Taking The Ground Zero Mosque Bait

18 Aug

That’s definitely what I did – took the bait, swallowed the hook, and then started swimming around with it, wearing myself out. This Ground Zero Mosque debate is like a big, red hot button on everyone’s chest, that you can hit with a tennis ball from across the room.

The problem is, there isn’t really a debate.  A debate involves two sides arguing opposite viewpoints.  In this Ground Zero Mosque debate, that’s not what’s happening.

On the one hand, you’ve got me and the President and a bunch of flippant intellectuals, and we’re 100% positive that the Mosque is fine.  We don’t even need to know much about it, we’re just talking about the First Amendment, and how it guarantees us all the right to practice our religions.  You could put up a Church of Satan if you wanted to, and I’d barely be listening to anyone who wanted to argue about it.

But it turns out, if you do listen for a minute to the people who oppose the Mosque, they know all about the First Amendment, too.  They’re not talking about whether or not the Mosque is legal. They’re talking about how offensive and insulting the Mosque is. 

If you press them for just a second or two about the First Amendment, they’ll agree – sure, they have the right to do it, but they still shouldn’t.  We don’t have to go around doing everything that we the right to do.

It’s an academic argument on one side, and that side seems pretty clear.  I don’t see how you can argue that you can’t put in a Mosque.  I’ve yet to see or hear a single solid argument to that effect.  It’s the First Amendment – the first one!

And it’s an emotional argument on the other side.  Talking to a couple of military guys on Facebook, I found myself feeling pretty callous and closed-minded, demanding that they ignore their own experiences and insisting they stick to the academic chalkboard behind me. 

Of course I’m open-minded about Muslims – the ones I know here in Columbus, Ohio are pretty cool. 

If they’d been running at me with bombs strapped to them screaming “Death to America,” if my friends were losing limbs to bombs disguised as garbage in the road, if I hadn’t been home in three years because I was out there trying to keep 9/11 from ever happening again, I don’t know – I might not be feeling very academic about it, either.

Suddenly I’m admonishing people – soldiers – for not having my safe and insulated perspective.  Suddenly I’m demanding that they forget about the guys trying to kill them, and listen to my flippantly-worded reason. 

There is no way for me to imagine where these guys are coming from, but I know this – if Muslims deserve respect with regards to Ground Zero, then so do these guys.  In fact, that’s something we often forget in heated political debates – that we all deserve respect, especially those with whom we disagree.

It kind of reminds me of the NRA rally held near the Columbine shootings, which Michael Moore featured in Bowling For Columbine.  Remember Moore kind of jumped the shark on that one, following Charlton Heston around with the photograph of the dead girl – he wasn’t talking about the Bill of Rights that day, was he?  No, and the right wing wasn’t interested in emotion, either.

The roles were reversed – the right wing had the academic position, just involving a different Amendment.  They said, look, it’s a free country, and we’re exercising our rights.  The NRA didn’t shoot up a school.  Nobody at the rally shot up a school.  You can’t blame all gun owners for a single incident.

And the left wing took the emotional route – think about the victims and their families, and refrain from exercising those rights.  It’s the same argument on both sides, with gun owners instead of Muslims – and with the same level of conviction, too.

We kind of scream “Less filling” and “tastes great” at each other, and it isn’t a jocular, eighties beer commercial.  It’s real life, and all it does is divide us all even further.  Both sides do it – we don’t change our views, we don’t even consider them very carefully most of the time.  We just identify which team we’re on, and start throwing tomatoes.

It seems to me, we have to do better than that.

That’s what I mean about taking the bait.  I truly believe that there are forces at work which want exactly that – division.  Distraction.  Infighting.  What’s the opposite of “United We Stand?”

The academic side is rock solid.  Even staunch Republicans I’ve been talking to admit that there is no way to legally prohibit the construction and opening of the Mosque.  So if you’re able to see the academic side clearly, if you’re able to focus on how important it is, in short if you agree with me and the President that the Muslims have the right to worship as they please, just like anyone else, then all we had to do was ignore the controversy.

Instead, we fed it.  Instead, we enraged those of us who were working through an emotional reaction to the idea.   The law is academic – there is no way, for instance, that a legal challenge to the Mosque would have held up.  Even if New York City were to pass a law stating you can’t build a Mosque within five miles of Ground Zero, it would get tossed out in federal court.

So if we’re so academic, then we should notice, there’s nothing to debate.  We’re trying to debate emotion, and it’s not going to do anyone any good.  And instead, our superior intellectual position – on this particular matter – moved us to swagger and roll our eyes and in general push people around.

I don’t think it’s okay to be insensitive to Muslims, or members of the Armed Forces, or any of our fellow Americans, or any of our fellow human beings.  I think that’s the ideal to strive for.

And there’s a big difference between reacting emotionally, seeming insensitive in the process  – and sitting there carefully considering various ways to articulate a deliberately insensitive argument.

Someone else being insensitive – usually not a decent reason to escalate the matter.  It’s easy to bitch about our giant government, our convoluted and imperfect system, but in the long run, it can produce impressive results.  Watch the system, sure – but wait until it’s broken before you start fixing it.

I’ve never lived anywhere else – so I can’t say with any certainty that this is the greatest place in the world to live.  But it sure seems like it.  Everybody else  seems to think so.  I don’t think people are piling in from every corner of the world because we’re crappy or mediocre.

Being offended by the Mosque, talking about it, expressing it – none of that runs against the Constitution.  It’s speech that’s protected as clearly as the freedom of religion itself.

Academically, the issue is solid, and for me, that ends the emotional aspect of it.  I’d rather send a message that we’re still the same country, no matter what happens, and the best way to do that, it seems to me, is through grace and tolerance. 

That doesn’t invalidate the emotions of others.  Closing my mouth and opening my ears – from an academic perspective, that’s never a bad idea.

Here are a couple of interesting reads, from different perspectives:

This article – “The Mosque at Ground Zero, A Muslim View: Planting a Flag on a Muslim Conquest” was written  by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a Muslim who actively opposes the construction of the Mosque.


This one- “Ground Zero Mosque Location – aerial map shows clearly it’s part of the GZ site” by Eric Dondero at the Libertarian Republican, shows exactly how close to Ground Zero this thing really is.


Bob Cesca’s article – “Ground Zero Mosque Opponents Have a Lot of Work To Do” – presents the liberal perspective quite well.


Posted by on August 18, 2010 in Uncategorized


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7 responses to “Taking The Ground Zero Mosque Bait

  1. Kim Spangler-Milliken

    August 19, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Thank you for being the voice of reason, Tom! Wow, you’re good!

  2. Chip

    August 19, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Tom – enjoy your blog! Well thought out ideas. This whole issue is indeed emotional. The opposition just flat out feels that this is completely on purpose to give the U.S. a “ha-ha!.” I certainly doubt that you could put up a synagogue in Tehran or Mecca without the same emotions from those folks (along with a stoning of the architect). Let them put up the mosque, if they want. Can’t say no legally. I think I heard the other day someone in NYC has put in a zoning request for a strip club next door to it already.

    • thomaschalfant

      August 27, 2010 at 6:15 pm

      Thanks Chip sorry it took so long to respond but I was looking for articles about existing strip bars in the area – I keep hearing there are strip bars or porn theaters right there already. Couldn’t find any but I never did get a chance to look very hard.

  3. Steve

    August 26, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Nailed it. Just nailed it. Time to forward some links…


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