Monday, August 23, 2010

Alert The Media! Foreigners In Lower Manhattan!

I try to leave the important topics to those with longer attention spans than me, journalists and bloggers with more desire to do research and be reasonable, to get to the crux of a matter, and, truth to tell, those with more horsepower than me, people who seem to sprout wonderful ideas like Iowa sprouts corn. But this thing about the Islamic Center in lower Manhattan has grabbed me by the nipples and is twisting furiously. I feel compelled to put my two cents in.

There’s been lots of loose talk about this thing, this “Mosque (virtually!) on top of Ground Zero!” The Sacred Ground, as some opponents of the project would have it. By employing some of the tortuous logic that is suddenly popular these days, lots of folks are relating this innocuous community center to some imaginary cultural conflict, or the crimes of a small group of individuals, or the delusional belief that our president is a Muslim, or another of the weird ideas that are circulating today. They say that building the community center would be some kind of sacrilege, and should be forbidden by some unspecified mechanism of law.

That’s the problem: what mechanism of law? The nay-sayers understand that they have hit a little snag here, a little First Amendment snag, a genuine Constitutional problem to get around, and they have come up with a good sounding way to get around this religious freedom issue. They’re suggesting that Islam isn’t a religion at all, it’s a “totalitarian political ideology.”

This is a great argument, considering that over the entire history of religion most of them were, have been, or are totalitarian political ideologies.

It is beyond argument, for example, that for over a thousand years Christianity was a totalitarian political ideology. From before 500 A.D. to after 1,500 A.D., Christianity, in the form of the Roman church, was the final arbiter of all things political in Europe. They were as self-defining and exclusive as any other totalitarian regime that you could name, and they slaughtered the ideologically impure with unseemly enthusiasm. What changed for the better was the eventual separation of church and state. The Christian world grew up a little, and the totalitarian instincts of the Roman church were slowly bent to the interests of secular government.

So it seems, at first blush, a colorable argument to suggest that this is still true concerning Islam. The main problem is that Islam is nothing like the monolithic political presence that was the pre-Renaissance Roman church. There are lots of Islamic countries, and they all put their little twist on things. There are a few different sects of Islam, and they don’t even like each other, much less cooperate in bringing about the downfall of the West. What could be totalitarian about a mosaic like that? I mean, in a million years? Duh.

Consider, if you will, the countries of Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. That short list represents enough variety to make you dizzy. They are all Muslim countries, there’s no doubt about any of them, but they have very, very different social environments. You can get a drink in three of them, and the hosts will join you in two of them, possibly three (if no one is looking). One is filled up with non-believers who are left to their own devices, and one features considerable religious and cultural diversity (although the playing field is adjusted to boost Islam). You can’t have a cultural war with a culture that’s all over the map like this. (What’s the final result . . . separation of church and state, 2; failure to separate as of yet, 2? Maybe two and a half to one and a half.)

Add to this all of the eminently logical arguments that you’ve heard already. Muslims died in 9/11! This guy who wants to build the thing works for the FBI, he’s no radical! We have no beef with Muslims, just some wackos among them! We have religious freedom here! And there’s tons of Muslim citizens in America, especially in New York! It’s up to them how they use their private property! It’s Manhattan, for Christ’s sake, if you walked the four hundred feet from the old World Trade Center site to where they want to put this new place you’d see a hundred buildings and seven thousand people!

Put the thing up, this community center. It’s no big deal. Not a minaret in sight. What are people complaining about? I don’t really get it. Just another excuse to say something preposterous to try to effect upcoming elections.

So that’s my two cents, for what it’s worth. Not worth the time it took to write it either. What could be a greater waste of time than trying to shine a light on the stupid shit that passes for political discourse in America these days? Like trying to kill a million ants with a tack hammer.

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