Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Tempus Fugit

Yesterday President Obama endorsed building the Cordoba House, an Islamic mosque and cultural center, in lower Manhattan, two blocks from where the World Trade Center towers stood, and fell.  The Washington Post's Greg Sargent called the speech "one of the finest moments of Obama's presidency."  Sargent contrasts Obama's "forceful" and "powerful" argument with the "clever little dodge" employed by many opponents of Cordoba House: "They say they don't question the group's legal right to build it under the Constitution.  Rather, they say, they're merely criticizing the group's decision to do so, on the grounds that it's insensitive to 9/11 families and will undercut the project's goal of reconciliation."  By contrast, Obama made a sweeping rather than a narrow endorsement of Cordoba House because he understands, in Sargent's words, that the controversy "goes to the core of our running argument about pluralism and minority rights and to the core of who we are."

The thing about moments, even finest moments, is that they don't last very long.  The New York Times headline on the story covering the president's speech at yesterday's White House dinner marking the start of Ramadan was "Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site."  The headline on the story about the president's remarks today during a visit to the Gulf Coast is "Obama Says Mosque Remarks Were Not Endorsement."  According to the more recent story, Mr. Obama said that in yesterday's speech he "was 'not commenting on the wisdom' of [building the Cordoba House so close to the World Trade Center site], but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that government should treat 'everyone equal, regardless' of religion." 

What do you think, Mr. Sargent?  Does that qualify as a "clever little dodge"?

Discussions - 13 Comments

Obama is the gift that keeps on giving.

Didn't the clever little Doge run Venice many years ago.

So, we have two clever little dodges. That doesn't tell us much.

Do tell us, though, Mr. Voegeli (or Mr. Adams) where principled conservatives stand on this one.

Build the mosque. I am interested in seeing how the Mosque Inman will handle the first gay couple who wants to marry in the mosque and how he will handle the prostitutes and hot dog vendors walking the streets in front of the mosque. Let's see how "bridge building" will work for the Inman.

It's also worth recalling that Muslims in the WTC died in the 9/11 attacks. How would it be insensitive to them to build a mosque close to (although not "at") "Ground Zero"?

Anyway, if one considers - in addition to the fact that this center isn't really "at" Ground Zero at all - the other sights to be seen in the vicinity of this hallowed ground, it's pretty obvious that it really has a lot in common with the city that every conservative loves to hate - San Francisco. Strip clubs and multiculturalism abound! (Recall Bill O'Reilly's suggestion that we just allow that city to be taken by terrorists since it's not pro-American enough - say, when is Bill going to get to host an Ashbrook Dinner, anyway??)

Again, though, I'd love to hear from some principled conservatives what their take is on this matter. I'm especially interested to hear what the pro-torture, pro-domestic spying, pro-war-on-flimsy-evidence, etc. conservatives have to say about how this episode shows a lack of "restraint" on the part of the involved Muslims.

Mr. Scanlon:

Your thoughtful comments are, as always, an adornment to the NLT comments section.

Pending further refinements, President Obama's current rendition of his thinking on Cordoba House was delivered yesterday: "I was not commenting [at the White House on Friday] and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding." There's an important distinction, in other words, between the possession of a right and the wise, admirable exercise of it. This is precisely the distinction that Greg Sargent disdains, when critics of Cordoba House employ it.

If it were clear that nothing but bigotry and groundless suspicions were fueling opposition to Cordoba House, and clear that its purposes were beyond reproach, the wisest position on the question would be to accept its proposed location on Park Place, two blocks north of the WTC site. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg, who's credulous when it's convenient for his arguments, sees things this way. The Cordoba House founder, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is "a Columbia grad," he notes. If that doesn't lay any misgivings to rest, Rauf "denounces terrorism in general and the 9/11 attacks in particular, often and at length," Hertzberg writes.

One problem is that Rauf's general denunciations of terrorism stop well short of reassuring specifics. It is clear to the State Department, for instance, that "Hamas terrorists . . . have conducted many attacks, including large-scale suicide bombings, against Israeli civilian and military targets." Asked in June if he agreed with that position, Rauf put his Columbia education to use in avoiding the question: "Look, I'm not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question. There was an attempt in the '90s to have the UN define what terrorism is and say who was a terrorist. There was no ability to get agreement on that." According to the New York Post, "Asked again for his opinion on Hamas, an exasperated Rauf wouldn't budge. 'I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy,' Rauf said."

The conciliatory nature of placing Cordoba House on Park Place would be easier to grasp if its founder could bring himself to make a direct, explicit, unequivocal statement that Hamas is a terrorist organization. If, on the other hand, he persists in seeing its suicide bombings in an indeterminate, shades-of-gray manner, it will be hard to wave away the suspicion that Cordoba House's doors will be open to those who see the large-scale suicide bombing that took place down the street in 2001 in the same nuanced, non-judgmental way.

If the Cordoba House founders want to insist on their rights, they should build on Park Place. If they want to promote ecumenical reconciliation, and demonstrate the tolerance they insist on for themselves, they should clarify their opinions, change their address, or both.

I think most pro-torture, pro-domestic spying, pro-war-on-flimsy-evidence, etc. conservatives don't want it built there; I know I don't.

Here's Hugh Hewitt on the matter:

An excerpt:

"What do the battlefields surrounding Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg and Valley Forge all have in common?
"They are all protected from exploitive use by various combinations of state, local and federal government laws and regulations buttressed by preservation activists.
"Residents of Northern Virginia know that a series of land use controversies against various entities that wanted to build too close to the site of the battles of Bull Run extend back to the 1980s and included such major proponents of development as Disney.
"Preservationists dedicated to honoring the dead at Gettysburg have fought off casino interests.
"Even a museum was successfully encouraged to move away from the perimeter of Valley Forge last year.
"The protection of America's sacred spaces from exploitive uses has been much admired over the past 30 years. "

Here are Charles Krauthammer's poignant remarks:


"And why Pope John Paul II ordered the Carmelite nuns to leave the convent they had established at Auschwitz. He was in no way devaluing their heartfelt mission to pray for the souls of the dead. He was teaching them a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign."

A question for you CS: What do you make of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf immediately refusing the offer by Gov Patterson of free state-owned land to build the mosque elsewhere? With 68% of Americans against building the mosque at Ground Zero, Rauf is building bridges, indeed, eh?

Isn't it rather unreasonable to ask muslims to take a stance against Hamas? (or to put another way, don't you have to bargain conversion?)

There are probably a lot of muslims with rather strong anti-israel views.

If I am Rauf I am not looking for ways to alienate muslims who may like Hamas.

Hamas is a terrorist organization according to most of the world governments that matter. Still if you know or care for folks in Gaza, the problem is that 90% of the Hamas budget goes to schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. I mean Saudi Arabia says no to funding Hamas, but it still does. Hamas is way more popular than Fatah, and almost all the muslim charities end up financing Hamas. We prosecute charities that fund Hamas, but sometimes these charities finance charities that finance Hamas.

Hamas is really the quasi-popular government/cartel of Palestine/Gaza.

Also Hamas really had nothing to do with September 11th. and Raulf has denounced Al Qaeda.

On a larger front there is a problem to ask figureheads to denounce elements in organizations.

I think general opposition to Islam and Muslims will continue, and in some sense even racism will continue, because being arab makes it more likely that you are muslim. Being muslim makes you more likely to support Hamas, supporting Hamas would make you more likely or open to supporting violence against Israel and potentially the United States.

So the bigger issue I think is that of being able to speak for a larger group.

It always strikes me as interesting when you have individuals in say a loose organization such as the tea party. The tea party I think can safely exclude racists or a certain stripe. Still I think you have some tea party racists who are racists say on a sort of demographic association. If you are arab you are more likely to be muslim, If you are black you are more likely to be democrat. Simply from demographic association then I don't think you can really exclude racists from say the tea party, because this would be asking folks not to associate or link one idea with another.

Can you really ask a Muslim to be anti-Hamas? now I suppose you could, and I suppose that maybe even a great majority are, or that they support 90% of Hamas but oppose the 10% violence against Israel part. (most folks are generally anti-war)

You are really talking mixed issue bedfellows. I don't know what to think on the issue of when radical views on a given issue is too much, given 90% agreement elsewhere. I know that the State Department is always paying off folks in Pakistan who turn around and cause problems for us in Afghanistan. As a lot of folks note we did fund Bin Laden. Once we accept that loyalties can vary then I think the wise thing to do when articulating a religion or a political party is to spell out fundamentals, I think Rauf is doing this.

But note also that opposition to the Mosque or opposition to Islam or accompanying racism towards Arabs is par for course. You can't get too close or trusting of someone who "may" support Hamas, or viewed as the cause of ground zero. Or more likely you can't get too close or trusting of someone who is able to get too close or trusting of some such fictional but plausible person.

Thus racism is really just a sort of loose association game. This Arab may be my ennemy. This black person may have voted for that horrible president Obama. Given the hate of Obama among tea party folk it seems plausible enough that the demographic fact could account for all the alledged racism itself.

That is the tea party can't really afford to alienate folks who are rational racists (Statistical, i.e. blacks voted for Obama, overwhelmingly vote democrat).

Rauf also can't really afford to alienate muslims who are rational racists(Statistical, anti-israel, pro Hamas(look at palestinian polls, arab support)).

Also then you have the shadow of rational racism that lies over the tea party in regards blacks and arabs and this itself can lead to a reciprocal racism towards people in the tea party.

By rational racism I mean largely a sort of race based trust or distrust or association based upon some sort of experience, history, or poll.

This way of talking about it may be Tempus Figut, still the big issue is speaking for a "general will" an abstraction like "Islam"(composed of individuals known as Muslim) in particular how you go about barganing for trust and the eternal question of who exactly the "persuadables" or "potentially trusting/listening" are.

I respectfully disagree then with this "If they want to promote ecumenical reconciliation, and demonstrate the tolerance they insist on for themselves, they should clarify their opinions, change their address, or both."

Clarifying their opinions on Hamas would go too far and simply alienate the base while gainning nothing given the history. They should maintain that it is their view that for some of them at least history suggests that Hamas is in the right. They could say as Muslims we distrust jews and the MSM and the so called "objective" view of history that "you" believe. We have our own view of history(which would be a true statement) Or potentially they could simply focus on Islamic theology. Focus on living in New York, having folks get to know muslims and gain trust on a personal level by showing themselves to be people of high integrity. Eventually this might bleed into trust and conversion to the faith or the world view. The only way to win converts to history or faith is to develop a good history as good muslim americans going foward. To be persuasive they can't give up what they want to persuade folks of in the name of some squishy ecuminical reconciliation.

In similar fashion I think tea party groups need to speak out against violent and notorious racism, while acknowledging that some members may be racist against blacks or arabs in part because of statistical association with policies or a past that is undesireable. A belief that plausibly follows from a take on facts or a policy explanation. If you really believed that Obama was taking the country to hell, and you knew that 90% of blacks voted for Obama this could lead to distrust.(if for no other reason than this marked racial difference is indicative of a much different take on history, interest, value.) Essentially there follows from every world view a valueation of friend and foe, good and evil, praise and blameworthyness.

Toleration isn't going to come from the tea party becomming the republican party, and it isn't going to come from Islam becomming the Anglican Church. Toleration is simply going to come from "given this take on X" I can see why "Y" follows. Toleration is not capitulation, the attitude that Y does not follow is central. It is essentially the idea that there is a view of history in which Y makes sense. If Y is 5 this is because X is 2+3, or alternatively 10/2(sometimes the fiercest battles occur between those who agree on Y) but I know Y is 20 because X is 40/2, but I can see how Y would be 5 if...

Toleration is simply born out of the idea that there is no objective history, for those who are certain about X (those who fought in the Pacific and would never buy a Japanese car) there is less real possibility of toleration, but perhaps more of a calling towards preaching and converting.

This said there is no such thing as complete toleration, according to how certain we are about what we know. You can be tolerant and persuadable, or you can be tolerant and unpersuadable, but you can't be persuadable and intolerant. Or perhaps the only persuadable folks are intolerant. That is the cosmically tolerant are incapable of grounded persuation, when perception of X changes Y changes with it. History hasn't cut the tolerant and cemented a Y or a why?

I don't really think americans will listen long enough to convert to the tea party or Islam, but some will and many have. But the same thing that makes the tea party the tea party or Islam Islam automatically forecloses a certain X(that is it has a certain set of plausible X's that add up to a certain ballpark Y, what exactly this is depends on a certain threshold of conversion and conviction and perceived interest, and results in considerable infighting between prophets, Imams, lawgivers or talk-radio hosts)

In terms of proffesional advice then I would have to advise Islam and the mosque on at Park Place to ignore you. Just as the tea party should ignore the likes of Craig.

When those raising the ruckus will never convert, then the "history of X" cannot be bent to accomodate them. The tea party and the Mosque are really interested in the same thing "insisting on their rights" comes before ecuminical reconciliation or demonstrating tolerance except perhaps if this comes in the way of the most important thing: Conversion.

Funny how progressive never pay attention to the Constitution, but always demand that the Right follows both the spirit and the letter. Hypocrites.

Here's my feeling. Any decent institution would respect the notion that this is now sacred ground, and would take hat in hand and go elsewhere. But not the Muslims, even giving it a name (since changed, I gather) that reminds the West of how "enlightened" Islamic domination can be.

Build the damned mosque. We can only hope that someone pays them in-kind. Perhaps we should build a Gothic cathedral in downtown Baghdad.

Here are two:

I particularly like this quote from Josh Barro:

"Part of supporting limited government is understanding that sometimes, things you don’t like will happen, and the government (especially the federal government) won’t do anything about it. Getting to do what you want comes at the price of other people getting to do what they want—including build mosques where you’d prefer they didn’t."

"Your thoughtful comments are, as always, an adornment to the NLT comments section."

Always so arrogant, Mr. Voegeli?

Anyway... Rauf's point that defining terrorism is not so simple, not so black and white, is valid. I recall plenty of conservatives getting their drawers in a twist when the Dept. of Homeland Security issued a report on possible domestic terrorism coming from right-wing extremists. In any case, Rauf's views on Hamas don't strike me as particularly important, unless he's providing them with arms or tips for committing terrorist acts. Having politically incorrect opinions about controversial figures or groups is not illegal, or even necessarily dangerous, unless of course it crosses the line into encouraging or supporting terrorist acts, or committing them. Rauf isn't adequately anti-Hamas for some, but that doesn't make him a sponsor or even supporter of terrorism.

What I've read of Rauf's rhetoric, none of it strikes me as remotely close to the extreme stuff that's poured out of popular televangelist Pat Robertson's mouth on various occasions (well, a semi-regular basis, really), and he's not been denied anything that he wanted to purchase or build, or even discouraged. This particular example is interesting, as you cite the State Department's view on Hamas above, but I've also read some pretty harsh words about that department on this very blog (for reasons similar to those summed up in Mowbray's book title):

"Robertson made the comments during a series of interviews on his "700 Club" television show with journalist Joel Mowbray, author of a new book, "Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America's Security." ...

Introducing Mowbray on his show, Robertson said that a reader of his book could conclude that the State Department needed a nuclear explosion.

"I read your book," Robertson said. "When you get through, you say, 'If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer,' and you say, 'We've got to blow that thing up.' I mean, is it as bad as you say?" Robertson said.

"It is," Mowbray said..."

Getting back to Rauf and the Islamic Center though, I think there's probably a lot of room for conciliation between Muslims and non-Muslims that Rauf and the center might be able to facilitate, even if he can't solve the Arab-Israeli crisis. Certainly he couldn't do much worse than this group in Florida, the ones who call their church "Dove World Outreach Center" and are planning to host the "International Burn a Quran Day."

Obviously some individuals and some groups are not really interested in mutual understanding or conciliation, and never will be. As long as they steer clear of violence, though, they've all got the benefits of freedom to worship as they please, and to buy property within the strictures of the law. And this purchase and construction 2 blocks from Ground Zero (and if the sanctity level of the area allows girls to pole-dance to Aerosmith, then prayers to Allah seem like fair game, too) shouldn't bother anyone, unless said lines are ever crossed (and I'm SURE various agencies - NSA, CIA, FBI, will be monitoring the place and all who get near it very closely for such subversion).

Actually, if this place ever goes up, I'd think that THIS sort of thing will be more likely, based on the often-ugly tone of the opposition that I've seen thus far:

Also in Florida, where the "Dove World Outreach Center" is:

"JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Authorities are still looking for leads on who planted a pipe bomb at a mosque on Monday. FBI officials said it caused about $500 worth of damage to the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida's building but not because the bomb was not powerful.

Agents are still unsure if the bomb detonated to its maximum but they called the explosion "significant.""

John Moser - thanks for those links; I like the Barro quote.

Whoops, here's the source for the quote from the very Reverend Pat Robertson:

Craig, I'm closer to the John Moser/Josh Barrow position on this issue (though I think that William Voegeli, Ross Douthat and James Poulos make good points), but your last comment seems to be off point. Bashing particular Christians won't make Mr. Rauf moderate (if the reports of Mr. Rauf's comments about Hamas are accurate), and brandishing lists of Christian horribles doesn't make the proposed mosque at that particular site a good idea . There are all kinds of straw man arguments that Voegeli never made that you could continue to target (like say the ones by Newt Gingrich) but you would still be nonresponsive to his argument that building a mosque so near Ground Zero as part of a movement led by a man who can't bring himself to acknowledge or condemn the targeted massacres of Israeli civilians by a radical Muslim organization is not doing much for reconciliation

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