It is all very well for Gov. Dean to say that we will exclude those who demagogue this issue, but this ignores the fact that it was the demagoguery that made this an issue in the first place. For the sake of argument lets say the Imam and the Cordoba Foundation does meet with the protesting families and agree to move the community center. Where does the precedent end?
What happens when the new towers are built at Trade Center Plaza? If a Muslim organization wants to rent office space there will there be this hue and cry about disrespecting the families? Will our politicians talk about the need for sensitivity then? Will there be calls for them to find office space somewhere else? If the Community Center is forced to move, I think it is fair to say you can bet your butt that there will be.
This is the issue that the "sensitivity" proponents and the many folks who believe the community center somewhere else miss. They are insisting that a minority group bow to the will of the majority, to willingly give up their rights because some (many) of people feel that they are somehow at fault for the actions of Al Qaeda. If this group shows the insisted upon sensitivity, it does nothing to reduce the bigotry and political expedience that started this controversy. It only hands a win to the forces of intolerance and bigotry.
In backing down from this plan, the Imam and his group would be validating the idea that all Muslims bear some responsibility for the actions of 9/11. This pernicious meme would and the example of Park51 would then be available to be used in other places. After all if all Muslims are culpable at some level, then it would be just fine to try to deny a Muslim charity office space in the new Freedom Tower. It would bolster the case for Temecula to deny a permit to build, it would make every other project that a Muslim community wants to build that much harder to do so.
Let's be very, very clear here. The Cordoba Foundation and Imam Rauf did not pick this site in order to put their thumb in the eye of anyone, especially the families of the victims of 9/11. The fact that there were Muslims working in the Trade Center that day and among the first responders who died seems to indicate that this group was doing nothing but trying to serve its religious community, in lower Manhattan. The people who did pick this fight are those on the Radical Right who wanted one more bite at the 9/11 apple for electoral purposes.
The history of this nation is littered with the bigotry against minority groups. On my mothers side I am in the first generation born in this nation. The bigotry against the Irish was just as virulent as the anti-Muslim bigotry seems to be today. I have a sign that I found from an old hotel here in Denver. It reads:
Rooms $.05 A Night
I gave it to my mom because I thought it was a mildly shocking example of how far the acceptance of the Irish had come. Would they have come as far if they had not insisted on their rights as citizens? Would our citizens of African descent, the descendants of slaves and others have come as far as they have towards equality if they had just been sensitive to the feelings of the white bigots in the South?
Ideals are important. The use and defense of ideals is what moves a nation forward, the striving for the perfect, even if it unattainable pushes a society closer to perfection. The reverse is true as well. The accommodation of bigotry, racial or religious intolerance moves a nation in the wrong direction, towards more intolerance. The idea that Gov. Dean puts forward is to be applauded for its belief that there can be reasonable accommodation with those who, for whatever reason, find that the entire 1.5 billion Muslims world wide are at fault for the 9/11 attacks.
I am all for talking to our opponents. It is important to keep communication open, but it is also important to defend the ideals of our nation with idealism. We can not allow public fervor to push us closer to a point where there is a religious test for renting office space at the Freedom Tower. Yet this is the path the sensitivity argument leads. Who is being sensitive to the needs of the lower Manhattan Muslims? Why is it that they must pay the price for the acts of others? This is the problem with the sensitivity argument, it is all based on feelings, not reason.
I am an atheist, I find it insensitive when believers say "God Bless You" should my sensitivity to this trump their right to say what they like? I don't think so, yet the Muslims of lower Manhattan are being asked to put the sensitivity of others (including a lot of out of town political vultures) over their own?
If something is fair, it can be turned around and still be fair. Would the Sarah Palin's of the world be happy about protests against a Baptist Church School (a non-religious but associated building) being built near the site of Native American massacre because the Native Americans were sensitive to the fact that some Baptists murdered their ancestors? The only difference here is the time frame. The wounds of 9/11 are still very fresh, but other than that it is a close parallel.
The issue of this community center is more than just this location. It is about the ideal of religious freedom in the United States. Religious freedom can be chipped away at just like all other rights. It does not have to be legislated against to be weakened. The loud insistence of the majority is all it takes to reduce the protections that all Americans enjoy in regards to practicing their faith or having none at all. In this we all have a stake in the Park51 community center going forward. Even those who are arguing with out thought to the consequences that Muslims should be "sensitive" to those objecting.
If the worst comes to pass, the Imam caves, the forces of intolerance win and the discrimination against Muslims citizens goes as far as denying them office space at the new towers, will we really be able to call one of them a Freedom Tower?
It is axiomatic that it is controversial to defend the minority against the tyranny of the majority. However it is the best part of our history that we as Americans do it and it has always made our nation better for the attempts and successes. This is one of those times when we must stand on our ideals and not back down to the tyranny of the majority.
The floor is yours.