Josh Barro on Cordoba House: a reality-based conservative view

Could Cordoba House be the next Terri Schiavo?

Josh Barro at NRO has the most complete statement I’ve seen of the conservatarian case for not opposing the Cordoba House project, either by public or by private action. Barro cheats by introducing facts, with their notorious liberal bias:  in Lower Manhattan, two blocks is a long way but thirteen stories is not a large building.


So much of the complaint about the mosque has centered around the idea that, because hijackers acting in the name of Islam attacked the towers, Muslims should maintain a respectful distance. But the developers of Cordoba House (why do I even need to say this?) are not terrorists and did not attack the towers. Placing a burden on all Muslims to keep their institutions out of the Financial District is unfair.

Furthermore, since Islam has 1.2 billion adherents and is not going away, it is important to set reasonable guidelines that promote harmony with Western society—such as, it’s okay to build a mosque in the Financial District, and it’s not okay to blow up buildings in the Financial District. A general policy of exclusion is unworkable.

The similarities to the Schiavo case are growing, with non-mouth-breathing conservatives out of office starting to notice that their side is behaving very, very badly. The Schiavo affair had lasting benefits. A number of people – John Cole of Balloon Juice, for example – suddenly figured out that their then-playmates included a large number of vicious lunatics, causing them to rethink their entire political stance. That was true even though – then as now – many Democrats showed something less than a profile in courage.

Maybe Barack Obama’s political instincts haven’t deserted him, after all.

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:

9 thoughts on “Josh Barro on Cordoba House: a reality-based conservative view”

  1. I've hesitated to say anything about this issue because it's complicated and my reactions are complicated. But my thinking starts with this question, for myself, and for you, Mark: if you were a moderate Muslim, aghast at what had been done in your name at the Word Trade Center, would you do this?

    I'm pretty sure I know what the answer is. And the inevitable next question is, then why?

  2. Larry,

    I don't understand why you think this is complicated. Firstly, despite the screams of the rabid right, this is not a mosque. It's a community center, yes, with a prayer center. But it isn't a mosque. What it is, is roughly equivalent to a YMCA. Would you have a problem with a YMCA going in there? Secondly, let's suppose for a moment that the rabid right is correct about it being a mosque. So what? I can go along with denying the Muslim community permits to build their not-a-mosque-even-if-the-idiots-think-it-is if (and only if) we ban the building of all structure affiliated with any religious group everywhere in the country. Thirdly, the building site isn't two blocks away from the WTC, it's more like five generous blocks. The two block claim is from the nearest corner of the WTC property. Check Google Earth.

    And as far as Reid and Cantor's idea that building the center there is legally permissible but somehow insensitive, I can put it no better than tonight's Daily Show. The Catholic church can build a parish next door to a playground. Should they be allowed to build it there?

    This isn't a matter of do I support or not support building a Young People's Muslim Center there. The real question is, do I support the First Amendment of the Constitution: "Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof[.]" Granting that the amendment applies to Congress and not the New York City Zoning Commission, long established usage applies to all levels of government.

    As for me and my family, we support the First Amendment. It's time to move on to some of the crucial issues that face our country.

  3. I know your question isn't directed at me but I think that if I were a moderate Muslim in NY I might work with the US government in reaching out to the greater Muslim community making clear, from an Islamic perspective, that the terrorists' interpretation of Islamic duty was theologically and ideologically unsound and indeed counter to Islamic values. Then I would continue to look for ways to present that message not only to Islamic community but also to the wider communities of various faiths.

    I might eventually set up an Islamic Cultural Center dedicated to increasing inter-faith tolerance, and demonstrating the ideological and theological gulf between myself (and a vast majority of Muslims) and the terrorists but to be fair I think if I did that, so many years after 9/11 then I would not be doing it so much in reaction to 9/11 but to meet the immediate and local needs of the Muslim community.

    But I am not a moderate Muslim. Indeed I am not even a Muslim. When I look at this issue I start with claims of those who object to the new center. Then I ask myself if the claims are true. Is this community center, built two blocks from "Ground Zero" an in your face monument to Islamic triumphalism? Is it being built by an Islamic community aligned with the terrorist point of view to rub America's and New York's nose in the shock of 9/11?

    It seems to me that the answer to both of these questions is no.

    Then I guess I would start wondering about the motivations of those who object to the new center and why their objections are so often presented with misleading descriptions of the project. For example, that it is at Ground Zero or that it overlooks it. Or the description of the project as a mosque with the implication that it is architecturally distinct in the same way as an actual mosque or a cathedral. I might even wonder what was so critically important about this particular project that it should override the Constitution.

  4. Of course what I meant to say in the last paragraph above was that I would wonder what so critically important in the objections to this center that these objections should override the Constitution.

  5. Maruda, my question is certainly directed at you. I take it your answer is, yes, if you were a moderate Muslim you think you might conceive of, and certainly support, building this mosque and community center there. I have to take you at your word. I'd like to hear what Mark thinks. Would he?

    I don't think I would. Even though I wouldn't think myself responsible, or in any way be responsible, for 9/11, I'd be ashamed of what had been done in my name. If I were an imam, I might reach out to ministers of other faiths to build a an interfaith center promoting many forms of worship and aimed specifically at interfaith education. I wouldn't "go it alone." I'd think that was presumptuous.

    The people who are building this don't think it's presumptuous obviously; and tracing back through what I imagine my own thinking would be, it isn't clear that they're ashamed. That's a problem, mainly for them, but also for us.

  6. To Larry Birnbaum;

    The strangely unique thing is that most people don't have to ask themselves "if I were a moderate muslim would I do this" because we have another incident that we can compare to. Before 9/11 the worst incident of terriorist activity ever commited in the United States was the Oklahoma City bombing. That act was perpetrated by a crazed religious radical who had desired the overthrow of the U.S. government and its replacement with a theocracy ordered acording to his crazed worldview.

    Now that terrorist happened to be Christian or a crazed version thereof. And yet, we have allowed the building/continued operation of the Churches that are on ajoinging streets to the memorial, there are more 4 chruches within the 2 blocks of the site. Amazingly the denizens of Oklahoma City do not regard these churches as slaps in the face.

    While I cannot speak for moderate religious people everywhere, it seems to me that a moderate memeber of a religion with a crazed fringe element might think that buiding a religious building close to the site of the event might be both a good way to commemorate the dead, remember the effect of fanaticism, and teach that the view of the crazed fringe sect is not representative of the moderate majority.

  7. Remember the Auschwitz crosses? In the end the Catholic Church did the right thing, the cross waa taken down as insensitive, and the Carmelite nuns who had set up cloister in a building that was part of the camp complex moved a little further away. But the nuns are still nearby, praying away.

    Is this offensive to Jews (in contrast to the attempts by Polish nationalists to frame Auschwitz as essentially a Polish site)? I hope not. Auschwitz is a site where a very large number of Christian as well as Jewish Poles and non-Poles were killed, though Jews were by far the largest contingent, so a tactfully proportionate memorialising of all the categories of victims is appropriate. Second, Jews will necessarily reject the Carmelites' eschatology that it will all come right in the end through the suffering of God incarnate in Christ, and tend to see Auschwitz instead as an absolute absence of God. But I would hope that they do not find the fact that the Carmelites are praying quietly for all the dead in this way offensive in itself.

    The general Christian responsibility for the Holocaust – a partial ideological and social enabling – seems roughly parallel to the similarly limited mainstream Muslim responsibility for the very much smaller crime of 9-11. So there's nothing wrong with a mosque near Ground Zero, let alone a community centre some distance away.

  8. James, I appreciate the analogy. I don't think it's exact but I don't want to get into an argument about that because it isn't what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about, what would I do, or you, or Mark. And why. And, to the extent that that differs from what the sponsors of this project are doing, what does that mean.

    I think from what you write above that if you were in their shoes you'd approach this situation with a certain amount of humility. It doesn't seem to me that the project displays such an attitude. I think it's entirely reasonable to ask what that might mean about the values and beliefs of the people sponsoring it. It means, at a minimum, that they think either that they are taking a humble approach to the situation, or that humility isn't called for. The former is barely comprehensible to me as an honest mistake, which by now they must recognize; the latter isn't comprehensible at all.

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