This weekend was Attack of the Mosque People in downtown New Yawk City. It was so bad that the Chinese guy at the corner of Church and Vesey ran out of copies of “Never Forget!,” the standard twenty-buck souvenir photo book that purports to be a reverent memorial to 9/11 but is actually the most grisly collection of Al Qaeda destruction since the burning deck of the USS Cole. (Plunging suicidal bodies anyone? He’s got em all.)
The big issue that brought in so many heavy hitters from out of town, of course, was whether to tear down the Burlington Coat Factory at 45 Park Place and put up an Islamic Cultural Center, thereby depriving the winos who hang out on the sidewalk in front of Bangal Curry Halal of their divine right to buy five-dollar Chinese-made horse blankets disguised as winter coats.
And by the way, before I get into this, let’s do a simple geography lesson. If you stand at 45 Park Place, you cannot see Ground Zero. What you can see is the back wall of the post office. But if you walk down to the corner, and make a right onto Church Street, which is called Church Street because THAT’S WHERE ALL THE GOLDURN CHURCHES ARE, you can walk three blocks, past St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, past St. Paul’s Chapel where George Washington used to have a pew but they took it out to make room for more 9/11 macrame home-room projects, and you’ll be at the Century 21 factory outlet, which has slightly worse prices than Burlington Coat Factory but is directly across the street from Ground Zero, having taken substantial shrapnel on the fateful day. (Did you know that Dolce & Gabbana makes men’s shoes? They don’t mention that at the 9/11 Memorial Museum on Vesey Street.) All right, so does anybody know how far away three blocks is in New York City terms? There are places where you can walk three blocks and hear 17 different languages. Everything is on top of everything else in New York. That’s the way it is and the way it’s always been.
Anyway, the loudmouths that showed up this weekend basically fell into two camps:
• Muslims suck.
• Muslims are people, too.
All you turkeys are giving me a headache, but let’s summarize the two arguments.
• Argument Numero Uno: The Mooslims are rammin’ this mosque up our collective tight tushies. They’re trying to stick a trophy on the site of their greatest atrocity. They have total disregard for the feelings of the 9/11 survivors. They’re not like us. They’re bent on world domination. They would force us to follow shariah law if they could. You can’t call them a religion because they don’t recognize any divison between religious stuff and political stuff. They’re secretly happy that the World Trade Center got blown to smithereens. They secretly love Bin Laden.
• Argument Numero Two-o: The Muslims have a right to put up churches and other facilities any place they want. The Constitution guarantees it. Besides, mainstream Muslims have nothing to do with 9/11. It’s wrong to equate terrorism with religion. Osama bin Laden is a terrorist who happens to be Muslim, just like Ted Bundy was a serial killer who happened to be Christian. They have the right to worship in peace wherever they want to build their mosques.
Okay. First of all, everybody shut up about the following topics:
• The Constitution. Everybody knows what’s in the Constitution. This is not about the Constitution. Stop using the First Amendment to hit people over the head. We all agree on freedom of religion. That’s why the opponents of the mosque are using political pressure, not legal measures, to run the mullahs out.
• The “feelings” of the 9/11 survivors. Morris Albert wrote and recorded the song “Feelings” in 1975 and anybody who uses this as a reason should be forced to listen to the original Morris Albert single for 24 straight hours. Nobody’s trying to punish widows and orphans. Nobody believes that grieving great-aunt over there should be slammed upside the head with a Bin Laden plush toy. Stop saying that. The imams may have some funky reasons for putting up that building, but hocking loogies on the survivors is not one of them.
Okay, next issue: Making this a public spectacle that’s on the front page of the New York Post every day is not helping. You had about a two-week window when somebody could have gone to the Muslims and said, privately, “Let’s do it another way,” but then New York Mayor Mikey the Mouth Bloomberg made this huge speech on Governor’s Island about the First Amendment and blah blah blah and how the world was watching and history was watching and BY GOD WE’RE GONNA SUPPORT THAT MOSQUE, which, of course, riled up all the Pentecostal carpet-lickers in East Tennessee and led directly to the present impasse, because he didn’t just throw down a gauntlet, he spit on the gauntlet, left his sweatband on it, and stuffed it in Bill O’Reilly’s mouth. Once the pitchfork-bearing hordes showed up, the Muslim clerics couldn’t back down without looking like wimpy weasels.
But since we can’t keep sending 20,000 uniformed police officers down to Ground Zero every time Westboro Baptist Church wants to castrate a homosexual voodoo doll, we need to get a grip on who we are as a nation.
First of all, we’re not stupid. There may be some vegan sociology professor at Bard College who genuinely believes that modern Islam is similar to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism or Nudism and that the world is one big melting pot of indistinguishable god-concepts that people use to build websites. The fact is, almost all those other religions are able to distinguish between private belief and public action. Even Scientologists, who sometimes seem bent on nefarious political schemes, have a definitive concept of Us and Them. Islam is different from all the others. They are bent on converting the whole world, a trait they share in common with the evangelicals. And while we’re on that subject, a little help from the professional atheists would be welcome here. Why do the atheists spend so much time debating hillbilly tongue-talkers who have never harmed anything except the art of Ciceronian rhetoric and so little on mountain-dwelling imams who are ordering the beheadings of wives who have already had their clitorises hacked off? I’ve been enjoying the recent hiatus in the muddle-headed mutterings of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett, but if nothing else you might expect them to trot out their supermodel poster child, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and have her say a few words about how little Somali girls feel about those sweaty hijabs.
Nobody can prove it, of course, but who would be surprised if the location at 45 Park Place were carefully chosen as a modern rabat, a sort of forward operations base for a raid on American culture and religion? After all, it’s huge, it was conceived after 9/11, and it’s miles and miles away from the logical place to expand, which would have been Third Avenue and 96th Street, site of the already thriving Islamic Cultural Center that has peacefully co-existed for 20 years within the neighborhood that includes Woody Allen’s house, the original German Lutherans who came here in the 19th century, the Catholics of Spanish Harlem, and the decidedly Jewish cultural center, the 92nd Street Y.
The truth is, Islamic leaders do think in global terms, apocalyptic terms, war-like terms. Most of the violent Muslim plots on American soil prior to 9/11 originated in Brooklyn mosques. The two most famous American Muslims, Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X, are, whatever else you wanna say about em, not known for their compromise and moderation. Then there’s that pesky Chapter 9 in the Koran, which does condone violence. When people speak of “moderate Islam,” because they have a Muslim doctor or interact with a Muslim at work, what they generally mean is “non-practicing.” Practicing Muslims don’t believe there should be any interpretation of the Koran at all. They don’t believe there should be any separation between private belief and public behavior, or between rules for Muslims and rules for the world at large. In many cases they’ve been open about their contempt for the west and for modernity. In other cases they’ve agreed to live within secular societies like the Netherlands, but to live separately, in their own communities, with their own rules.
And there are Muslims who are happy that the World Trade Center fell. There are Muslims who admire Bin Laden, even if they don’t openly admit it. There are mullahs and imams who say one thing and do another, under the openly acknowledged principle that you can lie to an infidel if it advances God’s work. In other words, the 13-story Islamic cultural center at 45 Park Place may very well be a provocation and a trophy and may very well be intended as a marker that henceforth they intend to Muslimize New York. Al Qaeda started as a religious movement, and it’s always been a religious movement. Bin Laden was never shy about the reasons for attacking the United States, and those reasons had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with Mecca and Medina. The 9/11 killers went to their deaths invoking Allah.
So let’s assume that the Islamists in Lower Manhattan are bent on attacking the open society of America and turning it into something else. We can have only one response: Leave them alone to do that. This is not France, where the law says the religious are banned from the public square. We allow the religious to not only enter the public square, but to light farts if that’s part of their tradition. If your own religion is so weak that it can’t withstand their animosity, then don’t blame them, blame your religion. The First Amendment was not written so that we could defang the various religions and make them soft and malleable and ecumenical. It was written specifically because of the religious wars of the past. People who believe in God frequently want to kill one another. The First Amendment was set up so the religion you hate can be left alone to do its worst without interference from you.
Build the Islamic cultural center at 45 Park Place. Build it high. Build it strong. Put a big sign on it. I wanna know exactly where it is. And I want the mullah invited to every single Ground Zero ceremony, so we can hear what he has to say. I’ll be taking notes.
For more of Joe Bob’s America, visit http://www.joebobbriggs.com
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