A New Atheist on the “Ground Zero Mosque”

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Sam Harris makes it clear that his atheism is in fact motivated less by reason and more by spleen:

Should a 15-story mosque and Islamic cultural center be built two blocks from the site of the worst jihadist atrocity in living memory? Put this way, the question nearly answers itself.

He compares it to building a shrine to Satan or a 9/11 truther institute. And: “At this point in human history, Islam simply is different from other faiths.” Namely:

And honest reasoning declares that there is much that is objectionable—and, frankly, terrifying—about the religion of Islam and about the state of discourse among Muslims living in the West, and it is decidedly inconvenient that discussing these facts publicly is considered a sign of “intolerance” by well-intentioned liberals, in part because such criticism resonates with the actual bigotry of not-so-well-intentioned conservatives.

To prove this, who quotes the Koran and notes that he doesn’t hear “from Western Muslims … any frank acknowledgment of these unpleasant truths.”

But of course, the Old Testament is equally terrifying, and Christians and Jews aren’t in a habit of putting out press releases frankly acknowledging all its unpleasant truths. And one’s being unaware of something doesn’t mean that it’s not happening: an empirical investigation would be required to see what kinds of conversations are going on in communities all over the world. It’s not something Harris, in this case, seems to care about — but of course it’s not something he could do thoroughly enough in principle to allay his suspicions. That’s why intelligent people refrain from generalizing in such situations.

We’re meant to conclude — by both Harris and some on the right, including Newt Gingrich, who recently compared Muslims to Nazis — that when a few members of some group x perform y in the name of that group or its values, the entire group ought to be held responsible. This is, of course, nonsense. But the best case one could make for it is to say that there’s something about the values (or race) of the group which naturally leads members to perform certain reprehensible acts. And we can evaluate whether this is so in the case of Islam in part by looking at the frequency of such acts in the group as a whole. Here’s what the empirical evidence says: a) a very tiny percentage of Muslims engage in acts of terrorism; b) most victims of terrorism are Muslim; c) among the more than one billion Muslims in the world, there is a wide variance in social norms (ranging from conservative to liberal), and as in any religion there are segments that run the whole range from radical to moderate to (believe it or not) liberal; d) American Muslims tend to be moderate; e) the builders of the “ground zero mosque” (that’s not really what it is, but oh well) are liberal advocates of religious tolerance and interfaith outreach; f) the amount of violence caused (arguably) by American nationalism has been far greater in the last decade than that caused by any religion–but of course, I wouldn’t want to be branded as having violent tendencies because I share certain distinctively American values or customs.

And here’s what the more general psychological evidence says: people are on the whole just as decent over there as they are over here, whatever their religion (nationality, race, etc.). In whatever their varied manifestations, human beings — and their religions — are driven by much more fundamental and powerful forces that tend to be common to them all. And one of those forces — the tendency to communality, the capacity to read others intentions and feel their feelings — is the single source (thinking of both Rousseau and Spinoza here) of both incredible decency and incredible villainy.

Harris goes on to say that it’s not the case that 9/11 has “nothing to do with Islam” because it pleased “millions of Muslims.” Similarly, we can link 9/11 to any general class of human beings if some sub-set of its members was pleased by it. Unless there’s some percentage that qualifies the group as a whole. And given the figure Harris uses (where he gets it he doesn’t say, and it’s doubtful it rests on empirical evidence of any kind) and the fact that there are more than 1 billion Muslims, he could have substituted the phrase “a small percentage of Muslims” for “millions of Muslims.” But then even if 90 percent of Muslims were pleased by 9/11, it wouldn’t be evidences that 9/11 has something to do with Islam in some strong sense, because — and this is a factor that actual scientists face every day — there could be some other factor correlated to being both a Muslim and being pleased by 9/11. Such as simple anti-Americanism based on some sense of grievance, whether justified or not. But finally, let’s grant the absurd proposition that Islam is a religion that predisposes 90 percent of its adherents to despise infidels and be pleased by their murder. We would still be left with the problem that — demonstrably — Islam clearly does not lead to the vast majority of Muslims acting on those wishes. So if 99.99 percent of Muslims do not engage in the slaughter of infidels, what are we to make of the proposition that Islam is naturally a religion of war? Clearly its nonsense. At best it would be a religion of warlike feelings profoundly counteracted by some other factor among most of its adherents. And so what are we to make of the proposition that Islam led to 9/11? It is also nonsense. What led to 9/11 are the behaviors of those involved in it, and they can lay claim to any sort motives that they like: Islam, Christianity, nationalism, communism, whatever. Usually such ideologies are merely rationalizations of much more personal motives.

“Why Evolution is True” evangelist Jerry Coyne writes a concurring, abjectly stupid post. He makes the same “if I haven’t seen it it doesn’t exist point” that I responded to above: “I saw lots of worldwide celebration after September 11, but few condemnations of the perpetrators, and none from Islamic countries.” First, that is simply false, as many of us who also watched the news after September 11 can attest (the reaction of Iranians is one of many cases in point — Google it). Second, what Jerry Coyne happens to see in the Western media is not evidence as to the general opinion of more than a billion people.

An advocate of “reason” as opposed to religion might pause before making broad generalizations about one sixth of the world. Or before making such generalizations based on selected passages from an ancient text that only fundamentalists take literally. But in this case, “reason” is just something fetishized as a means to another form of in-group/out-group, reactive fundamentalism.

This goes toward the larger point I’ve tried to make a few times: science, evolution, and atheism — and what one might think of as secularism generally — do not need irrational hysterics  like Harris and Coyne and Dawkins as their advocates. They are not served by them. They do not need fundamentalists matching up man-for-man to the fundamentalists on the other side. Bellicose advocacy concerning science” and “reason” is not itself scientific or reasonable.

Update 1:

Via Conor Friedersdorf, an NRO conservative reminds his friends that Islam is not monolithic:

I wouldn’t say I’m a very religiously observant person, but the observant Muslims I know best are my parents. Both of my parents have lived in New York city for over thirty years. Both of them worked in the World Trade Center in the 1980s, when I was a kid. Some of my fondest memories of growing up involve visiting them at work, and watching the 4th of July fireworks display from my dad’s office window. They were born in a country (Bangladesh) where Islamist terrorists have killed a large number of people in bomb attacks and acid attacks, and they lived through a savage and mostly forgotten war in which over 1 million Bengali Muslims were tortured and killed in part because they were accused of being “polytheists,” etc. That is, armed cadres of proto-Islamists were killing Muslims who had a different way of seeing the world and practicing their religion.

So that’s part of where I’m coming from: the idea that Islam is one thing or that all Muslims are the same strikes me as highly unlikely.

And pictures of what’s allowed within the same distance from “hallowed ground” as the proposed community center: http://daryllang.com/blog/4421

By: Wes Alwan

Comments

  1. Dennis

    August 19, 2010

    Wes:

    (Love your podcast and think it’s a revolution. The Danto episode was awesome.)

    I’ve got a few thoughts about the Mosque that I’d like to share with you guys. I value your opinion (your recent smackdown of Ayn Rand was clarifying for me, for example -it’s not that I was a fan but the Nation article that you linked to revealed just how damaging her influence has been for advocates of a freer market).

    There has been tons written about the proposed Cordoba Mosque, but this snip via InstaPundit seems to be the most wise and concise thus far:

    This is not about whether or not we, as a people, agree with the deliberate slap in the face the mosque and community center builders want to deliver to us. Especially since they have chosen September 11 as the dedication date. They are absolutely trying to get a reaction from us. They WANT us to either halt the deal so they can say “Look, the Americans are breaking their own Constitution to stop us from building this” or to let it go through so they can say “Look, the Americans are so weak they didn’t even try to stop us from building this.” Either way, they get their propaganda. Either way, they can turn to their Muslim brethren and boast about how they outwitted us.

    Only ONE way makes us change who we are as a people though.

    Only ONE way weakens our own law, our contract with our children and ourselves.

    Only ONE way leads to somebody with bad intentions turning up the volume and saying, “Whom can we mess with next.”

    I think I would rather be called coward and know that it isn’t true than be called bully and know that it is.

    The whole problem is that this war (and everyone agrees that we are at war) is with a new kind of enemy. Militant Islam, Islamo-fascism, whatever the designation, is hidden within the ranks of normative, otherwise peaceable people. One cannot understate how new this type of warfare is. Wes, you minimized the size and presence of Militant Islam as a sub set and a miniscule percentage. Not only is the dimension of the threat more than a cold percentage, but there are shadings of belief that are feathered into the whole population (for example, the notion that democracy is fundamentally incompatible with Islam is widely held) The arena in which we are compelled to fight within today is a new kind of guerilla war. Guerilla war has a considerable history. These could be laws of guerilla war (off the top of my head): 1. hide within the population, 2. exploit & weaponize local resources, 3. attack into their weakness, 4. disappear, regroup, repeat… This is total war, a worldwide guerilla war, there is no specific front, there is no safe area. The whole world is a battlefield. Not only is this true for the military, it’s true for all of society. Everyone is a combatant. Everyone and everything can be weaponized. We have been studied, and they are attacking into our weaknesses, namely our supreme value of tolerance. Can you fight the intolerant with tolerance? If so, please tell me how.

    This is also a civil war within Islam. We are fighting on behalf of what we assume is a muslim silent majority. We are waiting for them to rise and express themselves. Most of us understand that this will take time. This is not unusual, all religions have stood helpless before catastrophes of their own making. Because the current proposal of the ground zero mosque is not vigorously defended in the public realm by those who propose it, it exists in ambiguity. Love and friendship do not metabolize ambiguity very well. Are we friends? Do you want to compel me to live under Sharia Law? And if I refuse will you try to enslave or kill me (and if this rhetoric is too hard, then consider the lite version where non-Muslims are compelled by force to live in a second class status)? This is Sharia Law: where the separation of church and state is fine and good but what do you do when one of the churches decides to become the state? And what is our responsibility to the other churches in the community? Our values compel us to live positively and receptively with ambiguity, but what is happening here is more than just Lucy, Charlie and the football.

    We can’t allow ourselves to be utilized as human shields for a totalitarian thrust of Sharia Law.

    The organization and its backers have to present their bonafides to the American public in order to close out this ambiguous appearance of their intentions. We must place the burden of proof where it belongs, on the agents who are responsible for creating this center and maintaining and enforcing an appropriate charter into the future.

  2. Carrots

    August 19, 2010

    Dennis,

    Regarding your last point about the bona fides of this organization, I’d like to know what else you’d have them do. They have already changed the name of the place to accomodate local sensitivities, they have a long history of aiding American law enforcement against radicals, they have done pro-US public relations among Muslims abroad for years, and their current leader, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, has publicly stated that he regards Jews, Christians, and Muslims as being brothers — a statement that radicals like Bin Laden would regard as worthy of assassination.

    Your remark seems to me to illustrate the very point Wes is making in his post: the fact that you didn’t know any of this doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

  3. Avatar of Wes Alwan

    Wes Alwan

    August 19, 2010

    Hi Dennis, thanks for the comment and the compliment. (We don’t do a lot of political blogging — only if there’s something at stake philosophically, and for me it is about religion in general and then inferences from individuals to classes).

    First, I don’t agree that the Mosque is meant as a slap in the face. In fact it was meant as a kind of interfaith outreach by a Muslim who gave an “I am a Jew” eulogy at Daniel Pearl’s memorial: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/08/ground-zero-imam-i-am-a-jew-i-have-always-been-one/61761/.

    For this to be thought of as a provocation is if we assume that a) Islam is responsible for 9/11 and b) make certain nefarious assumptions about the motives of Muslims who wish to build mosques within x feet of ground zero, not to mention Muslims in general. Keep in mind that there already is a mosque within x feet, not to mention a McDonalds and everything else you can imagine.

    Second, I don’t agree we’re at war. Terrorist organizations are criminal organizations, not countries.

    Third, I’d like to see data as to the presence of militant Islam in the United States are elsewhere — for both a) opinions and b) actions in the United States worldwide. Clearly there have been very few terrorist attempts by American Muslims relative to their population. Almost none. And I’ve seen no evidence concerning public opinion — I think you’re simply assuming it. But even if every Muslim here thought that Democracy were incompatible with Islam and yearned to see the institution of Sharia law, so what? I consider many right-wing views fundamentally anti-Democratic and religiously motivated. A democracy is designed to tolerate even anti-democratic beliefs. It ceases to be a democracy when it ceases tolerating them. You would have to explain to me how a minority is going to rise up and impose Sharia law on the most powerful country in the world. Meanwhile, there are many, many politicians telling us today how the constitution is a Christian document and how its imperatives that our laws reflect the Christian tradition. And they have the support of large segments of the population. I see them as far more dangerous than Muslims.

    Much of your post simply assumes that Islam is a monolithic religion and that most Muslims must hold anti-democratic, fundamentalist and pro-Jihadist views. You don’t offer any data to support this opinion. My personal experience with Muslims and friends who spent many years in the Middle East simply doesn’t accord with it (I used to hang out with CNN correspondents to the Middle East). And it goes against my general knowledge of the tremendous variety of beliefs in the area. My study of the area leads me to believe that in fact radicalism is not the norm. Nor is there monlithic anti-Americanism. Iran, for instance, has an extremely pro-American population (even if anti-American government) that held candle light vigils: http://groups.colgate.edu/aarislam/response.htm.

    And in the end, it simply doesn’t square with my general views on human nature. Besides the unlikelihood of a lack of variance in the views and forms of life of a billion plus people, I don’t see human beings as fundamentally nefarious, whatever their religion. You may see this view as naive, but I see the alternate view as paranoid.

    The irony of your “burden of proof” argument is that even a liberal American Muslim, engaged in interfaith outreach, who was employed by the Bush Administration, is suspect to you. I’m not sure that there are any credentials that a Muslim could possess that would satisfy you, given your views about a silent majority secretly plotting — whatever their expressed views and behaviors — to eventually erupt from the soil, somehow take over either by defeating the American military or winning elections by advertising on Fox news and rapidly reproducing, and impose Sharia law on the unsuspecting naifs who dared to tolerate them rather than … what? Strike the first amendment, and do the work of dismantling our own democratic institutions first.

    A new type of enemy, one that Democratic institutions can’t cope with, therefore we must undermine these institutions ourselves before our enemies get to them first. Developing this fearful and self-defeating mindset in a populace is precisely the goal of terrorism.

  4. Praxeologue

    August 26, 2010

    If Germany was to build a German national history museum next to the site of the concentration camps, I suspect you could use similar lines of reasoning in the above post to counter objections to the plan. After all, not all German history had anything to do with the holocaust, and not all Germans took part in it etc.etc. but I would say it’s simply bad taste and insensitive to a large part of America that rightly or wrongly associates the destruction of the towers to Islam.

    On a pernickety point, I note you play down reason in the concluding parts of your post yet you were using basic reasoning in the prior parts of the post.

  5. Avatar of Wes Alwan

    Wes Alwan

    August 26, 2010

    Praxeologue: I think that’s a good point, but there are some reasons to think the parallel doesn’t hold.

    First, in fact the holocaust is much more tied to German identity, and that’s something most Germans would tell you. That’s because while not all Germans were aware of the holocaust, they were aware of they’re country’s war against the rest of the world. And they often shared the nationalist sentiments that directly contributed to that war, as well as to the holocaust. Not to mention the widely held Antisemitism.

    In Germany a charismatic, democratically elected leader with broad popular support led the nation to war. He was also clear about his anti-semitism, and the steps taken to oppress Jews in the country as a whole were entirely public and known by Germans. There was implicit consent by many Germans to these repressive moves. The extent to which and how many Germans knew of the holocaust itself while it was underway is widely debated. Naturally and as you point out, Hitler’s government didn’t really represent all Germans. The holocaust wasn’t tied essentially to German-ness; it’s the type of behavior to which many other large groups of human beings have been led in a specific set of circumstances. Nevertheless, the fact that most of the nation was implicated variously in approving of, supporting, or engaging in the regime, the war, anti-semitic measure, or the holocaust itself, connects Germany as a country much more closely to the holocaust than Islam could ever be connected to 9/11.

    Why? Because the population of 1.5 billion adherents of Islam live in many different nations — some with democratically elected leaders, some without, but none of which acted as a state sponsor of 9/11. Even the current Bogey Man, Saudi Arabia, from which many of the hijackers came, is an American ally, an enemy of bin Laden, and highly aggressive and brutal towards suspected terrorists. The same goes for Egypt, which is highly aggressive towards Islamism in general. But then of course we have highly secularized nations such as Turkey. And so on. And among the population of Muslims there are many sects, many customs, many varieties of opinions about the United States, etc. So while we can understand the fact that many Germans feel guilt about the holocaust — it flowed from the sentiments that gripped an entire nation at the time and was implemented by a popular, democratically elected leader, and was an extension of widely known and supported anti-Jewish laws and a brutal world war — it would be odd for all Muslims to feel guilty about 9/11. Muslims did not choose the hijackers or al Qaeda as their representatives, did not belong to a nation or even religion led by them, and most revile the action and the group. I can’t walk into a store, rob it in the name of Islam, and suddenly foist on 1.5 billion people the same sort of connection to the robbery that Germany and the German people had to the holocaust.

    Second: Given the above, we need to make a number of modifications to the holocaust example before it becomes a better parallel. So let’s suppose that in fact the history of the holocaust involves a criminal conspiracy of Germans claiming (falsely) to represent the German people as a whole, rather than entire country with an army and the labor of most of the populace at its disposal. And then we’d have to suppose that it happened on a much smaller scale. But then to further improve the parallel we would have to say it was not a conspiracy of Germans, but a conspiracy of people from other countries who belong to a certain religious group widely spread around the world, and present in Germany as a minority. And then we would have to note that these people are not building a shrine to the history of a nation who’s army and government carried out the holocaust, since in our counter-factual this has gone away; and they’re not building a shrine celebrating the history of the sect whose members carried out the holocaust; but rather a museum detailing the history of another sect that does and always did repudiate the holocaust. Finally, we have to suppose that this sect went not to a remote location in the country to build their anti-holocaust museum, but rather chose a densely populated part of Berlin (which in our counter-factual happens to contain the location of a concentration camp). And then suppose that within the same distance of the camp location there already are strip clubs, a McDonalds, and another history museum with precisely the same subject. That better fits the situation here.

    Third, returning from the counter-factual that illustrates how many transformations we’d need to create a true parallel: German national history museums contain accounts of the holocaust, German war crimes, etc. They are not self-glorifying. So even supposing the parallel were accurate: if there were a museum next to Dachau detailing the relevant history, we would see that as fitting, and no one should be offended. And in fact, there is a (very) small museum at Dachau. If the scope of this museum were expanded to cover the 17th century, we would wonder about its relevance — but I’m not sure “offense” would be the right word there. It would be odd. If it were expanded to cover the war as a whole and to become a major museum, we would applaud the relevance and the devotion of funds to accounting for that history, but we would wonder a) about placement away from a densely populated area and b) about whether the structure would dwarf the concentration camp itself in a way that violated its integrity as a historical artifact. It’s only if the museum were established to glorify German history as a whole (while taking pains either leave out the holocaust, give it short shrift, toy with holocaust denial or various justifications, or celebrate it) that we would take offense.

    Fourth, establishing a German National museum next to Dachau would likely be an act of the government, and representing (to say the least) a majority. The “ground zero mosque” is in fact representative of a minority private interest. The former could be repudiated by the majority without any consequence to anyone’s rights. But prohibiting the latter would involve violating the rights of a minority to worship where they wish. Further, that wish to worship means that there is a clear motivation for establishing a facility (and in fact Muslims already worship at the location, they would just like to have a better facility). It is not gratuitous, but motivated by a need. Museums are few and far between, but houses of worship are not: they’re motivated by the fact that communities sharing a certain religion would like to have their house of worship among or near them. And there are in fact Muslims in lower Manhattan (all over Manhattan, all over New York, and you merely have to visit to meet and see them everywhere). And so even if we say there’s some rational for offense (but again, I don’t think there is), one might claim that the violation of the right to freedom of speech and religion — so fundamental to this country — ought to cause more offense and be more a cause for concern.

    In the last part of my post I meant to do the opposite of playing down reason. I was attacking those who engage in all sorts of irrationalities but act as if draping themselves in the Flag of Reason (or more specifically, of Science) inoculates them from the requirement to actually use it.

  6. Praxeologue

    August 27, 2010

    You make a good case for the difference in degree but not class of issue. I happen to agree with you but I wanted to pick a more ugly example to show it’s a degree, not class of difference issue.
    I suspect depending on your aesthetic preference/bias one could argue how much that degree of difference is between the two. Can the people that democratically elected someone that turned out to be a tyrant really carry the burden for his subsequent actions which you were unable to resist without death? Granted the Germans knew he would implement financial policies against the Jews but I doubt they would have chosen what he actually did (which was carried out under great secrecy and by a very small percentage of men). Hitlers speeches before he got elected were mostly milk for hungry babies stuff… nothing about a world war or death camps.
    If I was clever enough I could think of closer parallels but in the end although I agree with your views, one cannot ignore the public perception and it is clearly offensive to a great deal of Americans to put a Mosque near that site.
    Having listened to your (great) podcasts I note you fellows are probably liberals (not of the 19th century variety) and would likely have a strong aesthetic aversion to the type of Americans that don’t like the Mosque (or Obama etc) which might, dare I say, colour your bias in this particular situation.
    The liberal press has gone to great lengths to portray Islamic culture and history in a positive light ignoring the more blatantly unpleasant parts and lack of recent ‘progress’ (and do pretty much the opposite for Christianity).
    I understand the agenda as they recognise the potential for a rise in anti-Islamic sentiment after such an attack but doesn’t the same logic apply to allowing a Mosque to be built near the WTC?
    I am a libertarian so would not support blocking such a building but would question how tactful it is, especially for the culture concerned if it wishes to show some respect for a large proportion of the peoples of the nation it has chosen to live amongst.

  7. Avatar of Wes Alwan

    Wes Alwan

    August 28, 2010

    Thanks again for the compliment. And I agree on the collective responsibility of the Germans. But again, I think public offense in this case can only be based on a error, and it’s not something that should be respected (especially when fundamental rights are at stake). It ought to be rejected as bigoted. I also don’t buy the “liberal press,” but we’ll have to agree to disagree on that for now. I don’t think Islamic history is any worse off than Christian history, and I don’t think Islamic culture is monolithic enough to whitewash (much less vilify). Certainly there are pervasive forms of political correctness that act on our discourse, and certainly it will look like liberal multi-cultural relativism and a failure to acknowledge hard truths in the name of identity politics. (Something that used to bother me a lot, to mention one conservative tendency). And while people are certainly motivated by one kind of ideology or another in their portrayals of Islam (negative or positive), for me it’s besides the point: such generalizations either way already are a form of bigotry. “Islam is a religion of peace” is meaningless, but the same goes for Christianity. In fact an anthropology of religion will show that they are always founded in the sort of violence needed to forge a community, and in fact no culture has risen absence such a religion and its attendant violence. We could say that on the whole Islam is more primitive in some ways, but then we’d simply be ignoring the fact that the United States has killed large numbers of innocent people in Arab countries without any reason except a nationalistic ideology. Arguably with Christianist overtones. So while it may look like I’m a liberal trying to be tolerant to a fault, I think that’s simply accidental. I’ve lived among the hippies and had the same sort of revulsion to their thoughtlessly, reactionary propaganda as you probably feel. In those situations, I fight for the other side, and I look suspiciously conservative.

    One more note: there are many born-in-America Muslims. After the first generation, they have no more “chosen to live amongst” a foreign population than you or I. And while a minority, the the religion and wishes of the minority deserve no more respect from them — when it would mean an infringement of their rights — than their wishes. At the level of rights, it’s simply not a democracy. And I understand you’re not arguing for illegality, and there is no right not to be socially pressured into abdicating a right in some circumstance. And we might condemn the neo-Nazis without suggesting their right to speak be curtailed. But in this case, the condemnation is unwarranted, and the question of sensitivity to feelings is vitiated by the simple fact that those feelings are predicated on nothing but bigotry.

  8. Praxeologue

    September 2, 2010

    I think your argument is sound but at the end it really seems to me that you think that because the people that are against the Mosque are making that decision based on poor logic (agreed) the Mosque should be built.

    Should the mosque be prohibited, no. Is it immoral, no. But, is it tactful to build it, I don’t think so.

    I’m not going to give another analogy because you will probably look for the reasonable differences between the specific case and this one but I think at this time, one could see a strategic case for them holding off until feelings settle down. That is, of course, assuming they want to build support in the wider community which they find themselves in.
    Because one is correct does not mean it is strategically wise to act on it without taking into account how others will respond. Especially important when you care what those others think.

    Imagine a politically worded letter from the Mosque builders saying that in the light of the sensitivity around the site they dont wish to upset the community they live in and will build something somewhere else. Pope did the same thing at Auschwitz…d’oh…now you’ll pull that apart focussing on the differences rather than the respect they got from doing that.

  9. Chris Novembrino

    September 5, 2010

    The ‘sensitivity’ argument is one I’ll never be receptive to. You simply don’t have any legal right to ‘not be offended’. If we’re going to run with that logic, let’s get the scientologists out of this country because they make a mockery of science and psychologists and that is an utter affront.

    Running down that same argument: Would you have told Rosa Parks “Hey, look, we know it’s your legal right to sit anywhere on the bus you please, because according to our Constitution, ‘all men are created equal’. But hey, could you maybe, sit in the middle of the bus? Maybe just slowly work your way to the front. They’ll come to accept you, in time. There are a lot of people who’s ‘sensibilities’ would be offended by having to sit next a black person and you really should be considerate. There will probably be fighting, too. Look Ms. Parks, I know you’ve got the right to do it, but I just don’t think it’s ‘strategically wise’…I mean, we don’t want a race riot do we?”

    Enforcing the liberties provided for in the Constitution isn’t always easy (and sometimes you have to hold your nose. I don’t consider this to be one of those cases, but I sure feel that way about the Neo-Nazis or the KKK, or hell, even the damn Scientologists), but if we stop doing that, we’ll cease to live in an America we recognize…with liberty and justice for some.

    Freedom of Speech protects all speech but the one that needs the most protecting is the unpopular speech.

    Freedom of Religion protects all religions right to practice, but what most important is maintain the rights of the sometimes unpopular minority

    Consider this article: http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/08/30/bigot_establishes_ground_zero_church/index.html

    The ultimate irony is that the name of the proposed church is: “9/11 Christian Center”

    You can make the argument that the “Islamic Cultural Center” has nothing to do with 9/11 (it’s not a great argument, I’ll concede that), but there is absolutely no way you can say that the “9/11 Christian Center” isn’t inherently tied to 9/11, and thusly, overtly political.

    Say what you will about the “Islamic Cultural Center”, it wasn’t overtly political until people decided to bring it up because it’s once again campaign season.

  10. Praxeologue

    September 6, 2010

    Chris,
    we do not disagree about the legal or moral position of this case. You use Rosa Parks as a kind of counter example but this is an example of successful tactics if you will which led to a hugely successful result. Post hoc only a racist could object to her actions.

    This does not undermine the point I am (badly) trying to make that in principle one cannot ignore the context. Doing something because you are allowed to and it might offend other people whose objections are based on weak reasoning is not necessarily a wise decision.
    It is not hard to look back through history for examples where making a principled stand led to disastrous consequences. It is also likely that it can play into the hands of ones opponents who can rely on your predictable choices.

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