Friday, September 03, 2010

"Its force is owed to its precision": Wieseltier's definitive defense of Park51

I have read twisted and perverse arguments by Leon Wieseltier, but I am in awe of the moral clarity he brings to the debate over Park51, the proposed Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero. Its force comes in part by cutting through a bit of cant deployed in support of the project and in defense of Islam generally, and in part by consolidation of common-sense arguments already deployed, and perhaps from some structural progression in his the argument that I can't divine. But essentially, it's a matter of clear thinking informed by internalized principles --  and precision of language.

It's a short piece, and I have no excuse for excerpting it beyond the admirer's impulse to hold jewels up to the light. Here are four of them (with my emphasis):

1. Tossing the red herring
I have no quarrel with the construction of Cordoba House, but not because Islam is a religion of peace. It is not. Like Christianity and like Judaism, Islam is a religion of peace and a religion of war. All the religions have all the tendencies within them, and in varying historical circumstances varying beliefs and practices have come to the fore...Apologetic definitions of Islam will not avail anybody in this struggle.
2. Sacred space defined
[Ground Zero's] is a secular sanctity. I see no justification for establishing a mosque, a church, or a synagogue at Ground Zero, even though Muslims, Christians, and Jews died there. (Irreligious people also died there.) Yet nobody is proposing to establish a mosque at Ground Zero. Sacralization is an act of demarcation: its force is owed to its precision. Outside the line is outside the line. Park Place is outside the line, in the “profane” realm.
3. How tyranny of the majority works
In matters of principle, moreover, polling is beside the point, or an alibi for the tyranny of the majority, or an invitation to demagogues to make divisiveness into a strategy, so that their targets come to seem like they are the ones standing in the way of social peace, and the “decent” thing is for them to fold. Why doesn’t Rauf just move the mosque? That would bring the ugliness to an end. But why don’t Palin and Gingrich just shut up? That, too, would bring the ugliness to an end.
4. Who's throwing stones?
In a time when an alarming number of Muslims wish to imitate Osama bin Laden, here is a Muslim [Imam Rauf] who wishes to imitate Mordecai Kaplan. Turn away, from him? But he may be replaced at his center by less moderate clerics, it is said. To which I would reply with a list of synagogues whose establishment should be regretted because of the fanatical views of their current leaders.
Wieseltier notes in this piece that Imam Rauf has recited the Shema, which Rauf did at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, proclaiming (while addressing himself to Daniel Pearl's father) that if the Shema is the essence of Judaism, "not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl"  (a statement which, as Jeffrey Goldberg has pointed out, could get him killed).  Here Wieseltier returns the favor, placing Jewish crime [e.g., the Baruch Goldstein massacre at Hebron] beside Muslim crime, and Muslim rights beside Jewish rights.  This gesture lends him the authority of someone immersed in his own tradition but not besotted by it.

Christopher Caldwell girds for civilizational war near ground zero


  1. I guess I am supposed to admire the clarity of his arguments, but damn, he's erudite, ain't he?

  2. A great summary of a great article.

  3. The building bought was hit on 9/11 by the landing gear of one of the planes when it tore through it roof. That's NOT outside the line for the majority of Americans.

    This project's insensitivity has not gone unnoticed. The spiking of the Islamic football in the end zone is too much.

    Add to this the many troubling statements made by Imam Feisal Rauf over the years, including his love of sharia law and that Muslims only need this law. Add all this to his financial and legal problems and its not pretty.

    Oh, and the property taxes haven't been paid all year on this building and they owe over $200,000 plus interest.