Are its defenders courageous to stand up for the Constitution? Are its detractors courageous to stand up for principle? Is the governor courageous for attempting to negotiate a compromise? And what about the construction workers who are declaring that they will not work to build the mosque? Are they the truest profile in courage?
In the midst of the increasingly contentious debate over the Ground Zero mosque, the question of courage has just emerged from the mist. It might help us to find some clarity.
Charles Krauthammer raised the issue in his column today. Link here.
In it he asked whether President Obama was being courageous when he addressed a Muslim congregation last week and declared himself foursquarely in favor of the Ground Zero mosque?
Obama' supporters cheered his statement as a great act of political courage. After all, Obama had stood up to Sarah Palin and Fox News.
And yet, as Krauthammer points out, it does not take or show any courage to tell a group exactly what it wants to hear. It belies an attitude of submissiveness and weakness, a willingness to sacrifice true courage to an impulse to please.
In Krauthammer's words: "It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect on the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam's alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor's offer to help find another site."
Truth be told, Gov. Patterson's offer to step into the controversy to help resolve it in a way that would be satisfactory to the concerns of both parties must count as one of the more courageous gestures in the brouhaha.
Krauthammer's point is important, and deserves exegesis. It is not courageous to tell an audience what they want to hear. It is weak-willed, servile, and fawning. But it is also not courageous to tell an audience exactly what they do not want to hear. It is foolhardy, reckless, and impudent.
Courage involves stating your own position and respecting the position of those who disagree with you. It might involve trying to persuade them, or it might involve trying to have them respect your point of view.
A courageous speech must open you to disagreement and dissent. If you cannot handle dissent you are not functioning with a democratic mindset.
It ought to go without saying, but courage does not involve telling people what they want to hear, and they trying to take it back the next day. That was Obama's second volley in the mosque controversy. As we all know, as soon as he saw that people were reacting badly to his speech at the Ramadan dinner, Obama tried to step back from it, telling the world that he only meant to defend the right of the imam to build the mosque. He was not actively saying that they should do it.
As Krauthammer notes, opinion is not divided over whether or not the imam hs the right to build a mosque. The divisive issue is whether or not they should do so? Not whether it is legal, but whether it is moral, whether it respects the feelings of the families of the victims? Is it moral in the context of the stated wish to build bridges of understanding.
Obama did himself no credit by retracting his first remarks. Talking out of both sides of your mouth suggests that you have no character whatever. You want to be both right and wrong at the same time, thus you show that you are afraid to defend your position against critics or even to engage those critics.
This does not represent confidence, but a distinct lack of same. If I and some others are right that Obama has heard too many people too often tell him how brilliant he is, then that would explain why he has never learned to engage detractors and critics. He will attempt to ridicule them, to dismiss them, to attack them.
When you keep hearing that you are smart no matter what you do, eventually you believe it. This does not give you confidence; it gives you arrogance.
If your confidence is based on unearned accolades, then it is not real confidence. Thus when you go looking for the confidence to take a stand on a difficult moral issue, it is not there.You show yourself as fearful and cowardly, too ready to bow down and submit to Islamic demands.
But then, what about Mayor Bloomberg? He has not spoken out of both sides of his mouth. He has been clear and forthright in his support of the mosque, even to the point of insisting that its funding should not be investigated.
Is he a profile in courage? Here, I think not, though for different reasons. The Mayor is expressing a different kind of arrogance, the kind that does not attempt to persuade, but that wants to impose its will on other people. Bloomberg has absolutely no truck with those who want the mosque to be built elsewhere. He insists zealously on the fundamental rectitude of his position and denounces the character of anyone who would dare disagree with him.
This is not a sign of good character, but a sign of arrogance. Admittedly not the same kind as Obama demonstrates, but arrogance nonetheless.
Not only is Bloomberg out of step with his constituents, but he shows no respect for their opinion. Naturally, no one really respects his.
Bloomberg has too much confidence; he feels that he can do no wrong. Obama has too little; he gives people the impression that he does not even know where he stands on the issue.
Dare we say that Nancy Pelosi's attempt to intimidate those who do not want the mosque built within two blocks of Ground Zero does not count as a profile in courage either. Threatening to investigate the families of the 9/11 victims does not make you courageous. It makes you a petty tyrant.
As I said, the politician who has shown the most character and the most courage has been Gov. Paterson.
But what about the construction workers who are signing petitions to say that they will not work on building the mosque. Link here.
Several people have declared that, in the end, the mosque will not be built. They believe that the imam has proposed it as a provocation and that, after he succeeds in producing enough ill feeling, alienating his flock from the city and the nation, he will concede the point and move the mosque elsewhere.
Others have said that it will not be built because New York's construction workers will simply refuse to work on it. They would not exactly be going John Galt, as Dr. Helen Smith has defined it, but they would be forgoing work and wages in favor of a principle. They would be making a true sacrifice, assuming a risk to themselves and their families, because they refuse to submit to Islam.
It is almost as though Mayor Bloomberg made a grand gesture of leading the march toward tolerance, only to discover that no one was following him. As of now, it looks like the mayor's foot soldiers are not going to follow his orders.