Archive for August, 2010



Ground Zero “Mosque” Opposition: Some Thoughts

Published August 29th, 2010 by tcarpenter

I haven’t weighed-in on the “ground zero mosque” controversy before, although some of my colleagues at the Cato Institute have done so on both sides of the issue.  However, the tone of the opposition to the building of the mosque (actually a multi-functional Islamic cultural center) makes me increasingly uneasy.  

First of all, while most opponents of the Cordoba House project acknowledge that there is a legal right to buid the center, and insist that their objection to it is based solely on the lack of “decency” of erecting a symbol of Islam on that site, their actions often belie such assurances.  After all, the initial action  that opponents took was to try to get the New York City government to deny a building permit.   That didn’t exactly show respect for the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment.

Second, opponents almost always stress the “hallowed ground” aspect of the proposed site for the center–some 2 1/2 blocks from ground zero.   But there are several problems with that argument.  Most notably, there are already two other (smaller) mosques and several other religious buildings in the immediate area–not to mention shops, restaurants, and porno outlets.  Do opponents of the new Cordoba House want those structures to be bulldozed?  They don’t appear to advocate that step.  So why the outrage over this project?

Third, while some of the opposition to the building of Cordoba House reflects genuine anguish on the part of people who lost friends or relatives on 9-11, and for whom the sight of a major Islamic center so close to ground zero would be a cause of further pain, there is something much broader–and uglier–at work.  The “proximity to ground zero” argument does not explain why there have been equally virulent campaigns against proposed mosques and other Islamic structures in such places as Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida, and Virginia.  What’s the justification in those cases?  Proximity to the Grand Old Opry, Lambeau Field, the Manassas battlefield, and Disney World?  No, those campaigns reveal an underlying religious bigotry.  Muslims may be the latest targets of that intolerance, but they’re hardly the only ones.  In earlier periods, Jews, Mormons, and other religious minorities experienced similar discrimination.

Finally, those who spew vitriol in response to the Cordoba House project need to understand that they are playing with social and foreign policy dynamite.  Contrary to some hawks who would like nothing better than a holy war against Islam, the United States is not at war with all Muslims.  We are at war with a small faction of radical Muslims.  But moderate Muslims in the United States and around the world are watching the Cordoba House controversy.  And some moderate Muslims are already being radicalized because of their anger at the opposition to that project.

Critics need to understand that an ill-advised position on this issue could help lead to a disastrous self-fulfilling prophecy in which most Muslims, both here and abroad, do end up hating the United States and becoming mortal enemies of this country.  The consequences of that kind of religious war are too horrible to contemplate.  Even those Americans who do not like many of the values put forth by Islam, and I count myself among them, need to stand up for the principle of religious tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.  That is both the prudent thing to do and the morally right thing to do.

Bipartisan Economic Mess

Published August 7th, 2010 by tcarpenter

The campaigns are well underway for the midterm congressional elections, and the vast quantities of hot air being vented could explain the extraordinarily high temperatures most the country has been experiencing this summer.  One of the most irritating features of this campaign season is the apparent GOP assumption that Americans have been afflicted by collective amnesia.  Republican officials and propagandists repeatedly savage the Obama administration for the ongoing Great Recession.

Some of their criticisms are valid.  The 2009 prediction by the head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors that the unemployment rate would be kept below 8 percent was spectacularly off the mark.  The $700 billion “stimulus package” was a combination of the usual pork-barrel spending and utterly goofy spending schemes.  And the apparent intentions of the administration and the Democrats in Congress to let most of the Bush tax cuts (one of the few good things that dreadful administration did) expire could well  make an already very bad recession even worse.

But Republican partisans apparently want everyone to forget about when this recession began and who was running economic policy when it did.  Obama’s policies have been unwise, at best, but he did inherit a colossal economic mess when he took office.  Republicans act as though the recession began on January 20, 2009.  But the plunge was underway well before then.  The residential housing market started to collapse in 2006 and 2007, and the economy officially went into recession in December 2007.  The financial system began to melt down in mid-2008, intensifying the downturn. 

All of this happened with a Republican White House and GOP appointees in charge of the Federal Reserve, the Department of the Treasury, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  One would like to see at least a little acknowledgment of responsibility for the debacle instead of the current cynical, partisan effort to put all the blame on the Democrats and the Obama administration.

The Great Recession is a bipartisan economic tragedy.  Republicans were primarily responsible for its onset, and the Democrats have managed to make a bad situation even worse.