The recent debate over the Ground Zero Mosque, now innocuously called "Park51" by the AP and other nitwits, has been instructive on several levels.
We've learned a great deal about the liberal mindset that thinks a Christmas creche on a courthouse lawn, or a cross on a desolate Mojave hilltop, is a grave affront to the "separation of church and state" yet the building of a mosque/islamic community center/target beacon on land made available for development by the 9/11 terror attacks is a testimony to our tolerance.
We've also learned a great deal more about America's islamic community and what that seems to mean for America in the future.
Case in point: last week's Washington Post and a story headlined "Hostility across U.S. jars Muslim college students."
Although the Muslim students hadn't eaten since dawn, something besides food was on their minds as they loaded plates with tandoori chicken, chickpeas and rice at American University to break their Ramadan fast.
For weeks, their faith had been under attack by some opponents of a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero. Every time they turned on the TV, there were new reports of anti-Muslim sentiment: mosque construction being opposed hundreds of miles from Ground Zero; a Florida pastor vowing to burn copies of the Koran to mark the anniversary of Sept. 11; a poll showing that 43 percent of Americans hold unfavorable views of Muslims. And just this week, a Muslim cabbie was stabbed in New York.
All of it points to a swelling hostility that many of these students had scarcely known was there and that religious and political leaders worry could fuel alienation and radicalism among some young American Muslims.
The story details the whining of a bunch of rich, privileged muslim kids at American University about how bad things are for them in the United States. They're attending a private university, a university that offers a special cafeteria offering for their religious observance and they don't see the irony of bitching about "swelling hostility."
But for the sake of argument, let's color the principled opposition to the GZM in the worst possible light and stipulate for a couple of paragraphs that the opposition is rooted in religious bigotry.
The argument that this bigotry is somehow unusual is nothing more or less than a simple butchering of American history. This country has a long heritage of being less than welcoming to religious minorities. Bay Colony Puritans hanged Quakers. Dissenters were banished from Anglican colonies. Catholics were subjected to virtual pogroms in New York, Philadelphia and Boston in the 1840s and 1850s and the shameful legacy of anti-Catholicism is still evident in 37 states by way of the Blaine Amendments. Mormons. Jehovah Witnesses. Etc. So to say that being the object of religious hostility and bigotry makes muslims somehow unique is ridiculous.
But this isn't about bigotry. This argument is really about monumental arrogance and a lack of sense of proportion that ultimately calls into question the degree to which any but the most secular muslims will ever be the part of the mainstream of American political culture.
The attacks perpetrated on the United States were the culmination of a long series of attacks upon Americans and American interests by a muslim enemy dating back to the late 1960s. Though Israel is often trotted out as the reason for these attacks that is little more than a smoke screen.
The attempt by the adherents of the GZM, both muslim and quislings, try to use a wave of the hand to make this history go away but the reason that the opposition is so deep is because we all remember the bombings and hijackings that preceded 9/11. So the inability of those pushing the GZM to admit that reasonable people could object to the GZM in light of our recent history with islam and islamists, or to even attempt to understand the objections, speaks much more about the attitude and motivation of the adherents than it does about the opposition.
The GZM is opposed by something approaching three-quarters of all Americans. We don't know the underlying reason for that opposition but many surely see it as a calculated insult. As a tawdry in-your-face gesture designed to use our open society as a means of allowing the GZM backers and islamists to laugh in their sleeve at what they have accomplished. I say this is a calculated insult rather than a effort a "bridge building", because any true effort at bridge building would have had some symbolic dimension like, for instance, an offer to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church which was destroyed on 9/11 at Ground Zero as part of the redevelopment of the area.
This kind of behavior would have been an unremarkable though churlish behavior act were it not for the subtext being broadcast by the GZM supporters and the muslim community. From the Washington Post article:
"My brother came home one night really upset," said Asma Mian, a 20-year-old junior from Potomac. He'd encountered a man on the Metro who was railing against the proposed community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan.
It rattled her to see her 17-year-old brother so emotional. "He barely gets involved in politics. He's not extremely religious or anything," she said, adding that people his age can be quick to take offense. They "feel like it's more a personal attack. It's more mortifying than it would be if you were older."
That anger, youth leaders and terrorism experts warn, could push some young Muslims into the arms of such extremists as U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, who has been linked to several terrorist plots. In his recruiting efforts, Aulaqi often portrays Islam as being under attack by the West.
The most vociferous mosque opponents "do not know what they are doing," said Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. "They are radicalizing people."
We need to pause for a second to understand this fully.
We have a young muslim, whose family is established enough to live in Potomac, MD (median family income, $177,000) and front the AU tuition and expenses for at least one of his siblings, who is upset that someone voiced opposition to the GZM. He wasn't beaten or threatened or in any way insulted. He either heard or was involved in a conversation in which one party was against the GZM. While we can write his outrage off to the Walter-Mittyism of a 17 year old, we are less able to rationalize the statements by people who should know better. When we are told that if the mosque is not built there will be more islamic radicals and when the muslim chaplain at Georgetown and other "leaders" warn that Americans exercising their rights as citizens could "radicalize" people this is not a cry for acceptance, this is narcissism on steroids.
Above I mentioned the difficulties many religious minorities have had in the United States. The one thing these minorities never did was resort to violence because they weren't welcomed everywhere. Sometimes they set up parallel institutions. Without sacrificing their religious doctrines they strove for accommodation with their neighbors. More often than not by their daily actions and behavior they gave the lie to any accusation that they weren't loyal Americans. They also realized that our politics is analogized to a bare-knuckle fight for a reason and they actively engaged in that arena.
One hesitates with generalities because rarely are they all encompassing, but with muslims in America we are seeing a much different behavior. The attitude we are seeing is one that demands acceptance rather than acknowledging that acceptance is earned in a free society. Indeed the demand goes beyond mere acceptance to an implied threat of violence if that acceptance is not granted.
Were that attitude limited to coddled 17-year-olds on the Metro then we could laugh it off. But the fact that influential people within that community see the threat -- or want us to see the threat -- as real speaks to a culture that is incapable of taking criticism. It also belies a culture that on the one hand assures us that most musims are not like those who carried out the 9/11 attacks (or those that funded them, or those who trained them, or those who gave them travel documents, or those who just thought America getting its comeuppance was grand) but in the next breath tells us that unless we cease criticism they will, indeed, become just like them. An assertion which, if it is to be believed, certainly calls the initial statement into question.
The question, therefore, concerning the GZM has nothing to do with religious bigotry. The question is what role can any group ever play in our free and often rancorous society if, by its own admission, it will resort to violence to avenge even perceived insult?