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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Park51: Perception vs. Reality 
Friday, August 20th, 2010 | 10:01 pm [barack obama, commentary, humor, politics, religion]
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The ongoing controversy over the Cordoba House — or Park51, as it’s now being called — the Islamic community center planned for a site two blocks away from the former World Trade Center, is sadly representative of the state of political discourse in American popular culture. Despite weeks and weeks and weeks of argument and debate, those decrying the mosque as an unspeakable sacrilege, and those trying their best to calmly assure that first group that it’s really no big deal, are no closer to reaching an understanding.
Opponents of Park51 call a Muslim presence so close to the site of the deadliest act of Islamic terrorism in history unthinkable, while supporters remind them that there are already Muslim prayer halls in the vicinity of Ground Zero, as well as a Muslim prayer space in the Pentagon. Opponents draw out sinister sounding connections between Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and radical Islamic groups, and supporters point out that you can use the same connect-the-dots guilt-by-association methods can be used to establish a connection between any number of public figures and extremists. (See Jon Stewart’s brilliant takedown of this particular rhetorical strategy on
last night’s episode of The Daily Show.)
The argument goes on and on, but it doesn’t get anywhere. What’s up with that? I think the answer lies in the vastly divergent ways in which people on either side perceive the facts of the issue. I’ve prepared three simple examples below, so you can see what I mean.

1. Park51

When opponents of Park51 look at the illustration of the proposed building, they are apparently seeing something very different than what I and my fellow defenders of the project see.
When they look at this . . . 

They see this. 


2. Feisal Abdul Rauf

The lead imam of the Cordoba Initiative is either a calm voice of peace and moderation in his sometimes turbulent faith, or a bloodthirsty jihadist anxious to replace the Constitution with Islamic law and use his fancy new Manhattan digs to plan and carry out future acts of terrorism. It all depends on who you ask.
When Rauf says this: 

“This project is about condemning what happened on 9/11. I have lectured to all 1200 FBI agents, the months right after 9/11, to work with the law enforcement agencies to make sure that all terrorism coming from our community is eliminated.”
—Feisal Abdul Rauf, Fox and Friends, Fox News Channel, May 11, 2010 


Opponents of Park51 hear this: 


3. President Obama’s response

After maintaining a conspicuous silence on this issue for some time, President Obama last week stated his unequivocal support for the building of Park51, on the basis America’s long-standing and oft-celebrated tradition of religious liberty and tolerance.
When the president says:  

“As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.”
—Barack Obama, Remarks at Iftar Dinner, August 13, 2010 

Park51 opponents hear this:  

“My Muslim brothers, the day is ours! Forward we go! In the name of the Prophet! Allahu Akbar!” 

Why let inconvenient, inarguable reality intrude on a perfectly good whipped-up bullshit bigoted pandering fear-mongering hysterical phony controversy?

Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 05:48 am (UTC)
Ah, yes, I always find accusations of bigotry and racism to be a "calm assure," don't you? You know what else I found really rational and calm? When Pelosi suggested that opponents should be investigated. Now that's the way to get everybody to see your point of view!

Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 05:52 am (UTC)
"calm assurance" ahh, you know what I meant.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 06:16 am (UTC)
I don't get Pelosi's call for an investigation, either. I'm not interested in where opponents of the mosque are getting their funding from. It never even occurred to me that they would need funding — they shoot their mouths off, saying all sorts of ignorant, hideously bigoted shit, and people put them on TV. Where's the expense?

The way to carry this on is through engagement, teasing out the specific claimed factual charges being made against Rauf and the Cordoba group and refuting them wherever appropriate, and calling out bigotry wherever it is — which is everywhere in this particular argument.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 10:01 am (UTC)
Lucky for you, my insomnia is kickin tonight.

Something else that doesn't really "assure" me is when people say something is "no big deal." Like, "Can I poke you in the eye? Don't worry, its no big deal." See, when someone says something is no big deal, it makes a person think that maybe it is a big deal.

Maybe you believe them when they say the mosque is no big deal. I don't. Not because I'm a bigot or a racist or just a big meanie that wants to keep the Muslims down. But, because I'm naturally skeptical of religious people with grand schemes. I'm not skeptical of religious people in general, just the ones with grand plans. To pick a site as close to ground zero as possible tells me that Imam Rauf has one hell of an ego. Big egos motivated by religion can be a very dangerous mix, no?

And Imam Rauf and friend's blabbering on about inter-faith, multi-culturalism, and dialogue doesn't jive with me considering his reluctance to denounce Hamas and his laying blame for 9/11 at America's feet. Maybe his comments on those two subjects are no big deal to you, but in my mind his excuses for terrorism mean at the very least that I am under no obligation to trust a single word he says.

Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 03:10 pm (UTC)
Opening the Islamic equivalent of a YMCA is a "grand scheme"?

And Rauf didn't lay blame for 9/11 at America's feet. If he were laying blame at America's feet he would have said something like, "America had this coming." What he actually said was that American foreign policy in the Middle East over the last half-century has made it very unpopular among certain radical groups, who have used what they see as hegemonic interference in their internal affairs as a tool to recruit those in their community who are most susceptible to appeals to their base ethnocentric instincts.

Okay, I embellished a little . . .

The point is, admitting that American foreign policy provided a motive for 9/11 in the eyes of the extremists who perpetrated it is a long, long way from laying blame for it at America's feet.

Edited at 2010-08-21 03:20 pm (UTC)
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 09:20 pm (UTC)
Picking a building that was damaged by 9/11 as the location to build your 100 million dollar Y, yes, is a grand scheme. There is no way that Rauf, being a worldly and well-educated man, could not have known that finding a close proximity to Ground Zero would make him one of the most influencial religious leaders in the US and abroad. So, in essence, the guy plans on building his career upon our dead.

And if you want to try to rationalize Rauf's comments about America's culpability in 9/11...I'm not going to try to reason with you. I will say, though, that your longer explanation of Rauf's statements still equate to "America had it coming." No matter what, its still an excuse for terrorism. And Rauf deserves a big middle finger for it.

Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 10:27 pm (UTC)
It's not an excuse for terrorism, and it's not a rationalization. It's an acknowledgment that we aren't dealing with a simplistic black and white issue. American intervention in the Middle East over the last half-century is not an excuse for 9/11. It doesn't dilute the guilt of the criminals who committed those acts of mass-murder the tiniest bit. It does mean admitting that our government was not just minding its business when it suddenly became the target of extremists who had no reason to be pissed at us except their hatred of our freedom.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 11:07 pm (UTC)
but they didn't target our government. they targeted innocent civilians on purpose, by flying planes into our buildings. That's why we call it terrorism and not war or politics. And no matter what, its the same old line of bullshit that people give to explain away terrorism. Its a very black and white thing and I'm not going to give them an inch of gray.
Friday, August 27th, 2010 | 03:53 am (UTC)
no, it's not black and white. The entire world is many shades of grey. Life 101.

Picking the building was done so for the reason of healing, not instigating.

No one can convince you otherwise. That's ok. It doesn't really matter.
Friday, August 27th, 2010 | 03:53 pm (UTC)
Maybe it was picked with the intent of healing. But, its already having the opposite effect on people. Its hurting them. A very large portion of the population is trying to tell Rauf and crew that they don't want his medicine. It's like Mercurochrome on a skinned knee. It burns. If that means nothing to Rauf then how can I be certain his intentions are good?

Maybe my opinion doesn't matter. But, I'm still entitled to it. And, you are entitled to yours.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 12:10 pm (UTC)
So... is this what everyone that thinks building a $100 mega-masque at the site of ground zero is a dumb idea thinks? That Feisal Abdul Rauf and Osama bin Laden are the same person? That Obama is a secret Muslim?

I think it's easy to paint everyone that disagrees with Cordoba House or Park51 (or whatever they are going to call it next week) as some sort of bigot. The problem is, doing so means that you are willing to believe that people like Harry Reid, Howard Dean, or David Paterson are bigots too.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 03:20 pm (UTC)
It might not be what everyone thinks. Your minarets may vary.

Reid, Dean and Paterson aren't bigots. They, especially Dean, have gone to great lengths to separate their positions from the Islamophobia being touted by Newt Gingrich and the AFA. But that only makes their positions more cognitively dissonant, if you ask me. They're basically saying "You have the freedom to build your center wherever you want! Really! But don't do it there." How can you seriously entertain that thought, and then claim to support the principle of freedom of religion? I don't get that.

Dean and the other Democrats who have come out against this are either misguided, or pandering to voters. And to be fair, I'm sure the same can be said of many Republicans and conservatives who are doing the same thing. The public figures making a scene over this issue who aren't bigots are opportunists. That doesn't change the fact that the fundamental argument against these people building this project in this location is that these people shouldn't build this project in this location, for no reason other than what religion they practice. That sounds like bigotry to me.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 06:57 pm (UTC)
Your response brings up a really good point. How do you define bigotry? To me, the word has always been more or less synonymous with intolerance. I freely admit I'm intolerant of Islam. I think it's a repressive religion. It's the most repressive and misogynistic religion out of all the world's religions, and that's really saying something. It's so intolerant, so misogynistic, that's it's not even comparable to the world's other major religions.

That's not to say it's always been that way. Islam just hasn't evolved like the world's other major religions. For all intended purposes, it's still stuck back in the middle-ages. In Islamic countries, people are still to this day being stoned to death for adultery.

Religion, unlike people, are not all created equal. To act like all religions are equal and because of this should be treated all the same seems kind of silly to me.

People choose to be Muslim. I'm not going to pretend that they made a good choice.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 07:26 pm (UTC)
As someone who is decidedly opposed to religion, my interpretation of religious freedom is this: I must always respect the right of anyone to worship however he or she sees fit. But respecting that right doesn't require me to respect any particular belief. I can't think of any religious beliefs that I respect — even the more generic and benign claims about a loving and forgiving God suffer from being totally unproven, and unprovable in most cases.

So I'm not taking up for Islam when I argue in favor of this Cordoba project. I'm arguing in favor of the right of Muslims to be Muslims. Things in Islamic dictatorships like Iran or Saudi Arabia or Syria are brutal, people are subjected to horrific punishments for things that wouldn't even be considered crimes in pluralistic, secularly-governed societies. That's all true, and you're not out of line to point it out. But those brutal practices are forbidden in the U.S. by our laws. Muslims who practice stoning of infidels or honor killings here will face justice.

And I think most Muslims who live in America like it that way. It's unfair to assume from the start that a Muslim person, or a group of Muslims, would like it better if the U.S. was more like Iran. Judging a person not just by a general perception of their group, but by one of the worst, most violent and fanatical fringe sects of their group — that to me is an example of bigotry.

Some Muslims might behave like barbarians in other parts of the world. But they almost never do it here, and I see no reason to assume that they would even if they could. Most of our Muslim fellow Americans seem just as able to ignore the vicious, bigoted, homicidal incitements of the Qur'an as our Jewish and Christian fellow Americans are able to with the Bible.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 08:17 pm (UTC)
I don't think you are under any obligation to respect the right of anyone to worship however they see fit. Religious freedom isn't an absolute. We don't respect the right of middle-aged Mormon men to marry their 13-year old nieces, even though they claim it's a major principle of their religion, nor should we.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 10:31 pm (UTC)
You might not think I'm under any obligation to respect the religious liberties of others, but I do. I think it's part of the unspoken agreement that goes with living in a free society.

What you're talking about, to me, falls under my heading of "respecting the right to believe, but not the belief." Of course no one should be able to hide behind their religion when they commit a crime, when they harm another person. It shouldn't be tolerated. Remember how pissed I was at the story of Madeline Neumann, the 11 year-old girl who died of treatable diabetes, whose parents chose to pray for her healing rather than take her to a doctor? Those people couldn't go to prison long enough to suit me. It's despicable, and it's emphatically not permissible because of our guarantee of religious freedom.

We don't let Mormons marry children, and we don't let Christians withhold medical treatment from their children in favor of prayer. But that doesn't mean we're placing Mormons or crazy Christians at a disadvantage. Believe what you want, but follow the law. That, it seems to me, ought to be the rule.
Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 | 12:53 am (UTC)
If you feel like you have an obligation to respect the liberties of others, why then did you come down like you did on Emmanuel Baptist? Don't get me wrong, I found nothing wrong with what you said about Emmanuel Baptist. I thought you were dead-on. It just seems strange to me that you have more respect for Muslims and what they believe than you do Baptists.
Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 | 01:26 am (UTC)
I don't. My problem with the Emmanuel Baptist story was that they chose to spend $7 million on unnecessary renovations, including building a sanctuary that looks at least three times larger than they need, instead of using that money to help their community. Their beliefs are offensive to me, too, don't get me wrong — but it's their behavior that I really objected to in that instance.

The Cordoba project has been described by Rauf as a Muslim-operated YMCA equivalent, open to the entire community, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. That, to me, is a lot different than raising millions from your congregation and using it solely to feather your own already comfortable nest.

Many people have problems with the behavior of Rauf and his fellows at the Cordoba Initiative, I'm well aware. But I don't think those problems are valid; if you don't equate Rauf to the 9/11 terrorists by virtue of his being a Muslim, then there's no reason to object to what he's doing.
Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 | 05:59 pm (UTC)
It's interesting that you would bring up how Emmanuel Baptist funded the construction of their new sanctuary. If I remember the article, they raised the money themselves. Cordoba House wont have that luxury. They are planning on raising funds for the construction by seeking donations from Muslims not only in the United States, but also abroad.

One of the problems this creates is that though Rauf can claim that it will be like a Muslim-operated YMCA, that description won't work overseas. I doubt people living in the Middle-East know what a YMCA is. If they did, I doubt they would be willing to pony up any money for it. Plus, it's not going to be similar to a YMCA in that there is going to be religious activities conducted at Cordoba House. There are no religious activities taking place at the Y.

Though Muslims overseas probably don't know what a YMCA is, they now what a mosque is. They also know what ground zero is. Since they are not going to be personally benefiting from this facility, I can only wonder what would motivate them into donating huge sums of money to build a mega-mosque were a building destroyed on 9-11 used to sit.
Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 | 10:09 am (UTC)
"Though Muslims overseas probably don't know what a YMCA is, they now what a mosque is. They also know what ground zero is. Since they are not going to be personally benefiting from this facility, I can only wonder what would motivate them into donating huge sums of money to build a mega-mosque were a building destroyed on 9-11 used to sit."

Since the Mosque is not really at ground zero, but rather, two New York City blocks with huge buildings blocking line of site to both, I can imagine that there are just as many people delighted at that idea (outside the US) as would be opposed to the idea (in the US). I guess the idiots will cancel each other out in this situation and freedom of religion prevails.
Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 | 03:23 pm (UTC)
Don't believe the propaganda, the mosque is to be built at ground zero. Don't confuse the World Trade Center with ground zero. Though the twin towers were completely destroyed in the attack, many of the buildings in the immediate surrounding area were destroyed or damaged too. This includes the building this group wants to tear down and build the mega-mosque in place of, the old Burlington Coat Factory.

The reason this group wants to build a mega-mosque there is because of it's close proximity to where the World Trade Center stood. It's so close that it too was damaged in the attack and because of this, had to be condemned. This is the same reason so many Americans are against this mega-mosque being built there.
Friday, August 27th, 2010 | 03:56 am (UTC)
It's not ground zero. At best, ground zero is across the street. Not in NYC.

I do not give a shit whether or not pieces of debris hit whatever. Clean up the debris, and MOVE ON. "Oh no! a piece of debris hit this building! Now we must be sensitive to the whims of anyone!"

They are building it for benevolent reasons. There is no reason for you to believe otherwise given what we all know.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 | 10:55 pm (UTC)
I really do understand what your saying. And I agree with you on almost every point. I'm a real stickler for never compromising our rights. I'm a purist when it comes to freedom of speech, religion, and even gun rights.

If the argument was over whether the Cordoba group had a right to build a mosque, you can bet I'd back them up even if I was a bigot and hated all Muslims. I feel the same way about guns, even more so, because I actually am a bigot about guns. All guns give me the creeps. But, I fully support the right to bare arms. My defense of the 2nd amendment does not mean that I have to promote, support, or assist someone I deem dangerous to own a gun. I won't argue their right to own a gun but I will go to bat to try to prove that they shouldn't own a gun if I think, by owning a gun, the person is a potential threat to others.

(If this post is hard to follow, my apologies. I'm going on zero sleep. cut me some slack.)
Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 | 01:36 am (UTC)
i have a point, but i'm afraid i'll have to get back to it when I have all my faculties.
Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 | 02:59 pm (UTC)
Let me try this again.

I strongly believe in our right to keep and "bear" arms (not bare arms, lol)should never be compromised. But, I don't like guns. If someone wants to own a gun they have a right to own one. Period. No matter how I personally feel about guns. And I would, and have, spoken out and given my vote in favor of gun ownership.

But, that doesn't mean I think every person *should* own a gun. There are people who, by their actions, prove that they have no business owning a gun. It would be unwise of me to assist or encourage someone to buy a gun who has proven to me by their words or deeds that they should clearly not own one.

Same goes with freedom of speech,assembly, and religion. I don't have to assist or encourage someone's bad judgment (in this case, a mega-mosque at Ground Zero)just because I believe in freedom of religion.

I also think that what the Cordoba Initiative is trying to do comes very close to yelling "fire" in a crowded theater.

I look at the mosque project not only as a form of religious expression but also as a business. Nearly 70% of the population does not want what Rauf plans on selling. New York construction workers are already coming out and saying there's no way in hell they will help in the building of this mosque. There's a guy selling stickers now specifically oriented to the construction trade opposing the mosque. The Muslim population isn't exactly coming out in full support of the mosque either. So, if Rauf and crew do succeed in getting their YMCA built, who will come?

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 | 04:58 pm (UTC)
Who will come? I bet a lot of people will come at first because they've been so sickened and offended by how ugly the opposition to the place was. And after all that dies down and people get tired of screaming and yelling and go away, a bunch of folks will show up to use the pool.
Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 | 06:44 pm (UTC)
Maybe. But since most people are strongly opposed to the mosque,they'll stay away. They'll stay away because they too have been sickened and offended by Rauf and supporters of the mosque. They've been called bigots and racists and their opinions and feelings have been disregarded by supporters and by Rauf. They won't forget that.

Those couple of stragglers swimming in the pool won't be enough to keep the doors open.
Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 | 08:14 pm (UTC)
I think that you (steve) see this as an us versus them kind of thing. Muslims vs non-muslims. Its not. Its not like all Muslims are behind the mosque 100%. No one was crying out for a mosque or a community center there before the good Imam came up with the idea. A lot of Muslims don't like the idea of a mega-mosque near ground zero for the same reasons everybody else doesn't. The whole thing has the potential to pit Muslims and non-Muslims against each other where there used to be a mutual respect, and many Muslims are coming out to say the same thing. Why build it there if it is going to make matters worse? There are plenty of other places to build it where it might be more conducive to that bridge-building Imam Rauf says he wants.

"I asked the group about the mosque. Calling it a civic issue, not a religious one, spokesman Waseem Sayed said that if the "sentiments of non-Muslims are unduly hurt," then his group "does not see why that particular location has been chosen. There are surely other places where mosques can be built."

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