A few days ago I (and the rest of her Twitter followers) was asked by Sarah Palin via a Twitter post to view the following video:

In the last two weeks I’ve read many insightful articles and arguments about this Mosque Community Center at near Ground Zero. And my purpose here is not to rehash those arguments. For those interested, let me suggest this article by Steve Chapman called Republicans for Religious Freedom and the recent New York Times article on Feisal Abdul, the Imam who is founding the center. Both articles clearly have an agenda (as all writing does), but they are primarily informative, discussing the legal context of the Mosque and the personal history of its Imam respectively. Instead, I’d like to primarily focus on the way this ad presents its argument against the Mosque and why it is important to carefully interpret political messages like this one.

Many Christians have been very vocal about their opposition to the Mosque and ads like this one have contributed to the opposition by using the voices of family members who lost loved ones in the September 11th attack. These ads and others like them are certainly moving. Who can watch this ad and not feel sympathy for these victims? But as Christians we have an obligation to be charitable and loving to our neighbors and our enemies, those we agree with politically and those we disagree with. One way we can act charitably is by supporting political and religious messages which are reasonable, honest, and loving.

While this video has a lot that we could discuss–for example, what is the rhetorical purpose of the stories that are told? How are these stories evidence that the Mosque should not be built?–what I’d like to focus on is the final few seconds of the video. If you haven’t done so already, please watch or re-watch the video and pay careful attention to the last line.

Sometimes in order to accurately understand an argument it is helpful to reword the argument in as few words as possible. What this can do is strip away the emotional or rhetorical language that might be hiding a less appealing argument. Let’s try to do that with the last line. This is how the ad ends: “We understand they can build where they want to build. All we ask is that they use some good sense and think about what they are doing.”

In the first sentence, he acknowledges that these Muslims have the legal rights to build “where they want to build.” In the second sentence, he implies that if they use “good sense” they will realize that what they are doing is wrong. But what is this “good sense”? That is the key to this ad’s argument.

We can translate his statement something like this: “You are being disrespectful to the memories of our dead loved ones by not agreeing with us that you are our enemies, by acting as if you were not responsible for their deaths. Although it is your right to worship there, it is immoral for you to not acknowledge our belief that we are at war against Islam, and therefore you. If you used good sense, you’d realize that you are our enemies.”

Or, put another way: “Good sense” = “acknowledging the Us vs Them [America vs Islam] dichotomy.”

Patriotism, our Faith, and our emotions can often allow us to ignore the ugly side to arguments like this one. I would hope that after thinking through the final statement of this ad, most of us would acknowledge that it is repugnant to demand that another group of people view themselves as our enemies simply because we say so; it is certainly not loving.

As believers, we need to be very careful about the political causes we support. American Christians often tend to be more vocal about their political views than their Faith, and that means that the world will pay particular attention to the way we witness or fail to witness to Christ’s Grace through our political actions. We have then an imperative to be discerning about the messages we support. Although I used an example from the recent Ground Zero Mosque debate, and I hope that it will encourage fellow believers to rethink their opposition to this planned Community Center, this level of discernment is important for all political issues. Christ promised us that we would be persecuted in this life, but we should seek to live in such a way that our persecution comes from acts of love and mercy which testify to Christ’s sacrifice of love, not from our support of political movements, agendas, and messages which are deceptive and unloving. So let me encourage you to thoughtful discern not just your opponent’s political message, but also your own.


  1. Have you considered the argument that Islam is as much a political movement as it is religious? What’s the difference between this religion and militia movements that claim their religious beliefs lead them to blow up buildings?

    This is not a far fetched argument. If a Christian church cannot endorse a candidate without losing its tax exempt status, or at least having it endangered, can we not limit what a religion can do who openly endorses jihadism as a way of enforcing their religious and political ideas? Can you show us an example of a Islamic State that guarantees freedom of religion on paper AND in practice? This is not a matter of simple religious freedom. This is a matter of an oppressive regime coming cloaked in religious disguise. If you don’t believe that, I’d be happy for you to point out an Islamic State that does other wise, not just the old, “But there are peaceful Muslims out there!” dodge. If they are out there…why haven’t they stood up for the right to freedom in their own countries?

  2. This might be a strange comment because I’m going to agree with you by disagreeing with you…

    I share your belief that there’s not any real solid reason to oppose a mosque near ground zero. They own or lease the property, the building will mee New York building code, and the fact is that I live in South Carolina, and it literally won’t affect me in any way however it turns out.

    But I don’t think your characterization of the arguments made in this video, and by others, is accurate. I happen to agree with the statement at the end of the video about “good sense”. Here is, I believe, a similar example…

    Nazi Germany was nominally Christian. Now, any rational person would agree that Hitler’s regime did not represent Christianity as a whole, and also that it did some horrific things to people. But the fact remains that the extermination of Jews, blacks, homosexuals, etc., was done (again, nominally) in the name of Christ.

    Out of respect for the victims (and, if you will, “good sense”) many Christian denominations have refrained from building churches at or even near the sites of Nazi concentration camps.

    Then you have the attacks on 9/11, which were perpetrated by people who were at least nominally Muslim. I don’t think many in the west understand Islam or the Qur’an well enough to make an intelligent judgment on whether or not Islam is a peaceful religion or a violent one. I certainly don’t. What I can say for sure is that the radical-terrorist-Jihad element is a very small percentage of Islam worldwide, and that most Muslims look at them as heretics, trouble-makers, followers of a false Islam. Much the same way that the vast majority of Christians out there look at Nazi Germany as something entirely false.

    Yet, after a dastardly and horrific attack done in the name of Islam (even though the 9/11 terrorists represent a skewed version of Islam), this particular imam wants to build a mosque almost on top of the site where it happened.

    So, if the question is, “Should they be prevented from building the mosque?”, I think the answer is “no”. But if the question is, “Is it in poor taste to build a mosque so close to ground zero?”, or “Is the building of this mosque going to create more dissension instead of facilitating healing?”, I think the answer is “yes”.

  3. @Brad Williams – “Why haven’t they stood up for the right to freedom in their own countries?”

    You mean countries like America?

    @Joseph – “Out of respect for the victims (and, if you will, “good sense”) many Christian denominations have refrained from building churches at or even near the sites of Nazi concentration camps.”

    That is a dangerous precedent to endorse. If we do not encourage victims of irrational aggression to recognize true culprits and indulge their desire to vent against innocents, we endorse by our passivity a cycle of hatred and animosity. We, by our indulgence, tell the world that it’s okay to hate people who have nothing to do with your pain so long as it makes you feel better. We tell them it’s okay to lead lives built around a fortress of mental slander.

    You suggest that this is good sense. I would suggest that it is the opposite. That it is in fact uncharitable, deleterious, and built on a foundation of sentimentalism and passion rather than on reason and wisdom.

  4. Seth,

    And your comment to Joseph is either woefully ignorant or just simply silly. I’ll lob you a softball here. You claim that New Yorkers and others are “venting against innocents” and hiding behind fortresses of mental slander, and that they are being uncharitable. So here’s the softball pitch:

    Name a single Islamic state that enjoys freedom of religion as I challenged above. Here’s pitch number two: Name a single country where Islam has begun to or has gained numerical advantage where they have not sought to impose Sharia law. Softball pitch three: Tell me how you separate that type of activity from a purposeful politcal change.

    And finally, how, exactly, did Islam come to dominate N. Africa and the Middle East?

    Are we being slanderous by being suspicious? Or are you buying the Trojan horse?

  5. Brad, I don’t think I misunderstood anything you wrote. You seem to have a fine grasp on the language and so everything seemed pretty straightforward. That said, I did not find much in your comment spoke to the subject Alan presents. Most of it appears to fall pretty squarely in the realm of non sequitur.

    Statements like “What’s the difference between this religion and militia movements that claim their religious beliefs lead them to blow up buildings? ” do not relate simply because, well, they do not relate. The people behind the Islamic community center do not support the blowing up of buildings and don’t seem to draw any reasonable comparison to militia movements (or to fundamentalist terrorism for that matter).

    The Islam as politics bit (upon which much of your comment seems predicated) doesn’t bear much relevance either. All belief is political, whether overtly or otherwise. Any belief that works itself out in the real world is political. By its expression. Any belief that does not work itself out in the real world is political. By its silence. That Islam or Christianity or Secular Humanism are be political should neither surprise us nor give us any undue concern.

    Your request for Islamic states that hold with rigour to any particular set of beliefs is as valuable as requesting Christian states that did not use war to make policy stick. Again, this bears no relevance to the discussion. The fact is: America is not a religious state, so we should not expect Christians, Muslims, et cetera working within its strictures to behave in ways that resemble any other kind of representation of their belief system.

    When I responded to your question, “Why haven’t they stood up for the right to freedom in their own countries?” with You mean countries like America?, I was underlining the fact that the only Muslims this question concerns are standing up for freedom in their own country. These Muslims are Americans upholding American principles of liberty. It is their opposition that seems to stand against that which makes America worthwhile.

    The fact is, Alan’s point still stands: believers ought to be very careful what causes then lend their very vocal support to, for by engaging too heavily (and often without circumspection) in the struggles of the earthly realm, they may forfeit their power to draw hearts and minds to the beauty of the heavenly realm. And that would just be a shame.

  6. @ Seth

    Yeah, I understand that that particular statement comes pretty close to political correctness (which I generally abhor).

    The point still stands, I believe, because it’s not an issue of indulging people who just want to vent against innocents. Rather, it’s an issue of sensitivity, of being concerned for our fellow person, of “looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others”, to quote Philippians 2:4.

    Now, I realize that this cuts both ways. The survivors and families of the victims need to try to show a little understanding and realize that these particular Muslims are not the ones who hijacked four airplanes almost a decade ago. But the people who want to build this mosque also need to show a little sensitivity to the situation.

    Logically (as I said in my original comment) I have no opposition whatsoever to this mosque being built. But the problem is that human beings are a mixture of the logical and the emotional, and the logical rarely wins.

  7. Seth,

    I think you are being naive. I understand that you believe that the Muslims here are not those wacky fundamentalist type that blow up stuff. My problem is that, historically and presently, there is not a single Islamic state on earth that has guaranteed religious freedom and hasn’t mercilessly persecuted and/or restricted Christian liberties specifically. They have done this every single time they have gained the majority. I daresay that you cannot find an example where this isn’t true. Why should I believe you or them that this time will be different? How many times does Lucy have to move the ball before Charlie Brown stops trying to kick it?

    You said: That Islam or Christianity or Secular Humanism are be political should neither surprise us nor give us any undue concern. Really? You think Christian politics look the same as Islamic ones? Do you read the newspaper, brother?

  8. @Joseph – I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying, the idea that we would want to give some lenience to those who imagine themselves hurt by those wishing to create an Islamic worship center. It rings similar to Paul’s recommendation that we indulge those of weak faith and understanding that we might draw them into better understanding and stronger faith.

    I do think there is a difference, however. Those who abstained from meats and only ate vegetables were not inculcating hatred by their convictions. Their convictions, while perpetrating a small harm against themselves, were not harming others. That doesn’t appear to be the case here.

    I believe that we should be treating the families of victims (even the Muslim ones) of the WTC attack with compassion and charity. I do think, however, that while we support them in their grief, we should not support the harmful mistakes their grief might foment. I would also suggest that the average American of Middle Eastern descent (whether Muslim or Christian or Atheist) is much more victim of the attack than all of the mosque-protesters save for those who experienced a firsthand loss of family or friend. They are in as great a need of our compassion and charity as those who imagine an Islamic worship center six blocks from the site of the former towers somehow degrades the memories of their loved ones.

  9. @Brad – I think if you’ll review your statements you’ll find that you have not forwarded an argument against the building of a mosque at a particular location in New York City. Instead, you have championed an argument against the building of any mosques in any place that is not already a Muslim state. Hopefully you’ll agree that such a presentation is far beyond the bounds of the discussion here and understand why I don’t feel any need to respond to your specific requests.

    I will however answer this triad of questions just because: “Really? You think Christian politics look the same as Islamic ones? Do you read the newspaper, brother?”

    No. I don’t. In fact, I don’t think there are Christian politics and Islamic politics. If there were, then you and I would be in agreement in political matters—presuming that you, like me, are a Christian. The reason this disconnect exists is that while matters of faith contribute to political ideology, they do not usually entirely govern it. And even if one’s political ideology is entirely governed by one’s religious system, these systems are as individual as the people who hold to them. My faith (Christian) looks very different from your faith (Christian) because we see things differently, interpret passages differently, and have different interests, personalities, backgrounds, and goals.

    But yes, as a group, Christianity has sometimes looked not so different from how Islam has, as a group, sometimes looked.

    There’s one more thing I’d like to talk about. America.

    What you propose (the stifling of mosque-building) is not so outlandish if one is living in a nation that does not share the values that America is meant to hold out. If we were living in a state that was not a democratic republic where freedom of belief and liberty of speech were hallmark, what you propose would possibly be perfectly acceptable.

    What you are suggesting, however, is that we stop America from being America and rebuild it in your image before some hypothetical Islamic horde can stop America from being America first. What you seek to salvage is not America but is instead some vaguely republic-like nation that allows some moderated form of liberty. For the time being. Till, I imagine, whoever holds power decides to chip one more piece of our liberty away from us. And cetera.

    And that’s fine if that’s what you’re into. Democratic republics certainly aren’t for everybody. They’ve got a lot of natural flaws. One of those is that so long as its government is dictated by the masses, it has the option of being overwhelmed by the masses—leading to the possibility that you forward (that of Islamic takeover). So yeah, I can see if America isn’t your thing. It’s not always mine either.

    But I don’t like the liberty of speech and belief part. That’s really among my favourites.

  10. We can translate his statement something like this: “You are being disrespectful to the memories of our dead loved ones by not agreeing with us that you are our enemies, by acting as if you were not responsible for their deaths. Although it is your right to worship there, it is immoral for you to not acknowledge our belief that we are at war against Islam, and therefore you. If you used good sense, you’d realize that you are our enemies.”

    This is a pretty uncharitable rendering of the arguments in the piece. This doesn’t sound so much the thoughtful critique, as it sounds like an assault on a misrepresentation of an opponent.

    This piece doesn’t say Islam is our enemy. It doesn’t say or imply that they should “act responsible” for 9/11. It doesn’t say anything is immoral or that they believe we’re at war with Islam. It just isn’t there. Sure, there’s a lot behind it, but you don’t know what it is, and you’re failing your own test of charity by the assumptions you’ve made.

    Joseph is partly right. There are certainly no legal reasons to block the mosque, but the “good sense” argument stands, as well as one based on compassion for the families of the victims. In the scenario of Christians in Germany, the survivors and relatives of victims never had to complain, because the Christians realized that building a church there, even to “promote dialogue”, would show a lack of empathy and compassion.

    There is nothing stopping the group from building the mosque (except, perhaps, a shortage of local construction workers willing to take part), and they can if they want to. But that doesn’t mean the people opposed just have to accept it. They can fight it now, and fight it later, if need be, but they shouldn’t have to.

    I think Joseph’s two questions are spot on (“Is it in poor taste to build a mosque so close to ground zero?”; “Is the building of this mosque going to create more dissension instead of facilitating healing?), and I’d like to add another: Why should we, as Christians, support the outreach of another religion? This is not a suggestion that we should oppose it, only a suggestion that we should not support it.

    I agree that we should be careful about the causes we support, and the messages that are being used (that was the point of my Prop 8 post), but there’s a serious difference between trying to kindly influence a group of people away from an action that you believe would harm others (this video), and trying to legally bar a group of people from an action you disagree with.

  11. @Charles

    I apologize. In the interest of space and time I was a bit sloppy with my analysis. Let me qualify my point a bit and offer some, hopefully, clarifying evidence from the video. If we still don’t see eye-to-eye on this we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Due to repetitive stress injuries in my hands, I can’t afford to type much. So I hope to make this my only response. (Just a note, the following response assumes that you believe that not all Muslims are radical, violent Muslims, bent on killing Americans.)

    First, let me point out two other quotes from the video:

    “I can’t let the actions of the passengers and crew of flight 93 go in vain as long as they need us to speak for them and to continue the fight that they began I’ll be here to do it.”

    “We promised never forget. Is that just meaningless words on a bumpersticker faded in the sun?”

    In what sense would this Mosque mean that the passengers and crew of flight 93 went in vain? Who or what is this lady “fight[ing]” for them? What is it that we have forgotten?

    It seems to me that the only reasonable way to understand these statements is if you assume that building Mosque near Ground Zero is an act of aggression by an enemy. Yes, the video does not use the word enemy, but that was my point in the post, that often the ugly arguments of politics are hidden behind more appealing language. But if those on flight 93 were fighting radical Muslims, and this lady plans on continuing that same fight by opposing the Mosque, what other conclusion can we draw but that she views these Muslims as her enemies and the Mosque as an aggressive act?

    The same goes for the second quote. What is it that we have forgotten? It seems to me that the only answer that fits with the argument of the video is that we have forgotten that Islam was responsible for 9/11. And so this man is asking us to not forget who was to blame. And he therefore is implying that by allowing them to build a Mosque near Ground Zero, we are forgetting that they, followers of Islam, are the ones who were responsible.

    Finally, let me qualify that I was a bit general, and therefore perhaps uncharitable, with my translation of “good sense.” It also could be translated something like this:

    “Good sense”= “acknowledging the fact that you (founders of the Mosque) resemble my enemies enough that it is justified for me to be offended by your Mosque near Ground Zero. Even though I know you are not responsible, since you resemble (in belief, action, or appearance) those who were responsible, and since I profoundly suffered from 9/11, I am justified in asking you to respect my association with you and those who were responsible.”

    Let me just reemphasize that my heart does go out to those who suffered through this tragedy. But I agree with Dane, I’m not convinced it is empathy and compassion to allow one group of people to wrongly associate another group of people with those who committed some past wrong. And if these victims don’t associate all Muslims with the terrorists, then why do they care if they build near Ground Zero? Part of healing means confronting wrong beliefs about those responsible for your pain. And I think that by supporting these victims we could be encouraging, validating, justifying their unjust associations.

    To your final point, about supporting the outreach of another religion, I support it on legal grounds, and I am opposed to most of arguments against it because I do not think they are loving, but I certainly wish that they would come to know the Lord and that there would be no need to build a mosque in the first place.

    I had hoped to make this short. Too late! Charles, I’m open to hearing another side to this issue, and I admit that part of my frustration about this issue is that I’ve heard almost no one speak reasonably or lovingly in opposition to the Mosque, from protestors to Republican leaders, but you and Joseph have both given reasonable and loving arguments for the opposition. I still disagree with you, but I am grateful to hear your perspective.

  12. @Alan – I essentially agree with the overall premise of your article–we as Christians should not be in the business of assuming that all muslims are our enemies. My biggest concern should always be the living out and the preaching of the gospel–which involves charity to all people regardless of what some of those who represent them have done.

    I think Charles and Joseph bring up good points and it is well within the bounds of this discussion to say, “the building of this Mosque” is insensitive and perhaps even unwise because I there is reason to believe that it will not promote peace as is claimed.

    @Dane–whether you think Brad’s comments relevant to this discussion or not, the implications of what he is saying need to be considered.

    What I mean is that freedom of religion and freedom of speech which are enjoyed in our country do not mean that people are completely free in their religion or in their speech. There are certain things you cannot say in America without being thrown in jail–such as “bomb” while on a plane ;). There are certain things that Muslims are doing even now in European countries that are illegal to do here. This is happening in Europe as we speak and some Muslim communities in Europe are being allowed to practice Sharia law–which I believe to be immoral based on the current laws of our land. For instance, I would never condone a family beating up their daughter for trying to date a non-muslim–such cases have been dismissed in Europe on grounds of Sharia law and are even promoted in many Islamic states.

    I would simply say that what Brad brings up is a valid concern.

    Are we treating Islam as if it is Christianity. I just don’t think we are comparing apples to apples with regard to separation of church and state and the religion of Islam which I do not believe separates the two. New Testament Christianity promotes religious liberty. And there is historical evidence for this. Where is the historical evidence that Islam promotes religious liberty? Islam by its very religious documents promotes a union of Church and state whereas Biblical Christianity opposes a melding of the two. Sure our politics are influenced by our Christianity and I think you could make the argument that that has a lot to do with why there is freedom of religion in America. I am all for freedom of religion but not when it means women being abused in the name of it or if it. Nor if it keeps me from being able to evangelize.

    Take Turkey for instance—one of the supposed more liberal Islamic states—what would happen if I went there and started passing out tracts? What would happen in some Islamic neighborhoods in France? You might protest that that isn’t the wisest course of action and that we ought to be winning those people to Christ in less confrontational ways. When that is possible, perhaps that is true, but there are entire communities in Europe where Muslims are unlikely to ever interact with a non-Muslim—does Christ call us to take the gospel to those people?

    I am not trying to be a fear monger but I think Brad brings up a valid point. As Islam grows in America, leaders in our country may be forced to restrict it because it promotes a melding of church and state. What I am most concerned about is my freedom to preach the gospel which is being compromised as we speak in Islamic states and Islamic communities—that is worth thinking about—even if it does not specifically pertain to Alan’s article.

    I AM NOT opposed to the building of this mosque nor do I think that we ought to be making a big deal about this—I tend to agree with Joseph that the building of this mosque is in poor taste but I do not plan to blog against the building of the mosque or campaign against it. I believe the Christian’s goal and mission should always be the preaching of the gospel.

  13. @Alan: You might of overshot a smidge when you tried to “reword the argument in as few words as possible.” ;-D But you’re an English major, so I won’t fault you for it!

  14. @Drew: You’re right that Brad’s comments lead to interesting implications. I passed on them because they bear no relevance to the questions of a) whether a particular building for Muslim use and practice should be built in a particular location, and b) of what consists a reasonable reponse by Americans. So Brad’s concern may be valid but it has nothing to do with what is oddly enough being called the Ground Zero Mosque (a total propaganda name for the worship/community center and therefore toxic to discussion). But let’s entertain the idea a bit as just a completely unrelated side-conversation.

    And let’s start off with Sharia Law.

    Pretending for a minute that Sharia Law is some monolithic thing and that it doesn’t have as many iterations and interpretations as the Protestant West has of Christianity, such a legal system would never be passed in America. And it’s just not realistic to imagine this would be the case. It would require the forging of some sort of Muslim reservations of the kind that Native Americans currently hold. And even tribal law, though free-ranging in a number of directions, is still beholden to Federal Law unless otherwise abrogated. This will not happen because the reservations were created with special dispensation as a kind of off-handed LOL Sorry We Stole Your Land and Used Chem Warfear on U KBai!!1!!! So then, any implementation of Sharia Law would have to be on a law-by-law basis at the local community level. And would have to not violate the church/state clause. Laws would be subject to constitutional scrutiny even as laws are today.

    And of course, we need to consider that there is no Sharia Law that we can look to as the Platonic form of Sharia Law. Every sect of Islam, every culture and sub-culture, every scholar, et cetera has their own interpretations of what law should consist. Some interpretations are far more compatible with American law than others. Those would be the laws, if any, that could gain traction here.

    Moving on in my whirlwind tour of points you bring up: the difference between Christian practice and Muslim practice so far as church/state issues etc. Christians, historically, have used political means to require obeisance to Christian life. Christians, historically, have also lived at peace with those who believe oppositionally to Christian doctrine. Muslims, historically, have used political means to require obeisance to Muslim life. Muslims, historically, have also lived at peace with those who believe oppositionally to Muslim doctrine.

    There have been times, some medieval, some far more recent, when Christians and Muslims have lived at peace with each other. Muslims in a Christian majority and Christians in a Muslim majority. There have also been times when one group has persecuted the other. Both groups have, at times, shown a remarkable (and dangerous to democratic notions) desire to affect their doctrinal assertations upon the political realm.

    You say, “Biblical Christianity opposes a melding of church and state,” which I think is a fine thing to say, but that is your interpretation and a great number of Christians have historically disagreed with you. I’ve known Muslims who don’t feel the need to impose their faith on the state either. So, what now?

    Your take Turkey for instance example doesn’t add to the conversation because it’s irrelevant. Going with your story though, suppose I went to Turkey or through an Islamic neighbourhood in France and was passing out tracts. I might get glared at. I might get yelled at. I might get beat up. Or maybe I might pass out tracts (which might be punishment enough!). The thing is, that could happen at the RNC if I were passing out Obama Hope stickers. And in neither case would that be a refelction on the legal situation of the state but simply upon how deeply I’m threatening the insecurities of the locals.

    As much as you fear Islam, I don’t think you need fear America becoming an Islamic state. And the Islamic state you fear is not going to be flag-planted by a liberal Muslim chosen by the Bush administration to soften Muslim-Western relations. If you fear the curtailing of American liberties, then you should be not just not opposed to but actually supportive of this quote-unquote Ground Zero Mosque, because silencing Islam here is one more step toward silencing Christianity later.

    Especially when secularists begin to note the chilling similarities between Muslim and Christian political agendas, because let’s be frank: the Christian Right wants to take over America every bit as much as we imagine Islam does.

    Also, if you want, I can take the time to deal with Brad’s soft balls—I just didn’t think it was particularly worth that time.

  15. I don’t fear Islam brother nor do I fear becoming an Islamic state, but thanks for making those assumptions.

    And again–I don’t oppose the building of the mosque or whatever it is. Did you read my comment carefully you seem to have missed some pretty obvious statements.

    My main point was that I don’t believe Christianity and Islam to have the same policy with regard to separation of church and state–that was it. I don’t know of a time, place, or example of when Islamic countries or communities celebrated separation of church and state–I simply thought it was worth noting.

    Also–you detest gospel tracts? What is so awful about gospel tracts. I admit that they are not always the best way to start a conversation or to reach someone but I would never condemn anyone for passing them out.

  16. I apologize for the bite to that last comment, but I do you made some assumptions about me that could not be taken from my comment.

    I would simply say this–yes passing out tracts might threaten the insecurities of the locals but it should be legal in any state that celebrates separation of church and state and free speech.

  17. I was using fear as being near-synonymous with concern, as in: “I fear you mistook my usage of the word fear, my good chap!” I wasn’t saying that you are actually afraid (as in terrified or scared) of Islam, just that I read you as being concerned that an Islamic state could come about in America (which builds out of your consideration that Brad’s fears/concerns/etc were valid and bore consideration.

    I recognized that you were not opposed to the mosque per se. That’s why I said this: “If you [are concerned about]* the curtailing of American liberties, then you should be not just not opposed [since this is the position you stated] to but actually supportive of this mosque.”

    As to your main point, you say: “I don’t know of a time, place, or example of when Islamic countries or communities celebrated separation of church and state.” I think celebrate might be a strong term and I think it a bit unfair to demand a relatively modern political philosophy (church and state) of nations that didn’t have any real contact with the idea until this century (and we haven’t exactly made our political philosophy palatable to non-western entities). Still, I can think of examples in which religious liberty was allowed in several cases of regions of Muslim majority. Ignoring the middle ages, even going back to pre-Israel Palestine in the 20th century, we find Christianity flourishing unmolested among a largely Islamic region. As for Christians celebrating the church and state divide, that’s something that still won’t get a lot of Facebook fans.

    This is part of the problem I have with generalizing about a belief system. Especially one that, like Christianity, has wide variety in practice and belief.

    As for tracts: no, I find nothing objectionable in their existence or tactful use. They are just not something I personally enjoy using and I find passing them out to be a special kind of torture simply because they aren’t really my thing.

    As for the bite: no worries. While I didn’t think I merited being bitten (and think the offense you took was born out of misunderstanding my use of “fear”), I certainly don’t mind a bit of passion in responses since I’m often more than happy to write with bite on my own.

  18. Oh, and I don’t know anything about the legality of tracts in France or Turkey, but I imagine they’re probably legal? No? Yes? In any case, it’s tough to use communities with unrelated political structures to make arguments of analogy.

  19. @Alan

    I think the first quote, about those on flight 93, may assume that the building of the mosque is “an act of aggression by an enemy,” but it might also assume that it is simply an act of insensitivity by someone who is closely associated with the wrong side of a personal trauma.

    The second quote could indeed be aligning the mosque group directly with the radicals, but we could also view it as a reminder that the attack was committed in the name of Islam. Understanding that, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if, as there was dancing in the streets in some areas of the Middle East as the towers fell, there might be malicious celebration in some not insignificant corners of the Muslim world if the mosque is built.

    We also have to remember that this controversy didn’t spring full grown from the head of Zeus. The group proposed it as a way to move toward reconciliation, but the people they want to reconcile with balked immediately. As the building group persisted, a conflict became controversy. One has to wonder why they persist, when the simple act of moving forward is already undermining their stated goal.

    It may not be compassionate to allow someone to maintain faulty assumptions, especially blaming people for a tragedy when they aren’t responsible. But in counseling people through situations where they were severely harmed by another person or group, even their faulty generalizations have to be addressed tenderly and slowly.

    Each day that the building group pushes forward, it becomes harder to believe that they actually care about the people who were touched by tragedy on 9/11. It seems that they, and their American supporters, care only about Muslim religious freedom—which demonstrates that they are completely missing the point. It also makes me wonder if their stated goals align with their actual goals.

    I recognize that the point of this article was that we should carefully examine the political messages that we support, which I agree with. But we should not question our own position simply because someone else uses a potentially distasteful message to support it. In the end I want to echo that this group is free to build what they want, where they want (unless it’s a liquor store within 300 feet of a school in Texas), but I don’t think they should build a mosque at, near, or around Ground Zero. The national and cultural wound is too fresh, and the symbolism is too potent.

  20. Just a helpful hint from someone who never learns his lesson. Never compose long-ish comments in your browser. Always use textpad or some equivalent. That way you don’t lose comments when the browser decides to navigate away to some other page.

    Poor Charles. He would have read my post, seen the error of his ways, and wept grateful tears of joy at his new-found sense of enlightenment. He probably even would have had a visible halo. But alas, technology swallowed my comment whole and now leaves Charles knee-deep in being wrong. I won’t explain why. I already did once before, but sadly that is all gone now.

    Mourn with me Charles and let us find consolation in the fact that you were at least right about Lev Grossman writing a sequel.

  21. I’m crying now, though from laughter, as I think about the thousands of words I’ve lost in emptied-cache-land. The latest Firefox tends to keep those entries if you use the back or forward buttons to return to the page, though.

    I hope you decide to explain it again, though.

  22. I have several reactions to this article, Alan.

    1. I’m jealous because I somehow never thought of “Mosquerading.” Nice wordplay, mate.

    2. You nailed it in saying the video demands that everyone view the situation as “us vs them.” It assumes they’re all alike, a slur that makes us mad when non-Christians throw it at us. In point of fact, voice after voice in the American Islamic communities condemned the attack and all acts of terrorism. I’ve twice attended press conferences in South Florida where imams of several mosques have said so.

    3. Opponents seem to have the impression that the mosque will be a Mideastern-style dome and minarets. It will actually be a prayer room in a multi-story building. And it will be “near” Ground Zero only in New Yorker terms — about two blocks away, measured lengthwise. You may be able to see the World Trade Center from the street, but you won’t be able to see the prayer room from Ground Zero.

    4. I’ve never read or heard a single argument showing how stopping this mosque will prevent an Islamic state in America. There are already about a hundred mosques in the New York area. In fact, there was an Islamic prayer room right in the World Trade Center, for Muslim businessmen who worked there — dozens of whom died, BTW, on 9-11.

    5. This video was clearly made a long time ago, at least for some of the interviews. When the camera panned from the flight attendant’s mother out the window to the new World Trade Center site, it was still a hole in the ground without the glass towers that I saw back in September. Do the people still feel the same way?

    6. And why was the flight attendant’s mother in the video at all? Her daughter died on United Flight 93, which crashed into Pennsylvania. Stopping the mosque in New York will do nothing to honor the memory of her daughter.

    7. Aaaaiiiieeeee! Your column had four split infinitives! :-D

  23. Alan, I think you’re right to note in this argument a tacit structure in favor of perpetuating a violent confrontation. I don’t know that all of those who participate in or endorse this message would think their intentions are well-represented in that analysis, though (as you know, I would countenance an argument to the effect that this is a *reason* for performing the analysis).

    I’m still willing to entertain the possibility that the imam’s efforts *also* contain such a possibly counter-intentional tacit structure in favor of perpetuating a violent confrontation, and that the objections of many against his project mark the site of just such a conflict.

    And, in such a context, I actually think the public airing of various understandings and misunderstandings, both of one’s own intentions and aims and those of others, is preferable to the use of actual violence or even the veiled violence of state action.

    But most importantly, I wanted to report that, upon reading the latest round of Seth’s exchange with Charles, I achieved satori and am now perfect Buddhamind. a-u-m…..

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