Hitchens On Crass Responses To The Proposed Ground Zero Islamic Center

Noting the shadiness and creepiness of public remarks by Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the plan to build a mosque blocks away from the former site of the Twin Towers, Christopher Hitchens is nonetheless repulsed by the tactics adopted by his opposition.  Starting with Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, he writes:

Supporting those relatives of the 9/11 victims who have opposed Cordoba House, he drew a crass analogy with the Final Solution and said that, like Holocaust survivors, “their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.” This cracked tune has been taken up by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who additionally claim to be ventriloquizing the emotions of millions of Americans who did not suffer bereavement. It has also infected the editorial pages of the normally tougher-mindedWeekly Standard, which called on President Obama to denounce the Cordoba House on the grounds that a 3-to-1 majority of Americans allegedly find it “offensive.”

Where to start with this part-pathetic and part-sinister appeal to demagogy? To begin with, it borrows straight from the playbook of Muslim cultural blackmail. Claim that something is “offensive,” and it is as if the assertion itself has automatically become an argument. You are even allowed to admit, as does Foxman, that the ground for taking offense is “irrational and bigoted.” But, hey—why think when you can just feel? The supposed “feelings” of the 9/11 relatives have already deprived us all of the opportunity to see the real-time footage of the attacks—a huge concession to the general dulling of what ought to be a sober and continuous memory of genuine outrage. Now extra privileges have to be awarded to an instant opinion-poll majority. Not only that, the president is urged to use his high office to decide questions of religious architecture!

Nothing could be more foreign to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment or the principle of the “wall of separation.”Nothing could be more foreign to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment or the principle of the “wall of separation.”

And on the decision to call it Cordoba House:

I notice that even the choice of the name Cordoba has offended some Christian opponents of the scheme. This wonderful city in Andalusia, after the Muslim conquest of southern Spain, was indeed one of the centers of the lost Islamic caliphate that today’s jihadists have sworn in blood to restore. And after the Catholic reconquista, it was also one of the places purged of all Arab and Jewish influence by the founders of the Inquisition. But in the interval between these two imperialisms it was also the site of an astonishing cultural synthesis, best associated with the names of Averroes ibn-Rushd and Moses Maimonides. (The finest recent book on the subject is María Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World.) Here was a flourishing of philosophy and medicine and architecture that saw, among other things, the recovery of the works of Aristotle. We need not automatically assume the good faith of those who have borrowed this noble name for a project in lower Manhattan. One would want assurances, also, about the transparency of its funding and the content of its educational programs. But the way to respond to such overtures is by critical scrutiny and engagement, not cheap appeals to parochialism, victimology, and unreason.

Read all his considerations here.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Hitch

    People like to dismiss Hitchens as raging islamophobe. What he really is is fiercly opposed to theocracy.

    He doesn’t oppose concepts, he opposed false apologies and guilt-associations.

    Unfortunately I don’t think we have a space for his kind of deliberation. People do not listen to this. Too many sides are interested in shallow demagoguery, and that goes both for the US right wing who quite evidentally use this to motivate the electorate, as well as advocates for the mosque who too jerk emotional chains rather than engage in critical dialogue.

    I am on principle of libarlism for the house, but I fully appreciate Hitchens’ call to critical scruitiny of what people say.

    If someone is indeed opposed to the house it should be based on the ideas of people who want it built, and the function it will serve, and not on stereotypes.

    What does concern me is that I see very little expression of pluralistic toleration coming from many advocates for the house. It’s seen as tolerance for Islam, but not as a call for tolerance broadly. Too me that is ultimately what worries me. Not whether or not there is a mosque in that particular location.

    I do find myself not always aligned with Hitchens on this topic. But I virtually always appeciate his honest description and his high level of integrity. In fact the best apology for the Iraq war that I know is Hitchens’. I disagree with him, but at least his reasons have standard, completely unlike the reasons we were given by actual neocons.


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