Saturday, August 28, 2010

the sentimentality argument against the Ground-Zero mosque

The people who are calling opponents of the Ground-Zero mosque "bigots" have a point.

No, seriously. And literally. I'm not joking here, or setting you up for some sort of ironic twist. I'm serious.

Seriously.

Look, I'm opposed to the Ground-Zero mosque. In fact, I'm one of those extreme reactionaries who thinks that despite the First Amendment, the government ought to prevent the mosque from being built, but I have a sound non-bigoted reason for thinking so (which I'll get to later) while most of the opposition that I've heard from fellow mosque-opponents, does sound like borderline bigotry to me.

Also, I'm not pulling a Charles Johnson here and looking for approval from leftists by calling my fellow conservatives bigots. I have no interest whatsoever in getting approval from leftists. What I do have an interest in is getting conservatives to make honest arguments about what is wrong with the Ground-Zero mosque rather than using the politically-motivated argument from sentimentality. The argument from sentimentality smacks of bigotry and it sets a poor precedent.

The argument from sentimentality goes like something like this: "Muslims blew up the World Trade Center and killed thousands of innocent Americans. The families of the victims, and indeed, many Americans are justifiably sensitive about these events, even now, ten years later. Therefore, Muslims should respect that sensitivity and build the Mosque elsewhere."

Look what is happening here: just because some Muslims killed Americans, we don't want other Muslims building a mosque there? They should respect the sensitivity of bigots who blame all Muslims for the actions of a few? That really is a weak argument, and essentially calls for sensitivity towards prejudice.

A better reason, the justified reason, to oppose the mosque is not sensitivity or a desire to keep Muslims away from an area where they killed thousand of people; the justified reason is strategic.

To start, let's make the politically risky move of observing openly that the United States is in a war against Muslims. Oh no he didn't! Did I actually say that after worrying about prejudice against Muslims? Yes, I did. I don't say that we are at war against all Muslims, but we are at war, and the people we are at war with are Muslims, and the fact that they are Muslims is an essential characteristic of the enemy because they justify the war on religious grounds. There are some Muslims that we are not at war with. A (distressingly small) number of Muslims are even on our side in the war, but that does not effect that fact that our enemy is Muslim and views other Muslims as their allies in the war. It doesn't matter if American Muslims are their allies, it matters that the enemy views them as allies.

My statement that we are at war with Muslims is not bigotry; it is simply a statement of fact. It does not mean that I hate all Muslims (I don't hate any Muslims, actually), or that I want to kill all Muslims (I only want to kill the ones who are a threat), or that I think all Muslims are too icky to build mosques near a site where their co-religionists murdered 3,000 innocent Americans.

My reason for opposing the Ground-Zero mosque is purely strategic. I oppose the mosque because enemy Muslims* will view the building of the mosque as a great victory. It will give them an impression that they are winning --and for good reason as it will give further evidence that America is too afraid or too decadent to defend itself. This in turn will encourage those who are already active enemies to work harder to kill Americans and/or prevent the active enemies from becoming discouraged and give up on their attempts to kill Americans. Further it will help active enemies to recruit more enemy Muslims* who are currently only passive enemies and turn them into active enemies who are actively trying to kill Americans.

Since this reason for opposing the Ground-Zero mosque is a matter of war, it overrides the otherwise very important issue of religious freedom in this very trivial special case. We are not preventing Muslims from following their conscience; we are not preventing them from worshiping; we are not taking away their other First-Amendment rights; all we are doing is stopping them from building a monument to their greatest victory on our soil while the war still rages.

One thing you can count on is that whenever the United States comes up with a strategy that is effective at eliminating enemy Muslims*, the American left will worry openly and endlessly that it will be a "recruiting tool for terrorists", but when the Muslims put together their own recruitment plans, the Left suddenly has no concern whatsoever about it. Funny, that. It's almost like they are on the other side.

* the adjective "enemy" is intended to specify a subset of Muslims, not to describe all Muslims

UPDATE: from the comments, it seems that I failed to make myself clear. The argument from sensitivity begins with the presumption that the mosque is being built in good faith, and that no one intends for the mosque to be a monument to the Muslim victory of 9/11. If that premise were correct, and if the enemy Muslims gained no benefit from the mosque, then the opposition to the mosque would be prejudiced because there would be no reason left to oppose it other than distaste for Muslims.

Foxfier and Marcel not accept that premise, so they are not making the sensitivity argument. In fact, I don't think any conservatives accept those premises. Instead they use the argument from sensitivity in an attempt to persuade those who do accept the premises. This is a losing strategy since the the same fools who accept those ridiculous premises are also the ones who are constantly looking for signs of bigotry among the right.

6 comments:

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

First, let me say that you are also missing that, from the original name of the "community center," they ARE trying to pick a fight, and that given the Islamic cultural symbol of building on the rubble of a great landmark (ie, "you lose, we win, you suck.") it would be a bad idea even if it was the Happy Fluffy Bunbun Islamic Cultural Center, Jews and Bacon Welcome.

Now to the next point....

Biased would probably be a better word. Bigot tends to be more general than "I believe those who espouse X creed should not be allowed in my area." (Presuming X creed is different from one's own, of course.)

Just a language tweek.

I find myself agreeing with Klavan on the Culture on this one, though. Catholic Nuns-- keep in mind, Catholics were among those slaughtered by the Nazis-- ended up moving their planned house away from a concentration camp, because it upset the Jews.
If the point is healing, you do not start by kicking someone in the teeth.

Marcel said...

It occurred to me that, whatever the merits of your argument, the federal government has no authority to stop the mosque, and the Constitution specifically forbids them to. Congress hasn't declared war, and President Obama can't just act unilaterally, etc. Then I remembered "[T]he U.S. may, with executive approval, deliberately target and kill U.S. citizens who are suspected of being involved in terrorism." It's deeply weird that the president thinks he can order a man killed, but can't deny a building permit.

That's a bit tangential; I've got something more on topic to put up, hopefully later today.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Half the time, it's not a mosque, it's a community or cultural center.

Would that not mean it loses the protections it claims?

Marcel said...

Like Foxfier says on her site, it's the Flying Imams. I can imagine their planning meeting: "Hey guys, we'll just sit in our seats and pray, enthusiastically calling out "Allahu Akbar" from time to time. That will really bug the other passengers, disrupt the whole flight, and expose the kuffars' latent anti-Muslim bigotry, about which we can then complain - 'Hey, we were just praying!' If we're lucky someone will throw a punch. Worst case, we get free upgrades."

But the Flying Imams weren't just praying, they were trolling, acting to provoke something they could then condemn as bigotry. That people shouldn't let themselves be trolled doesn't mean we shouldn't call out and condemn trolling.

I suppose one could argue that those who personally feel upset by the prospect of the Ground Zero Mosque are, maybe unconsciously, anti-Muslim bigots, because their feelings - distress, anger, whatever - show they think "Muslims killed 3000 people, now Muslims are building a Mosque." The far left can make that argument if they want; it will do them more harm than good politically. But is it a valid argument?

One could say, "Widow Smith, the antipathy you feel toward Muslims is irrational; it's evidence of bigotry; it's un-American." That might be logically valid in some formal p-or-not-p world. In this world, it's not a good or effective argument, as the far left is discovering, and I think it misses the point. That point is, Imam Feisal is acting like a jerk if he insists on his right to build the mosque there. Saying so isn't bigotry.

It isn't bigotry to oppose the Ground Zero Mosque for the reason that it will upset people (it already has), and so worsen relations between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans (it already has.) The best thing Imam Feisal could do is say "yes, I have a right to build it there, but as a gesture of good will I'm putting it elsewhere."

"They should respect the sensitivity of bigots who blame all Muslims for the actions of a few?" Yes, the Imam should, if he wants to improve how most non-Muslim Americans perceive Muslims. I don't think it's always bad to ask people to be sensitive to each other's prejudices. It's basically saying "don't be a dick."

Marcel said...

Like Foxfier says on her site, it's the Flying Imams. I can imagine their planning meeting: "Hey guys, we'll just sit in our seats and pray, enthusiastically calling out "Allahu Akbar" from time to time. That will really bug the other passengers, disrupt the whole flight, and expose the kuffars' latent anti-Muslim bigotry, about which we can then complain - 'Hey, we were just praying!' If we're lucky someone will throw a punch. Worst case, we get free upgrades."

But the Flying Imams weren't just praying, they were trolling, acting to provoke something they could then condemn as bigotry. That people shouldn't let themselves be trolled doesn't mean we shouldn't call out and condemn trolling.

I suppose one could argue that those who personally feel upset by the prospect of the Ground Zero Mosque are, maybe unconsciously, anti-Muslim bigots, because their feelings - distress, anger, whatever - show they think "Muslims killed 3000 people, now Muslims are building a Mosque." The far left can make that argument if they want; it will do them more harm than good politically. But is it a valid argument?

One could say, "Widow Smith, the antipathy you feel toward Muslims is irrational; it's evidence of bigotry; it's un-American." That might be logically valid in some formal p-or-not-p world. In this world, it's not a good or effective argument, as the far left is discovering, and I think it misses the point. That point is, Imam Feisal is acting like a jerk if he insists on his right to build the mosque there. Saying so isn't bigotry.

It isn't bigotry to oppose the Ground Zero Mosque for the reason that it will upset people (it already has), and so worsen relations between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans (it already has.) The best thing Imam Feisal could do is say "yes, I have a right to build it there, but as a gesture of good will I'm putting it elsewhere."

"They should respect the sensitivity of bigots who blame all Muslims for the actions of a few?" Yes, the Imam should, if he wants to improve how most non-Muslim Americans perceive Muslims. I don't think it's always bad to ask people to be sensitive to each other's prejudices. It's basically saying "don't be a dick."

Doc Rampage said...

Please read my update, guys. You two both make good points about being a little more sympathetic to people's prejudices. I tend to agree that well-meaning people would be so. But we are not dealing with well-meaning people here; we are dealing with leftists and Islamists. The argument from sensitivity is not going to persuade either group. Of course, neither is the strategic argument, now that I think of it...