by Patrick Appel

Sam Harris, whom I often enjoy, has an exceedingly wrong-headed article on the Cordoba project. He sees no legal reason to oppose the "ground zero mosque" but nevertheless feels it is a bad idea:

The claim that the events of September 11, 2001, had “nothing to do with Islam” is an abject and destabilizing lie. This murder of 3,000 innocents was viewed as a victory for the One True Faith by millions of Muslims throughout the world (even, idiotically, by those who think it was perpetrated by the Mossad). And the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victoryand as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice. This may not be reason enough for the supporters of this mosque to reconsider their project. And perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps there is some form of Islam that could issue from this site that would be better, all things considered, than simply not building another mosque in the first place. But this leads me to a somewhat paradoxical conclusion: American Muslims should be absolutely free to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero; but the ones who should do it probably wouldn’t want to.

Jerry Coyne is in similar territory:

Do I oppose the center’s construction? No.  Do I think that building it on that site is a good idea? No.  It’s no better an idea than would be building an American cultural center near Ground Zero in Hiroshima.  It was Islam, after all, that propelled those planes into the World Trade Center nine years ago.

It's amazing to watch staunch secularists and the far right read from the same playbook. Islam is not a nation. And Harris dismisses religious moderates far too quickly, with too broad a brush, a point Andrew made in detail during their debate. Harris implies that the people building Park 51 are the wrong sort of Muslims without bothering to prove that charge. The specter of 9/11 is enough. For someone who claims a special relationship to reason, Harris is leaning awfully heavily on emotion and strawmen. Hitchens, as Andrew noted last week, was more measured:

We need not automatically assume the good faith of those who have borrowed this noble name for a project in lower Manhattan. One would want assurances, also, about the transparency of its funding and the content of its educational programs. But the way to respond to such overtures is by critical scrutiny and engagement, not cheap appeals to parochialism, victimology, and unreason.