President Obama did an enormous amount to muddy the waters by publicly informing us that “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”
Thanks for the civics lesson, Prez! The problem is, no one disputes that right. That is, no one in this country disputes it — but don’t go trying to hold a Mass, build a church or temple, or sell a Bible in Saudi Arabia. Thinking of traveling to Mecca for your next vacation? If you’re not Muslim you can’t go there; it is against the law. It might indeed be interesting to have a discussion about rights in a country like Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Muslim world. For those of us fortunate enough to live in Western democracies, however, our lives are governed not only by formal rights but a tapestry of other considerations. As I note in The New Criterion, the fact that one has an abstract right to do something does not entail that one has license to do it regardless of other considerations. Rights are embedded in larger social imperatives that direct and qualify how they may be exercised. There are plenty of things you may have a right to do but that would be wrong to attempt. The philosopher John Searle touched on one aspect of this fact when he noted:
“From the proposition that one has a right to do something it does not follow that it is a right or even a morally permissible thing to do. Any healthy human institution—family, state, university, or ski team—grants its members rights that far exceed the bounds of morally acceptable behavior. There are many reasons for this. One is that the flexibility necessary for free, successful, and creative behavior requires a big gulf between what the institution grants by way of rights and what it has to expect if it is to succeed. The gulf between the rights granted and the performance expected is bridged by the responsibility of the members.”
Muslims have a right to build houses of worship in the United States. That does not mean that it is morally permissible for them to build one at Ground Zero. Think about building a shrine to Japanese militarism at Pearl Harbor. Or consider the proposal by Greg Gutfeld of Fox News. In order to foster “understanding and tolerance,” he has suggested building a gay bar catering to Islamic homosexuals right next to the Ground Zero mosque. A spokesman for the mosque project responded that “if you won’t consider the sensibilities of Muslims you’re not going to build dialogue.” Right. And how about considering the sensibilities of Americans who regard the building of an Islamic community center next to Ground Zero as a provocative slap in the face? How is that for building “dialogue”?
The bottom line is this: Islam is a proselytizing, intolerant religion. Its aim is to institute Sharia as the “sole reference point for . . . ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community . . . and state.” That is the end. The means are multifarious. Steering commercial aircraft into American skyscrapers is only one tactic. Using and abusing liberal democratic freedoms in order to promulgate an ideology that is neither liberal nor democratic is less ostentatious but may in the end be more effective precisely because it is less dramatic. This is the lasting significance of the case of the Ground Zero mosque. It represents another step on the march to Islamize the West. As Nancy Reagan put it, just say No.