Careful-what-you-ask-for Dep’t: Karen Hughes on Cordoba House

Karen Hughes can’t bring herself to denounce bigotry.

Just the other day I was complaining that George W. Bush, Condi Rice, and Karen Hughes, having sent Feisal Abdul Rauf on “public diplomacy” missions to speak for the United States to the Islamic world, hadn’t spoken up about the Cordoba House flap.

Well, Hughes has now spoken up. Clearly, I should have specified my desires more specifically. Hughes thinks that while the Park 51 organization has the right to build Cordoba House on the sacrosanct Burlington Coat Factory site, the nice, polite thing for them to do would be to build it elsewhere.

Hughes reviews the decision she and her President made to try to define 9/11 as a bunch of fanatics betraying Islam rather than as part of a war between Islam and the West. That was obviously the right thing to say from a strategic viewpoint; equally obviously, the claim wasn’t either true or false, as there is no truth of the matter concerning the nature or essence of Islam. The meaning of Islamic tradition, like that of all traditions, is fundamentally contested, and choosing sides in that contest is a political act, not a theological one.

What Hughes doesn’t explain is why she’s shifting ground now. Building Cordoba House near Ground Zero is offensive only if al-Islam is somehow offensive: strange, threatening, and foreign. To argue about how far from Ground Zero an Islamic community center ought to be build is to concede from the go that Muslims have only a conditional claim on being fully American; no one would consider negotiating about where to build a church or a synagogue or a temple to Shiva.

Hughes also says not a word in defense of Mr. Rauf, except to notice that she’s asking him to act more respectfully toward others than they have acted toward him. If the charges that he’s a terrorist sympathizer are false, she ought to denounce them; if they’re true, then the argument against building a community center under his leadership is legitimate, and she ought to say so.

Perhaps the most original – if slightly bizarre – element of Hughes’s essay is her comparison of the Cordoba House controversy with the controversy over the publication of deliberately blasphemous cartoons of Mohammed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. She says that, just as the newspaper had the right to publish the offensive cartoons, it should have refrained from exercising that right, and she charges the supporters of Cordoba House with inconsistency for not having spoken out on behalf of the newspaper.

I call this “bizarre” for two reasons:

– Actually, some liberals did speak out for press freedom in that case, while (to my knowledge) none of the loudmouth opponents of the “Ground Zero Mosque” had anything but praise for the cartoon stunt.  (In my personal case, the history of that particular newspaper in publishing anti-Semitic articles and cartoons in the 1930s made me suspect that the purpose of the current publication was to stir up hatred, once again, against a minority population.)

– That aside, the two cases are parallel only if Cordoba House is intended as a deliberate affront, as the cartoons so obviously were. But Hughes seems unable to explain the nature of the affront, except to say that some unnamed terrorist somewhere might regard building Cordoba House on its proposed site as a victory for al-Islam against the West, using the West’s own weapons.  Pretty thin beer, it seems to me.

In my brief CNN appearance with Reihan Salam this evening, Reihan pointed out that lots of Muslims in New York are dubious about the Cordoba House project. There seems to be good reason for that in terms of the organizers’ failure to consult other Muslims in New York. Moreover, I’m (barely) old enough to remember when older Jews reasoned the same way: “We’re a tolerated minority, and that tolerance isn’t perfectly secure. Let’s not do things, no matter how harmless or justified, that might annoy the goyim.” Jews are now, mostly, secure enough not to worry about that anymore; it’s understandable if some Muslims think the way most Jews used to think.

But of course there’s all the difference in the world between Reihan Salam telling fellow-Muslims not to press their luck – which might be good advice or bad advice, but is certainly legitimate advice – and non-Muslims telling their fellow Americans who worship as Muslims that they ought to act as if they were guests in someone else’s house. They’re not “our” guests, and they do not live here on “our” sufferance. Hughes’s failure, and the failure of most non-Muslim conservative leaders – with honorable exceptions such as Ted Olsen – to denounce anti-Muslim bigotry (as practiced, for example, by Franklin Graham) leaves a stain on the contemporary version of conservatism, as the whole affair leaves a stain on this country’s capacity to live by its principles.

Footnote In the short term, this is likely to “work” for the GOP, as immigrant-bashing did in the 1990s and gay-baiting did in 2004. But adding Muslims to the list of groups that the Republican right has treated as national enemies can’t really be a good move long-term, unless Osama bin Laden and Sarah Palin succeed in creating a true worldwide sectarian war.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

46 thoughts on “Careful-what-you-ask-for Dep’t: Karen Hughes on Cordoba House”

  1. This is really just a joke. I mean, you can be partisan all you want, but there's no excusing stupid. What Mark has so far failed to do–failed to even attempt to do–is distinguish the Hughes position, which he finds objectionable, from the Obama position, which he finds morally praiseworthy and courageous. Hughes and Obama both say that Rauf has the right to build, which is a factually accurate claim. Both say that building near Ground Zero involves special sensitivities. Hughes recounts a conversation with a Muslim-American friend who said "she could understand the feelings of those who believe that putting a mosque near the site where murderers calling themselves Muslims killed thousands of people is too much." Similarly, Obama said that "we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country." Obama, like Hughes, declined to say that this sensitivity is wrong or misplaced in this case. Obama didn't offer a defense of Rauf, or argue that people shouldn't be offended. How did Mark not notice?

    The only difference, in the end, is that Hughes is braver than Obama, and publicly takes a position on whether the project should be built as proposed. Obama, despite his brass balls, has still not done that. I don't see how that's a credit to Obama.

    More: Mark's president–I can call him that now, if Bush is "her President"; or maybe this is one of those things that will make Mark feel clever and make me unAmerican; who can tell–adopts the same position toward Islam that President Bush did. It would be nice to see that acknowledged, at least in passing. If Islam is true, then Mark is wrong on the theological point as well; we should be clear about what it means to say that taking sides is only a political act.

    Finally, someone should point out that Mark was, just a few years ago, busy playing the anti-Muslim populist bigot right here. Mark tried to dress up his opposition to the Dubai Ports deal, but, really, we can be honest now, can't we? And Mark's bigotry worked, at least as a political matter. Which is great for Mark's political party, but let's be honest about what kind of person Mark Kleiman is. At least Matt Yglesias has had the courage to revisit his mistakes on that point, if only in passing and in an incomplete way. For Mark now to preen about, as if the ugliness he trafficked in didn't stain him at all, well, it's a bit much for me to take.

  2. For the record, I wasn't telling anyone not to press their luck — I was pointing out that a large number of Muslim New Yorkers don't share the views of those waging a culture war on their behalf.

  3. The only difference, in the end, is that Hughes is braver than Obama, and publicly takes a position on whether the project should be built as proposed. Obama, despite his brass balls, has still not done that.

    Bullshit. His statement at the itfar was that Muslims are Americans. They must be treated like all Americans. He explicitly stated that building a mosque is no different than building a place of worship for any other religion. He made no qualifiers. With those statements, there is no need to weigh in on whether they should build it or not. That's not his call. Once you've said that there is no difference between us, and that this is just like building a Christian church, it means that we respect what the people making the decision want to do.

    I actually like the fact that he didn't offer an opinion as to whether the mosque should be built, because that's the right answer. As long as we all respect the wishes of the people involved, I don't honestly care whether they build an Islamic community center two blocks from the WTC site. I live in Minneapolis; what New Yorkers want to do with their property isn't any of my business, and it isn't any of Obama's, either.

  4. J, no, no, no. This isn't difficult. Once you say that Muslims are Americans and have equal rights under law, you've answered the legal question: Rauf has a right to build this project. But being American doesn't mean being immune to criticism. Anti-gay Democratic preachers may have a constitutional right to preach hate outside the funerals of dead soldiers, but they shouldn't do it. Can you take that small steps and agree with me on that? If you can, you may discover that having the right to do a thing doesn't make doing that thing right.

  5. So, Thomas, can you explain to me why building a community center with a prayer space in it in the former Burlington Coat Factory is wrong, without assuming that the existence of Muslim worship is somehow offensive? The organizers of Cordoba House aren't "preaching hate;" hate is being preached against them, by you and your friends. Of course, you have a First Amendment right to do so, but you could decide – it's your right – to act like a decent human being and an American instead.

    Reihan, I have no desire to wage a culture war on behalf of Muslims. But the question of whether America will maintain its values in the face of terrorism is a question that concerns more than the Islamic community.

  6. Karen Hughes (a former appointed representative of the Bush admin.) followed the Bush policy of trying not to piss off all of the Muslims in the world while "her president" was in office but now a Democrat is in the Oval Office so let the crap hit the fan.

    On another point: As I recall the issue of the Dubai port deal had to do with a foreign owned company controling an entry point to the US. There may be other such ports where that is the case but just because a bad idea has been allowed in the past is no reason not to argue against it being done again. But whaever the details of that situation I fail to see how an issue of national security is comparable to the building of a religiously dedicated community center or a place of worship.

  7. It's pretty easy to see Thomas' view of the world- groups you don't like are defined by their most extreme self-identified members. Bin Laden claims to speak for Islam, therefore all Muslims are putative terrorists, they need to prove otherwise. Fred Phelps ran in the Democratic primary in Kansas and never won, but that means that Democrats are the true anti-gay bigots. I'm sure he's trolled other blogs talking about how Democrats are the real racists because Robert Byrd was once in the KKK- standard Republican child "I know you are, but what am I?" debating tactics.

  8. Wow! When I read comments like those left by Thomas, two things come to mind:

    The first is how pathetic it looks when we feel the need to denigrate others (calling them "stupid", and painting political opponents with the broad brush of their most objectionable adherents, for example) in a failed attempt to assume an air of superiority. To the outside observer, this looks like an inferiority complex manifesting itself.

    The second is how blind to reason we can be if we aren't willing to seriously consider things from perspectives outside our own worldview. "you can be partisan all you want": at least Thomas practices what he preaches on this point.

    I'm not trying to put myself above Thomas here; I do these things too, as we all do – it's human nature after all. I'm simply trying to learn something, and I feel I must thank Thomas for the excellent object lesson!

  9. On Reihan's point about Muslim opposition for the Cordoba center: my guess is that it has everything to do with a cultural strategy of not making waves, and not in any way opposition to the idea of the center itself.

    I still haven't heard a good argument for why we ought to respect anyone's feelings that the sacredness of ground zero precludes Muslim activity thereabouts. Implicit in this sentiment is the idea that 9/11 was a reflection on broader Islam. That idea is simply bigoted.

  10. Mark, you are confused. I–courageously, just like your president–haven't taken a position on the wisdom of building this project as proposed. The suggestion that I'm preaching hate is outrageous; I'm doing nothing of the sort. I would never do that. Heck, I even supported the Dubai Ports deal, while you played the bigot. Now you want to lecture others about how to be a decent human being? Isn't it a little late? Couldn't you start by setting an example? Try apologizing for your old bigotry.

    SP, you have no idea what you're talking about. You don't know me at all. And, yeah, Fred Phelps is a Democrat. That doesn't make Democrats anti-gay, it makes Phelps not a conservative and not a Republican.

    Freeman, Mark's not a stupid man, we all know that. But his arguments lately have been. There's just no way–clever or not–to conclude that his President is being brave while Republicans are being bigots. I excuse partisanship; from time to time I even engage in it. But there are limits to it, and at some point one pushes beyond the bounds of tortured arguments to irrationality. You've witnessed that here, but not from me.

  11. "Perhaps the most original – if slightly bizarre – element of Hughes’s essay is her comparison of the Cordoba House controversy with the controversy over the publication of deliberately blasphemous cartoons of Mohammed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten."

    Given the low threshold for "blasphemous" needed to so characterize some of those cartoons, I'm not so sure that's not a valid comparison… Aside from the fact that Rauf isn't hiding somewhere in a witness protection program, which would really be necessary for the comparison to really work.

  12. You don't have to go any further than Hughes' use of the term 'mosque' to see she is just an ignorant bigot. It is not a mosque. It is a community center. End of story.

  13. Brett, you should note that, on Mark's understanding, "deliberately blasphemous" is a political, not theological, judgment, and one that Mark is making on behalf of Muslims.

  14. Jymn, attaboy. A more direct version of our host's argument.

    "Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities – particularly in New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

    But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure."

    Mosque. Right there. "Place of worship." Yep, that's what a mosque is. (Mosque: "a building used for public worship by Muslims" according to Merriam Webster.) So, can Jymn concede that Obama is an ignorant bigot?

  15. Jymn, it's a "community center" that includes a mosque. Try again.

    Blasphemous can only be a religious judgment, by the very meaning of the word. It's only a political judgment in theocracies.

    Anyway, any comparison between the Mohamed cartoon controversy and the Cordoba house controversy can only make Muslims look worse; As I say, Rauf isn't in the witness protection program, he's on a government paid fund raising tour for his mosque.

  16. Of course, I yield to no one in my commitment to Rosa Park's RIGHT to ride in the front of that bus. However, in the interests of the greater good of peace in the community, I sincerely hope that she will consider finding a place further back, while people of good will on all sides negotiate this difficult issue. I trust no one will mischaracterize my carefully nuanced position as a lack of an absolute commitment to civil rights.

  17. So long as you're really firm on her RIGHT, there's no reason to doubt your commitment; Rights are about what we accept people are entitled to do, not about what we approve of their doing. You're perfectly entitled to think somebody shouldn't exercise a right, so long as you understand that it's their choice, not yours'.

    It's a right to do something, not a right to have people approve of your so doing…

  18. Incidentally, while I'm all in favor of religious liberty, that's only because it's a subset of general liberty. There are umpteen mosques already in NCY, and no Walmarts. Seems to me it's not religious liberty that's threatened in NYC. It's secular liberty.

  19. Excellent! I get credit for fully defending Rosa Park's civil rights AND for not being one of those front-of-the-bus extremist hotheads. Being highly principled isn't as hard as I thought. (I have been learning from Howard Dean.)

  20. Recognizing Rosa Parks' or Feisal Abdul Rauf' RIGHT is important in court. In the rest of life, however, approving of their exercise of their right is far more important, because it is what makes one a decent human being.

  21. As far as I know, it's not a mosque.

    @ Thomas:

    My local hospital has a prayer room. That doesn't mean that the hospital is a church or a mosque. What the dictionary definition you quote doesn't spell out is that it is referring to the primary purpose of the building. A hospital, or a community center, doesn't become a mosque or a church just because it has a prayer room.

    @ Brett Bellmore:

    It's not a community center that includes a mosque because a mosque is a building, not a room.

  22. Thomas,

    If you are a patriotic American, Obama is "your" president too. I didn't care much for Clinton or Bush, but they were my presidents. That's how things work in a democracy. You haven't stated otherwise, so I'm assuming your point was to highlight Mark's apparent partisanship in referring to Bush as "her president", although I think Fred made a reasonable counter-point in that Hughes was an appointed representative of the Bush administration who may seem to have changed her position now that "her president" has left office.

    I think we can excuse Mark at least a little bit for inferring from the tone of your comments that you may have taken a position in opposition to the project (your rebuttal to J. certainly reads that way), but you are absolutely right to call him out for not just suggesting, but coming right out and saying that you are "preaching hate" against the organizers of Cordoba House in the absence of evidence of any actual preaching of hate on your part.

    You have failed to address Fred's point about the Dubai Ports deal, and haven't bothered to provide any evidence of Mark's allegedly bigoted remarks on the subject (link please?). Until you do, your repeated remarks on the subject accusing Mark of bigotry are no better than Mark's single remark accusing you of preaching hate.

    What was your point in identifying Phelps as a Democrat, if not to tarnish other Democrats? I don't see how the man's politics are in any way relevant to the point you were making about his behavior nor in countering the point you were responding to. He's a Democrat, not a conservative Republican – so what? Much more than his personal political affiliation, he is well-known as a blatant and unapologetic bigot. Maybe you're just saying there are bigots in all parties, which is, of course, absolutely correct, but it didn't come off that way when I read it, especially considering your other disparaging remarks. I felt it was an unnecessary and counter-productive distraction from the valid point you were making about having a right to do something vs. that something being the right thing to do.

    I'm glad we agree that Mark is not a stupid man, but you did say "you can be partisan all you want, but there’s no excusing stupid", which infers that you think Mark is being partisan and stupid. To quote the famous movie, "stupid is as stupid does". You keep saying that Mark has concluded that Obama is being brave and Republicans are being bigots, but in my reading of the article, he neither called Obama brave nor Republicans bigots, although I think we might be right to infer that he was accusing some Republicans of being hypocritical on the subject – a point with which I happen to agree, though such behavior is certainly not limited to Republicans. Perhaps it may have helped had he pointed out that there are Democrats who also disagree with him on the subject of the Cordoba House.

    Ever since the Cordoba House issue became a matter of public debate, Mark has been challenging opponents to "explain to me why building a community center with a prayer space in it … is wrong, without assuming that the existence of Muslim worship is somehow offensive". I would like to see an answer to that, but I suppose since you are denying having taken a position on the subject I shouldn't expect it to come from you. But since you claim not to have a position, I have no idea what you might mean by "…at some point one pushes beyond the bounds of tortured arguments to irrationality. You’ve witnessed that here…". What exactly is irrational about Mark's stated position, and which of his arguments are "tortured"? If you ask me, the whole brouhaha over the Cordoba project is completely irrational given our Constitutionally-protected freedom to practice the religion of our choice anywhere in the country. I read nothing in the first amendment granting exceptions for certain religions or locations of places of worship. You argued that "having the right to do a thing doesn’t make doing that thing right", so why make that point in the context of this article and in rebuttal to J.'s comment if you aren't saying that the proposed Cordoba House project isn't the right thing to do? And if you are saying that, then please explain with your rational and non-tortured reasoning why it is not right so that the rest of us can understand and stop making our stupid arguments.

  23. "It’s a right to do something, not a right to have people approve of your so doing…"

    Brett, I agree with this. People have the right to be ignorant and bigoted. But few people seem to be asking whether it is indeed ignorant and bigoted to "approve" of building the center. There seem to be two positions on the politically right side of this: A) you don't have a right to build it and it is wrong, or B) you have the right but it is still wrong.

    Yet why is it wrong? My guess is that people are afraid to actually make the case for this, and so they are spending all their time defending the rights of "others" to be "offended", meanwhile subtly sympathizing.

  24. While I think my analogy above has merit, my direct take is as follows. I believe in freedom of religion because it is the right and healthy way to run a human society. I am pleased that this right is enshrined in the United States Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other important laws. However, my beliefs would be the same if those did not exist, or if I lived where they did not reach. From that perspective, I belive that government –and fellow citizens– should treat this project exactly as they would if the proponents were Christian or Jewish. I am not impressed with any variation of "I guess it's their right, but I really hope they won't." If the proponents were persons sympathetic to the 9/11 hijackers seeking a provocation, that would greatly affect the discussion, but there is absolutely no evidence of that. On the contrary, this entire "controversy" is a spectacularly successful conservative trick to divert the public discourse from the truly important issues.

  25. I believe the government, and fellow citizens, should treat this project exactly as they would if it were a Sam's Club; You own the land? You're not going to expose the neighbors to some kind of obnoxious emission? (IOW, noise ordinances should have no exception for calls to prayer or church bells.) Fine, build whatever the freak you want.

    I trust everybody will join me in this approach to freedom? No NIMBYism about big box stores or factories?

  26. Given the low threshold for “blasphemous” needed to so characterize some of those cartoons, I’m not so sure that’s not a valid comparison.

    Brett, I'm not sure you understand what Muslims find blasphemous about the cartoons. It isn't how Mohammed was depicted, though in a number of cases, that certainly didn't help. The blasphemy is that he was pictured at all. There is, in Islamic theology, an opposition to representative likenesses in art. In a strict reading, it is blasphemous to draw a picture of anyone. It's one of the reasons that you find so much abstract work if you study a history of Islamic art; for a long time, that's what they did. Most Muslims today don't take that position. However, it still holds for depictions of religiously important figures, among other things.

    It's a belief that doesn't make any sense to me, but I can say the same thing about a lot of prohibitions in Christianity, too. The two big elements, as far as I'm concerned, is that the people soliciting the cartoons were deliberately trying to cause offense (and they definitely knew that merely having a cartoon of Mohammed would cause offense; that's why they did it) and that they have an absolute right to do so. I will defend that right, while at the same time maintaining that those responsible are monumental jerks. A bit of common decency would have kept them from doing so, unlike the people trying to build the community center, about which, as I said, I really have no opinion.

  27. Thomas, Fred Phelps may call himself a Democrat, but given the rather extraordinary and atypical nature of his statements and actions, to take him as being blandly representative of Democrats is as obvious a demonstration of bad faith as to invoke David Duke, who after all was far more successful in his attempt to be a Republican politician, by referring in a parallel fashion to Republican KKK leaders. It's such obviously intentional perversion of the truth that disqualifies you from reasoned discourse – which is a shame, because you might have a point when you say that's the distance between the Karen Hughes/Howard Dean stance of "They may but they shouldn't" is not so distant as it could be from Obama's position of "They may and I have no idea whether they should". I happen to think Obama is taking the right substantive stance here, because maybe Rauf will disappoint, but even without defending Park51 he could do a lot more to criticize the bigots

  28. "J, no, no, no. This isn’t difficult. Once you say that Muslims are Americans and have equal rights under law, you’ve answered the legal question: Rauf has a right to build this project. But being American doesn’t mean being immune to criticism. Anti-gay Democratic preachers may have a constitutional right to preach hate outside the funerals of dead soldiers, but they shouldn’t do it. Can you take that small steps and agree with me on that? If you can, you may discover that having the right to do a thing doesn’t make doing that thing right."

    Thomas, I'd say the relevant issue is one of "bundling". Those who committed 9/11 were moslems. They were also arabs. They were also saudis. They were also brown-skinned. They were also young men. To fixate on one aspect of their identities only makes sense if it is relevant. Much as I dislike both all religions and many particular aspects of islam, the truth is that there was, neither before nor after 9/11 any sort of islam-wide support for large scale bombings of American cities; and so to pick out THAT aspect of the identity of the bombers as relevant makes no sense.

    Would you oppose the building of a hotel targeting arab guests in that region of NYC? The building of a saudi consulate? The erection of a YMCA?

  29. I believe the government, and fellow citizens, should treat this project exactly as they would if it were a Sam’s Club; You own the land? You’re not going to expose the neighbors to some kind of obnoxious emission? (IOW, noise ordinances should have no exception for calls to prayer or church bells.) Fine, build whatever the freak you want.

    I trust everybody will join me in this approach to freedom? No NIMBYism about big box stores or factories?

    Says the guy who lives in a gated frigging community.

  30. JMN,

    I can easily believe that the Danish cartoons were intended as a provocation. (It's certainly MUCH easier to believe that than to believe that Cordoba House or Park51 or the Burlington Coat Factory Redevelopment is intended as a provocation.) And they did provoke death and destruction, in places where Jyllans-Posten probably doesn't have a wide readership. THAT death and destruction cannot all be attributed to the cartoons.

    What I want to know is this: how "provocative" would it be to publish a REVERENT "portrait" of The Prophet in some Western newspaper? Some Muslims, at least, have given notice that even a respectful drawing of an Arab man in 14th-century garb would be provocative — if it were labelled "Mohammed". (Presumably, the same drawing labelled "Abdullah" would pass muster.) How circumspect do non-Muslims need to be?

    More important: how do we deny ANY religion the deference it chooses to demand for itself from non-believers, once we grant that deference to ONE of them?

    The parallel between the Danish cartoons and the Cordoba project that strikes me as most obvious is the rabble-rousing of outsiders. Nobody in Iowa need have been pained by "the Ground Zero Mosque"; nobody in Pakistan need have been "provoked" by the cartoons.

    –TP

  31. Mark: "Hughes reviews the decision she and her President made to try to define 9/11 as a bunch of fanatics betraying Islam rather than as part of a war between Islam and the West. That was obviously the right thing to say from a strategic viewpoint; equally obviously, the claim wasn’t either true or false, as there is no truth of the matter concerning the nature or essence of Islam."

    No. False dichotomy. The distribution of opinions within any religion is a matter of fact, whether on papal infallibility or jihad. Fundamentalist Islam (say supporting a sharia-law state) is clearly a very largely supported position among Muslims, as is hostility to Israel and to the USA. But within that, support of non-state armed jihad is a small minority position. Within armed jihadism, the majority are near-ememy jihadists; fight corrupt pro-Western governments of predominantly Muslim countries and non-Muslim colonisers of same (eg Russia in Chechnya, USA in Iraq, anybody in Afghanistan). Far-enemy jihadism is a tiny current, seen as hopelessly adventurist even for most jihadists. After 9/11, the USA is in conflict with this micro-sect of Muslims, not Muslims as such. There's no reason to call them crypto-Muslims: but it's a colossal mistake of fact as well as principle and tactics to treat them at their own valuation as representatives of the only true Islam.

  32. I believe the Danish cartoons were intended, not so much AS a provocation, but as a demonstration that the Islamic notion of what constitutes a "provocation", and the appropriate response, is batsh*t insane. That Muslims as a group either will not, or can not, police the nutcases in their midst. And succeeded marvelously at that public service.

    The problem is, the general media and government response to that proof hasn't been, "My God, those Muslims are nuts!", it's been, "My God, we'd better avoid doing anything that might set off those Muslim nuts!" Voluntary dhimmitude, IOW.

    As has been noted elsewhere, proving those sorts of tactics work just encourages them.

  33. What I want to know is this: how “provocative” would it be to publish a REVERENT “portrait” of The Prophet in some Western newspaper? Some Muslims, at least, have given notice that even a respectful drawing of an Arab man in 14th-century garb would be provocative — if it were labelled “Mohammed”. (Presumably, the same drawing labelled “Abdullah” would pass muster.) How circumspect do non-Muslims need to be?

    It depends, of course, upon the Muslim. Some would be offended. Others wouldn't. They're like any other group of people that way.

    More important: how do we deny ANY religion the deference it chooses to demand for itself from non-believers, once we grant that deference to ONE of them?

    How do you deny any individual deference from offending them once you have granted that deference to one of them? It's the same question. The answer, of course, is that you judge case by case. Sometimes, it's worth offending someone to make some other point. Most of the time, it's not.

  34. I believe the Danish cartoons were intended, not so much AS a provocation, but as a demonstration that the Islamic notion of what constitutes a “provocation”, and the appropriate response, is batsh*t insane. That Muslims as a group either will not, or can not, police the nutcases in their midst. And succeeded marvelously at that public service.

    This is a distinction without a difference. The entire motive, as you have described it, is to provoke people. As I said above, sometimes it's worth offending someone to make a point. In this case, I think it was juvenile. Nobody learned anything they didn't already know, at the cost of offending a large number of people whose response isn't batshit insane. Of course, since I don't regularly hear you saying that what offends a lot of Christians is batshit insane, color me skeptical as to you being particularly even handed about this. All religious groups manage to get offended by things that I, personally, think are pointless and dumb. So what? I don't need people to go around making it clear that, if you piss on a bunch of Eucharist wafers, you're going to offend a lot of Catholics, despite the fact that, to me, it's just a bunch of bread. It's not only pointless to offend them that way, it's rude and uncalled for.

    The problem is, the general media and government response to that proof hasn’t been, “My God, those Muslims are nuts!”, it’s been, “My God, we’d better avoid doing anything that might set off those Muslim nuts!”

    All things being equal, I prefer the second option. Not because I have something against offending the Muslims who will react violently, but because I think it's not only rude, but also strategically stupid, to offend a lot of Muslims who won't react violently but will remember that you deliberately chose to offend them. That's counterproductive in the extreme.

    That Muslims as a group either will not, or can not, police the nutcases in their midst.

    Are you prepared to argue that all groups that can not, or will not, police the nutcases in their midst should be so treated? I'll bet a lot of money that you aren't.

  35. Brett, I've no patience for anyone threatening violence when they aren't physically affected, let alone hurt; that said, the cartoons were also gratuitously insulting to Muslims of sincere good will.

  36. Actually, a factory or a big-box store that doesn't impose obnoxious emissions on the neighborhood (given that streams of traffic count as an obnoxious emission) *wouldn't* have significant problems being welcomed in my town. And we're actually pretty fond of the emissions from the Nabisco cookie plant a mile down the hill.

  37. J. I suppose there were a fair number of people out there before the Danish cartoon incident, who were aware that, if you published a cartoon of Mohamed in the paper, you'd have to go on the witness protection program to avoid being murdered. But I hardly think it was common knowledge.

  38. Are there any analogous scenarios — even hypothetical ones, even ones involving the Holocaust — that might clarify the moral/ethical/legal/practical principles involved here? I hate to push this to Godwin's law, but an analogy might show the degree to which the principles apply universally.

  39. I sincerely wish no one would build any houses of worship anywhere because I wish religion did not exist. However, I support unconditionally the right of anyone to build a house of worship on property they legitimately own, regardless of their religion.

  40. Those who think they have something to gain politically by opposing the mosque, as well as those who simply don't have the kind of first-hand knowledge of the area of the proposed center, would have you believe that the proposed Islamic Cultural Center will tower triumphantly over Ground Zero. I know the block well where the Islamic Cultural Center is to be built. Yes, it's downtown, and yes, it's "near" the Ground Zero site in terms of geographical proximity on a map. But in the context of the dense urban landscape that is lower Manhattan, two blocks might as well be twenty. And the site for the Islamic Cultural Center is rather obscure relative to the World Trade Center site. To help folks see what I'm talking about, and hopefully in the interest of adding a measure of rationality in the ongoing debate, the other day I created a video slide show, using Google Maps' "Street View" feature. It's an annotated, virtual walk around the block from 45 Park Place, the site of the proposed center. It gives viewers a sense of the reality of the location, as one experiences it as street level, and show just how out-of-the-way the site is relative to the World Trade Center. The link to the video is:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6cpEAvvYB .

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