ALL THE ERRORS OF FACT AND JUDGMENT ROLLED UP INTO ONE COLUMN…. I’m not surprised Charles Krauthammer opposes the construction of the Cordoba House at Park51 in lower Manhattan; I’m a little surprised his column on the subject is so astoundingly bad. Given all that’s been said on the subject, it seemed likely he’d know what pitfalls to ignore, instead of aiming right at them.
He begins by trying to convince us that Ground Zero is a special, sacred place.
When we speak of Ground Zero as hallowed ground, what we mean is that it belongs to those who suffered and died there — and that such ownership obliges us, the living, to preserve the dignity and memory of the place, never allowing it to be forgotten, trivialized or misappropriated.
That’s why Disney’s 1993 proposal to build an American history theme park near Manassas Battlefield was defeated by a broad coalition that feared vulgarization of the Civil War…. It’s why the commercial viewing tower built right on the border of Gettysburg was taken down by the Park Service. It’s why, while no one objects to Japanese cultural centers, the idea of putting one up at Pearl Harbor would be offensive.
And why Pope John Paul II ordered the Carmelite nuns to leave the convent they had established at Auschwitz. He was in no way devaluing their heartfelt mission to pray for the souls of the dead. He was teaching them a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign.
Got it. In fact, I heartily endorse the premise of Krauthammer’s observation — Ground Zero really is special. I wouldn’t want to see a fast-food place built at the site of the fallen Twin Towers, and I wouldn’t want a strip-mall, either. I’d balk at the idea of building a church, a mosque, a temple, or a synagogue at Ground Zero, just as quickly as I’d oppose an amusement part at the site.
But Krauthammer is making a compelling case against an idea that doesn’t exist. Literally no one is suggesting that the Cordoba House be built “at,” “over,” or “on” Ground Zero — it’s proposed location is a couple of blocks away. Indeed, within a two-block radius of Ground Zero, there are all kinds of establishments — restaurants, coffee shops, office buildings, churches, strip-clubs, etc. — and Feisal Abdul Rauf wants his proposed community center to be among them. What does Ground Zero’s sacred qualities have to do with this? Nothing at all, which is why this debate is so ridiculous.
Also note the lesson Krauthammer believes Pope John Paul II was offering: “This is not your place; it belongs to others.” In this case, who are we to believe “others” are? On Sept. 11, 2001, the victims included innocents of every race, ethnicity, and religion. Krauthammer seems to suggest Muslim Americans are the “others” who should stay away. That’s as absurd as it is offensive.
But wait, it gets worse.
Religious institutions in this country are autonomous. Who is to say that the mosque won’t one day hire an Anwar al-Aulaqi — spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber, and onetime imam at the Virginia mosque attended by two of the 9/11 terrorists?
An Aulaqi preaching in Virginia is a security problem. An Aulaqi preaching at Ground Zero is a sacrilege. Or would the mayor then step in — violating the same First Amendment he grandiosely pretends to protect from mosque opponents — and exercise a veto over the mosque’s clergy?
Great idea, Chuck. Let’s have the government deny Americans their First Amendment rights based on a hypothetical scenario about a possible employment decision that may or may not happen at some point in the future. “Constitutional conservatives” should find this persuasive, right?
Location matters. Especially this location. Ground Zero is the site of the greatest mass murder in American history — perpetrated by Muslims of a particular Islamist orthodoxy in whose cause they died and in whose name they killed.
Of course that strain represents only a minority of Muslims. Islam is no more intrinsically Islamist than present-day Germany is Nazi — yet despite contemporary Germany’s innocence, no German of goodwill would even think of proposing a German cultural center at, say, Treblinka.
Which makes you wonder about the goodwill behind Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal.
Actually, it doesn’t. I’m on board with “location matters,” which is why I reject Krauthammer’s point — in this case, the “location matters” because the Cordoba House would be built blocks from Ground Zero, in the former home of a Burlington Coat Factory, which, with all due respect to the clothing store, isn’t exactly hallowed ground.
America is a free country where you can build whatever you want — but not anywhere. That’s why we have zoning laws. No liquor store near a school, no strip malls where they offend local sensibilities, and, if your house doesn’t meet community architectural codes, you cannot build at all.
These restrictions are for reasons of aesthetics. Others are for more profound reasons of common decency and respect for the sacred. No commercial tower over Gettysburg, no convent at Auschwitz — and no mosque at Ground Zero.
Build it anywhere but there.
Sure, zoning laws exist for reason, but that’s not much of an argument. As Greg Sargent explained, “[T]he United States Constitution does not expressly forbid government zoning against liquor stores or strip malls. However, it does expressly forbid government interference with ‘the free exercise’ of religion…. The comparison is also problematic in another way. While zoning codes do prohibit liquor stores and strip malls in some cases, the location for the Islamic center isn’t zoned against such projects; and it has already been green-lighted by the city Landmarks Commission. So by what mechanism should government block this project? Krauthammer doesn’t say.”
That’s because he can’t. The entire column is a weak house of cards from a loaded deck.