Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why America is going to regret the Cordoba House controversy

Hantu Laut

The article below was written by a non-believer, a free-thinker and an atheist, if you may, who has his brain in the right place and makes more sense than those bigoted American politicians like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Harry Reid and many others whose religious intolerance and misguided knowledge of Islam and Muslims defile Islam through their absolute ignorance and overwhelming arrogance.

What do you call them? Radical Christians and Jews or plain stupid Americans same as the cab driver I met in San Francisco many years back who thought Malaysia was in China.

Posted By Stephen M. Walt Share


Apart from a brief post praising New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's forthright stance on the Muslim community center controversy, I haven't said much about this issue. I had naively assumed that Bloomberg's eloquent remarks defending the project -- and reaffirming the indispensable principle of religious freedom -- would pretty much end the controversy, but I underestimated willingness of various right-wing politicians to exploit our worst xenophobic instincts, and some key Democrats' congenital inability to fight for the principles in which they claim to believe. Silly me.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what is going on here: All you really need to do is look at how the critics of the community center project keep describing it. In their rhetoric it is always the "Mosque at Ground Zero," a label that conjures up mental images of a soaring minaret on the site of the 9/11 attacks. Never mind that the building in question isn't primarily a mosque (it's a community center that will house an array of activities, including a gym, pool, auditorium, and oh yes, a prayer room). Never mind that it isn't at "Ground Zero": it's two blocks away and will not even be visible from the site. (And exactly why does it matter if it was?) You know that someone is engaged in demagoguery when they keep using demonstrably false but alarmist phrases over and over again.

What I don't understand is why critics of this project don't realize where this form of intolerance can lead. As a host of commentators have already noted, critics of the project are in effect holding American Muslims -- and in this particular case, a moderate Muslim cleric who has been a noted advocate of inter-faith tolerance -- responsible for a heinous act that they did not commit and that they have repeatedly condemned. It is view of surpassing ignorance, and precisely the same sort of prejudice that was once practiced against Catholics, against Jews, and against any number of other religious minorities. Virtually all religious traditions have committed violent and unseemly acts in recent memory, and we would not hold Protestants, Catholics, or Jews responsible for the heinous acts of a few of their adherents.

And don't these critics realize that religious intolerance is a monster that, once unleashed, may be impossible to control? If you can rally the mob against any religious minority now, then you may make it easier for someone else to rally a different mob against you should the balance of political power change at some point down the road.

Critics of the proposal are aware that their views contradict the principle of religious tolerance on which the United States was founded, so they have fallen back on the idea that building the community center here is "insensitive" to the families who lost loved ones back in 2001. (Presumably it's not "insensitive" that the same neighborhood contains strip clubs, bars, and all sorts of less-than sacred institutions). And notice the sleight-of-hand here: first, demogogues raise an uproar about a "Mosque at Ground Zero," thereby generating a lot of public outcry, and then defend this bigotry by saying that they're just trying to be "sensitive" to the objections they have helped to stir up.

But what if Newt Gingrich, Rick Lazio, Sarah Palin, and all the other people trying to exploit this matter had praised it from the start for what it was: a genuine and well-intentioned effort to combat the ignorance and hatred that had led to 9/11 in the first place?

I personally find the whole idea of a "Supreme Being" unconvincing, and I don't quite get why some many people continue to cling to a set of myths and fables dating from antiquity. But that's just my view, and someone else's religious convictions are their business provided they don't impose them on me. The Founding Fathers wisely understood that trying to impose religious orthodoxy on the new republic was a recipe for endless strife. Although it has hardly been observed with perfect fidelity over the years, that core principle has served the country remarkably well for over two centuries.

The principle of religious tolerance is not a piece of clothing that one can don or doff at will, or as the political winds shift. Indeed, it is most essential not when we are dealing with groups whose beliefs are close to our own and therefore familiar; the whole idea of "religious tolerance" is about accepting communities of faith that are different from our own and that might strike us at first as alien or off-putting. Tolerance doesn't mean a thing if we apply it only to people who are already just like us.

The latest example of tortured reasoning on this subject was New York Times columnist Ross Douthat's column a couple of days ago. Douthat explained the controversy as a struggle between "two Americas": one of them based on the liberal principle of tolerance and the other based on the defense of a certain understanding of "Anglo-Protestant" culture.

In addition to glossing over the latter's dark underbelly (slavery, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholic prejudice, etc.), Douthat's main error was to view these two aspects of American society as of equal moral value. In his view, it's legitimate to object to the community center because we have to respect the feeling of those Americans (including Douthat himself, one assumes) who believe that the United States is at its heart an "Anglo-Protestant/Catholic/Judeo-Christian" nation.

Even if one accepts this simplistic dichotomy, what Douthat fails to realize is that the history of the United States is the story of the gradual triumph of the first America over the second. The United States may have been founded (more-or-less) by a group of "Anglo-Protestants," and defenders of that culture often fought rear-guard actions against newcomers whose practices were different (Jews, Catholics, Japanese, Chinese, etc.). But the founding principle of religious tolerance gradually overcame the various Anglo-Protestant prejudices, which allowed other groups to assimilate and thrive, to the great benefit of the country as a whole. The two America's are not morally equivalent, and we should all be grateful that when those two Americas have come into conflict, it is the second America that has steadily given way to a broader vision of a free and open democracy.Continue reading.


7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The founding fathers of America mostly came from Christian background. I can understand the the concern of certain groups of people. Want to talk about tolerance?

I think America is the only country in the world who tolerate the most. Most Muslims are very protective of their religion, yet they desire others to be liberal.

Can Christian build a church in Iran? Saudi Arabia? Or any middle Eastern country?
Why was the Mazu stopped? Talk about tolerance, Muslims are the least of all!

Hantu Laut said...

Anonymous,

You are the ultimate 'katak dibawa tempurong'.There are churches in all Muslim countries as long as there is significant Christian population, except, maybe , Saudi Arabia, where there are no Christian population.

There are churches in Egypt,Pakistan,Turkey,Lebanon,
Syria,Jordan,Iran,Irag, Indonesia and more.These are Muslim majority countries.

Obviously, you have not left Malaysia and visit those countries, otherwise, you would not have been so misinformed.

Those Americans who opposed are nothing but bigots.

I have nothing against other religions.People have the right to practice whatever religion they believe in.

Anonymous said...

anonymous @11.34am

thank you for slotting USA in the same category as IRAN
..and there are churches in middle eastern countries,not that many perhaps but due to the fact that there are not that many christians.

bigots like you thinks that ALL MUSLIMS ARE EVIL are no different from the suicide bombers whom you strongly detest!

Anonymous said...

I did not deny that there are churches in those places. Those churches existed thousand of years ago. I am merely asking a question, can Christian build a church in those places? I am corresponding to the issue of the request of mosque to be build at 'ground zero'. If a Christian asked permission from the government of Iran to build a church in Tehran, are they allowed to?

At the same time I believe most American politicians are NOT Christian. They might be Christian by name but they deny the teaching of the Bible.

The perception of Muslim in the world among non-Muslim caused by Muslim themselves. Who to blamed? (Bare in mind, I am talking about perception)

Hantu Laut: Yes, people have the right to practice what they believe. Let the Christian use the word 'Allah', let the Buddhist build their Mazu, let the Indian build their temples. It is their right!

Anonymous: How did you conclude that I am a bigot? I've got many Muslim friends. My best friend is a Muslim. We should be open enough to talk and discuss matter, not go on personal attack. Yes! I strongly detest suicide bombers and I hope you too. NO! I do not think Muslim are evil.

Anonymous said...

anonymous @11.34am
lu apa sibuk pasal middle eastern country. sini malaysia mau bikin satu sekolah pun banyak bunyi!

Zaharan Razak said...

Why are we so hungup/worked up on what other people think of us? So what if a stevedore in Newark think Malaysia is clump of ice atop funereal pyre on the bank of Varanasi? Does it matter? If a fishmonger from East London has just stepped off a MAS flight courtesy of winning a draw, and a fresh Malaysian reporter were to ask him, "Sir, what do you think of my beautiful country?" what are to make of the reporter, never mind the fisher? So some schoolboy step on your shadow and says provocatively, "I'm stepping on yor dead grandfather!", do you then do a routine bandido dance and hurl insults of equal measure back? Defile? Words cannot defile. If someone throws excrement over you fence, tht's defilement. But if you look up to the sky, ok, some house of worship, and mutter, ok print, some off color words or cartoons, I'd let it pass and not make an issue of it implying the act is of no significance but if you respond by throwing stones or issuing death fatwas you are giving the cartoon an importance it does not deserve and you are telling the world that are emotionally risible and volatile. At the minimum, a polite, stiff, formal note of taking exception in diplomatic language would have done a better trick. Buckingham Palace is very practized at handling insults thrown over its fence. Either they completely ignore or issue a short stiff note. That is civilized behavior. In truth, no word can defile Islam or Christianity or any other religion as they are beyond defilement. Debate yes, comparative religious studies, yes, but exchanging insults gets both sides nowhere. Childish and immature behavior. We should maintain our pride and dignity and jati diri by not dancing to other people's tune. Forget what other people think of you. What you think of yourself is more important. If a Mek Salleh puji us, our nose kembang like an tht of a braying donkey; if they insult us, we jump up and down like a belacanb monkey ... duh ... Keep an even keel ...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous @11.34am
lu apa sibuk pasal middle eastern country. sini malaysia mau bikin satu sekolah pun banyak bunyi!

August 19, 2010 5:29 PM

ya butul itu...apa sibuk pasal america. sini malaysia may bikin satu sekolah pun banyak bunyi!

kalau begitu jangan cakap pasal negara lain lah...cakap pasal malaysia bikin sekolah lah