Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The mosque in New York

It is clearly evident that the imam who wants to build an Islamic cultural center 600 feet from 9-11 Ground Zero has stirred up a hornet's nest. The fallout suggests to me that too many people are not thinking, just emoting.

This is an excellent object lesson in the limitations of government in a free society. Many commentators have suggested that the historical preservation commission should use the zoning or historical preservation laws to keep the mosque out. Assuming that the New York commission was following its standard architectural guidelines, what the commentators are asking for is an abuse of authority. Don't we suffer enough of that already? A government using (or abusing) the law against a religious organization puts at risk our First Amendment freedom of religion -- not just for Muslims, but for everyone else as well. Whenever a church, synagogue, or mosque does something that people don't like, the one thing we don't want to do is to just bring government in to suppress it.

However, I don't mean to suggest that nothing can be done. What the imam wants to do is repugnant to the character of this country. It deeply offends the family, friends, and coworkers of those who died on 9-11. Every opinion leader in New York* should be making that clear to him, ad nauseam and beyond. If he is unshaken, try bribery with private funds. If he'll move it to Brooklyn (where most of New York's Muslims live), we'll make it easy for him to build -- there.

If that fails, a little civil disobedience might be in order. The construction companies and their unions could make it hard to find a builder. I'm sure most New Yorkers would cooperate to make it hard for the imam to do business of any kind. Protesters near the front door could get quite annoying, especially if the protests run over a long period of time.

I would also suggest to the imam that it might be difficult to protect his building from arson and vandalism. (Note, I am not suggesting that anyone commit arson or vandalism -- just stating the fact that enough people are sufficiently angry about the mosque's location to consider committing one of those crimes, and that such offenses can be hard to prosecute).

Social pressure is a potent weapon that we have allowed to rust in recent years. New Yorkers could use it very effectively to check the imam's ambition, while effectively guaranteeing the freedom of Muslims to worship -- just not in lower Manhattan.

One more thing. That imam needs to be closely watched. The moment he commits sedition -- that is, advocating the overthrow of the government by force or other unconstitutional means -- he will be tried in a court of law. Freedom of religion should not be a defense for attempting to destroy the legal system that makes it possible.

* This is a local issue. President Obama should not have commented on it; but if he felt he had to use the "bully pulpit" on this issue, he should shown more sympathy for the protesters.

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