Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | August 13, 2010

God and Man at Ground Zero

In which a bemused observer tries to make sense of man, religion, and the state

Here’s my bottom-line problem with the concatenation of events and trends surrounding the Ground Zero mosque: I see privilege being accorded to Islam, as against situations in which the civil authorities have de-privileged Christianity and Judaism. The reflexive animus against America’s traditional major religions will be recognizable, in what I describe below, to every conservative. Yet in a situation where a very large group of Americans objects to the placement of a particular mosque, government authorities not only don’t privilege the objectors, they castigate them as bigots and override their concerns.

We can stipulate at the outset that none of the situations here is exactly analogous. The situation involving synagogues is not even in Manhattan; it’s in Brighton Beach. But in each case, the reflexes of the civil authorities have responded very differently, and the difference is telling.

There are two relevant tales of Christian developments near Ground Zero. One involves a Greek Orthodox church, St. Nicholas’, which was crushed by the collapse of WTC Tower Two on 9/11. St. Nicholas’ Church was across the street from the World Trade Center.  In 2008, a deal was announced with the New York Port Authority to rebuild the church two blocks from its original site. But civil authorities objected to the church’s plans for a larger structure, with a dome and spire in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Their express concern was that the church not be taller than the World Trade Center Memorial.

There is no apparent concern about the Park 51 Islamic center being taller than the WTC Memorial (it is). It will not be built as a wholly new structure, of course.  But on the other hand, the commercial skyscraper planned by the Port Authority will be a new structure, and it will tower over the WTC Memorial. The principles at work appear to be as follows: new commercial structures may be taller than the Memorial. An Islamic group may occupy a building that is taller than the Memorial and devote it to a religious purpose. But a Christian structure may not be built taller than the Memorial.

We must note about St. Nicholas’ that the 2008 deal with the Port Authority entailed a contribution of $20 million from the Authority toward the new building. Certainly, public funding properly gives the Authority some leverage over the structure. St. Nicholas’ hasn’t been singled out for special public benefits, however; it was the only church that was destroyed by the 9/11 attack. Rebuilding it was simply proposed for public funding as part of the overall plan for the 9/11 site.

The Port Authority planned to build a platform and foundation for the church, because under the 2008 deal it was to sit on top of a garage and security screening area. In March 2009, Authority officials refused to allow the church to review the plans for the garage and screening area. At that point, talks regarding the church’s rebuilding ground to a halt.

The other Christian development is the ongoing question about the fate of the “Ground Zero cross.” This remnant of the WTC was found in the rubble after the 9/11 attack and stood at the site until it was moved to nearby St. Peter’s Church in October 2006, to clear the way for renovations. Atheist organizations, which began objecting to the display of the cross in 2002, oppose its planned incorporation in the WTC Memorial. Although the Port Authority reportedly intends to display the cross at the Memorial, the possibility of a lawsuit by opponents can’t be excluded.

Interestingly, there has been no attempt by the MSM or leading politicians to denigrate as bigots the atheists who object to the cross. Nor has the Port Authority’s dilatory approach to rebuilding St. Nicholas’ Church earned it any contumely from them for acting in questionable faith regarding a religious group.

Authorities in Brooklyn are similarly unscathed from an ongoing confrontation with two Brighton Beach synagogues over the noise from a public park’s amphitheater and concert series. Oh, there’s a conflict of interests, there’s passion on both sides, and a lot of people know about it and have strong opinions. But two thing stand out:  one, that the ubiquitous Mayor Bloomberg had no qualms about being utterly dismissive of the synagogues’ concerns, and two, that this is probably because there’s no punishment from the MSM and the political elite for being high-handed and insensitive with Brighton Beach’s Jewish congregations.

The short story, summarized here, is that the Sea Breeze Jewish Center and Temple Beth Abraham have been accommodating the noise from concerts in nearby Asser Levy Park for some years; but now Brooklyn’s borough president wants to enlarge the amphitheater and increase the concert-noise encroachment dramatically. Concerned for their ability to hold services, the synagogues asked for reconsideration of this plan. Receiving only dismissive responses, they sued to have a local ordinance enforced, which prohibits excessive noise within 500 feet of a religious structure.

Bloomberg, displaying his exquisite sensitivity to freedom of religion, is on record with this advice to the synagogues:

“Maybe they could adjust their services slightly earlier. We just have to start being a little more tolerant of each other.”

To which one might respond: Well, yes, Mayor, indeed we do. Perhaps the noise concerns of congregations that have been holding services at the same time for years deserve at least as much consideration as the commercial interests of the amphitheater expansion’s sponsors.

It’s the reflexiveness of the opposite reaction that jumps out at me, particularly coming from the same Mayor Bloomberg who got so choked up about the Cordoba Initiative’s unalienable right to make an Islamic center of the old Burlington factory on Park.

It also set me thinking about the issue of noise, and where Bloomberg would be likely to come down if it became an issue for the Park 51 center. There’s every possibility that it will, as far as I can tell.  The center will house a mosque, and mosques broadcast the call to prayer five times a day. This practice has become contentious in a number of American cities; in the Bronx, a masjid stirred vigorous community opposition last fall when it applied for an amplified sound permit for the purpose. The specific reason for requesting the permit was, apparently, that the call already broadcast outside the mosque was not considered loud enough to attract the attention of the faithful, and needed to be louder.

During the years I lived in Norfolk, Virginia, I lived not far from a masjid and I recall that in the 1980s, the calls to prayer were barely audible outside of about a block’s radius. By the 1990s, they were being amplified, and could be somewhat annoying on a temperate evening when you wanted to have the windows open. I don’t know if anyone ever formally objected to the noise.  From a quarter mile away, I found it a bearable irritant.  But I can understand why people closer to it might have found it objectionable – as I can understand why residents of the Bronx would, who have no alternative to hearing the adhan five times a day.

Perhaps the Park 51 center will agree not to broadcast the call to prayer outside its walls. I don’t know.  I do know that locals who would object to hearing it, and who would object to hearing it at Ground Zero because it’s Ground Zero, would not inherently be acting from bigotry.  I am, frankly, deeply offended at the implication that it could only be an act of bigotry to resist the establishment of a mosque at a particular site.  Mosques the world over bring loudspeakers, and very often crowds of the faithful praying five times a day in rows outside of them. If we say that Christians or Jews must not view that as noise pollution or as an unseemly usurpation of certain public spaces, then how do we also justify not calling atheists bigots when they are offended by Christian symbols?

And if we say that the religious arrangements of Jews don’t deserve the same respect from civil authorities as someone else’s plans for secular entertainment – then on what basis are we more solicitous of the religious arrangements of Muslims?

The reflexive tendencies of at least some of our political leaders – and agencies of our governments – seem to amount, if not to a suicide pact, at least to an Islam-promotion pact.  I do not believe that this is evidence of some dark conspiracy, so don’t run off and say I do.  But what I see is the same law interpreted to mean that Christianity is an encroachment on public life, and Judaism a hindrance to it, while Islam must win battles with the public over our shared living space, lest we all be bigots.

That is wrong.  A test of our true political and legal “impartiality” appears to be looming, with the intention of Florida-based evangelist Bill Keller to establish a Christian center near the Park 51 Islamic Center. (Keller’s website for the center is here.)  According to Keller, the location of the center will be announced in December, suggesting that it has not been confirmed yet.  It will be extremely informative to watch the progress of this effort and see if Keller is accorded the same support and affirmation from the local authorities that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has had.  Whatever any of us thinks of Keller’s theology, he, his religion, and his Christian center are entitled to equal treatment.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.

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Responses

  1. I’m not sure there’s any need to make it all this complicated–pointing out double and triple standards don’t help much if the standard you presumably prefer doesn’t support your claims. And why stay focused on the government’s attitudes anyway–they are, especially in NYC, part of Codevilla’s Ruling Class; why not focus on using this (and every other) incident as a way of crystallizing the opposition of the Country Class. I would stay focused on the intent behind the building of the Cordoba House–its builders themselves brought attention to the location, and claimed they chose it in the interests of “dialogue.” I say, just give them dialogue! Many people, it seems, would like to speak about the funding for the building, about its founder’s views about Hamas and terrorism more generally, about the events of 9/11 (intersting questions, no?) and, I imagine, plenty of other questions might arise out of even minimal answers to some of these (more questions will also arise from silence, and independent investigations). Who knows, maybe some people could be persuaded to sustain the dialogue on a daily basis, right outside the building. Maybe, at some point, someone involved in the Cordoba House will make a revealing statement, and more dialogue might ensue from that! It might be–it probably would be–better if the people involved in building the thing would simply respect public opinion and shut it down. Maybe that will happen–but these days it’s best to assume that the Ruling Class and those under its protection will stick it out, which means the Country Class and its parties will have to develop more flexible and sophisticated methods of political warfare.

  2. Well there is that Adam, but it strikes one about the fundamental unfairness of the thing, in the end, it’s
    all a pretense of tolerance, and supremacy is really
    involved

  3. OK, but we put ourselves in a very defensive position when we seek to extract fairness from the state, especially today. In a sense, I’m making a strategic argument–instead of trying to change the rules, or change the umpires, at least for now, let’s see if we can make their rules work against them. Over time such an approach might make it possible to change other things as well.

  4. adam, my short answer would be that the difference in privileging matters to public policy, and that’s why we have to call it out. It is unacceptable to me for the religious practices of Christians and Jews to be de-privileged by the civil authorities, while the practices of Muslims are given preference.

    That is simply indefensible, as a matter of legal practice or philosophy of man and the state. It also leads to Islam effectively taking over the public square. The reason is that practices that cannot help being public, and encroaching on the public square, are inherent with Islam, in a way they are not with Christianity and Judaism. Mosque worship — the call to prayer and the prayers five times a day — and veiling are the principal manifestations that create what amount to singular public displays in the West.

    One need not consider these things “bad” to nevertheless encounter them as disruptive, in community life that isn’t already built around them. Americans object, for example, to having Wal-Marts, high schools, stadiums, and megachurches built near them all the time because of noise and traffic concerns; the same concerns arise with mosques.

    If you aren’t familiar with the conditions that are becoming the norm in a number of places in Europe, I recommend taking the time to research it. Europe started out in a position very similar to ours today, but there are now parts of major cities in France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia in which women aren’t safe walking unveiled, and Jews — including those whom Muslim street gangs merely suspect of being Jews — are unsafe as well.

    Mosque worship in many places also produces crowds of the faithful outside the mosques, occupying sidewalks and park areas for the duration of prayers five times a day. I’m not expressing indignation here; these things can be accommodated when they are handled as community issues. But that’s not how they are handled. They are handled as “rights” the Muslim worshippers have over the time and arrangements of others in the community — while at the same time, the holiday displays of Christians and Jews, their sacred texts, and the things they want to wear on necklaces are treated as inadmissible in public spaces.

    There was a time, a few years ago, when I thought the trends reported in Europe were probably overblown, and could not be so pervasive that we really had to worry about them. I still regard the often-hyped demographic argument with skepticism; to me it seems like a shifting of responsibility, as if there is nothing we, individually or in our communities, can do to forestall a future of dhimmitude, but must look to state solutions like closing the borders, because the NUMBERS dictate the outcome.

    But events are too numerous and persistent to ignore. And frankly, one street down which unveiled women can’t walk safely is too many. But there are quite a few such streets in Western Europe now. We have heard for at least the last decade of Western women who veil (or, more correctly in most cases, “scarf” themselves) to walk from the bus or metro stop to their places of employment, because they would be subject to harassment, and possibly physical harm, if they didn’t. (Careful analysis indicates this occurs mainly in parts of France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. I’m not implying it happens all over Europe. But it’s happening too often if it happens anywhere. Those who reflexively denigrate reference to these facts as if recognizing them makes one a bigot are simply in the wrong.)

    In England, the civil courts have agreed to uphold shari’a judgments. In Sweden, analysts who’d rather NOT do so have reluctantly acknowledged that the annual increase in rapes is attributable to the growing immigrant Muslim population. In the Netherlands, the police are having some of their number dress as “bait Jews” (e.g., donning kippas, magen David jewelry) to catch the Muslim thugs who prey on them.

    None of this means the great majority of Muslims aren’t fine, decent people who can live in amity with others. But at a certain point, the state has to uphold community values rather than professing a finicking agnostism about them. Voids are always filled, and Islam, which is practiced very publicly, is a natural void filler.

    It matters tremendously whether the state respects Christianity and Judaism, and acknowledges them as organizations with claims on the public space that must be balanced, not dismissed and overriden.

    I can easily see a situation in which a community comes to an amicable compromise on the use of church bells AND nativity scenes AND menorah displays AND Jewish worker absences for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, AND mosque worship AND accommodation of Ramadan fasting. But to do that, the community must privilege — and must be allowed to privilege — each group’s claims. Religious worship is not, per se, an offense against which others have rights. Period.

    Only Islam is being accorded that status in the actions of the New York City authorities. If our government authorities are not as zealous for the religious claims of Christians and Jews as they are for the claims of Muslims, they will make decisions on that basis. And the difference in outcome will be profound.

    Meanwhile, Westerners have to come to grips with the fact that we either privilege our social norms, and overtly seek a balance with non-Westernized Islam when it’s practiced in our midst, or we will find our norms yielding under attack.

    Veiling of women is, in fact, incompatible with the Western belief that women are the spiritual, moral, and political equals of men. The purpose of the veil is to cover what the West does not regard as unseemly and in need of covering to begin with. Full-face veiling is utterly incompatible with the concept of women as fully responsible actors in public life — individual identification is central to every form of official interaction, from getting a driver’s license to borrowing money, witnessing at a trial, and running for public office.

    Asking an employee to transport liquor or dogs is not improper; employees who aren’t willing to should find another line of work. Our pervasive social norms should not bend to the religious objections of some. On the other hand, if a Muslim wants to go into business and run a trucking company that declines to transport liquor, that’s his prerogative. Taxis, however, under the rules of public accommodation to which local laws require them to adhere, cannot reasonably be divided between Halal taxis and Regular taxis. If you drive a cab, you pick up the customer’s dog. End of story.

    These are things that can and should be worked out by local authorities through local due process of law. That said, however, they end up mattering, in their cumulative effect, to the life of a nation. When only one side at the bargaining table has a prior commitment to compromise and accommodation, it is necessary to actually SECURE compromises and accommodations, and to hold fast to your own interests and priorities and know what you will not back down on. America has become too accustomed to accepting the “back-down” of our major religions and our mores before the “rights”-based political arguments mounted by their opponents. The back-down has mattered in every case. We can’t do it any more.

    • I might prefer a government that if staffed by people who are aware of the Christian and Judaic roots of our modern conceptions of rights, and understood why those traditions should be respected. But we don’t have such a government and are very unlikely to have one for a while, and since I don’t trust the people governing us today to know they might respect Christianity and Judaism, or Western social norms more generally, and so it seems to me that right now pressuring the government in such directions is likely to be a waste of energy and, furthermore, to backfire. I prefer to take the government out of the privileging business, and reduce its operations to basic things like law enforcement. It’s better, for example, to argue against facial covering in public areas in general, because we all need to be able to see each other (that is, as a matter of social trust and safety), than to take on veiling in particular, and expecting the state to mediate arguments over religion, secularism and women’s rights which it is completely unequipped to handle. Keep things simple. Demand respect for private property–if Muslims own property, they can build a mosque where they want; but in the case of the Cordoba House, or, perhaps, Saudi funded mosques elsewhere, other property owners in the area (and citizens with access to public spaces) are free to draw attention to that establishment as they see fit. Simple respect for private property would also seem to me the most likely way to help out, for example, the synagogue in Brighton Beach you mention. Again, it’s simpler, and I think the religions that are best suited to integrate into American life will also be best suited to have their grievances addressed by a legal system narrowly focused on protecting people’s lives and property, not balancing the claims of differing religions.

    • Hello,

      I am unclear as to your point in the following sentence: “In Sweden, analysts who’d rather NOT do so have reluctantly acknowledged that the annual increase in rapes is attributable to the growing immigrant Muslim population.” How does not recognizing sharia law relate to an annual increase in rapes? Rape is illegal in western law and sharia law, correct?

      Thanks.

  5. Imam Rauf was quoted (NYT 12 09 2009) that the 9/11 damage was his primary reason for buying 45 Park Place. The original protest was about a building that is one of the damaged survivors of 9/11.

    THIS 1853 building survived, and shows how far the damage extended beyond the WTC site even before the Twin Towers collapsed. If not for the still undefined prayer space as mosque, the developers would have faced the real fight: over the map of NYC history.

    “…Christopher Moore, a member of the [Landmarks Preservation] commission, said the vote was not a matter of religion, though he argued that the building could not be divorced from the memory of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    “It is not directly on ground zero, but it is a part of ground zero,” Mr. Moore said.

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/mosque-near-ground-zero-cle

    Having now read the lawsuit petition filed against the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, it would seem the 9-0 vote on August 3 was “arbitrary and capricious” in several ways. download from http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/in-battle-over-mosque-a-defender-of-architecture/

    One point: the lawsuit petition mentions the Federal Heritage Emergency National Task Force represents thirty Federal Agencies and national service organizations still actively engaged in 9/11 preservation of artifacts and human remains.

    The history of NYC is also about rebuilding in a frenzy of booms and busts.

    It does not mean we have to erase the history of a site that is part of the birthplace of New York City, and almost four hundred years of NYC history.

    A building that is also one of the damaged survivors of 9/11.

    I still want to know how a building from 1853 was built so that a torpedo-sized chunk of airplane ONLY crashed through the roof and two floors, and not through to the basement. It must have amazing old growth chestnut crossbeams.

    Are the historic preservation advocates now muzzled by the charge of bigotry?

    JEDyer: Thanks for highlighting the plight of St. Nicholas, and the WTC cross at St. Peter’s, which is where the NYCFire Department brought their dead chaplain, the first casualty of 9/11. St. Peter’s is the mother parish of New York State.

    satellite image from September 23, 2001 showing the blue tarp on the roof of 45 Park Place:

    As to the amplified call to prayer, the 2008 NYC noise code would prohibit that, although it appears a mosque can apply for an exemption.

    One more note. It seems very NON-Islamic to spend $100million on this still undefined development. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is “Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة‎ ) or “alms giving”, the giving of a small percentage of one’s possessions (surplus wealth) to charity, the welfare contribution to poor and deprived Muslims. It is the duty of an Islamic community not just to collect zakat but to distribute it fairly as well. As a mandatory requirement of Islamic faith, every year 2.5% of one’s wealth is given away to the poor. ” (from wiki).

    And, thanks for the URL about the Bronx masjid in Parkchester. I had a 3-day Bangladeshi wedding in the apartment above me in December, 2002. They were very apologetic, but still sounded like elephants moving furniture for two nights except between 2:00 am and 6:00 am. They (maybe 30 people emerged) finally left for the actual ceremony on the third day. They had invited me to come along, but I declined because all I wanted was some sleep.

    One of the other unintended consequence of this Manhattan-centric controversy is that the Muslim congregations in the outer boroughs are now facing increased hostility over their attempts to secure permanant spaces for their Masjids where they live.

    Mayor Bloomberg abuses his power to over-ride neighborhood concerns on most development issues. He even manipulated the retail labor unions into blocking a Wal-Mart inthe South Bronx.
    Maybe Wal-Mart should have included an in-store church next to the in-store pharmacy in order to get protection under the First Amendment.

    Yes, I am a NYC cynic. Park51 is about a social-climbing Sufi couple (who may now be out of the vision handed off to Sharif El-Gamal and Oz Sultan) wreaking havoc and diviseness to pursue a vague vision of inter-faith dialog and healing that has already failed. No one has noticed that Sunnis and Shi’a do not share prayer space, and Ahmadis, Ismailis, and some Sufis are considered heretics.

    The Arab Christians of NYC, especially the Egyptian Copts, are among the biggest opponents.

  6. adam — there was a time when I would have agreed with the central principle of your argument. But what I’ve come to understand in the last decade or so is that focusing narrowly on protecting “lives and property” is too easy to use AGAINST disfavored religions (and against disfavored political ideas).

    When I was in high school and college, there was still a presumption that people’s religions were not inherently an offense against the lives and property of others. That presumption has been chipped away steadily until today, there is a whole segment of the population — including politicians and judges — that sees religion as an inherent offense to “lives and property.”

    In particular, it sees the beliefs of Christianity as such an offense. In specific situations it also sees Orthodox Judaism as such an offense. Interestingly, those with this mindset almost never view Islam, which is considerably more illiberal than either Christianity or Orthodox Judaism on a number of matters that affect people’s daily lives and liberties, as an offense to the “lives and property” of others.

    I put “lives and property” in scare quotes because the definitions of them used by this segment of the population are not the narrow, libertarian definitions you have in mind. But that is a profound point itself.

    Our most basic definitions in community life are neither unassailable nor survivable without constant affirmation. I used to have the mindset I think many, many people do: that there is some neutral state between, on the one hand — to take our current example — affirming that religion is a pre-existing prerogative of the people — LIKE life and property, but not subsumed under either — which the state exists to secure our rights to, and on the other hand, the state hating religion, or hating and disfavoring particular religions.

    But there is no such neutral state. There is no neutral state in an individual’s conscience either, in which he can be function by being comfortably agnostic about the basic issues of life. We have become so wealthy and (relatively) peaceful as a society that people have begun to believe there is such a state, but there’s not. Whatever we do not actively affirm slips away, and whatever we don’t oppose comes to rule us.

    When it comes to practicing our religions, we can’t all live as if we exist on islands and have no effect on each other. We do affect each other, with traffic and noise and with wanting it quiet at certain times, and with needing to occupy space. There WILL be involvement by civil authorities in adjusting these competing claims, in Western nations where civil authority is our guiding concept for such matters.

    It is unacceptable for atheists to be able to enforce the law in one way when it comes to Christian practices, for the law to be applied in a different and more accommodating way to Muslim practices, and for the authorities to harbor yet another — perhaps cavalier and dismissive — mindset about the claims of Jewish congregations on public space.

    This, I argue, is what we get when we don’t privilege religion as religion. If we focus only on property rights, the religions will end up receiving different treatment. This won’t be only a matter of different times and places, it will be observable in federal and state law as a pattern. For example, some Muslims will be able to preach that it is an offense for women to be seen in public unveiled (not all clerics preach this), but even though this is clearly and incontrovertibly discriminatory toward women, there will be no retribution from the state. On the other hand, some Christians preach that homosexuality is a sin (not all do), and the day is coming when that could be designated a hate crime, and churches could be sued — not just for damages but over their tax-exempt status — if they won’t accept gays as employees.

    I reject that different application of the law on principle. I affirm that religious freedom is a natural right that precedes and binds the state. Religion IS in the public square because people form the public square. Civil authorities can’t and shouldn’t act as if people’s religions don’t matter, or as if only some of them matter, or as if the civil government needs to side with some but ignore others, because of some historical narrative popular with the self-appointed intellectual elite of the day.

    We either affirm that freedom of religion means the state is respectful and positively disposed toward religion, or we WILL lose the last vestiges of such a state. We will have instead a state that takes only a cynical, opportunistic political view of religion, just as it increasingly does of property and — frankly, with all the euthanasia enthusiasts who popped up to craft Obamacare — of life itself.

    It’s a great lie that America was constituted to be a secularist nation and that religion is something the state defends us against. America was the most religious and religiously energetic nation on earth when the Constitution was drafted. We have remained in that condition even through today. The uniquely “American state” has never been politically agnostic about religion; it has instead been legally respectful — and yet we were freer than anyone else and remain so. But the more our national political narrative has de-privileged and disfavored religion, the less free we have become.

    In my view, the correct posture of the state is that there is no automatic prejudice against religion. That means that atheists cannot eliminate all references to religious ideas or symbols from the public square. Period. Nothing is excluded from this principle.

    What there should be, however, is accommodation and compromise, since we all do have to interact with the public square. (None of this means the government should intervene to homogenize the outcomes of religious affiliation or practice. It’s not government’s job to ensure there’s an atheist plaque everywhere the Ten Commandments are posted in a public building. It’s not anyone’s job; there is no preexisting requirement for this kind of artificial homeostasis. If groups of atheists want to band together and ask the legislatures for equal plaque time, hey, knock yourselves out.)

    I believe Christians, Jews, Muslims, other religionists, and atheists can work out a sharing of the public square. It’s something that needs to be done on a local basis. Some communities are much more Muslim or Jewish than others. Not all the faithful of each religion agree with each other on things that affect civil life. But these things can be worked out amicably, and will be if the civil authorities take the correct view that everyone’s claims are to be respected. No one should be privileged a priori to the extent that he is not expected to have to compromise in any way.

    Christianity and Judaism have proven — not always, but usually — that they can play nice in this regard. I think Islam can too, but only if the ground rules are understood in advance. One of those rules is that belief in Christianity and Judaism has the same status, as a natural right that preexists and binds the state. So do other religious beliefs, along with agnosticism and atheism. Islam can believe what it wants about these other groups, but governments in the US will privilege their freedom of conscience — and that includes Christians evangelizing on street corners and atheists drawing cartoons of Mohammed and newspapers publishing them.

    There is no way to affirm these things IN PEACE if the state doesn’t do it. That is the condition mankind inhabits; there is no other. And if it is not affirmed, the rights will be trampled.

    • So, the public space needs to be shared, and the state inevitably shows some attitude towards the various religions available in society. I do need to take that into account–the radical libertarian would do so by calling for the privatization of all space, but I’m not going to make that argument.

      I think I mostly agree with you, but it seems to me that we can narrow the focus. (I keep coming back to that, because the problem is always to find principles that enough people can agree and act upon, not just ones that are right.) How much of the kinds of things you object to here can be traced back to the concerted efforts of very small number of people who have gotten very good at gaming the system and leverging a distorted interpretation of 1st Amendment principles–like the ACLU. There’s a Christmas display in the town center–it doesn’t bother anyone, including all the non-Christians in town, but the ACLU sees an opportunity and moves, using a single atheist to mount a law suit. The problem is not so much to affirm religion, which the town is quite ready to do, or to share the public space which, as you say, the people in the town will be able to work out (at this point in time, will the Christian majority really object to Hannukha displays, or whatever Muslims or Hindus want?–unlikely, and if they do, then a lawsuit might really be justifed).

      But, then, doesn’t the whole problem reduce itself to making such lawsuits impossible? And isn’t the way to do that to restore a proper understanding of the Constitutional order, with the means to doing so including a rejection of judicial supremacy, and open battles over the meaning of the constitution? We just need to find ways to take the Constitution back from those who have hijacked it. I think that religious people will play a huge role in that struggle, through affirmations of their faith that are simultaneously affirmations of their faith in the Constitutional order.

  7. [...] During the years I lived in Norfolk, Virginia, I lived not far from a masjid and I recall that in the 1980s, the calls to prayer were barely audible outside of about a block’s radius. By the 1990s, they were being amplified, and could be somewhat annoying on a temperate evening when you wanted to have the windows open. I don’t know if anyone ever formally objected to the noise. From a quarter mile away, I found it a bearable irritant. But I can understand why people closer to it might have found it objectionable – as I can understand why residents of the Bronx would, who have no alternative to hearing the adhan five times a day. [...] God and Man at Ground Zero [...]

  8. [...] gradually assert themselves ever more strongly. “God and Man at Ground Zero,” by The Optimistic Conservative, August 13 (thanks to Doris): Here’s my bottom-line problem with the concatenation of events [...]

  9. K2K:

    “One more note. It seems very NON-Islamic to spend $100million on this still undefined development. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is “Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة‎ ) or “alms giving”, the giving of a small percentage of one’s possessions (surplus wealth) to charity, the welfare contribution to poor and deprived Muslims. . . ” (from wiki).

    Actually, the proper uses of zakat are far broader than represented by your quote, and include support for those “fighting in the way of Allah,” as evidenced by the numerous islamic charities implicated in terror funding (which is part of the reasons shariah ompliant financing is such a potential problem).

    Raymond Ibrahim has written a really good, short article on the subject:

    “The Dark Side of Zakat: Islamic Charity in Context”

    http://www.meforum.org/2438/zakat-muslim-charity-in-context

  10. I should have elaborated.

    I consider the ground zero mosque an act of Dawa, an assertion of islamic right akin to proselytising, which has its roots in the doctrine of jihad – so it’s all kosher :) (or halal, as the case may be).

  11. Welcome, Omar, and thanks for the comments. Your comments will post automatically from now on (unless you include 2 or more links in a comment, in which case the comment is sent by WordPress to the moderation queue).

    Raymond Ibrahim is always a lively and useful source. Appreciate the link. Don’t be a stranger!

  12. Thanks for the kind welcome!

  13. I really appreciated the heads-up on ALL the religious/civic controversies now raging in NYC!

    Re that annoying (to kafirs like me) call to prayer – via p.a. system, no less – five (count ‘em, 5!!) times a day, maybe if/when St. Nicholas Church is rebuilt, they could include a very lovely – and loud – set of bells (but maybe that’s not the Christian Orthodox way – only for Roman & Anglican types?). Further, Bill Keller’s proposed church in what may become the “religious center of NYC” might have an audio factor as well. And finally, not to be left out, perhaps a synagogue could also be built in the neighborhood and engage a professional shofar blower to blow that horn several times a day – maybe to coincide with the muzzim’s call to prayer? And then, let the church bells peel as well! What a cacaphony it would make – and no doubt drive the entire neighborhood bonkers. Noise pollution, indeed!!

  14. [...] Our Reflexive Approval of Islam There are two relevant tales of Christian developments near Ground Zero. One involves a Greek Orthodox church, St. Nicholas’, which was crushed by the collapse of WTC Tower Two on 9/11. St. Nicholas’ Church was across the street from the World Trade Center. In 2008, a deal was announced with the New York Port Authority to rebuild the church two blocks from its original site. But civil authorities objected to the church’s plans for a larger structure, with a dome and spire in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Their express concern was that the church not be taller than the World Trade Center Memorial. There is no apparent concern about the Park 51 Islamic center being taller than the WTC Memorial (it is). It will not be built as a wholly new structure, of course. But on the other hand, the commercial skyscraper planned by the Port Authority will be a new structure, and it will tower over the WTC Memorial. The principles at work appear to be as follows: new commercial structures may be taller than the Memorial. An Islamic group may occupy a building that is taller than the Memorial and devote it to a religious purpose. But a Christian structure may not be built taller than the Memorial. … the Sea Breeze Jewish Center and Temple Beth Abraham have been accommodating the noise from concerts in nearby Asser Levy Park for some years; but now Brooklyn’s borough president wants to enlarge the amphitheater and increase the concert-noise encroachment dramatically. Concerned for their ability to hold services, the synagogues asked for reconsideration of this plan. Receiving only dismissive responses, they sued to have a local ordinance enforced, which prohibits excessive noise within 500 feet of a religious structure. Bloomberg, displaying his exquisite sensitivity to freedom of religion, is on record with this advice to the synagogues: “Maybe they could adjust their services slightly earlier. We just have to start being a little more tolerant of each other.” -God and Man at Ground Zero [...]

  15. I think any Christian center should get the same treatment as the Mosque. Tolerance of religions other than your own is something we should all support. A part of that is not tarring anyone because of the acts of others with their faith just based on that faith.


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