In an earlier post on this blog, I joined the debate about the proposed construction of a new mosque near Ground Zero in New York City, arguing that in America, religious groups are free to construct centers of worship without interference from the government wherever they wish. It is a free country.
Indeed our Founding values assure everyone in this land freedom to worship as they choose, freedom of association, and liberty to pursue happiness as they see fit. I share the notion, so prevalent among my countrymen, that Ground Zero is a special site that is emotionally and symbolically fraught, especially for those who lost family members there. But this does not change the inescapable fact that it is impermissible to deny someone the right to build on public land because they belong to a religion that some Americans mistrust, or because a radicalized subset of their co-coreligionists perpetrated a terrorist attack.
One response sent me as a rebuttal to my argument is a YouTube video I haven't seen before. It is embedded below. Give it a look.
On conservative blogs, a popular argument is that Americans -- and indeed the West generally -- is suffering from a profound lack of civilizational confidence. Usually this idea is advanced by writers like Mark Steyn. Evidence cited includes falling birth rates in Western nations, the fact that certain entities are afraid to publish cartoons depicting Mohamed, the alleged spread of Sharia law, and other examples too. I happen to think falling birth rates are unconnected to societal confidence, and that there is reason for mild concern about the erosion of free speech, but on the whole, I doubt that Western Civilization is facing a crisis of confidence, especially given how much better off we are compared to the bulk of the 20th Century.
But I must admit that I am alarmed by the video embedded above. Are we really so insecure in America and its future that we're worried about Lower Manhattan being conquered by Islamic radicals? Are we taking seriously the notion that filling the skyline with mosques is their preferred method of conquest? It is one thing to fret over suitcase nukes or biological weapons, but the notion that we'll be overrun by a hostile religion's building spree is laughable, and not only because even the most determined jihadist doesn't have a chance against the assorted planning authorities, environmental impact requirements, and landmark protection bodies that govern new construction in New York City.
Imagine that a man in your town wanted to build a new church, or a factory, or a warehouse. Odds are the if you're a conservative, you believe the government should basically get out of his way, presuming that his architectural plans meet the zoning requirements, the earthquake code, and the parking space allotment. You'd probably start ranting and raving if some government bureaucrat began speculating about the allegedly hidden motives that explain why the local resident really wanted to build his structure.
What we see in the video above is that kind of speculation. Even worse, the dark motives cited as the true motivation for the new mosque aren't grounded in analysis of the actual people seeking to build it, but on the thinnest gruel imaginable: a guy's college roommate who happened to be Muslim, some quotations from the Koran, contested interpretations of certain Islamic scholars. This is irrational prejudice, and those who harbor it are calling for a kind of government heavy-handedness that is directly contrary to the core American value that people in this country have the inalienable, God given right to practice religion as they see fit. The man above is calling on the government to prohibit a house of worship based on the denomination that is building it.
It is the behavior of tyrannical regimes.
I have no way of knowing what is motivating the people who want to build a mosque near Ground Zero, nor do I much care. The construction of a religious building isn't any threat to our way of life, and there aren't any intentions they could possibly harbor that would make me lose my confidence in the ability of the United States to assert itself against any Islamist radicals who would do us harm. Opponents of this mosque are apparently less confident in the backbone of their countrymen. Nonsense. If we are afraid of mere religious buildings, the terrorists have already won.