Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lindsay's Clarifications Don't Make Him Any Less Wrong

I now want to address Ronald Lindsay’s statements vis a vis my argument (which I emailed to the proper address). His arguments are starting to look more and more like the ADL's, which weren't good either. The outcry is warranted. I couldn't find Lindsay's full remarks online, but they're being released by the Department of Communications, so I'll keep an eye out for them. I was emailed them because of my complaint email. Anyway, the important parts are as follows:

CFI in no way called for a “legal ban” on the Center. “Defense of the rights of believers and nonbelievers is part of our mission, as reflected in our mission statement.” But, “Whether such a building would be a good thing for humanity, all things considered, is another issue.” Part of the message is that “faith-based reasoning is not a good thing and, further, without in any way implying that Ground Zero is “sacred,” there is a special poignancy to a new faith-based institution being placed at Ground Zero when the 9/11 attacks were an instance of faith-based terrorism.”

The problems with this are many. Firstly, of course CFI didn’t call for a legal ban on the center. It’s part of their role as an institution to protect freedom of religion, and anyone who cares about the Constitution at all is staying far away from legal arguments, because they obviously hold no water. I didn’t mention anything about a legal ban. I used the phrase “freedom of religion” not because I felt CFI was attacking the principle through legal means, but by targeting this particular edifice unnecessarily, and thus putting undue pressure on the most prominent example of a religious building built around Ground Zero rather than applying the principle equally and consistently. That is cowardice; there is huge controversy surrounding the building already. It’s all too easy for CFI to just jump in the mix, rather than address all religious buildings, such as the Greek Orthodox Church being proposed (though its future is uncertain). By the way, that one is intended to replace the one that was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. There is just no way to apply this principle consistently, and so it isn’t useful.

Secondly, he says that the building might not be good for humanity. I demonstrate above that if the CFI Board of Management really felt that all houses of worship were bad for humanity, they’re doing an awful job of demonstrating that consistently. But let’s look at this for a moment. All houses of worship are bad for humanity? We’re equating Unitarian Churches, Reform Synagogues, the Westboro Baptist Church and a Buddhist monastery? Not that I think it matters much; to defend the Islamic Center solely because it satisfies our notions of progressiveness is just as bad as opposing it on Islamophobic grounds. We either support people’s ability to worship as they will or we don’t. But still, it’s a massive oversimplification.

Thirdly, I would argue that there is a tenuous causal link between the existence of places of worship and the flourishing of faith as an epistemology. If all religious buildings evaporated, that wouldn’t eliminate religion, it would just drive it further into the public square. The buildings are just the outward expression, and opposing them does little. If we were discussing the environment created by prominent religious buildings, that’s a different issue, but Linsday didn’t address that. Opposition to this cultural center (which contains many services besides a place of worship) also does nothing to promote rationality and humanism, just a very militant, French-like secularism, which I don’t much support. It’s also, as I say above, an impossible task and one that is, in many ways, counterproductive, offensive and alienating.

Fourthly, let’s look at the alternatives. Does it really appear that public opposition and heckling of a peaceful Muslim community is good for humanity? Because I would like to address the environment created by our actions, and I think it promotes misunderstandings, lack of a public, reasoned response, and xenophobia, especially when we look at the general tenor of the debate. I seriously doubt that CFI would have released a press release if this were a church, mostly because there would have been no public furor to hide behind, which implies that they’re just taking advantage of other people’s bigotry, even if not promoting it themselves. Not much better, in my opinion. Honestly, this brouhaha has made me think that this community center would be excellent for humanity; we need way more Muslims in this country, so that they cease to become the “Other” and become another facet of Us.

Lastly, and I hope this is obvious, there being a “special poignancy”, which is itself up for debate, to building the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero is not reason enough to oppose it. Again, it simply dovetails with the notion that these Muslims are the same as all Muslims, who support organizations like Al-Queda. I do not claim that CFI believes this, and they’ve certainly been clear about stating that they don’t, but the fact remains that the ideas complement each other.

I appreciate Mr. Lindsay responding to the outcry that has erupted in response to his remarks, but unfortunately, the clarification is not better than the original, and all of my arguments still stand.

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