Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On the mosque, tolerance, and war

This issue is one of the few where I'll admit I tend to vacillate. On the one hand, I certainly understand that most muslims are as non-violent and peaceful as most other people of whatever faith or non-faith. Moreover, I also understand that a relatively small number of very brave Muslims have taken strong public stands against the violence that's been perpetrated in their name, very many of whom are women. I would want to extend the same kind of tolerance toward the first group that I would to any other modes of belief, and I have great respect and admiration toward the second group. But on the other hand, I understand very clearly that what requires such bravery on the part of those who stand against Islamist violence is precisely the extraordinary willingness of a significant minority of Muslims to resort to the most brutal slaughter; I understand how that willingness creates a fear that permeates the culture of the modern world, as we've seen in numerous instances of self-censorship in anything to do with Islam, skewing the treatment of that one belief system alone; and I understand that the minority of Muslims willing to engage in actual violence is supplemented by much larger numbers around the world who sympathize with them in whole or in part. I understand, in other words -- as many simple-minded and self-deluding liberals do not -- that we really are at war with a global ideology, however unusual that war may be by historical standards.

So, given that, here are some tentative generalizations: first, wartime conditions justify -- and often enough require -- restrictions or actions that wouldn't be justifiable at all otherwise. And second, the ideological component of this struggle needs to be recognized and managed -- but we shouldn't be complacent that, in the fight with this particular enemy, our notion of civil rights and religious tolerance will be seen as a strength rather than a sign of decadent weakness. In the end, then, I come down on the side of those who say we should recognize the constitutional right of the mosque proponents to go ahead, but that we should make every effort to persuade/pressure them not to do so. This is a position shared by at least some moderate Muslims too, as this article indicates: "Ground Zero Mosque Splits Muslims", and they'll need the support of non-Muslims so they're not further isolated.

28 comments:

  1. In the end, then, I come down on the side of those who say we should recognize the constitutional right of the mosque proponents to go ahead, but that we should make every effort to persuade/pressure them not to do so.

    Well-stated, metamorf. The rightists barking against the mosque don't really have a case, constitutionally speaking (or so it would seem)--yet you are correct insofar that a GZM may offend some NYers (and 'Mericans)--actually a site-specific vote might be prudent in this case (and prudent any time a religious group desires to construct a large temple,church, mosque,etc).

    At the same time, the blogger liberals and d-Kos sorts (or Berubay at CT attempting his usual hamfisted satire) whining about "Islamophobia" seem a bit...weak and pathetic as usual (actually..I will confess to a certain ex-marxist..and cynical perspective as well).

    Some reasoned concern, shall we say, regarding muslims, even American ones, seems well-founded, certainly for secularists. Given that citizen X may have concerns about the power and influence of christian groups or jews in the community, he may have similar concerns about muslims, who are growing in numbers (and in SoCal many are wealthy professionals and business types--hardly wearing tie-dye, smokin'reefer and hanging at d-Kos). We should object to mollycoddling any religious fanatics.

    I doubt even hipster d-Kossacks would care for muslim society--booze-less, entertainment less, cannabis-less, mandatory prayer and generally controlled by rich family dynasties. And other types of phunn.

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  2. Good points. Something that often seems lost on the liberal-left, so invested as they are in Western guilt, is that cultural sensitivity should be a two-way street, and it's not "Islamophobic" to expect such sensitivity from Muslims (as those at the link are indeed displaying). You keep bending over too far backwards, you put your spine at risk.

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  3. I understand, in other words -- as many simple-minded and self-deluding liberals do not -- that we really are at war with a global ideology, however unusual that war may be by historical standards

    Interesting, tho' I am not sure I would agree. Are muslims worse than say baptist fundamentalists, or mormons? They might speak a different language and come from foreign countries, but ..a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist, in a sense . And most fundamentalist christians, muslims, and jews tend to be alike in regard to the reliance on dogma, for one. We are war against dogmatists --tho at times some dogmatic muslims may surpass even biblethumping zealots...as with "fatwas" --ie proscribing the deaths of western scientists, denials of Copernicus to Newton to Einstein, etc. But I believe...hope..that's the minority.

    For that matter, the sunni sects are quite different than shia (and there are many...not just two). Though the sunnis are taken to be the moderates Im not sure that's accurate. The Shia traditionally were rationalists of a sort, and preserved the best of greek science and philosophy (Aristotle, especially) along with the teachings of the Prophet ...not sure that holds anymore, but figures such as Avicenna and Averroes seem quite different from the sanguine sultans and such that westerners take to be representative of Islam. Some of the muslims I have met in socal are pleasant gents--or seem so--usually educated, hard working, and sober--more than one might say about baptists or many catholics for that matter.

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  4. Also interesting, but, until Baptists, etc. start flying airliners into skyscrapers, blowing up commuter trains, subways, nightclubs, cutting off people's heads, etc. then I would certainly say Islamist fundamentalists are a good deal worse, yes. One can oppose dogmatists (of the political variety as well as religious), including Islamic dogmatists, without going to war with them. But we are or should be definitely at war with those who engage in mass slaughter in the name of their dogma -- they certainly see themselves as at war with us ("us" being everyone that's not them).

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  5. I agree that entitlement forms no issue here.

    I don't agree that the forces behind the Community Centre/Mosque should be pressured as much as is civilly possible to desist from the project. I think that Foxman speaking for the ADF was wrong, for example, to enter the fray.

    After all Muslims were killed on 9/11, were part of the first responders and fight and die as American soldiers.

    I agree that a real problem is maintsream Muslim passivity in the face of Islamism and the Islamically unacceptable is a big problem and voices like Manji's or Hirsi Ali's, albeit coming from different premises, need to be encouraged and facilitated. A generous reception of the Community Centre/Mosque would be a small step along that way, though not the strongest reason for rejecting the pressuring opposition.

    I liked this said by Micahel Gerson:

    ...An inclusive rhetoric toward Islam is sometimes dismissed as mere political correctness. Having spent some time crafting such rhetoric for a president, I can attest that it is actually a matter of national interest. It is appropriate -- in my view, required -- for a president to draw a clear line between "us" and "them" in the global conflict with Muslim militants. I wish Obama would do it with more vigor. But it matters greatly where that line is drawn. The militants hope, above all else, to provoke conflict between the West and Islam -- to graft their totalitarian political manias onto a broader movement of Muslim solidarity. America hopes to draw a line that isolates the politically violent and those who tolerate political violence -- creating solidarity with Muslim opponents and victims of radicalism.

    How precisely is our cause served by treating the construction of a non-radical mosque in Lower Manhattan as the functional equivalent of defiling a grave? It assumes a civilizational conflict instead of defusing it. Symbolism is indeed important in the war against terrorism. But a mosque that rejects radicalism is not a symbol of the enemy's victory; it is a prerequisite for our own...

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  6. ...ADF ..

    "ADL" among other shameful errors.

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  7. itzik: Muslim passivity in the face of Islamism and the Islamically unacceptable is a big problem and voices like Manji's or Hirsi Ali's, albeit coming from different premises, need to be encouraged and facilitated. A generous reception of the Community Centre/Mosque would be a small step along that way,...

    This is the question -- would it, in fact, be a step along that way, or would it undermine those in the Muslim community who have tried to be sensitive themselves to the feelings of those who were attacked in the name of their faith (however perversely interpreted)? And would it simply be further evidence to some in that community that Western "tolerance" is mere decadence and weakness, which can be exploited for their own ends? And would that then strengthen these no doubt minority voices, who unquestionably intimidate the moderates already -- as they certainly manage to intimidate significant numbers outside the Muslim community?

    At least in framing the issue in this way, we manage to move beyond the jejune posturing as champions of "open-mindedness" that we see in the likes of MoDo's column. On the other hand, I liked the first paragraph of the Gerson quote, and would add only that we can do both -- indicate that we're more than willing to be allies with those who stand against Islamist terror, but that we would like to see the same sort of respect for our sensibilities that we extend to others.

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  8. Here's where you and I may hit a wall.

    I don't understand the sensitivity that needs to be accommodated by the project.

    I can distinguish between those who--like me--think this project is appropriate and the opposition to it not and (too often caricatured) liberals who stay supine in the face of Islamism out of political correctness, "post colonial guilt" and what all not.

    If I had to bet betweeen the benefits of receptivity--a la Bloomberg and the first statement by Obama--as against undermining sensitive Muslims + evincing weakness, I'm putting my money on horse #1.

    ...but that we would like to see the same sort of respect for our sensibilities that we extend to others...

    I agree with this but speculate that in the instance of the Community Centre/Mosque, 43 would come the same as Gerson. Which goes, *in this case*, to the accurate nature of those sensibilities.

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  9. At least in framing the issue in this way, we manage to move beyond the jejune posturing as champions of "open-mindedness" that we see in the likes of MoDo's column.

    Though I agree there are no real convincing arguments for not allowing the mosque, you are correct, metamorf, to object or at least point out MoDo's pathos. That essay defines Mollycoddling (with a capital M-)--then she's sort of made a career out of bogus irish sentimentality. The pro-Islam stance has become the democratic "meme"--party doctrine as it were (Sen Reid and Howard Dean notwithstanding).

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  10. I can distinguish between those who--like me--think this project is appropriate and the opposition to it not and (too often caricatured) liberals who stay supine in the face of Islamism out of political correctness, "post colonial guilt" and what all not.

    So can I (and it looks like J can too). But I first just want to extend the list of bad faith motivations that lie behind a prominent part (not caricatured often enough, to my mind) of the liberal opposition -- to political correctness and post-colonial guilt, I'd add a reflex to flash one's multi-culti credentials at any opportunity, and, sadly, a desire to appease a movement that really does frighten them.

    That said, I'll admit that "sensitivity" is often not the most rational of emotions. But then we're not robots or Vulcans either. So let me do the usual reverse thought-experiment: suppose a bunch of radical Christian killers, backed by an international anti-Muslim Christian terrorist outfit, had hijacked a number of airliners filled with Muslims and crashed them into the most prominent Islamic symbols they could find; and then, some years later, a group of Christians proposed to build a huge Christian cathedral a few blocks from the still-gaping scar left by that atrocity. I think many Muslims would be outraged at that, regardless of the "moderation" of the people behind the proposal, and I think such outrage would be entirely understandable. And I would hope that most Christians would find such a proposal inappropriate at best, and in fact would be appalled at the insensitivity of the group behind the proposal.

    If that's at all understandable -- as I would venture it is to most people -- then so is the sensitivity that needs to be accommodated here.

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  11. Meta: Not ducking yours exactly, but I’d like to suggest a different thought experiment, which may get us closer to (my conception of?) the issues, even though no Muslims or Mosques participate. Say Quebec separatism flared up again with F.L.Q. like groups, or say Canadian Indians radicals all gigged up for First Nations status, causing a terrible McVeigh like explosion in some federal building In Ottawa or some major Canadian City, with horrendous loss of Canadian life of all stripes. The animus against the perps, their organization and even their larger group—French Canadians, Indians—is massive, intense and lingering, understandably so, entirely understandably so. The animus feeds opportunistic politics. And, then, say some 10 or 9 years after, a mega French or Indian-Canadian cultural institution is municipally approved about two city blocks from the explosion. There is no legal impediment. But there is a huge public outcry by many of the victims’ families, many—even the majority--of the city’s residents and by many Canadians generally, and with mixed feelings amongst French Canadians or Canadian Indians; and that outcry is manifest in political opposition, some genuine and some opportunistically hysterical.

    What say you?

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  12. Well, I'd say much the same -- I'd find the opposition understandable because of the symbolism, and I'd wonder at the motives of those proposing to place the structure so near the scene of the crime. If its backers didn't understand the bad symbolism initially, then they certainly should once the uproar became apparent.

    I'm not sure why you think this would be different. I can see some concern about political opportunism, but that's always going to be there, and it overlooks what makes such opportunism possible: the real feelings of anger and suspicion that have been stoked by the proposal in the first place.

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  13. Well, yeah, of course our enemies will view what makes us us as decadent weakness. They're our enemies. I'm astounded that the right has resorted to such cowardice as to think that our enemy's assessments of our strengths and weaknesses ought to be our own evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses.

    This worry that America will look weak in front of the terrorists stems from a callow insecurity. Even if it would make us look weaker, this is not the slam dunk argument that conservatives like to make it seem. It's certainly not worthy of being the conclusion of the argument, as you have laid it forth. We look weak in front of the terrorists. So what? They'll laugh at us? We'll get our precious feelings hurt? It's not going to create any more terrorists, and it's not going to make the current terrorists any more emboldened- they already look pretty damn bold to me, and willing to kill themselves to push through their murderous agenda.

    That's a side point, because however much the terrorists may view our commitment to religious freedom as a weakness- and however much the unpatriotic among us ally themselves with our enemies by viewing our civilization's commitment to religious pluralism as shameful- doesn't change the reality that such evaluations are wrong. That a mosque can be built in lower Manhattan is our best defense against Osama Bin Laden's ultimate goal- instigating a worldwide war of West vs. Islam. It is only our commitment to religious pluralism that offers us the ability to avoid declaring war on all Muslims when we only have a beef with those who want to blow us up. You say that there are many in the Muslim world who either stand by or help somewhat with terrorist plots? Though I find your premise dubious, even accepting it won't prove your argument. While it may condemn them as moral human beings, the bottom line is tepid support or indifference to both us and the terrorists are much better than the army of jihadis Osama envisions. To that end, the pathetic xenophobia that the above post exhibits only emboldens our enemies and weakens our position.

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  14. James: We look weak in front of the terrorists. So what? ... It's not going to create any more terrorists, and it's not going to make the current terrorists any more emboldened....

    Ah, yes, James, it is. Just as appeasement generally emboldens the bad and undermines the wavering. That's not the only point against the mosque, and its not even the main one -- that being its offensive symbolism, in the same way that erecting a Christian cathedral next to the visible reminder of a huge massacre of Muslims perpetrated by extremists in the name of Chritianity would be offensive. But weakness, real or imagined, does count.

    As for cowardice, you might want to examine your own reactions: e.g., "they already look pretty damn bold to me" or "tepid support or indifference to both us and the terrorists are much better than the army of jihadis Osama envisions". Buck up, James, and take a lesson from those brave Muslims who have risked a great deal by opposing the mosque themselves, undeterred by thoughts of the "pretty damn bold" terrorists, or armies of jihadis, etc.

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  15. Acknowledging that a certain action will not strengthen our enemies is hardly cowardice. Wishing to thwart Al Qaeda's goal of full scale war between Islam and the West is simply prudent and moral, not cowardly. Constantly fretting about the image you project to your enemies as if it could change the underlying reality is a sign of weakness, though, to say nothing of insecurity.

    I find it amusing that those who generally prescribe growing a thick skin when identity politics are concerned are all about sensitivity when it's their own delicate feelings being hurt. Suffice it to say that in this situation a negative reaction is unreasonable and, more to the point, bigoted. The only way Muslim symbolism is problematic near the World Trade Center is if you believe that the attacks themselves are fair representatives of not just Islam as a whole, but every Muslim who wishes to open a mosque, and there's no way to describe that view other than hatred for the Muslim citizens of this nation.

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  16. Meta, my man:

    The opposition may be understandable but it would be, respectfully, just as misconceived. I gave the example I gave to drive home the point, a fortiori with French Canadians, how invidious it would be to tar them, and a stipulated benign project, all with some F.L.Q.—type terrorist brush.

    It may be telling that you frame the issue by reference to “symbolism.” More important I think than symbolism, which means different things to different people, is not to feed stereotypical reqdings of that symbolism, which impugn a vast and complex whole by the terrible actions of a terrible but miniscule part of it.

    That symbolism ranges from being for some an understandable (though incorrect) reaction to it being being exploited by others for opportunistic advantage at the risk of stirring enmity amongst groups, which is wrong in principle and wrong pragmatically.

    One final comment: once the outraged demand that the Community Centre be moved got and gets increasingly heatedly asserted, it’s hard to imagine the project’s movers and the community support behind them backing off.

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  17. On the whole "offensive symbolism" thing:

    In the southern United States many white racists would have been offended to see black men act as their equals. Should black men have been discouraged from doing so even if it was conceded that they have the constitutional right to do so?

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  18. James: Suffice it to say that in this situation a negative reaction is unreasonable and, more to the point, bigoted.

    I've suggested an exact reversal of "this situation" a couple of times now, and I notice you've ignored it both times. So let me say it one more time, and then I'll move on:

    Let's imagine there's an international band of Christian terrorists, who train and sponsor a gang of killers who perpetrate a mass slaughter of Muslims, targeting some of the highest profile Muslim symbolic sites. And then let's say a few years later, even as the Christian terrorists are still at large around the world and still threatening further atrocities, a group proposes to build a large Christian church a few blocks from the site of the original massacre, which still bears the visible evidence of that slaughter. My bet would be that large numbers of Muslims -- moderate Muslims -- would be offended and even outraged at the insensitivity this displays, despite the fact that the backers are not affiliated with the terrorists themselves. And those Muslims would have my support. What I would hope is that large numbers of moderate Christians themselves would find a project like this inappropriate at best, and would urge its backers to find another site. In fact, I think that large numbers of people of any faith or none would be able to understand how such a project would be offensive to Muslims, even if only for its symbolism.

    Apparently not James, though, unless he's using a condescending double standard -- if not, then I think that says something about who the real bigot might be here.

    Itzik: More important I think than symbolism, which means different things to different people, is not to feed stereotypical reqdings of that symbolism, which impugn a vast and complex whole by the terrible actions of a terrible but miniscule part of it.

    And so, similarly, you too would presumably be equally vocal in your support of a large Christian church in the near vicinity of a Christian massacre of Muslims, despite Muslim opposition to it, on the grounds that they should "get over" the symbolism. I don't doubt you can say now, since the Christian atrocity is just imaginary, and not wanting to appear inconsistent, that yes, of course, you'd oppose the Muslim opposition and ignore their "sensitivities" too. But I think most people understand in a simple, basic way that very grave, traumatic events can generate real sensitivities which should be respected when at all possible, and not needlessly inflamed, even if only on a symbolic level. Doing so is a mark of tolerance; not to do so, of bigotry.

    theteenage: Sorry, but that's just too weird. Try to think of an analogy that makes sense, or better yet, consider the reverse analogy of the terrorist Christians I've described above.

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  19. In both cases one asks one group to sacrifice in order to avoid offending another group that refuses to see the first group as individuals (or employ a Coasian solution, which really ought to settle this whole issue). It's the same as the terrorist Christians.

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  20. So you're saying that hypothetical Muslims offended at the construction of a huge church next to the site of a huge atrocity committed in the name of Christianity are simply refusing to see Christians as individuals? Please. That's just not the way people work.

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  21. Yes, but they should. Bigotry is the result of seeing people by their group rather than as individuals.

    The people building this mosque should not yield to bigotry, regardless of how natural that bigotry is.

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  22. Yes, Metamorf, that's exactly what I'm saying. Unlike you, I'm not willing to give bigotry the stamp of inevitable human nature. We can do better.

    If you want an example, one that's near and dear to my heart as someone who wishes to one day be married, I think Mormons have been treated really unfairly in the wake of Prop 8. I think one can protest the individual Mormons who fought against marriage equality, and given its institutional nature it's not a stretch to condemn the hierarchy. But the hatred I've seen for individual Mormons coming from some of my peers in the gay community is, frankly, appalling, and I try to make my distaste for it known when it comes up.

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  23. bigot: a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.

    People who are deeply moved, either positively or negatively, by symbolic expressions and situations involving either great or terrible things, are hardly equivalent to people who are merely "obstinately or intolerantly devoted to [their] own opinions and prejudices" On the other hand, those who view people in that light really are obstinate and intolerant in their devotion to their prejudices. So there's certainly at least an irony in the way in which the charges of James and theteenage reflect back on themselves. But, perhaps they're just exhibiting the self-righteousness of the young, and I should cut them some slack.

    fwiw, thanks, James, for the Mormon example, with which I agree. But it's quite a different case. No one is talking about hating Muslims here -- we're just asking the backers of this mosque for the same kind of respect that they would want and expect for themselves, if the situation were reversed.

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  24. Maybe bigotry isn't the proper word. It's collectivism, which can easily lead to bigotry. It's being unable to separate the actions of one person from another, different person just because they share the same religion. It's ugly, regardless of how natural it is. And it is not something people should respect.

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  25. You're right that there just simply isn't an analogous situation that's happened to Christianity. It's a function of the privilege the majority religion holds. Collective guilt isn't imputed to members of the majority when one of their members does something unsavory, even if it's explicitly for the sake of that majority group. A member of a privileged group can be assured that they will be treated as and be perceived as individuals, whose actions re not overly related to the groups that they belong to. Marginalized groups can't claim that. I think that's why direct comparisons here are so difficult. Still, if you're skeptical that the pro-community center faction would equally support a church in your hypothetical... color me skeptical that the majority of the anti-Park51 contingent would find such a church problematic. It seems much more likely to me that they would be claiming that it is another example of this barbaric religion failing to appreciate the freedom of religion, and that not going through with construction would be a cowardly backing down that would make such violations more likely to occur in the future- both of which are absolutely right on the money.

    Your argument is based on the fallacious assumption that being moved by symbolism is never motivated by bigotry. Seeing a Muslim community center 2 blocks from ground zero might make an Islamophobe feel as ill as a racist is upon seeing an interracial couple, but that these are instinctual emotional reactions does not inure them from criticism. One can only feel ill at the sight of an interracial couple if one thinks such a coupling is morally wrong. Similarly, the only way that the symbolism of building a Muslim community center near ground zero is problematic is if one believes that all Muslims either bear responsibility or have an affinity for the attacks of that day. And that sentiment is bigoted.

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  26. Okay, I think we're just getting into repetition and confusion. My argument, for example is plainly not based on any assumption that "being moved by symbolism is never motivated by bigotry", and that's so manifestly wrong that I'm going to leave it as an exercise for you to figure out why. Yours, on the other hand, is just as plainly based upon the equally fallacious assumption that "being moved by symbolism is always motivated by bigotry", so perhaps this is just a simple case of projection. My suggestion would be to try to think for a minute outside the box of minority grievance (which doesn't apply to the reverse hypothesis anyway), and contemplate the ways in which being moved by symbolism might not be bigotry.

    And theteenage, you can change the name of your epithet, but that doesn't make it any more apt or workable -- you're just repeating yourself, and repetition is not an argument. I think we're going to have to agree to disagree.

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  27. Of course I repeated myself. I was clarifying, not advancing, an argument.

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  28. The usual PC, pseudo-liberal rhetoric--"islamophobe"--should itself be rejected.

    Fundamentalists are fundamentalists--and most muslims are as fundamentalist as dixie baptists, mormons, ortho.-jews, or cafeteria catholics. Not only the hysterical right opposes the mosque, for that matter. Howard Dean says it's not a good idea. The Pelosicrats are not the only flavor of Demos--and really ChairDame Pelosi sounds like a altar boy (or girl) catholic much of the time.

    A somewhat odd catholic-muslim solidarity has taken root in some areas (US and Europe): the pro-muslim papists want to suggest that muslims are not as bad as jews ...or protestants for that matter, so they're acceptable, or least...assist the catholic agenda.

    The best approach--the American ala Jeffersonian approach would be to view all the religions--and dogma-- of the sons of Abraham as suspect...whether judeo-christian or muslim (...and/or to question the separation clause itself, as Madison and Jefferson did initially, reportedly. Madison at least contemplated a purely secular republic for some time...see the Remonstrance)

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