This is delicious: Supporters of the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” are so desperate that they are calling on the Great Satan himself — that’s President George W. Bush to you and me — to support the project. Yes, that’s right: all those “Bush=Hitler” signs have been temporarily retired as the large left flank of the commentariat casts about for authoritative voices to help them put through this project to besmirch the memories of the nearly 3000 people who died at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. So we have the comedic spectacle of Maureen Dowd — Maureen Dowd! — writing in the New York Times that “it’s time for W. to weigh in,” explaining that the former president “understands” — when was the last time Maureen Dowd accused George W. Bush of understanding anything? — that “you can’t have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam.”
Byron York, reporting on this gratifying development in the Washington Examiner, also has some lovely quotations from Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post (“I … would love to hear from former President Bush on this issue”) and former New Republic editor Peter Beinart (“I pine for George W. Bush”).
Now it’s true that President Bush muddied the waters when he proclaimed, a few days after 9/11, that Islam means “peace.” In fact, the word Islam means “submission,” as in submission to the will of Allah, given to a grateful mankind through the teachings of a Dark Ages warrior, mystic, and polygamist, and codified in the stern imperatives of Islamic law, a.k.a. Shariah. Still, while Bush said “Islam is peace” and hosted, as did Bill Clinton, iftar dinners at the White House, his actions clearly showed that he understood that the battle against terrorism was much broader than a battle against al-Qaeda.
My own view, which I’ve stated in this space before, is that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with “foundational Western values like free speech, the separation of church and state, and equality under the law. Such things are not simply missing from Islam: they are positively repudiated by Islam.”
In the September issue of The New Criterion (out soon at www.newcriterion.com), I weigh in on the controversy over Ground Zero mosque, noting that, although it may soon recede from the headlines, it raises some very large issues concerning tolerance, the relation of rights to tolerable behavior, and the compatibility of Islam with liberal democracy. It also, as Andrew C. McCarthy noted at NRO, “powerfully demonstrates” the growing divide between the American people and the progressive ruling class.” One side endeavors to defeat the enemies of freedom and tolerance. The other seeks to accommodate them, believing, McCarthy observes, that “they are moving us toward a better, smarter policy that will reduce the threat by making our enemies like us better.”
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.