A controversy looking for a target
I’m a relatively recent transplant to New York City, as you probably know, but I have to say that this entire fuss over the Cordoba House has left me pretty annoyed. One the things you figure out quickly from living in New York is that people from all sorts of backgrounds live right on top of each other here, share the same facilities and public spaces, and that this is a pretty awesome thing indeed. Not that there isn’t diversity all over the country, but New York is especially diverse and relatively peaceful. As some friends of mine noted when they came to visit, they took the subways all the way from JFK to Park Slope and didn’t hear one other conversation in English. I haven’t even been here a year, but I’m impressed with what a great example New York is of how to (mostly) live in a super-diverse community and get along just fine, thank you very much. I’m not a pollyanna—I’m aware that people can harbor all sorts of crazy racism about each other even if they do see members of the hated group go about their boring ass every day business just like everyone else—but that’s why it seems doubly important to me not to sow animosity where none existed before.
Which is all this ridiculousness about the “Ground Zero Mosque” is, right up to the misleading nickname that conjures up an image of a mosque being built right on the site, instead of a community center two blocks away. (Let me say this—I’ve often been a mere two blocks away from the WTC building site and have not yet managed, in all the months I’ve lived here, to see it.) If Republicans hadn’t decided that this was a winning campaign strategy, I doubt many people would have bothered to notice it, honestly.
But what’s most troubling about this is that this empty-headed bullshit has the real potential to create lasting hatreds and resentments. Starting with the problem of positing that there’s an “us” vs. a Muslim “them”, and that “they” owe “us” an apology for what some of “them” did to some of “us”. If you start to look at the basic realities, this frame falls apart. As Lindsay notes, for instance, there were Muslim victims of the attacks on 9/11. Dozens of Muslim victims, at least, including one Muslim police officer who died trying to get people out of the building. “They” are “us”. This isn’t politically correcting wanking, but just a cold, hard fact.
I’m no fan of religion, but it’s just basic common sense not to hold all followers of a faith responsible for the violent extremists. On the contrary, I think a lot of atheists need to focus more on how religious wackiness hurts their followers most of all. Like I’ve said when people try to tar me with “bigot” when I criticize Catholic dogma, the vast majority of the victims of the Catholic rules against contraception and abortion are Catholics themselves. Muslim terrorists kill Muslims; in fact, in some places they mainly kill Muslims. The fight is against terrorists, not Muslims.
I do believe that if a particular church or group preaches violent or extremist rhetoric and one of their followers takes it to the next level, they should be held accountable for that. But that’s not what’s going on here. What’s going on here is the equivalent of holding mildly pro-choice Christian moderates accountable when some wingnut shoots an abortion doctor. What’s going on here would be like refusing to build churches near the OKC federal building site because McVeigh was a Christian. When Christians commit acts of terrorism, we don’t suggest you check the Christian shit at the door out of respect. Often, Christianity is part of the memorial to the victims themselves, because they too were Christians. Well, people of all faiths died in the attacks of 9/11. People of practically every stripe you can imagine live in New York, are New Yorkers. Responses to the tragedy of 9/11 should reflect this wholeness, instead of dividing people up into categories just to turn them on each other.