The mosque, common sense, and building bridges

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Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes once said that the “life of the law is not logic, but experience.” What he said about the law might well be applied to the debate about a Muslim mosque near Ground Zero.

I am puzzled by the Muslim insistence on putting up a mosque at the 9/11 site when more than two-thirds of Americans think it’s a sacrilegious idea. The idea is akin to building a Japanese war memorial next to the broken hull of the Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Why go out of your way to poke a stick in the eye of the American people?

Supposedly Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, one of the initiators of the mosque idea, is a bridge builder, insisting that Islam is totally compatible with American values. Unfortunately, prior to 9/11 he was videoed blaming America for hatred of our country in the Mideast, saying that our own terrorism sparked Islamic terrorism. One wonders what kind of bridges he had in mind when he said those things.

Logic and law do appear to dictate that Muslims should be allowed to build their place of worship anywhere another faith could, and indeed if the proponents of the mosque press their case they will prevail. Yet one wonders if this is one of those cases where the heart of the matter does not rest on the law or logic — but rather on common sense and everyday experience.

The mosque may go up, all 13 stories of it. We are, after all, a nation of laws. But what will it accomplish? What bridges will it build? Will it impress the Islamists in the Mideast and cause them at long last to love us?

It should go without saying that symbols are embedded deep in the human psyche. It is part of the human mind, the exploration of which constitutes the last great frontier. Humans live and die with and for symbols — the cross, the flag, the hammer and sickle, and, yes, the swastika. We do not go to war literally for a flag but for what it symbolizes.

And the argument against the mosque is not about a building but about what it will symbolize to Americans and Islamists. For the latter, it cannot help but be a symbol of America’s coming defeat, the first blow of which was struck on 9/11.

For Americans, who admittedly know little about the inner workings of Islam, it will be an insult. No matter how you try to distinguish the Islam as a faith from the Islamic political movement, for most Americans, still feeling the pain of those burning Twin Towers, that is a distinction without a difference.

Symbols and symbolic actions are important, and we ignore or discount them at our own peril. President Obama is already regretting his apparent misstep in seeming to endorse the mosque idea. In light of the public opposition to the mosque, one has to wonder if the idea is a religious one or a political one. What will Muslims accomplish if they prevail?

Sadly, the opposition to the mosque is being labeled as bigotry — Islamolphobia. Americans, we are told, are ignorant, fearful, and bigoted because they opposed the mosque. We are told so by no less an authority than Time magazine.

It has been said that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, but it might also be said that the race card is the first refuge of repudiated reformers. When two thirds of Americans oppose the construction of a mosque near the 9/11 site, it can only be because of America’s irredeemable racism. What else could it be?

Well, how about the fact that all of the Twin Towers killers were Muslims who relied on their Muslim faith as justification for their actions? And what are we to think about the mobs of Muslims in the Mideast who took to the streets on 9/11 to cheer the massacre of Americans? And, importantly, what about the reluctant and mushy condemnation of that atrocity by many American imams?

And what about the anti-American sentiments expressed not so long ago by Imam Rauf before the massacre? This same imam, by the way, is now on a State Department-funded tour of Muslim countries, building bridges presumably. You have to wonder whose idea that was.

Make no mistake. The Al Qaeda jihad against the West is a political one, but it is also religious. It claims that killing Americans is the will of Allah because America is the Great Satan and deserves to be annihilated. But its goal is the destruction of the West and replacement of European and American democracies with Islamic theocratic leaders and sharia as the law of the land.

At its worst sharia is a legal code that calls for crucifixion, severing of hands, putting out of eyes, stoning of women adulterers while their male partners are merely hanged, and the flogging of children.

We are told that the real Muslim faith was hijacked by the 9/11 perpetrators, and that they and Osama bin Laden do not represent true Islam. I hope that is so, but I do wish that more imans in the West would unequivocally condemn Al Qaeda and separate themselves clearly from those portions of oppressive sharia law.

No doubt the overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are loyal patriots, many of whom serve in our armed forces. I am sorry that people who call themselves Muslims have declared war on our country, and that their murderous actions have brought suspicion on their fellow believers here. I wish it were not so. But it is so.

Oh yes, there’s the comparison to the internment of Japanese-American citizens in WWII. Racism and panic did drive that decision, no doubt. But we have learned that lesson, and I have no fear that it will be repeated.

(Ironically, according to Time, Muslims in America feel much more comfortable here than they feel in France or Germany, which have much larger Muslim populations. That tidbit was buried somewhere in the middle of the Time piece, lest, no doubt, it spoil the image of Americas as racist and Islamophobic).

Yes, there is widespread ignorance in this country about the beliefs of Muslims. They constitute less that 1 percent of the population of the U.S. (2.5 million in a nation of 300 million). The confusion about the core beliefs of Islam is understandable, and not to be dismissed with the condescension found in the media. The Koran contains many exhortations about the forced conversion of infidels (you and me). Also, the ongoing persecution of Mideast Christian minorities in Islamic nations is anything but reassuring.

Yes, there is a distinction to be made between Islam as a faith and as a political movement. Some Muslim-majority nations have made that distinction by secularizing their government (e.g., Turkey), but other important nations are theocracies. Imams run the show. Separation of church and state is a foreign idea.

The proponents of the Ground Zero mosque might take a page from the book of Pope Benedict XVI when dealing with a similar issue recently. Carmelite nuns wanted to build a convent at Auschwitz with the intention of praying for all of the victims of the Nazis there. Jewish leaders objected to the idea, insisting that Auschwitz was the ultimate symbol of the Jewish Holocaust.

The Carmelites had every legal right to do build their convent there, but Benedict quietly had the nuns withdraw their proposal in a decision that demonstrated graciousness and sensitivity.

Such a decision by Imam Rauf would lay the framework for a bridge between Muslims and average Americans.

About Stan Latreille 66 Articles
Stan Latreille is a novelist, blogger, lawyer, former newspaperman, and a retired Circuit Court judge. He is the author of "Perjury" and is working on a new novel, tentatively titled "Absolution."