As I previously noted, the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy is an epic “ethics train wreck” that has spread its destruction far and wide, across regional, ideological and national borders, leaving confusion, misunderstanding and bad feelings in its wake. Now is as good a time as any to take stock of the situation, and to recognize those who have distinguished themselves during the carnage, for good or ill. To this end, Ethics Alarms presents its first annual (and hopefully last ever) awards for outstanding ethical and unethical conduct during the whole mess, “The Mosquies.”
The envelope, please…
The Best Intentioned Irresponsible Act Award: Imam Feisal Rauf, the chief organizer behind the effort to build the Islamic center. He said his goal was “to bridge the divide” between Muslims and Americans. His spokesman, Oz Sultan, reported that”It’s a project that will build bridges…promoting positive interaction between the Muslim world and the West.” Not only has his proposed project made the divide infinitely greater, but it should have been obvious that such a proposal would increase, rather than reduce, cultural conflict. Rauf’s ethical failures include incompetence, lack of responsibility, and recklessness—if you don’t know what you are doing, and don’t understand the problem, your involvement in it is irresponsible and dangerous. Great plan, Imam.
The “When Your Badly Conceived Bridge Collapses, Blame All the People Who Fall Into the Gorge” Award: Daisy Khan, who is spearheading the project with her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. She told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour:“We are deeply concerned, because this is like a metastasized antisemitism. It’s beyond Islamophobia. It’s hate of Muslims.” Keep bridging that divide, Daisy. I was once at a wedding with a Holocaust survivor. There was string quartet in the service, and it struck up a Joseph Haydn tune from 1797—the same one that became the melody for the German national anthem in 1922, and that the Nazis used to sing. My companion found the associations with the melody unbearable, and had to leave because of the memories the song evoked. Did he Hate music? No. Haydn? Not at all. String quartets? Of course not. He left because the tune reminded him of the death of 6 million Jews, just as a towering Islamic center in the shadow of Ground Zero will remind many Americans of 9/11. It does not mean that Americans hate Muslims. Khan’s comments were unfair and disrespectful of legitimate human reactions to tragedy.
Worst Demagogue Award: Mark Levin. In a close race, the winners are the hosts of conservative talk radio, but Levin is a fair representative of the rest, because he’s louder. The theme is that the real agenda of the Cordoba Center is “Islamic triumphalism,” to place a monument at the site of the 9/11 tragedy intended to mark it as a great victory for Islam. The message is both paranoid and dishonest. It also unfair, ascribing the worst possible motives to a plan based on nothing at all. The organizers are Americans. They should have the benefit of every doubt….even when their plan is stunningly misguided and tasteless.
Worst Argument for Not Arguing About the Mosque: “It will cause resentment against America by millions of foreign Muslims.” Ah, yes, the old “make them happy, or they’ll kill us” argument. Or maybe the argument is “it’s unfair to blame moderate Muslims for the acts of radical Muslims, and besides, all the Muslims will blame all Americans for the arguments a handful of bigots.” Either position is cowardly and a breach of national integrity. In America, we don’t have to censor our sincere opinions to please other Americans; we certainly don’t have to censor our opinions to please non-Americans.
Master of the Obvious Award: President Obama, for declaring with professorial authority that the Constitution guaranteed the right to build a mosque. Yes, thank-you, those of us who have a rudimentary civic education could figure that out, and those who don’t, don’t care. Coupled with his follow-up statement that this doesn’t necessarily mean he thinks the project is wise, the pronouncement was a political tap-dance masquerading as principle, in a local controversy that was none of his business.
The Perfect Stereotype Award: Pamela Geller. If she didn’t exist, as the archtypical wild-eyed, conspiracy-obsessed, Islamophobic hate-monger that she is, the Left would have had to invent her. All one has to do is read Geller’s rantings on her Atlas Shrugs blog (Ayn Rand should sue from the grave) to marvel that much of the media treats a fringe character like this as representative of Cordoba House opponents. Making Pamela Geller the face of the anti-mosque forces is sensational, misleading, unethical journalism at work.
The “When did You Stop Beating Your Wife?” Unfair Attack Award: To all the political pundits on the Right, as well as Republican critics of Obama who have recoiled in shock and horror from the President’s innocuous, bland, and indisputable statement referenced above. Saying that the Constitution guarantees religious freedom is not “siding with Islam against Americans” or any of the other inflammatory and unfair characterizations coming from the winners of this award. It is siding with the law of the land, which is Obama’s sworn duty. What was he supposed to say: “Our government must not permit non-Judeo-Christian structures in our cities”?
The Common Sense Hero Award: Former Democrat Party Chair Howard Dean, who helpfully pointed out that a majority of the country was not Right Wing bigots, and that concerns of American who opposed the proposed center deserved respect.
Most Intellectually Dishonest Pundit Award: The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen (just on this matter, though he would qualify on others), who wrote:
“If you believe that an entire religion of upward of a billion followers attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, then it is understandable that locating a mosque near the fallen World Trade Center might be upsetting. But the facts are otherwise. Islam was not in on the attack — just a sliver of believers. That being the case, those people with legitimate hurt feelings are mistaken. They need our understanding, not our indulgence.”
Lies and sneers: a despicable passage in so many ways. Al Qaeda is a large, well-funded, international Islamic terrorist group, and the 9/11 attack was one of its major operations. Calling the attackers a “sliver of believers” is to willfully misrepresent history. Radical Islam is Islam, just as fundamentalist Christians are still Christians. The attack was carried out in the name of Islam. Arguing that it is unfair to penalize peaceful, moderate American Muslim groups for the acts of a radical, if substantial, minority is fair; claiming that being upset by Islamic symbols used by both moderate groups and the radical group that slaughtered your neighbors is proof of mental deficiency, as Cohen does, is indefensible.
Feckless Champion Award: The Anti-Defamation League, which sided against Cordoba House despite its mission “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.” It should be fighting to support the project, if the organizers decide that offending a lot of Americans is worth a statement about freedom of religious practices. A serious failure of integrity and courage.
The Two Sided Coin Award: Fox News Weeper-in -Chief Glenn Beck. Beck is one of the pushers of the paranoid conspiracy theory that Rauf is part of the effort to establish Sharia law in the U.S., but never mind: his award winning act was holding his “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial, on the same date as Dr. Martin Luthor King’s revered speech. He unwittingly gave anyone who was paying attention a perfect analogy to the mosque controversy, and both sides in the controversy reason to have some respect for the other side’s position. Look at the elements:
- A constitutionally protected activity (assembly; religious practice)
- …held on “hallowed ground” (Ground Zero, The Lincoln Memorial)…
- …occupied by a prominent presence fairly or unfairly associated with positions antithetical to what the “ground” represents. (The mosque, Glenn Beck)…
- …intended as a benign and productive celebration of core values (Diversity; “faith, hope, and charity”)
- …taken as an intentionally provocative insult and act of desecration by some ( “triumphalism”; “stealing the moral authority of Martin Luthor King”)
- …with suspicions of dark motives (Islamic supremacy, Tea Party racism )
- …pushed by cynical demagogues trying to pump up the controversy for their own political purposes ( Al Sharpton; Sarah Palin/Newt Gingrich/ etc;
There is really not a lot of difference (the major difference may be that Glenn Beck isn’t twenty stories tall and won’t be standing around at the Lincoln Memorial for the next 50 years) and the ethical results should have been similar too. Beck should have moved the date of his rally out of respect for those offended by his choice of it and the reasons behind their sensitivity, and the Imam’s group should agree to move the mosque, for the same reason.
But this is an ethics train wreck. It’s probably too late for anything ethical to happen.