The absurd opposition to the “Ground Zero mosque”—and Obama’s cowardly backtracking on the issue—is shaking my tenuous faith in the American public and our leaders. As Steve Benen writes, first, let’s drop the pretense that the opposition to the Cordoba House somehow isn’t about religious bigotry. He asks, would these conservatives be so hysterical if the community center didn’t include a place for worship?
If the answer is “yes,” they’d be every bit as incensed, then it’s time to acknowledge that those who are whining incessantly about the community center would have to be just as outraged by the notion of Feisal Abdul Rauf’s coffee shop. These are folks who, by all appearances, wouldn’t want a Muslim American neighbor building anything in lower Manhattan, which is crazy, illegal, and at odds with how we do things in the United States.
If the answer is “no,” they wouldn’t be every bit as hysterical, and the inclusion of a place for prayer is what serves as a deal-breaker, then it’s time to acknowledge that this has everything to do with religious liberty, and a desire to deny First Amendment protections to faith groups the right holds in contempt.
Either way, there’s no excuse for such ugly nonsense.
Of course, most who oppose the mosque are not so stupid to deny that the founders of the Cordoba House have every right to build it there—they just argue it’s still not right to do so. It’s “insensitive,” a “provocation.” But as Chris Martinez points out, given that the Cordoba House is “deliberately, expressly, and unequivocally intended to stand for the diametric opposite of what the 9/11 attackers believed,” that stance too is nothing more than Islamophobia:
The Cordoba House, in other words, is not only blatantly separate and distinct from the identity and ideology of al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorists, it is a direct repudiation (“refudiation,” as demanded by Sarah Palin) of them. So the only way that someone could ever confuse the Cordoba Initiative with radical, militant Islam is if that person thought that Islam itself is inseparable from terrorism or terrorist sympathies (or had been misled by demagogues to believe the Cordoba House aligned itself with radical Islam).
Now, it is shocking to me that 68% of Americans are so Islamophobic that they can’t separate the radical Islamic terrorism of al-Qaeda from moderate, cosmopolitan Muslim New Yorkers. Maybe they don’t know any non-radical Muslims? I can see how this might be the problem. Hell, if I hadn’t met some loving, progressive Christians in my life, I suppose I might assume that all Christians are terrorists who murder doctors, don’t believe in women’s equality, and hate gay people. So maybe they don’t have Muslim neighbors. Maybe they remember 9/11 and can’t see beyond their fear and anger and forget about their daughter’s nice Muslim teacher or the Muslim guy at the corner store who sells them cigarettes every day. Or maybe they’re just unabashedly religious bigots. I don’t know.
But you know what would be really great? If the U.S. president would look at these opinion polls and the hysteria in the conservative media and then throw them out the fucking window and get his brilliant speech writers to write a speech about how America is based on not only religious freedom but also religious tolerance—and strengthened by religious diversity. About how bigotry of all kinds is anti-American. About how a culture war between the U.S. and some monolithic Muslim world is exactly what al-Qaeda would love to see. If he needs help, he could echo Mayor Bloomberg’s words:
“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.
But instead Obama backtracked. As Digby said of Obama’s most recent stance: “Oh well. It was a nice gesture for the president of the United States to unequivocally recognize the constitutional right to religious freedom. It’s probably too much to expect that he might unequivocally stand up for religious tolerance too.”
I refuse to believe that nearly 70% of Americans are religious bigots. There are times when the American people need to be shaken out of their knee-jerk stupidity. They need to be reminded of their higher ideals and told what they should believe in by their leaders. This is one of those times. And Obama didn’t step up to do it.