Monday, August 16, 2010

The Mosque Debate

That after several months we're still hearing about the ongoing "debate" about the construction of an Islamic Center and mosque near the Manhattan site of the September 11 attacks is really quite hornswogglingly baffling. Well, it is and it isn't.

It isn't baffling because the folks on the right who are raking this muck know they've got something that riles their base. When you're able to get over 60% of the population behind you on an issue, you pitch that issue out there as frequently as with as much energy as possible. It doesn't matter what that issue is. Just follow the zeitgeist, and watch your polling numbers rise. And boy, does this baby push all the populist hot buttons. 9/11. Islam. The honor of America's fallen. It's perfectly prepackaged for midterm election demagogery.

But while it works great for talking heads and red-state-representative shouting, what I for the life of me cannot see is how anyone who cares about America's constitutional republic can oppose this mosque. I hear their argument, sure. The terrorists who took so many American lives under those crystal clear September skies were radical jihadists, proponents of a horrifically violent and brutish sect of Islam. So, by extension, any expression of Islam anywhere near the World Trade Center site is a reminder of the evil they committed.

Problem is, that extension is just plain wrong. Moderate, tolerant Islam is not the enemy of America, and the folks who seek to build that mosque are as far removed from the jihadists as I am from Fred Phelps. They are, in fact, precisely the kind of Muslims who make good citizens and neighbors if they live here, and trustworthy allies abroad.

That concept doesn't work for those who want to paint Islam as inherently evil. For the American far right, which rumbles and glowers endlessly about Islamofascism, there can be no good Muslim. It also doesn't work in those portions of rural red-state America that see every Muslim as a potential terrorist, dark hued and almost as dangerous as Mexicans. According to the election year calculations of folks like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, it's best to play up those fears. Gets folks all riled up, and even if it's not technically true, and completely antithetical to the bedrock values of our religious liberty..well..who's to let that get in the way of scoring some points in the fall?

It is a testament to the people of New York City that they aren't buying any of that, which makes this "debate" a complete non-issue.

That, I think, is ultimately the reason folks on the right are still ranting about this. It's meaningless, something that rouses rabble but has no political solution other than the solution already found by the people of Manhattan. Which is, of course, to allow the principles of freedom of worship upon which our country was founded to overcome the shouts of those who love fame and flags and the trappings of power more than constitutional principle.