I’m not familiar with Leon Wieseltier (whom Alex Pang says he usually dislikes), but I agree with portion of this essay on the mosque that isn’t behind The New Republic’s paywall:
Collective responsibility. One of the most accomplished Jewish terrorists of our time, Baruch Goldstein, came from the Jewish universe in which I was raised. When he committed his crime, there were a few former and present citizens of that universe, a revered rabbi of mine among them, who demanded a stringent communal introspection; but the critics were denounced as slanderers who tarred all of religious Zionism, or all of “Modern Orthodox” Judaism, or all of Judaism, with the same treasonous brush. The killer, we were angrily instructed, was an aberration, and any generalization from his action was an unwarranted imputation of collective responsibility. I disagreed. Baruch Goldstein murdered in the name of Judaism, with an interpretation of Judaism, from a social and intellectual position within Judaism. The same was later true of Yigal Amir. They did not represent the entirety of Judaism, or of the Jewish institutions that formed them—but the massacre in Hebron and the assassination in Tel Aviv were among their effects. If the standpoint of broadly collective responsibility was the wrong way to explain the atrocities, so too was the standpoint of purely individual responsibility. There were currents of culture behind the killers. Their ideas were not only their own. I am reminded of those complications when I hear that Islam is a religion of peace. I have no quarrel with the construction of Cordoba House, but not because Islam is a religion of peace. It is not. Like Christianity and like Judaism, Islam is a religion of peace and a religion of war. All the religions have all the tendencies within them, and in varying historical circumstances varying beliefs and practices have come to the fore. It is absurd to describe the perpetrators of September 11 as “murderers calling themselves Muslims,” as Karen Hughes recently did. They did not call themselves Muslims. They were Muslims. America was not attacked by Islam, but it was also not attacked by Jainism. Mohammed Atta and his band (as well as the growing number of “homegrown” Islamist killers and plotters) represent a real and burgeoning development within Islam, an actualization of one of Islam’s possibilities, an indigenous transnational movement of apocalyptic violence that has brought misery to Muslim societies, and to us. It is not Islamophobic to say so. Quite the contrary: it is to side with Muslims who are struggling against the same poison as we are. Apologetic definitions of Islam will not avail anybody in this struggle.
(via Alex Pang)
I haven’t said much publicly about Park 51 thus far because I’ve been having trouble expressing myself eloquently enough. But I think Wieseltier pretty much nails it.
On a related note, I found Pat Condell’s recent remarks about the project disturbing.
People keep framing this as a religious freedom issue. But there’s a difference between practicing your religion, which everyone has a right to do, and rubbing your religion in people’s faces as a triumphalist political statement, which is what’s happening here. I’d be interested to know just how bad an insult has to be before it’s no longer protected by the First Amendment. After all, the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms. But in practice you need a permit to walk around packing hardware, and not everyone can get one despite the Second Amendment.
It is indeed an issue of freedom of religion – and it’s also a freedom of assembly, a freedom of speech, and a property rights question.
Anyway, the intent of Park51 should be applauded because it sets out to do what we, in a civil society, should do when we disagree: have open and peaceful discussions about the issues. Not blowing people up or sending police to buildings and telling the owners what religion they can practice on the premises.
I’m not really interested in splitting hairs of whether Park51 will be a mosque or not, or how close it is to Ground Zero (for the record, it’s really really close to Ground Zero, but I have a hard time calling it a mosque – but I don’t think it’s important). But this essay makes one other important point:
There’s one more catch for the opponents of the so-called Ground Zero mosque: by the same logical leap you can call the Cordoba Center a “mosque,” you can also call Ground Zero as it already exists a giant, open-air mosque. Muslim prayers are already taking place right on the edge of the construction site, and not for world domination. Families are going there to pray — for the souls of the dozens of innocent Muslim victims who died on September 11.