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Factchecking the NYT Ground Zero Mosque Editorial

No, there are not a bunch of Confederate monuments in the Union states, and the few there are were not erected for "graciousness and reconciliation."

by
John Rosenberg

Bio

September 9, 2010 - 12:00 am

In a recent editorial the New York Times found it “appalling” that, according to a poll it had commissioned, over two-thirds of New Yorkers were no better than all the bigoted and benighted Americans living in the hinterlands west of the Hudson in their lack of immunity “to suspicion and to a sadly wary misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans.”

One example that shocked and saddened the Times is that when respondents were asked “whether they thought Muslim-Americans were ‘more sympathetic to terrorists’ than other citizens, 33% said yes, a discouraging figure.”

I must say that I find that 33% figure surprising. I thought it would have been higher, since by now many New Yorkers are aware of the comments of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He refuses to describe Hamas as a terrorist organization (nor can other “moderate” imams). He thinks that U.S. policies were an “accessory” to 9/11, “that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims,” and that (from a letter he wrote to the New York Times in 1977) “Israel will, in our lifetimes, become one more Arab country, with a Jewish minority.”

These comments, and others like them, do not prove that the imam supports terrorism, but if they reflect what “moderate” American Muslims believe, it does not seem unreasonable for 33% of New Yorkers — or even many more — to believe that Muslims are more “sympathetic” to terrorists than other citizens. Especially since many Muslims believe no infidels are “innocent” and hence killing them is not terrorism.

The Times editorial was effectively eviscerated by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal for its “muddled thinking and self-righteous attitudinizing” (“Times to City: Drop Dead”), but I would like to call attention to a particularly tendentious historical analogy that is mind-boggling in its obliviousness to history and even to the Times’s own historical posture. The Times editorial pontificates:

The country often has had the wisdom to choose graciousness and reconciliation over triumphalism, as is plain from the many monuments to Confederate soldiers in northern states, including the battlefield at Gettysburg.

Confederate monuments in northern states? Really? Where?

Except for the monuments at Gettysburg, I’m not sure there are any Confederate monuments in northern states, aside from one or two in the border states of Maryland, Delaware, and Missouri, and Wikipedia apparently doesn’t know of any either. I shall turn below to the Times’ transparently insincere (and as far as I can tell, unique in its modern history) embrace of “graciousness and reconciliation” toward former Confederates, but first it is worth pausing to consider its argument that the proposed Ground Zero mosque should be welcomed in the same spirit as the Confederate monuments at Gettysburg.

The editors of the Times are obviously unaware of the history of placing Confederate monuments at Gettysburg. The first monument to any Confederates did not appear there until 21 years after the battle (honoring the 1st Maryland Battalion), “after a great deal of resistance from the battlefield commission authorities,” and “[i]t took years for the next to follow,” in large part because “the battlefield commission was controlled by Union veterans whose rules discouraged the meaningful placement of Confederate monuments.” With that first monument (and subsequently) there were fierce debates over placement. As Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields, a monumental (pardon the pun) study, observed:

The Confederate veterans wanted to place it where they had penetrated Union lines on Culp’s Hill on the second day of the battle, but the GBMA objected, claiming that the “erection of an ex-Confederate monument within the Union lines [would set] an important precedent.”

It was placed elsewhere. Sound familiar?

The delayed “reconciliation” here celebrated by the Times that eventually allowed the appearance of additional Confederate monuments at Gettysburg (but not until well into the next century — the first was Virginia’s monument in 1917) does have one striking similarity to the reconciliation with American Muslims that the Times sees symbolized by the Ground Zero mosque. It is not, however, a similarity that strengthens the Times’s argument.

Just as critics of the Ground Zero mosque believe its Muslim supporters remain insufficiently assimilated to America and too sympathetic to alien values, the “reconciliation” with the former Confederates represented by the acceptance of their monuments occurred on decidedly Confederate terms. As Yale’s David Brion Davis, one of the leading historians of slavery and anti-slavery, wrote (as it happens, 10 days before 9/11):

The United States is only now beginning to recover from the Confederacy’s ideological victory following the Civil War. Though the South lost the battles, for more than a century it attained its goal: that the role of slavery in America’s history be thoroughly diminished, even somehow removed as a cause of the war. The reconciliation of North and South required a national repudiation of Reconstruction as “a disastrous mistake”; a wide-ranging white acceptance of “Negro inferiority” and of white supremacy in the South; and a distorted view of slavery as an unfortunate but benign institution that was damaging for whites morally but helped civilize and Christianize “African savages.”

Despite Prof. Davis’s almost tendentious moralism, there is much evidence for his point of view in the un-Reconstructed values expressed in many of the dedications of the Southern monuments at Gettysburg. As reported in Sacred Ground, Henry Carter Stuart, governor of Virginia, remarked in dedicating his state’s monument in 1917 that the conflict between the sections had been caused only by “divergent views of [the] Constitution.” Robert E. Lee, he continued, remained a model for those “rallying to the defense of our liberty against the aggression of a foreign foe.”

Another of the Virginia dedications went further, declaring that Virginia’s motives in the war were pure because Lee and indeed the whole state opposed slavery, and moreover “that Southern whites, not blacks, bore the real burden of slavery,” and he “insisted that the governing of a ‘race incapable of self-government’ brought a greater benefit to the governed than the governors.’”

The next monument honoring Confederates was not installed at Gettysburg until 1929 (North Carolina), and Alabama’s followed in 1933. The remaining Confederate states did not begin to place monuments on the battlefield until the 1960s, and Tennessee’s, in 1982, is the last. Controversies continued to shadow these monuments. In 1965, for example, the Gettysburg park historian objected to an inscription on the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument that characterized the Confederates as “defenders of their country,” and in 1971 the park superintendent objected to the Mississippi Gettysburg Memorial Commission’s use of the phrase “righteous cause” in its monument’s inscription.

Presumably the editors of the New York Times would not have been so enthusiastic about the “graciousness and reconciliation” extended to the erring Southern sisters in welcoming Confederate monuments at Gettysburg if they had bothered to familiarize themselves with the nature of that reconciliation, just as they have not extended much sympathy to those displaying Confederate flags more recently.

But if it is true that the Times would not have welcomed onto hallowed ground representatives of any group that regarded the Klan as righteous and refused to describe it as a terrorist organization, why does it call for welcoming self-described (and elite media-described) Muslim “moderates” who refuse to describe Hamas as terrorist and look forward to the day when Jews will be a minority in an Arab Israel with “graciousness and reconciliation”?

What would be a most welcome and pleasant change would be for the Times and its favorite op-ed pontificators to start treating Republicans, tea partiers, and even ordinary conservatives with the same spirit of “graciousness and reconciliation” that it extends to dead Confederates and Muslim Ground Zero mosque organizers of questionable moderation.

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.
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