage that dates back 1,500 years and was a source of enlightenment in a past time when other faiths swooned under darker human impulses, nor to place under suspicion all its billion-plus adherents today; but to appropriately, rationally and effectively target the locus of an existential threat, a threat that if allowed to realize even a small part of its ambitions, will make Americans wonder why they spent so much time questioning each other’s motives.
Should the Mosque Be Built?
Should the mosque be built at the controversial location near Ground Zero? Let’s first clearly stipulate that people can legitimately differ on the APPROPRIATENESS of building the mosque, without putting into question the constitutional right to do so, or without having to accuse one side of racism, or the other of unpatriotic values. Clearly, there is something to be said for being vigilant of American values and constitutional rights under these circumstances. Moreover, to expect equal tolerance for religious diversity in Muslim lands before we maintain it in ours as some have argued, undercuts the whole idea of American exceptionalism so commonly and loudly espoused by the likes of Rush Limbaugh. We should demand it, but we do not lower our values to match those of oppressive societies. Conversely, protesting the mosque, even burning Korans, is also free speech, equally protected, and should not be forcefully stopped by the government for fear of reprisals or difficulties overseas.
We won’t spend time on these pages on Laura Ingram’s flip flop, or Imam Rauf’s ominous veiled threat about ‘exploding anger’ overseas, or his controversial associations as they are all beside the central point. Nor will we discuss at this time how the entertainment nature of political discussion in the U.S., dominated as it is by comedians and ratings, is fomenting division and putting in danger our nation’s ability to come to political conclusions. Instead, we conclude simply with this: It is fair to ask fellow Americans of Muslim faith to recognize that a radical virulent offshoot of their faith was involved in the worst terrorist attack in American history, closely associating emotionally their faith to painful memories, and because of that, some special consideration for the feelings of their fellow citizens under these trying circumstances is in order; to understand that what you say you intend to do is not as important as what you are actually doing in building human bridges; to see that sometimes, freely choosing to offer a symbolic concession as a sign of regret for something done in one’s name, can go a long way to establishing goodwill and trust among peoples of different religious faiths that are under a common strain.
Will the Mosque Be Built?
Until recently, we would have predicted that the mosque would be built, as most controversies usually fade, and do not change the course of action of determined people. However, unusual growing intensity of the opposition to the mosque is placing Imam Rauf, his finances, and his associations, under much more scrutiny than he probably ever expected. Until now, Muslims have experienced a consistent backing from government agencies and most liberal progressives, and muted public opposition to any of their demands, even in the wake of 9/11. But this time around, even liberal progressives have begun to defect, and the public’s opposition is not fading with time. The preaching condescension coming from leaders like Mayor Bloomberg seemed to have only hardened feelings on the issue. Therefore, we now think that there is a growing real probability that the mosque, as it is currently designed to operate, will be moved to a different location, followed possibly a couple of years later by a smaller presence closer to Ground Zero.
ABC’s Good Morning America Commentator Declines to Correct Misstatements
In a discussion that aired on Wednesday, August 18, on Good Morning America George Stephanopoulos suggested that Dr. Laura Schlessinger (referred to as Dr. Laura on her national radio program), was fired for using the ‘n’ word repeatedly on the air during an exchange with a caller, and that affiliates called for her departure. Dr; Schlesinger actually owns the company she works for, and there is no record of any affiliate asking to drop her show. In the discussion that followed, Lou Dobbs expressed disgust and moral indignation at Dr. Schlessinger’s use of the word on her show. Not mentioned in the show was the context in which the word was used – in an unfortunate effort to explain that some words can be used by one race and not another in our culture – and that the following day she profusely apologized for her use of the word at all. Apparently, upset after recognizing her bad judgment, she did not finish her show the day of the incident, Tuesday, August 10, and ran a previous episode for the last program hour. Requests by Dr. Schelssinger’s company, Take on the Day, to correct the record, have gone un-answered by Mr. Stephanopoulos or ABC.
It is odd that Dr. Schelssinger would claim on the Larry King Live show on CNN that her departure from airwaves is her way of regaining free speech rights. Dobb’s remark on Good Morning America that this does not make sense, and that radio in our society is the most “unencumbered, unrestrained medium” of expression is on the mark, and leaves us scratching our heads as to what is the real reason for her planned departure from the radio in December. The Dr. Laura show is currently the 5th most popular show in the U.S.A., with an average of nine million listeners daily (almost in a three-way tie with Glen Beck and Michael Savage).
Mexico Celebrates Its Own Bicentennial with Dazzling Lights & Fireworks Show
Last night, Mexicans everywhere momentarily forgot their serious troubles that are beginning to put at risk the fabric of the struggling republic, and celebrated 200 years since the night a priest rang the Mexican liberty bell and called the people, most of them slaves, to armed insurrection against their Spanish overlords. After 11 bloody years, Spain finally conceded Mexico’s independence, and the first slave-free nation of the American continental mainland was born. Millions celebrated with special observances across the country, and several in the capital alone, as well as in the U.S., with a major celebration in Los Angeles. The evening’s festivities in Constitution Plaza (also known as the Zócalo) in the heart of Mexico City, where hundreds of thousands gathered, featured a wide variety of performing acts, from singers to acrobatic aerialists and dancers (some of the singers were not of the best quality), a night parade, and an stunning first class, expertly choreographed lights and fireworks show that was a wondrous delight to watch. The evening was capped by the traditional “El Grito,” the traditional recreation of that first cry for freedom by that priest, Don Miguel Hidalgo, in 1810. The president stepped out into the balcony of the National Palace, rang the national bell, and after a brief litany of “vivas” calling out the names of national heroes, closed with an electrifying – really truly chilling – final call of, “Viva Mexico, viva Mexico, viva Mexico!”
Long live Mexico.