The “responsible” argument against the Ground Zero mosque

Posted on August 10, 2010


Let’s label it the “responsible” argument against the Ground Zero mosque.

As you know, the Anti-Defamation League says it’s adamantly opposed to bigotry against Muslims. But it’s opposing the construction of the Islamic center near the site of the attacks on the grounds that it will cause pain to relatives of 9/11 victims, undermining the center’s stated goal of promoting reconciliation.

Chris Caldwell, a senior editor for the Weekly Standard, adds his voice to this argument, denouncing those who label the project’s foes bigots while insisting that the project is wrong because the 9/11 victimes “were killed in Islam’s name.” Andrew Sullivan responds to Caldwell here, skewering Caldwell’s “guilt by association.”

Let’s take stock of the “responsible” argument against the Islamic center. It goes something like this:

Those who are opposing the mosque as part of an effort to conflate all Islam with the 9/11 attacks are bigoted and wrong. But there are vague associations between Islam and the attacks — Osama said he carried the attacks out in Islam’s name, and the attackers were Islamic — and this is hurtful to 9/11 families. Proceeding with the center will only undermine efforts to achieve the reconciliation the center is designed to achieve. Therefore, all legal niceties aside, it must be opposed.

Here’s the problem with this argument: It doesn’t reckon with the question of whether it’s legitimate to see the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero as an inherently provocative act. Either it’s legit to see the building of the center as provocative, or it isn’t.

The only way to see this as a provocative act is to buy into the notion that the building of a center devoted to Islamic heritage is, by accident or by design, tantamount to rubbing the victims’ noses into what happened on 9/11 — that it is inescapably a “victory mosque.” To believe this is to legitimize — wittingly or not — the world view of the center’s bigoted foes.

In fact, it is not legitimate to see the building of a center devoted to the study of Islam near Ground Zero as an inherently provocative act. You can’t endorse the idea that it’s provocative to study the heritage of Islam in the vicinity of Ground Zero while simultaneously arguing that the bigots are wrong to conflate the 9/11 attacks with Islam as a whole. Period. It’s not a coherent or sustainable argument.

People need to choose sides. Either it’s justifiable to see the act of building an Islamic center near Ground Zero as provocation, intentional or not, or it isn’t. If you endorse the former, you are in effect supporting the view that it’s defensible to vaguely associate Islam as a whole with the attacks. If people want to endorse that view, fine: Just say so. No fudging here. It’s one or the other.

The Washington Post, By Greg Sargent  |  August 9, 2010; 12:13 PM ET

Posted in: Islam in World