That said, I think we've misread Obama's opinion. He suggested Saturday
that there's a difference between objecting to the placement of a
mosque and objecting to the right of a mosque to place itself wherever
it legally can. In other words, one might have an objection to that
mosque, or might be suspicious of the motives of the imam, but one can
simultaneously accept the need for sensitivity and still find it offensive to use the instruments of government to enforce
that sensitivity -- the freedom of religious practice is the paramount
value here. This is a sophisticated position, but in attempting to be
careful about how he expressed it, the President confused rather than
(Islamophobes and their political enablers will tell you it's because
he's either a closet Muslim, a naive facilitator of jihad, or worse. It's tempting to laugh at these explanations, but too many people seem to believe them.)
FDNY firefighters will protest the mosque today. The anxiety from New Yorkers is
legitimate, as is their offense at being called bigots. Something attacked their city on September 11, 2001 and Islam had something to do with it. The bigotry here is not in opposing the
mosque. It is in the politicization of the issue.
Most New Yorkers oppose the mosque's construction. Two-thirds of Americans have taken to the issue and are polarized; the other third doesn't seem to care. So the president's pushing against the grain. Actually, he's pushing
against a field of grain, maize, and weeds. He's pushing against a
resurgence in anti-cosmopolitanism, against the constructed identity of
America as a collection of white ethnic immigrants, against the forces
that fear a majority minority nation -- AND against the emotional scars
that New Yorkers, even cosmopolitan New Yorkers who couldn't care less
if their daughters marry other women, carry on a daily basis.
In America, the Judeo-Christian heritage has essentially been
smoothed over into a blend of cultures and traditions that we see as
equal. Islam was always marginal. The truth is, as Osama Bin
Laden would have it, that Islam and Western values are at odds now;
civilizations are clashing. America has never assimilated its Muslims even as Muslims have assimilated into America. Add to this the recent
homegrown terrorism attempts from Muslims who've been radicalized by the past ten
years and it suddenly seems almost sensible that many Americans do not
consider the practice of Islam harmless. This is not a comfortable or capacious worldview, but it is not something that
elites, people who don't see Islam the same way, should trivialize.
Is this bigotry? Yes. Is it rational? Yes. Is it rational to make a
special pleading on behalf of sensitivity for a mosque near Ground Zero
when one refuses to stigmatize the Catholic Church for officiously ignoring the serial sexual assault of children under its care? Well, in
political-historical terms, yes. Catholicism is now fully Americanized.
Its sins can be dealt with on their own terms. But 9/11 --
that was a transcendental event facilitated by the perversion of a
religion that should be, but is not yet, part of One America.