Is the Great Mosque Debate Making Us Stupid?
With Freedom Comes the Responsibility to Think, or: Is the Great Mosque Debate Making Us Stupid?
Nearly nine years ago, with the ashes of the
In the aftermath of
Now, it seems, that moment of national clarity is fading into the mist. Listen to the backlash about the proposed mosque and Islamic community center near Ground Zero -- if you can stand the overwrought emotion. And make no mistake: Opposition to the mosque is all about emotion, not facts. Well, emotion and political opportunism.
A "monument to terror" is being erected on "sacred ground," we are told, and anybody who doesn't recognize this is held to be "out of touch" with the super-sensitive American public.
Indeed, 61 percent of Americans in a recent TIME poll said they opposed plans to build the mosque. And we might reasonably expect that percentage to grow as more people take to the nearest media platform and vent.
What's disconcerting about all this fervent angst is that the arguments against the mosque could be exploded by an average middle-school debater. True -- and for this we should be grateful -- most people seem to get that the First Amendment protects the right of the Muslims to build their mosque. But, but ... then follow the "buts." But America's feelings, its sensitivities, ought to trump any principle at stake. But Muslims are different. They're terrorists. How do we know? Because the perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre, the shoe bomber and the
"Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in
What he says is true enough, and it might even be relevant if the proposed building were to house an institution set up by al-Qaida (which is, to follow his Nazi analogy, the criminal party here). Or is Gingrich implying that there is no difference between Muslims generally and al-Qaida?
How are such baseless and illogical arguments allowed rise to such a level of public acceptance? My industry deserves a great deal of the blame. Your opinions matter, we in the news media love to tell the public. In journalism land, we call it "taking the pulse," and "getting a read on the public." "Tell us how you feel" preens the cable news host as he offers a toll-free number to call or a Web address to write to, all the better to help America to emote.
Skepticism of powerful insiders, insistence upon the facts, taking unpopular stances dictated by principle -- calling the public on its ignorance when that's what it needs to hear -- that's what the media aren't very good at anymore. It's much safer to solicit your thoughts and echo them than challenge them.
A columnist for Politico -- a publication as inside as an insider gets in
Think about that for a moment. A major publicity campaign is launched (and fanned by leading political luminaries) to pressure a religious group to set aside its constitutional rights, and yet the president ought to keep his opinions to himself about the matter. Think about what such an attitude must say to Muslims, both our fellow citizens and others around the world, about our democracy.
You know what? We should fear homegrown terrorism, including that carried out by homegrown Islamic extremists. But what we should really fear is our inability to distinguish the terrorists from the innocent. And we'll never get there if we simply label everything of Islam as to be feared.
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Is the Great Mosque Debate Making Us Stupid?
(c) 2010 Mary Sanchez