Mosquerading as the Truth: The (near) Ground Zero "Mosque" and Political Rhetoric

A few days ago I (and the rest of her Twitter followers) was asked by Sarah Palin via a Twitter post to view the following video:

In the last two weeks I’ve read many insightful articles and arguments about this Mosque Community Center at near Ground Zero. And my purpose here is not to rehash those arguments. For those interested, let me suggest this article by Steve Chapman called Republicans for Religious Freedom and the recent New York Times article on Feisal Abdul, the Imam who is founding the center. Both articles clearly have an agenda (as all writing does), but they are primarily informative, discussing the legal context of the Mosque and the personal history of its Imam respectively. Instead, I’d like to primarily focus on the way this ad presents its argument against the Mosque and why it is important to carefully interpret political messages like this one.

Many Christians have been very vocal about their opposition to the Mosque and ads like this one have contributed to the opposition by using the voices of family members who lost loved ones in the September 11th attack. These ads and others like them are certainly moving. Who can watch this ad and not feel sympathy for these victims? But as Christians we have an obligation to be charitable and loving to our neighbors and our enemies, those we agree with politically and those we disagree with. One way we can act charitably is by supporting political and religious messages which are reasonable, honest, and loving.

While this video has a lot that we could discuss–for example, what is the rhetorical purpose of the stories that are told? How are these stories evidence that the Mosque should not be built?–what I’d like to focus on is the final few seconds of the video. If you haven’t done so already, please watch or re-watch the video and pay careful attention to the last line.

Sometimes in order to accurately understand an argument it is helpful to reword the argument in as few words as possible. What this can do is strip away the emotional or rhetorical language that might be hiding a less appealing argument. Let’s try to do that with the last line. This is how the ad ends: “We understand they can build where they want to build. All we ask is that they use some good sense and think about what they are doing.”

In the first sentence, he acknowledges that these Muslims have the legal rights to build “where they want to build.” In the second sentence, he implies that if they use “good sense” they will realize that what they are doing is wrong. But what is this “good sense”? That is the key to this ad’s argument.

We can translate his statement something like this: “You are being disrespectful to the memories of our dead loved ones by not agreeing with us that you are our enemies, by acting as if you were not responsible for their deaths. Although it is your right to worship there, it is immoral for you to not acknowledge our belief that we are at war against Islam, and therefore you. If you used good sense, you’d realize that you are our enemies.”

Or, put another way: “Good sense” = “acknowledging the Us vs Them [America vs Islam] dichotomy.”

Patriotism, our Faith, and our emotions can often allow us to ignore the ugly side to arguments like this one. I would hope that after thinking through the final statement of this ad, most of us would acknowledge that it is repugnant to demand that another group of people view themselves as our enemies simply because we say so; it is certainly not loving.

As believers, we need to be very careful about the political causes we support. American Christians often tend to be more vocal about their political views than their Faith, and that means that the world will pay particular attention to the way we witness or fail to witness to Christ’s Grace through our political actions. We have then an imperative to be discerning about the messages we support. Although I used an example from the recent Ground Zero Mosque debate, and I hope that it will encourage fellow believers to rethink their opposition to this planned Community Center, this level of discernment is important for all political issues. Christ promised us that we would be persecuted in this life, but we should seek to live in such a way that our persecution comes from acts of love and mercy which testify to Christ’s sacrifice of love, not from our support of political movements, agendas, and messages which are deceptive and unloving. So let me encourage you to thoughtful discern not just your opponent’s political message, but also your own.

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