For some people, knowing that Sarah Palin is on one side of a question will send them scurrying to the other side. These last few days the issue has been whether or not an Islamic group should be building a mosque at Ground Zero.
If Sarah Palin is against it, then, opposition to the mosque must be racist. That was the enlightened comment mayoral aide Andrea Schlesinger posted on her Twitter account.
When a reporter asked Michael Bloomberg to comment on the charge against Palin, he did bring himself to declare that he did not think Palin was a racist. Still he disagreed with her strongly. Link here.
He added that he was in favor building the mosque because: "Everything the United States stands for and New York stands for is tolerance and openness."
Not to be too legalistic about it, but America stands for freedom and equality, and, unless I miss my guess, these are not quite the same thing as tolerance and openness. Not that there is anything wrong with tolerance and openness....
I am sure that Bloomberg would not be tolerant of the practice of honor killings or the impositions of Sharia law in New York? Or does he think that we should be tolerant of any and all religious practices, regardless of whether they trample on anyone's freedom.
Even if we understand that our fundamental values involve freedom and equality, we should also know that free speech, that most sacred of rights, does not give us the right to yell "Fire" in a crowded theater.
Context matters to the exercise of rights.
And while we have the right to bear arms, we do not have the right to carry any kind of gun we please anywhere we please. At least not in Michael Bloomberg's New York, we don't.
Look at it this way. Is it racist and intolerant to oppose the building of a Carmelite nunnery on the grounds of Auschwitz?
Of course, the Holocaust was not perpetrated in the name of Catholicism. The nuns who wanted to build a convent there wanted to pray for the victims, a small number of whom were Catholic.
As it happens, the convent was taken down. Would Mayor Bloomberg consider that a triumph of intolerance and racism?
Now, let us look at the question of what Sarah Palin called common decency and basic sensitivity.
When Muslims decided to build a mosque at Ground Zero, were they showing sensitivity or insensitivity toward the feelings of those whose friends and relations had perished there?
Would the mosque be a gesture of compassion, as the Carmelite convent was, or would it have been a gesture of triumphalism?
Sarah Palin quoted the sister of a victim of the 9/11 attacks. In the sister's words: "This is a place which is 600 feet from where almost 3,000 people were torn to pieces by Islamic extremists. I think that it is incredibly insensitive and audacious really for them to build a mosque, not only on that site, but to do it specifically so that they could be in proximity to where that atrocity happened."
Would you consider that to be a statement of prejudice and intolerance? Does it belie a deep seated racism?
Writing in the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby reports the views of a variety of Muslims, from imams to community leaders, who declare that building a mosque on Ground Zero would be an insult to America, designed to provoke intolerance. Link here.
Why would religious leaders in the Muslim community want to provoke intolerance toward Muslims? Perhaps they are afraid that as Muslims assimilate in America more and more of them will be tempted to convert. And, as you know, in Islam conversion is an extremely serious crime, punishable by death.
Why else would an Islamic group want to build a mosque on the site where people claiming to represent their religion massacred thousands of people?
As John Hawkins explained, Islam has a history of marking its conquest of foreign territories by building mosques at the site of the conquest. Link here.
As Hawkins points out, it is not an accident that the Muslim center that would house the mosque at Ground Zero had originally been named Cordoba House. As he says, the Grand Mosque in Cordoba, Spain was just such a triumphalist gesture.
So, the question is: Was Michael Bloomberg standing up for America or was he bowing down to Islam? Whatever he thought he was doing, how do you think his defense of the mosque will be understood in the Islamic world?
If Sarah Palin's opposition is not enough to make you want to see a mosque arise at Ground Zero, Robert Wright tries to persuade you by having you ask yourself this: What would Osama bin Laden want? Link here.
It sounds like Wright's rhetorical vehicle is just about out of gas. It's running fumes.
Anyway, Wright tells us that once we discover what Osama bin Laden would want, we need only to do the opposite. As though bin Laden should be the arbiter of moral judgment, one way or the other.
In some quarters this passes for serious thought. It is mental drool.
Since bin Laden is not answering my phone calls these days, any more than he is answering Wright's, we can only guess here.
Wright answers his own question by saying that, really, bin Laden would want us to stop the building of the mosque because he wants to have Ayman Zawahiri do a YouTube video saying that in America you can build a church or synagogue anywhere you want, but you cannot build a mosque at Ground Zero.
Wright believes that this will be a powerful recruiting tool. No mosque, lots more terrorists. That's his equation.
Does he really believe that bin Laden declared holy war on the United States because he thought that America was not sufficiently tolerant of Islam? He would more likely find it horrifying to see that America is tolerant of Islam.
Do you think that the leaders of al Qaeda are worrying their black hearts over the idea that America will conquer the moral high ground?
If I had to guess, I would imagine that they are a lot more worried about whether or not the next missile strike finds their tent.
Bin Laden's goal is simple: to have mosques everywhere, and to have churches and synagogues nowhere. His strategy would be advanced if there were a mosque at Ground Zero. Then, at least, wanna-be terrorists would know exactly where to go to pray for the soul of Mohammed Atta.
For all any of us know, some relics of Atta, some microscopic remains of his body, might still be on the grounds of the new mosque.