Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Just Build the Damn Thing

Travelling in the second half of last week, I had occasion to realize how pervasive the TV news coverage of the "ground zero mosque" has become -- perhaps in part because it is doubtless a dream situation for TV news producers: All you have to do is draw 3-4 people into the studio and have them debate the question for twenty minutes, throw in a couple of commercial breaks, and voila! you have another 1/48th of the twenty-four-hour news cycle. I was reminded again of how glad I am to have cancelled the cable TV subscription and never put up an antenna.

As I think about it, this seems to me a made-for-TV controversy in more ways than one. For all the talk about this being the "ground zero mosque", the location two blocks away will not be visible from the WTC monument itself, and is currently occupied by sacred precincts such as the offices of the University of Pheonix, Marty's Shoes and the Dakota Roadhouse. This is New York, for goodness sake. A thirteen story building isn't exactly going to stick out. And the visible symbols of religion closes to Ground Zero will remain St. Peter's Catholic Church, St. Paul's Episcopal, and John Street United Methodist. (If anything, it's a little disappointing the plans for the mosque look rather like a vertical shoebox with abstract patters on it -- no minarets here.)

Aside from the necessity of selling news, this project would be a mildly notable local event, leading to a mildly distinctive-looking building that people would rush by every day without thinking about it very much in that teeming mass of diverse humanity which is New York. The most "bridge building" likely to go on would be people stopping in at the halal food court for lunch.

But the media must earn a crust and find a way to fill the time, and so it's time that we have one of these tiresome "national conversations" -- this time about religious freedom and forgiveness and building bridges and the nature of Islam. Perhaps I've turned grumpy or obtuse, but I think it's rather a tremendous waste of time. The idea that much of anything would be out of place in New York seems rather hard to credit. And once all the fuss has died down, and it's become clear that there's really not much of anything that can be done about how the owners want to develop this particular piece of real estate, then the thing will be built and people will walk by it every day, and it will be just as forgotten as all the other national conversations we've felt the unaccountable need to have over the last few years.

And if I may stray further into heresy against conservative orthodoxies: I think we need to get over our 9-11 exceptionalism a little bit here too. Given our place and preeminence in the world, the question pre 2001 was not so much whether the US would suffer a major terrorist attack, but when. Chances were good we'd eventually be attacked for foreign terrorists. Chances were good those terrorist would be of an Islamic background. And compared to the Tom Clancy type visions people had been reading for years, the real thing was actually a lot less destructive than it could have been. Goodness knows I'm all for sober recollection of the dead, but this is teeming, bustling New York. Build a monument where the WTC stood, and then just get on with live elsewhere. This isn't some half-abandoned Mainstreet USA where we need to sit around agonizing with the city fathers about every building that's renovated or put up.

Perhaps I read too much Heinlein at a formative age, but I'd tend to picture the US as the sort of dominant power which says to the world: "You're welcome to come here and enjoy our liberties so long as you behave yourselves and follow our laws. If not, we'll level your cities and depose your leaders. Once we're done, we'll rebuild your cities better than before, give you a better government, and leave you the hell alone unless you make the mistake of attacking us again in which case God help you."

Let them build.

10 comments:

bearing said...

hear, hear.

The media has been truly shameless. The AP released a story this morning that read in part: "President Barack Obama continues to be criticized by families of those killed at ground zero on Sept. 11 for saying Muslims have a right to exercise their religious freedom, including at a planned mosque two blocks from the site."

I don't think anyone, except a few nutcases, and hardly "families of those killed at ground zero" generally, is criticizing President Obama for saying Muslims have a right to exercise their religious freedom.

Actually, the AP wording was different a few hours ago -- it used to leave out the "including at a planned mosque..." clause.

Love2Learn Mom said...

Amen.

victor said...

It's beginning to look more and more to me like there was never any intent to build a cultural center / mosque at that site to begin with. From what I read today, the organizers haven't raised anywhere close to the amount of money they'd need even for a down payment on the location, much less architects, builders, etc. Nor do they have any idea where they'll get the funding from. So this appears to have been less a serious attempt to build a mosque than some sort of stunt to show the folks back home how "intolerant" and "Islamophobic" the US "really is".

Either that or they have TERRIBLE project management skills.

Anonymous said...

The local community board approved this project last year. In December both the NYT and Fox News ran stories on it to no public reaction whatsoever. That Republicans (I refuse to call them conservatives) are having a hissy fit about it now perhaps illustrates what Stephen Bainbridge was talking about when he said a couple weeks ago that he is becoming ashamed to call himself a Republican.

Joel

cliff said...

First let's see if Saudi Arabia invites Christians to build churches. Gee, that might be a sign of respect & tolerance. Sorry folks, the Mohamedans want to kill the infidel (that's us Christians btw) and impose Islam on the whole world. It's their so-called religion. Pray for their conversion to Christ. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

JMB said...

I live in a town that lost 11 citizens to the 9/11 attacks. What I think is more pressing than the mosque is the fact that there is still nothing built on the ground zero site almost 9 years later. It's just sad.

Darwin said...

Agreed, JMB.

Anonymous said...

The media worships victims and this is the Battle of the Victims: the mosque builders on whose behalf the Left screams 'Islamophobia!' and many of the 9-11 families and their still raw sensibilities.

Meanwhile the Imam declares to a newspaper in Bahrain that all the attention "is a sign of success." Perhaps the sign of success is it helps paint Muslims as victims and raises money.

Anonymous said...

JMB, I think it's perfectly normal that nothing has been built on the site 9 years later. This is New York, after all, where politics is built on a foundation of greed, lust for power, and ego. If all the local authorities had just put aside their differences and agreed on what and how to build, in a reasonable time, with no lawsuits or animosity in sight, then I would be worried.

A comedian said that after 9-11 the people of NYC seemed to walk on eggshells for a long time, months. But finally one day he saw a man masturbating on the sidewalk in broad daylight. "You know, we're gonna be OK."

Anonymous said...

Above comment is me.

Joel