Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why I don't give a damn about the Islamic Cultural Center debate

President Obama got it exactly right. On Friday he pointed out that building a mosque or cultural center, or whatever the hell it is, is perfectly legal and everyone should just the shut the hell up about it. He is a Constitutional attorney after all. Then within 24 hours, open-collared and looking distracted, Obama pointed out that not all legal things are necessarily well-advised. Big news! Maybe I should stop pouring nickels into the legal slots at the Potawatamee Casino.

But obviously Obama must be correct because partisans on both sides were incensed-- on the one hand he was a terrorist-loving traitor brandishing the Constitution to favor our sworn enemies, on the other he was a nut-less president who won't stand up for the rights of the oppressed.

Here's why I don't give a damn. First and foremost, we are a nation of laws and the Islamic Center is legal. In fact, in a strange turn of events, the Islamic center is not only in accord with local zoning regulations and meets approval of the Manhattan board, but if NYC had denied approval, the Islamic leaders would have stronger legal ground for an appeal due to a Republican-led federal law. The ten-year-old Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act prohibits any locality from denying the building of "houses of faith." I guarantee that no elected official asked my opinion on the advisability of passing such a horseshit law that protects religious organizations, but what's new.

Secondly, building the mosque is no worse than other "hallowed ground" being violated. (Who determines the hallowedness of the ground anyway?) We have a statue of traitor Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg where the US sustained 23,000 soldiers' casualties defending the Constitution. And as John Oliver on the Daily Show pointed out, isn't it a little "too soon" to be building Catholic Churches near playgrounds?

The third reason I don't give a damn about the Muslim culture center is that Islam, like most organized religions and certainly all monotheistic religions, is rife with prejudices of its own. If it were up to me, all religions would be forced to abide by the secular laws of anti-discrimination. No women priests? Okay, no tax exemption.* The oddest wrinkle in this debate is hearing avowed liberals defending the rights of the Mullahs to spout their anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-everything-good-about-liberal-society hate. I understand civil liberties, but why such vocal support of ass-hats? Is it just to kick Newt Gingrich in the balls?

(*Why do religious organizations get tax exemptions anyway? I don't. In our little town, the downtown square-- the prime real estate in the county-- is ringed with a half dozen churches that are all empty 6.7 days per week. They pay no property tax... and we wonder why our homeowners property taxes are going up, but I digress.)

My buddy Christopher has linked to Charles Krauthammer as "representing" his position most closely. It's usually too painful to wade through all the dissonance in a Krauthammer piece with my cerebrum intact. His main argument is the one of "exceptionalism of the hallowed ground" meme, which might make some sense if it were true or legal or even mattered, or if Lower Manhattan weren't replete with titty bars and off-track betting parlors anyway. Or is it only abandoned Burlington Coat factories that are hallowed? And whatever happened to these authoritarians pewking up the "rule of law" argument all the time? Hallowed is overrated anyway, and Krauthammer's history is that he just doesn't like Muslims and he's been wrong too many times to matter anymore, so I've made up my mind on him. But then as my eyes are about to glaze over I get to this paragraph:

Religious institutions in this country are autonomous. Who is to say that the mosque won't one day hire an Anwar al-Aulaqi -- spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber, and onetime imam at the Virginia mosque attended by two of the 9/11 terrorists?

This is an argument? Blah, blah, blah. I call it blind fear. Now my brain is starting to calculate how much tree pulp went to print this idiocy, what's the Washington Post's circulation, do people really read this shit?

And I think back to the Daily Show parody and about how the Catholic Church is "autonomous"-- and who's to say they won't one day hire a Father Geoghan? The theocracy of Israel is "autonomous"-- and who's to say they won't one day elect a Menachem Begin? If autonomy sucks, then is Krauthammer calling for government authority and enforcement to ban all such organizations? That idea might have promise, but I've read enough Krauthammer to know he is is limiting his prohibitions to people he doesn't like.

What President Obama said is exactly correct. As head of the governmental branch concerned with law enforcement he is required to have a clear view of the rights of individuals and organizations. His formal speech involved the law, his informal comments involved individual choices. Either you support the First Amendment or you don't, Obama does, Charles Krauthammer and Harry Reid don't. Reid says he does, but then puts limits on it.

I would add one more comment. History has shown that autocratic institutions such as Islam have the potential to become better under the scrutiny of liberal secular society. Even the Catholic Church allows women to touch the Eucharist (no not that Eucharist!) and Catholic clinics to prescribe birth control... baby steps. In a liberal dynamic society, it's impossible to predict the effect that that dynamism will have on such staid organizations. The greatest attribute we have is our openness to change-- and we should trust the system to self-correct under our Constitution. Who knows, maybe the Ground Zero Islamic Center will give way to better understanding among of the monotheistic religions and bring them closer to sanity.

Okay, maybe I've had too many beers tonight.

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