At a Ramadan dinner at the White House last night, President Obama came out in support of the Cordoba House cultural center:
But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.
We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who have led our response to that attack â€“ from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us always remember who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. Our enemies respect no freedom of religion.
I’m far from the first person to note that parts of the American Right come across as the American Taliban. Really, the most extreme of the whackjobs are just mirror images of the jihadists they oppose. If they are not as viscous and destructive as the Taliban it’s only because they know they’d do jail time if they got caught.
As you might imagine, this story triggered a paroxysm of Obama hate on the right blogosphere. They are certain more than ever that the “ground zero mosque” is just part of Obama’s plot to turn America over to the Caliphate.
If you think about it, U.S. history is mostly a struggle over who we are. The Founders launched the country with all of the highest ideals of the Enlightenment, yet they lacked the spine to abolish slavery or even free their own slaves. And from then on, we’ve gone through one spasm of racial violence and xenophobia after another — against African-Americans; native Americans; Catholics; Jews; Irish and eastern European immigrants; ethnic Chinese, both immigrant and native born; German Americans during World War I; Japanese Americans during World War II; etc. etc. Later generations look at the raging ignorance of their forebears and recognize that it was wrong. And then they pick a new group to victimize.
So, once again, we are challenged to determine who we are. Are we the idealists who respect liberty and the rule of law? or are we the brainless mob driven to destroy whatever it is we hate and fear?
And if any righties stumble onto this site and are reading this: The people who are trying to stop the building of Cordoba House are the brainless mob. The people who support it are the freedom-loving idealists. Keep that straight.
Ever since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, religious conservatives have tried to get around the very first provision in it — Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. “Establishment of religion” was understood to mean making any one religion the official state religion. Thus, Congress may not write laws that favor one religion over another, and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended this restriction on the power of government to the states (per Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652  and other SCOTUS decisions) and any government chartered by a state.
And it’s interesting that this clause is the very first of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. No doubt the founders were already concerned that religious factionalism was going to be a big issue in future America. They also had fresher memories of the religious wars of Europe than we do today.
As several of the Founding Fathers made clear (see, for example James Madison’s Federalist #10) they were concerned that some religious faction could take over the United States government. The First Amendment is our protection that even if followers of one particular religion did take over the White House and Congress, they could not write laws favoring their religion and imposing their beliefs on everyone else.
And for the past 219 or whatever years, American religious conservatives have complained about not being allowed to use government to enforce their religious beliefs and practices, while at the same time expressing fear that if X religious faction became a majority, those people might enforce their religious beliefs and practices.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I remember people speaking against John F. Kennedy for president in 1960 because they believed a Catholic president would take orders from the Vatican and allow the Pope to rule America. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about this, “What seemed to me most deplorable was not the fact that so many people feared the strength of the Roman Catholic Church; it was that they had no faith in the strength of their own way of life and their own Constitution.â€ (h/t)
Yeah, pretty much. So in their ignorance and fear, the bigots (and y’all haters are bigots, whether you like it or not) form a howling mob to destroy the Bill of Rights, and tell themselves they’re doing it for “freedom.”
we must always honor those who have led our response to that attack
George Bush? I don’t think so. I think our response following( not first responders)the attack was disgraceful. From the bullhorn moment on everything was lost where honor could be gained. I respect the men and women who answered their country’s call but not as a response to 9/11. Bush and his clowns so distorted 9/11 that it’s no longer an incident that draws our people together. It’s pushed us apart.
One of the things about growing up in New England is that you get exposed to a lot of colonial history. And you learn about how things were before the Revolution and the First Amendment. You learn that the first colonists were so in need of a place where they could practice their own brand of Christianity that they rode tiny little wooden ships across the friggin’ North Atlantic to do so, but then decided that religious tolerance was unacceptable and kicked Roger Williams out into the wilderness to go settle Rhode Island.
And, if you’re not a particularly religious kid over 400 years later, and you realize they were fighting about subtle doctrinal variants of the same darn religion, none of which persist unchanged anymore, you begin to really value the First Amendment, because that’s just one example of how colonial church/state foolishness didn’t work out so well for the people involved, and the disputes seem ridiculous. Yet you know that echoes persisted all the way into your own lifetime in the ‘blue laws’ that kept shops closed on Sundays.
It’s way better to just all agree that we’re gonna keep our religious disputes and our political disputes separate. Nobody wants to be forced to move to Rhode Island.
Why do they need to be personally vicious and destructive? They’ve had a nice war going in Iraq and another in Afghanistan.
I have no problems with the families of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 not wanting the Islamic Center built at that location. I have to respect their opinions and try to understand where they’re coming from. Theirs is the only “Con” voice that should matter.
For the Wingnut Welfare Whores like Newt and Sarah, you’re walkin’ the streets in the wrong city. You couldn’t last one day in NYC without your handlers and security. You don’t even know where the WTC was located. So sashay your cheap asses somewhere else, we ain’t buyin’. NYC accepts people from all over the world, even hicks from the sticks, if those hicks are smart enough not to throw sticks and stones. You ain’t.
As for the Cheap Political Whores, like assorted Republican Senators and Congressmen who try to play to peoples fears, try something new, like tell us what you’re for, not against, in order to get votes; what you’ll do, not what you want to repeal. But you’re afraid to run on that, aren’t you?
And for Right-wing Pundit Pimps, who run the Wingnut Welfare and Political Whores, you don’t have to say a word. We know if there’s decency and tolerance involved, you’ll be against it. Save the bandwidth, and more importantly, save the trees. Just write “DITTO!” below your name, we’ll know what you mean. Try this for every column on every issue – you have become THAT predictable. Booooooring…
And for those who say ‘Let the people of NYC vote on this.” Uhm, no. If we let areas vote on certain things, Jim Crow will be back in full force, and women won’t be allowed to vote on the next issue.
We have a “Bill of Rights.”
We have laws.
If you’re not sure what they say, read them.
If you’re not sure what they mean, reread them.
If you think you know better, reread them again.
If you don’t agree, work to change them through the system.
And if you want to ignore them, then find a place where the laws are more to your liking. May I suggest Somalia for its free-market economy, and Saudi Arabia for its religious intolerance.
I’m heartily sick of this issue. But this is in many ways one of the defining issues on where our country stands, and what its future holds.
Plenty has been said about learning history in order to not repeat it, but from my understanding of US History, that’s all we seem to do (as pointed out in your recent “The New Know-Nothings” post). It would appear that until human nature changes for the better across the board, we will always be facing the same challenges.
Which leads me to digress about another post of yours (sorry about the rambling nature) concerning our collapsing empire (“The Coming Darkness”). Again, looking back in our history, we have had several concerns about our imminent demise and yet we have endured. Not to sound all Pollyannish, nor assume any Cassandra-like syndrome, but I am leery of such talk that seemingly dismisses our fortitude and ability to come out for the better on the other end of our travails– a little worn and somewhat weary, but nonetheless better from confronting the challenge. Although I wish I could say we could learn from these challenges and move onto better things, but that brings me back to that human nature vs history paradox, which seemingly impedes our progressive growth. Which leads me to conclude that any good feelings that come out of our betterment will last for an unknown limited time, if only because the process will eventually repeat itself again. Such is the nature of human nature and it’s battle against the Constitution. So far, I believe the Constitution is winning. Don’t you?
That’s just my two cents and in today’s economy that may be worth a lot less than ever before.
I want to note something I saw on the Daily Show last week. There already is a mosque closer to Ground Zero than the location proposed for this one. It has been there for decades, causing no problems whatsoever.
It occurs to me that the sensitivity to survivors feelings is analogous to any number of fights over the citing of churches; i.e. a group has bought land or an unused church property and wants to use it themselves or build a church. This group isn’t made up of local residents so the community gets all “no you can’t have that land, use that building.” They trot out zoning rules or move to have zoning rules changed for this one case. Usually, though not always, the government backs the group who wants to build or reuse a building because, well they say, freedom of religion and all it implies.
Another thought that occurs to me is that the Park Place site is on a side street, one you may not pass directly while traveling to the ETC site. Therefore visitors to the site probably won’t even see the new office building/community center. So they are objecting to it just on its existence.
You know, it’s not like the Cordoba House people are holding a ground breaking next week, or next month or next anything. As I read some of their statements they don’t have building plans or architects blueprints yet and they are just starting fundraising to pay for it.
If you think about it, U.S. history is mostly a struggle over who we are. The Founders launched the country with all of the highest ideals of the Enlightenment, yet they lacked the spine to abolish slavery or even free their own slaves.
There’s always been this tension in this country between Enlightenment ideals on the one hand, and the intolerance biggerbox talked about, that is embodied in the world “Puritan”. People generally associate turkey and Thanksgiving with the Puritans, but they have a darker side: they were literally kicked out of Europe for their bloody intolerance.
And so you have the Enlightment, with this crazy radical idea that people are basically good and wise enough to self-govern, versus the Puritans and those who came later and settled predominantly in the South, who focused, for better or worse, on the darker side of our nature. For them, they need a Big Daddy figure, a judgmental God or some other authoritarian to keep wayward humans in line. They bring out the worst in this country.
I haven’t read it, but I suspect George Lakoff’s Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea is all about this conflicting picture of who we are.
The actions of the American Right are certainly not as overt as the Taliban’s but in a sense they’re more dangerous only because their actions and rhetoric undermine the very tenets of our already weakened democracy and therefore can effect more damage on a much larger scale.
It seems to me that we Americans have in a sense imposed on ourselves a willed innocence, a refusal to acknowledge the reality of what we’re becoming and have already become, a rogue military state (posing as a beneficent state on the world scene) governed by a plutocracy (posing as a democracy.)
Once again, I’m humbled by the words of our host and her associates.
I’m very happy I landed on this site several years ago.
Brilliant post. Thanks so much.
But we don’t know that’s what a majority of them think. There are a few survivors who have spoken out against Cordoba House, but others have spoken out in favor of Cordoba House. As far as I know, no one has attempted to poll the survivors to find out what they actually think about Cordoba House.
A lot of people are ASSUMING the survivors would be all messed up emotionally if the Cordoba House project goes forward as planned, but considering that the three major September 11 family associations either have not taken a stand or have come out in support of it, one suspects there isn’t as much antipathy against Cordoba House among the survivor as is ASSUMED.
I was ‘inartful’ in the way I put my opening paragraph. I should have said, “Though there are families that agress with building the Islamic Center, I have no problems…”
I read your post about the ‘9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows,’ and should have included them in my comment. I did not mean that all families of the vicitms were against the proposed Muslim cultural center. Sorry if there was any misunderstanding…