Friday, August 20, 2010

Update on a Divided Left

The national "debate" over the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero continues. Howard Dean has joined the "perhaps they should move" camp. Wrong of me to call that a "camp," of course. He is not the shrill advocate of religious intolerance that Newt Gingrich appears to be. His position is more nuanced. We need a conversation about this topic, he tells us, that recognizes the wisdom of building this center somewhere else. I agree with him that we need a more civil and reasoned conversation. And if that were all he were calling for, I would be in complete agreement. But when that conversation has to begin with moving the project, I think Dean is at worst disingenuous about having a conversation and at best (but still pretty bad) further demonstrating the Obama administration's problematic preference for "preemptive compromise."

On the closer-to-home front, I did ultimately comment on Chris di Spirito's "From the Left" blog about the stoning in Afghanistan (see last post). I also commented there in response to Chris's blog post about Obama clearly being on the wrong side of the Park51 controversy. My comment was deleted and I have now been blocked from the site. I will copy below this post my comment that offended; you can decide for yourself if you think I violated the comments policy Chris has articulated for his site.

Lest anyone think I am just using my blog to wage a discourse war with another blogger, I want to clarify. I have a pretty firm stance of support for the Park51 project. It saddens me that some others on the Left don't share my views, but at least I am not alone in having these views. I worry that an even more divided Left does not bode well for the future of this nation. But I also think disagreement and diversity of opinion are important -- something the Left usually embraces, in fact. And we need that space for civil discussion that Dean says he is calling for. Certainly we need to discourage uncivil discourse, but what happens when we start blocking and censoring reasonably well-articulated and civil disagreement?

Yes, I can conceive a number of interpretations for Chris's actions. Maybe he doesn't like long-winded rebuttal. Maybe he is young and youthful enthusiasm trumps wisdom. Maybe he has personal experiences that motivate his firm stance on this issue. Maybe he is right and I am an evil person for disagreeing. In the end, none of this really matters. It's Chris's blog and he can do with it as he pleases. Unlike Dr. Laura, I will not confuse access to a private venue as a violation of my First Amendment rights.

But really, this isn't about who's right and who's wrong. It's about the failure to communicate across difference. Perhaps it is about the failure to negotiate difference, especially among folks who otherwise seem to share an ideological position. But is is a failure, and one that I fear threatens our future. A dispute in the blogosphere surely doesn't warrant such concern, but it does if it is yet another symptom of a deeper divide in the nation...and perhaps the world.

Chris, I welcome your comments here if you are still following my blog.  And of course, I welcome others' views on this issue, whether or not they agree with mine.  My offending comment from Chris's blog follows:
I am having a difficult time tracking your point with this. If this is a continuation of your August 14th criticism of Obama that he would step up for NYC Muslims despite public opinion against them but not for Marriage Equality (which has been gaining popularity in the polls but is still not exactly favored in the polls), I get it. Yes, I want the President to show the same (well, actually clearer) support for the LGBT/Q community and the 14th Amendment as he does off-the-cuff for Muslims and the 1st Amendment.

But if you are criticizing him for unwisely jumping into a Constitutional issue because recent polls show it is unpopular, well, that seems more than a little contradictory to me. Just because the majority of Americans think it is a bad idea and distrust an ethnic/religious group doesn't mean that it justifies re-zoning (gerrymandering?) based on a particular religion. And I don't think it is that surprising that public opinion against Muslims is rising in the US given the foolishness of Birthers and a radically empowered shrill Right that continues to cast all Islam (not just radical Islam) as the enemy of the West. A country in economic meltdown usually seeks a scapegoat. Remember?

As for your final criticism of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's 2001 "60 Minutes" quote, I have a real problem with the way (a) you are taking that quote out of context and (b) seem willing to overlook the US's role in creating conditions in Afghanistan that made members of the Mujahideen (our covert and abandoned allies during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan) transform into Al Qaeda. Keith Olbermann's recent special comment on this issue notes how folks like Glenn Beck have similarly taken this quote out of context to cast Rauf as an anti-American terrorist-sympathizer when nothing could be further from the truth.

I can understand why we would read these sorts of comments as "blame the victim" in the post-9/11 shock of 2001, even going so far as to end Bill Mahr's "Politically Incorrect" TV show because he said something similar. But nearly a decade later it seems highly irresponsible to continue to erase or dismiss that history of the US's involvement in the Middle East (particularly Afghanistan and the Mujahideen); involvement that Rauf is clearly NOT saying justifies 9/11 but did play an important role in motivating the 9/11 terrorists.

Chris Hayes of "The Nation" [actually, he's reporting an article from on "The Rachel Maddow Show"] has recently tracked how this non-mosque not at Ground Zero eclipsed all other political discussion. The building has been planned, publicized, and talked about since nearly mid-2009. But in early May, Birther conspiracy theorist Pamela Geller started blogging about the "mega-mosque" at Ground Zero, subsequently finding her way easily into interviews on Fox News and other elements of the conservative spin machine. Big surprise that the Right (many of whom previously supported the project) saw this as an opportunity to develop a wedge issue for the midterm elections.

In 2009, the folks planning 51 Park Place described the project as a concerted effort not only to meet the needs of the local Muslim community in the neighborhood but also to send a clear message to radical Islam that when they attack the US they are attacking a country that supports and protects its considerable Muslim population. In other words, as material evidence that bin Laden's "Islam vs. the West" rallying cry is wrong. This is a country of religious freedom where minority groups are protected from the tyranny of the majority by a Constitution that is ultimately (if rarely immediately) upheld.

I guess, if we are to believe the recent polling data and the rhetoric from the Right (and some "From the Left"), bin Laden was right after all.


  1. It may have been the closing line that pushed him over the edge. But this is very well and civilly put, IMO.

  2. well said.
    every religious and political group (any organization in fact) has, and has always had, extremists. to not recognize this, to not differentiate, is to turn oneself into an extremist.

  3. @rappel That comment is a keeper! I struggle with word economy, and I think you have just put that core idea about as succinctly as it can be put!

  4. the fact of the matter is, it's a constitutional, and private property issue (ironic wingnuts oppose it considering they claim to be champions of both).

    as i said at black magpie, islam is worst of the big three, but my personal opinion doesn't trump the constitution.

    i find it odd chris' opposition is based on popular opinion, as popular opinion is used to justify denying gays the right to marry.

    i think it's obama's lukewarm support for the gay community, and chris is displacing his anger.

    but that shouldn't surprise anyone, as you said, dems are the king of the pre-emptive compromise or surrender.

    they still believes they can play both sides of every issue.

    spines are in short order these days.

  5. i thought you comment was spot on and not offensive or threatening in any way. i dont know why he banned you - but it seems misplaced and an over reaction

    the whole non-mosque issue is really a turning point in many ways for the politics and fundamentals (yes fundamentals) of this country - that first amendment is what sets apart from just about every country - and the fact that the right wants to again cherry pick the constitution with their fear and hate as an excuse

    well there were a bunch of brown shirts that did the same thing to the Jews in 1933........

    between the hate of Islam, and the hate being spewed towards a black president, and the hate of immigrants.... we may have already passed a point of no return

  6. I share the same fear, d-cap.

    I don't think Chris is alone on the Left in his feelings. I acknowledge that, even if it makes me really sad and worried. And yes, I too sense a dangerous tipping point happening in the culture.

    The part that gets me is not being able to find a venue (private or public) to try to speak across this difference with Chris, this disagreement. I got no warning from Chris before being blocked, and I have no way to contact him. I have no sense of what I did to violate his comments policy. If this is how we deal with disagreement as a country, I fear that tipping is going to happen faster rather than slower.

    But I guess this is the internet, and I/we have to accept its limits along with its strenghts as a tool for discussion.

    So anyway, at least I discovered Black Magpie Theory this week, and I am LOVING that site. I don't often run into a site that makes me want to tell all my friends about it. But that one does...and I am busy promoting it. (Er, not that I haven't promoted "distributor cap" too...see to the right.) :-)


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