Sensitivity about the “Ground Zero Mosque”

This piece from Will Saletan is actually the best thing I have read so far on the “Ground Zero Mosque.”  Their earlier argument having failed in the light of day, Republican elites are now turning to the “sensitivity” issue; i.e., it may be legal to place the Islamic Center there, but we need to be sensitive to the feelings of 9/11 survivors, etc.  Saletan does a brilliant job deconstructing what this sensitivity is actually all about:

You can’t tell somebody not to build a house of worship somewhere just because the idea upsets you. You have to figure out why you’re upset. What’s the basis of your discomfort? Why should others respect it? For that matter, why should you?…

With the exception of Palin, these are not stupid people. They’re searching our sensitivity for an underlying rationale that justifies the exclusion of mosques from the vicinity of Ground Zero. And they aren’t finding one.

What they’re finding instead is group blame. The destruction of the World Trade Center “was an attack in the name of Islam,” says Giuliani…

This is the true thinking behind the anti-mosque sensitivity: Muslims committed the massacre. Therefore, no Muslim house of worship should be built there.

It’s natural to be angry at Muslims for 9/11. In fact, it’s natural to want to kill them. We’ve hated and killed each other for centuries. You kill us; we kill you. The “you” is collective. You aren’t exactly the infidel who slew my grandfather. But you’re close enough…

But if our revulsion at the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero is irrational—if it’s based ongroup blame and a failure to distinguish Islam from terrorism—then maybe it isn’t the mosque’s planners who need to rise above their emotions. Maybe it’s the rest of us.

Once we recognize the sensitivity argument for what it is—an appeal to feelings we can’t morally justify—there’s no good reason why the Islamic center shouldn’t be built at its planned site, in the neighborhood where its imam already preaches and its memberswork and congregate. Asking them to reorder their lives to accommodate our instinctive reaction is wrong. We can transcend that reaction, and we should.

Read the whole damn thing.  And send it to your Islamophobic friends and relatives.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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