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Richard Cohen on the Ground Zero Mosque

Of late it has become something of a hobby of mine to point out how the left is becoming increasingly unhinged and alienated from America. The event that seems to have triggered the latest outpouring of rage is the debate about the proposal to build a mosque and community center, led by Imam Rauf, near Ground Zero. It’s not simply the debate itself that is causing the venom; it is that defenders of building the mosque are losing the argument. The public — including those in New York City, that well-known epicenter of conservatism — overwhelmingly sides with those who oppose building the mosque. This is causing some liberals to spin out of control.

The latest liberal to do so, as Jen noted earlier, is Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, who writes:

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” Daisy Khan, a founder of the mosque (and the wife of the imam), rejected any compromise. She was right to do so because to compromise is to accede, even a bit, to the arguments of bigots, demagogues or the merely uninformed. This is no longer her fight. The fight is now all of ours.

It has become something of a cliche, I know, but no one ever put this sort of thing better than William Butler Yeats in his poem “The Second Coming.” “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Some passionate intensity from the best is past due.

Cohen is right about one thing; the Yeats quote is a cliché. But he’s wrong that those who are arguing for a compromise are bigots, demagogues, or merely uninformed. And his argument that what this debate is missing is “passionate intensity” is ludicrous. In fact, the debate has often been dominated by passion rather than by reason, as evidenced by the left’s eagerness to brand the mosque’s opponents as racists, bigots, and Islamophobes. (I have expressed concerns about what some on the right, such as Newt Gingrich, have said as well; see here and here.)

In addition, the deep, eternal meaning the left has tried to infuse this issue with — the effort to cast this debate as pitting the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness, between those who revere the Constitution and those who want to shred it — is both wrong and slightly amusing. One can imagine the lyrics of Peter, Paul, and Mary running through the minds of animated liberals everywhere. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. v. Bull Connor all over again.

This is not a debate about high constitutional principle; if it were, presumably President Obama — the icon of so many liberals and a former professor of constitutional law — would have taken a stand on where the mosque belongs. Instead, he has refused to say what he thinks. The debate is about whether it is prudent and wise for Imam Rauf to build the mosque and community center within two blocks of Ground Zero. And on this, reasonable people can disagree.

On this particular matter one other point needs to be repeated: If the point of this enterprise was to deepen interfaith dialogue and understanding, it has failed miserably. And if those insisting the mosque be built at the original location persist in their efforts — if they heed Cohen’s advice and jettison compromise as morally treasonous — things will get a good deal worse. Contrary to what some liberals are arguing, no great constitutional principle will have been ratified. Instead, a debate that is harmful to our country, including to Muslim Americans, will be intensified.

This is potentially dangerous stuff we’re dealing with — and I can’t understand why those who insist that they are pining for reconciliation and comity are pushing an idea that is doing the opposite.


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