Home > Political Game-Playing, Religion > It’s Not About Religion, It’s Not About 9/11; It’s About Politics

It’s Not About Religion, It’s Not About 9/11; It’s About Politics

August 1st, 2010

A few days ago, I posted about the “mosque” being built “at” Ground Zero–actually, it’s a community center, and there’s a multi-faith chapel and prayer area, not a mosque, and it’s not on the WTC site, but rather two or three blocks away… but hey, when it’s an election year and you’re trying to make people mad, these things don’t matter. What’s more, as came out in the discussion, the group that wants to put up the center is one that has condemned the 9/11 attack and terrorism in general “in the most unequivocal terms,” and plans a memorial for the 9/11 victims in the center. The Imam heading the initiative, a Sufi Muslim, has worked together with Israelis to promote peace between the nations, and has jointly proclaimed with them for both Palestinians and Jews “to live with freedom, security, dignity, respect, and self-determination.” So this is no radical organization, not a group raising funds for terrorists or smearing Jews, but a progressive, peaceful organization trying to mend relations, build awareness, and bring Muslims and others to a reasonable, respectful, and peaceful place.

And yet, look at what controversy has been brought. Now, this probably would not have been such a big deal were it not for people like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich seeing a fantastic red-herring issue intended not to legitimately address grievances or to right wrongs, but instead to inflame (and defame) so as to rally political strength to their campaigns. Without the politicians using this as a prop to get media attention, there would have been a few protests from the families of the 9/11 victims, a few people from the community raising a fuss, but it would have stopped there, the protests drowned out by others pointing out that the group is far from objectionable, the project is positive and constructive by nature, and religious freedoms should be observed and no one group be unfairly maligned or hindered.

But this is a critical election year, and the temptation of making hay by distorting the facts and playing on people’s fears and indignation is just too great.

One interesting perspective is to imagine it having happened a different way: what if Obama himself had announced support for this project? As far as I can tell, he’s stayed a mile away from the issue, and for good reason: the right-wing has made the “Obama is a Muslim who wants to attack Christianity and destroy America” one of its prominent memes; Obama announcing public support for the center near Ground Zero would be like Christmas and Easter wrapped up in an orgasm for these people.

Imagine what the reaction would be if, now that Obama is president, the Pentagon started building Islamic prayer centers just like the one that they’re proposing near Ground Zero? The Pentagon, itself a victim of 9/11! Forced to build mosques!! Whoo boy! That would set off a firestorm of protest! There would be no end to the indignation, the claims that Obama is anti-Christian, the calls for impeachment, cries that anyone who would be insensitive and anti-American enough to build mosques at U.S. military installations must be a traitor of the worst stripe!!! The media would jump right on the bandwagon, “reasonably” asking questions like, “Is it really appropriate for the president to do something like this? Is he not sensitive to the feelings of the families of the victims as well as Americans everywhere? Should we be spreading Islamic fervor within the ranks of our own military?”

What if, on top of that, President Barack Hussein Obama hosted an Iftar, and Muslim celebration of Ramadan, within the White House itself? Everyone would go insane!!!

Well, if you know me, then you can probably see where I’m going with this. In 2006, five years after 9/11, The Pentagon started building Islamic prayer rooms. A few right-wing bloggers got their panties in a bunch, but no one else much minded or even noticed. And Bush hosted Iftars more than once. Bush was not branded a traitor, no brouhaha, the world didn’t end.

What this shows is that this is mostly about politics, mostly about smears and attacks and defamation and using our emotions, our fears and sensitivities against what is reasonable and for what is wrong with politics today.

One last thought: Jonathan Chait at The New Republic makes an interesting point: did you feel that it was proper to allow Salman Rushdie to publish The Satanic Verses, or for a Danish newspaper to publish a cartoon of Muhammad? You see the relation to this–freedoms of religion, action, and speech versus the sensitivities of those who may be offended.

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  1. Tim Kane
    August 1st, 2010 at 22:42 | #1

    I did not realize that the center was being built by Sufis.

    To my knowledge (which is better than most Americans, but still limited) Sufis and Ishmaelis (followers of the Aga Khan) are the most compatible (and in my opinion, ideal) form of Muslims.

    Indeed, Sufis are kind of the Buddhist of Muslims – they seek spirituality by seeking God internally. If all Muslims were Sufis there would be no concept of Islamic terrorism and no problem with Islam’s confrontation with the rest of the world and with modernism.

    Here’s a situation where the Republicans, if they don’t watch it, are going to collide into another Sherrod fiasco.

    Sufis are really good people. Really good. Sufis are no closer to being terrorist or related to the terrorist than Sherrod was a racist.

    If that aspect of this story grows wings, gets out and takes flight, you’ll see Gingrich have to comically back peddle out of his current position just like he had to under Sherrod problem. I would say Palin too, but she so dense she just wont get it. As Obermann says, that women is an idiot.

  2. Geoff K
    August 2nd, 2010 at 09:45 | #2

    From what I know Sufi’s are also relatively inoffensive as Muslims go. Still, they’re showing a remarkable lack of sensitivity here. Just build the damn thing somewhere else and everyone will be happy.

    As for the Pentagon building Islamic prayer centers, that doesn’t surprise me. The US Military has gone crazy trying to be inoffensive to Muslims, which is one reason why a US Army Muslim ended up on a shooting spree before anyone thought to intervene.

    As for Jonathan Chiam’s argument, that’s a classic “slippery slope” diversion. The difference is that Islams want to prevent publishers and writers from publishing anything, anywhere that they don’t like. We just don’t want *this* mosque* in *this place*. His argument is “if you give an inch, than you you have to concede the Islamics a mile”. No, we don’t.

  3. Luis
    August 2nd, 2010 at 10:19 | #3


    From what I know Sufi’s are also relatively inoffensive as Muslims go. Still, they’re showing a remarkable lack of sensitivity here.

    Insensitivity to what? People who are hateful of them because they mistake them for others?

    Let’s say a man’s father is murdered by a man from, say, Argentina. My family is western European, Spanish on my father’s side. I want to move in to the house next door, but because my name is Hispanic-sounding, I am labeled a vile murderer and people try to block my legal purchase of the home, telling me to “go live somewhere else.” Even though I am anti-crime, and from my home would operate a organization that would provide community services and a crime watch.

    Am I being insensitive because my name offends people on grounds which are not only mistaken but would be irrelevant even if they were not mistaken? I feel for the man whose father was murdered, but I wasn’t that guy, and frankly, there’s a limit to what sympathy will excuse.

    Forgive me for saying so, but I don’t think it’s the Sufis who are the ones being insensitive here.

  4. stevetv
    August 3rd, 2010 at 00:29 | #4

    Maybe it wouldn’t have been such an issue had New York built those so-called “Freedom Towers” by now, instead of sitting on their beureaucratic hands all these years. See what happens when you take so long?

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