by Conor Friedersdorf
Over at Cato's blog, Jim Harper has eloquent remarks about the controversy over a mosque near Ground Zero:
There is a strategic dimension to the story. This episode is signaling to audiences around the world the current relationship between the United States and Islam. These audiences might support or oppose the United States and act accordingly to undermine or support terrorist groups. For these people, knowledge of a Muslim community, active in New York and proximate to Ground Zero, would help put the lie to the “clash of civilizations” narrative sought by al-Qaeda and its franchises, undercutting their support.
The debate itself sends signals: If the United States were predominantly anti-Muslim, this debate wouldn’t be happening. If our political leaders had the power to decide matters of religious observance, this debate wouldn’t be happening. The debate is helping to show Muslim populations around the worldwho might not know otherwisethat we think and debate about these things, that we are a functioning democratic republic, and that our country is undecided about the position of Muslims in the United States or, at worst, weakly anti-Muslim.
In the video clip after the jump, conservative icon Ted Olson expresses well, I think, how standing by our constitutional values is good counterterrorist signaling. These strategic considerations may not be dispositive, but my preference is for this project to go forward and communicate to worldwide audiences that we are still the pluralistic, welcoming, confident society we have been in the past.
Islam did not attack the United States on 9/11. It is simple collectivismthe denial of individual agency that libertarians rejectto believe that the tiny band of thugs who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks speak for an entire religion, culture, or creed. Our sympathy to families of 9/11 victims and our vestigial fears should not allow us to indulge gross and wrong generalizations about individuals of any faith.
Awhile back, Noah Millman made the case against signaling, and doubted our ability to do it effectively.