August 17, 2010

Ground Zero, the Mosque, and the Sacred

Carroll Andrew Morse

Robert Nisbet, the noted American sociologist from the last century, identified a set of sociological ideas that couldn’t directly be derived from the other social sciences and therefore defined sociology as a distinct discipline. One such idea was that of "the sacred". As is true of most basic sociological concepts (as identified by Nisbet and others before and after) creating a concise, ironclad definition of the sacred not easy. But dismissing the sacred because it is hard to define will lead to serious misunderstandings about how humans and their societies interact, usually while irritating (or worse) a whole bunch of people in the process.

Charles Krauthammer did a very good job of establishing a sense of the sacred in his recent op-ed the Cordoba Initiative mosque planned for Ground Zero in New York City...

A place is made sacred by a widespread belief that it was visited by the miraculous or the transcendent (Lourdes, the Temple Mount), by the presence there once of great nobility and sacrifice (Gettysburg), or by the blood of martyrs and the indescribable suffering of the innocent (Auschwitz).

When we speak of Ground Zero as hallowed ground, what we mean is that it belongs to those who suffered and died there -- and that such ownership obliges us, the living, to preserve the dignity and memory of the place, never allowing it to be forgotten, trivialized, or misappropriated.

The key point is that it is important to recognize Ground Zero as someplace sacred, and not just something historical, because the rules for interacting with the sacred are not the same for interacting with the secular, and because both natures are presently involved in the contentions over the Cordoba Initiative mosque.

For that which is secular, people and organizations can apply wholly rational ideas, e.g. fairness, efficiency, process-based decisioning etc., to resolve discordant pressures for change. But where the sacred is involved, attitudes are fundamentally different. There is an inclination against subjecting what is held sacred to outside pressures -- especially when those pressures originate with non-sacred sources. This doesn’t mean that the sacred brooks no change at all, but that the mechanisms for change must make sense to the sacred on its own terms.

Many advocates for the Ground Zero Mosque are ignoring this dynamic. As a result, they are presenting arguments for building the mosque in ways that are deeply unsatisfying, even to those who may not view the Mosque as an intentional affront. Whether they realize it or not, arguing that the "right to build" defines the extent of the issue is to argue that Ground Zero has no more meaning than a flood plain, or a building code, or other such secular things that are considered when deciding to build any run-of-the-mill physical structure. Even worse, supposedly content-neutral process-oriented arguments about the right-to-build are being used to reach a conclusion that elevates one manifestation of the sacred (the Cordoba Initiative mosque) a little bit over another (Ground Zero).

Using secular process to prioritize the sacred is rarely a wise course of action, and taking one instance of the sacred and intertwining it with some secular rules to over-run another instance of the sacred is an exceedingly poor start for a mission of peaceful outreach -- especially when the idea of the sacred being devalued is one that is held by the people you are trying to reach. It is certainly not a strategy guaranteed to win more converts than it alienates, and it will awaken the possibility in some minds that fundamentally incompatible ideas about what is sacred may be clashing.

Laying out the problem in this way suggests two possible constructive ways forward. One way is to reduce as much as possible the secular arbitration of the final outcome, to remove secular forces from the position they should not be in of choosing which version of the sacred should trump another. Both mosque proponents and opponents need to say that, regardless of what the law allows, they are going to sit down together and find the common ground. This would cut both ways, e.g. denying the right to build a mosque on some lame preservation grounds would be as bad as insisting that the legal right to build a mosque ends any necessary discussion. I am not suggesting that this would lead to a quick resolution.

The other way forward would be to show people that the practices and principles that favor support of the building a mosque at Ground Zero are themselves manifestations of something sacred. Is that too much of a stretch? It may very well be -- if all that is left of freedom of religion in America is a belief that every religious organization must follow identical procedures when interacting with the surrounding society. If, on the other hand, American-style freedom of religion means something more, something intended to enhance a set of sacred-in-their-own-right practices about liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and meant to allow people living here together to be able to get closer to some common conceptions that we all can accept as sacred, then there might be some room for productive discussion in this vein.

Either way, it seems that if the Cordoba Initiative is sincere, the immediate goal shouldn't be building a mosque at Ground Zero, but instead building an environment, where building their mosque near Ground Zero isn’t controversial, through interacting and respecting what the society around them holds sacred. The wonderful thing about the sacred is that advancing it and building it up doesn’t have to depend on building a physical structure.

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The more I read about this the sillier the whole thing seems. It's not even a 'mosque', and it's two full blocks away from Ground Zero.

That might not sound like much, but the 'sacred' tone in that neighborhood (and yes, there still is a persistent somber mood to the actual abutting areas) isn't even perceptible from the proposed site. You can't even -see- ground zero from this place, or vice versa. (,+manhattan,+ny&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=51+Park+Pl,+New+York,+10007&gl=us&ei=AehqTPD9DJDGsAONq50z&ved=0CBQQ8gEwAA&z=16&layer=c&cbll=40.713716,-74.01022&panoid=Us4xiwH8CceaIJoQTKt8fg&cbp=12,53.63,,0,-18.01 )

So instead of calling it a 'Mosque at Ground Zero', we should call it a 'Islamic Cultural Center in Lower Manhattan'.

Also, for those who oppose it... Would you oppose a Mosque in your own neighborhood? If so, your opposition to this might not have as much to do with 'ground zero' at all.

I also think it's pretty fiscally irresponsible and quite hypocritical to lobby for an abandoned building instead of a privately-funded development like this.

Posted by: mangeek at August 17, 2010 3:52 PM

Conservative Leader "No More Mosques"

Bryan Fischer, the "Director of Issues Analysis" for the American Family Association, wrote a blog post, on the AFA's site arguing that the United States should have "no more mosques, period

Posted by: Sammy at August 17, 2010 5:41 PM

In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Republican candidates have denounced plans for a large Muslim center proposed near a subdivision, and hundreds of protesters have turned out for a march and a county meeting.

In late June, in Temecula, Calif., members of a local Tea Party group took dogs and picket signs to Friday prayers at a mosque that is seeking to build a new worship center on a vacant lot nearby.

In Sheboygan, Wis., a few Christian ministers led a noisy fight against a Muslim group that sought permission to open a mosque in a former health food store bought by a Muslim doctor.

In all of the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself. They quote passages from the Koran

While a high-profile battle rages over a mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, heated confrontations have also broken out in communities across the country where mosques are proposed for far less hallowed locations.

Posted by: Sammy at August 17, 2010 5:52 PM

And the more I listen to the debate, Mangeek, the more I ask, "why here?" Why must a mosque be built here?

And it is a mosque. The whole building will not be a mosque; there will be a mosque contained within the building to be built on this site. Not sure why you're saying we shouldn't call it a mosque.

There are scores of mosques in New York and hundreds (thousands?) around the United States. Accordingly, the issue is not intolerance; both NY and the US have repeatedly proven that they respect freedom of religion. The claim of intolerance is invalid.

Sure, technically, this is not Ground Zero. It's only two blocks back! In fact, some have been making the case that this building actually is part of Ground Zero because it was damaged by landing gear which flew off one of the doomed airplanes as it struck the World Trade Center.

No one is saying, just abandon this building. (Apparently, it has to be torn down, anyway, due to the damage it sustained on 9/11. Personally, I hope they build a nice, big, juicy, tax-paying, commercial building there so we can send less taxes to New York.) They're saying, why, of all things, put a mosque there?

To answer your question, I could care less whether they built a mosque next door to me. Go for it. It would, however, be a huge problem if the religious principles of that mosque (or church or temple) began creeping into our government and our judiciary. On that subject, let me ask you a question, Mangeek. What did you think of that New Jersey judge who refused to intersede on behalf of a wife seeking a restraining order but said it was okay for a husband to continue raping and abusing her because, quoting the judge, "that's your way", referencing the fact that the couple were Islamic?

Posted by: Monique at August 17, 2010 8:54 PM

I find it hard to believe this debate is actually going on at all. You can't selectively prohibit a religion, business or anybody else who is legally within their rights to build something that somebody else could. Or something like that.

I could care less about political correctness, the law is the law, and we simply must abide by it.

Of course, the people who choose to build a mosque there are showing such arrogance and stupidity it is mind boggling.

Posted by: michael at August 17, 2010 9:34 PM

"It would, however, be a huge problem if the religious principles of that mosque (or church or temple) began creeping into our government and our judiciary"


RIP..Jerry Fallwell
Bob Jones

Posted by: Sammy at August 17, 2010 10:15 PM

Michael, no one is advocating for the prohibition of this mosque. In fact, part of what you say contributes to my ambivalence about this mosque: I had been leaning against the construction of the mosque at this site but then a conservative, religious friend quietly expressed concern about the implication to his religion (Christianity) of such a stance.

In the last day, as I said to Mangeek, I really have been wondering, with so many other sites to choose from, in the city, the state and the country, why there is a continued insistance to put it here, at this exact location, the site of a horrendous attack on our country by radical Islam and by an Imam who has expressed a desire for the United States to allow Sharia law to replace US law among Muslims living here.

That still doesn't mean that I feel it should be prohibited.

Posted by: Monique at August 17, 2010 10:43 PM

Mangeek writes:

"So instead of calling it a 'Mosque at Ground Zero', we should call it a 'Islamic Cultural Center in Lower Manhattan'."

That is probably why its Public Relations person prefers to refer to it as a "Moslem Facility"

A better wordsmith than I has pointed out that it is "pouring salt in an open wound".

It is common knowledge among those who chose to inform themselves that here, in Europe and elsewhere, mosques have been centers of "extremist activity".

Our "Americanism" makes us want to forget that we are at war with a religion. We value our freedoms, I am reminded of the permitted meetings of the German-American Bund in Madison Square Garden before WWII. I am sure that many Germans did not bear us ill will, but they were Germans and prepared to take up arms against us. The same may be said of the Japanese.

While we need kill only the "extremists", we must be cautious of all. Our "Freedom of Religion" values are not shared by all (we were not allowed Christmas celebrations while saving Saudi Arabia's butt). We like to think that immigrants come here "seeking freedom of religion", that really hasn't happened in 150 years or so. I have heard of few Muslims coming here for religious freedom, they are practicing a religion they were free to practice at home.

Even we admit our limits, we would not permit polygamy among the Mormons, and look what we did to those "sectarians" at Waco. Perhaps if those people in Waco read the Koran and were "immigrants", it might all have been different.

Still, it is a perplexing problem. As the Mormons and Waco make clear our freedoms are always on a precipice, I don't want to start them on the "slippery slope".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 17, 2010 11:33 PM

I copied and pasted this from my blog, which I actually wrote as a comment here in an earlier related post. Sometimes when nobody is making sense I pretend I'm the King. It helps me sleep at night.

It's just the way I see it. That judge should have been disrobed (or whatever they do to get rid of judges)for not upholding OUR laws.

When I’m the King

“As King of America, I hereby say, without thought or prepared statements, that the people who want to build their Mosque near Ground Zero site are protected by our laws and customs and general good nature to do so.

I also hereby proclaim that by doing so, they prove once and for all and without a DOUBT their hatred for all Americans, and our way of life.

In conclusion, on behalf of the vacationing President, by the powers invested in him by a little more than half of the little more than 40% of Americans who bothered to vote, let the Islamic center stand as a testament to and symbol of the contempt the leaders of the Muslim community have toward all Americans.”

You can’t prohibit a group of people from lawfully acquiring and building something they are legally allowed to do. Doing so destroys everything we stand for.

Build your mosque near Ground Zero. It is a symbolic victory for the people and laws of our great country.

Posted by: michael at August 17, 2010 11:37 PM


I really don't think the site was chosen because of the proximity (to the towers). I'm assuming there's demand near the location, they've located a blighted property, and made the arrangements to acquire it. I'd be pretty angry if my (mostly Catholic Portuguese) neighbors put up a hissy-fit over me and my 'atheist Caucasian' tenants moving in. I'm a good neighbor, after all.

The way I see it, here in America, you're only allowed to get pushed out or made unwelcome -when you're actually doing something bad-.

I try not to talk too much about it, but the reason I left the Christian church I was raised in was because a 'delegate' from our homeland came to the church one day and asked for donations to 'help with the struggle back home', he wanted to buy mortars and bullets for use against our 'heathen' neighbors. Being the subversive type, I easily saw the hypocrisy in preaching 'turn the other cheek' while soliciting money for arms, and I never went back. The 'delegate' left with plenty of cash though, from what I recall.

It's a skeevy world out there. I'm sure some of the older Irish readers have had similar experiences to mine dealing with IRA types fundraising at their churches, and plenty of Jewish folks know that recruitment for dual citizenship happens at local community centers, and often involves arms and tactics training for teenagers, for a foreign nation, no less.

Like I said in a previous post, this is a local issue, and non-locals should butt-out. I have plenty of friends who watched the towers burn through office windows while we saw it all on the television, who breathed the dusty air from the towers on the way to class and work while we all heard talking heads. None of them are against this center, as far as I know.

Two blocks is a long way in lower Manhattan, it's no more 'rubbing salt in the wound' than it is for me to see young Turkish students come to the help desk at my work, oblivious (or ignorant) to the transgressions of their forefathers. Or a native American watching you shopping on land his family lost in a bloody massacre. I don't refuse service, I happily oblige the day-to-day matters, because living here in tolerance serves a greater goal.

This is America, we're all here to get along. Some foreign national extremists killed a bunch of us almost a decade ago, and we've had relative calm ever since. I'm not about to start limiting the freedoms I myself enjoy for millions of my countrymen because of the crimes of a few whackos.

If you really think that we're at war with a whole religion, you're going to have to make a choice: Either come to my neighborhood and do your part against my Muslim neighbors, or decide to do what they do and keep your views to yourself while getting along in our society.

This armchair militant sympathy for some vague 'America' that you never had is the height of ignorance and intolerance, and the guys who wrote the constitution and founded this state wouldn't abide it for a minute. Ben Franklin -hated- his German immigrant neighbors, but he never went as far as to keep them from conducting business here.

If a particular Mosque is a center of 'extremist activity', our laws already provide for the people behind that activity to be stopped and punished. Anything beyond that is dangerous to the majority of us. Terrorism is the weapon of choice for the marginalized; the cure is tolerance and civil discourse, tempered by strong secular laws that protect us from the criminally deranged.


Posted by: mangeek at August 18, 2010 2:51 AM

Mangeek-please learn a few facts before your rants,okay?
There is no "dual citizenship" for Jews born outside Israel unless one or both parents were Israeli citizens.Just like out laws.
Jews born outside Isreal can get an immigrant visa to live and work in Israel under the Law of Return.Naturalizing in Israel is a process that takes some time,like here.
If a US citizen naturalizes abroad they lose their US citizenship.I don't know if that provision of law is enforced,but it exists.
Having served in the US armed forces,I find it disturbing to see young Jewish people electing to serve in the IDF when they can enlist in our armed services.
That said,the Flying Tigers,American folk heroes who fought the Japanese prior to WW2 actually were serving in the Chinese Air Force as the American Volunteer Group.No one questions their patriotism.
After independence in 1990,the Estonians were able to recruit a retired US Army officer as commandant of their armed forces.Was he disloyal to the US?Not likely,since Estonia is zero threat to the USA.
This "dual loyalty"accusation against American Jews really sucks-a survey of American Jews regarding the traitor Jonathan Pollard was interesting-50% thought his sentence was appropriate,25% too lenient,and only 25% too harsh.IOW 75% of the Jewish people surveyed viewed him as a traitor.
I notice no mention of recruitment of American Muslim youth for terrorist training by foreign operatives.It's not even theory,but acknowledged fact by the parents themselves in some cases.Not convenient to bring up,hey?
I do agree that stereotyping a whole religion is dangerous and particularly so in the context of social interaction.
I had a number of extremely good Muslim doctors who've treated me and I would be very much a miserable person to put the crimes of others on their heads.
The one aspect of Islam that is troubling,as I learned from my studies of medieval history and middle eastern government in college is that Islam doesn't treat government and religion as separate entities.In a country calling itself an Islamic state(not all majority Muslim countries call themselves Islamic republics)there is no room for secular authority above that of the religious authorities.
Compare Indonesia and Saudi Arabia for example.
Kemal Ataturk changed Turkey from a religious state to a secular one and now Turkey is the foremost battleground in the world between Islamists and ordinary Muslims.
Read Robert Kaplan's interesting books "The Ends of the Earth" and "East to Tartary"particularly the latter,for a more in depth treatment of what I am saying here.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 18, 2010 8:11 AM

My opinions:

Yes, they have every legal right to build there, if the site is zoned for that type of building and they own the property and they meet all other zoning laws.

Yes, it really is a local issue and this is yet another example where the President "acted stupidly" by sticking his nose in a local issue.

As mangeek said, two blocks in NYC can be a really long way. You can be two blocks away from what you're looking for and be lost.

However, I think the Muslims are doing this to be provocative and while this is totally conspiracy theory, if you could follow the money, would it really be that surprising if this "center" was being funded by money from the Middle East with conditions that is is as close to the WTC site as possible? A way of planting their flag on their destruction?

I also think that if the Muslims really had compassion for all that happened that day, and with this national outcry, they'd say "nevermind" and offer to find an alternative site.

Bottom line, they have every right to do this, but compassion and common sense says that you don't do it.

I also believe that part of the reason the Muslims want to

Posted by: Patrick at August 18, 2010 9:37 AM

Joe, wasn't religion so intertwined with government in the same way here in the western world until recently? I recall a bunch of folks, most of them -very- pious, leaving their respective homelands to come to America to get away from it.

I assume that my Sunni Muslim neighbors left Morocco to come here for similar reasons. They're free to practice here and partake in our vibrant capitalism; in exchange, they trade a government where the political and spiritual leaders are one and the same for a secular representative democracy. I don't sense any sort of desire to infiltrate or take over our government from these guys, they're not even floating any candidates this November. :-)

Posted by: mangeek at August 18, 2010 9:54 AM

Morocco is not an Islamist state.It IS a very largely Muslim state,but Christians and Jews can practice their religions openly and build houses of worship.
Senegal is 98% Muslim,but hardly an Islamist state.
I don't spend time with sound bite rhetoric to shape my opinions-I try to understand the facts.
The western world,particularly Catholic countries,had a close church- state relationship.
Protestant countries really didn't.
Nowadays there is barely any church involvement in western governments.
I really don't want this situation in NYC to become confrontational-it seems the committed troublemakers from every camp call the tune.
Well,I am not coming to the dance.
We can have a rational,non-hateful discussion of this situation.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 18, 2010 11:34 AM


The argument that the CI mosque is not really on the Ground Zero site, but that the mosque must be placed near the Ground Zero site, but it's not a Ground Zero mosque because it's only near but not at the Ground Zero site, but it must absolutely be placed near the Ground Zero site just doesn't make sense, sacred or secular.

Most Americans recognize that wherever a mosque it sited, it becomess a sacred place of worship. That' true whether a mosque in New York City is 2, 4, 6, 8 or more blocks away from Ground Zero. Yet the mosque planners are insisting that this one place (though there's supposedly nothing special about it) is the only place it can go. Is that particular location important important really for reasons of the sacred, or are there other factors being taken into consideration? Why would a mosque any further away be any less, in terms of what its planners see as its sacred nature?

Also, you're wrong about Imam Faisal Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative not wanting to formally mix religion and government. He has written that it would not be "a violation of church-state separation to have a subsidiary entity within judiciary that employs religious jurists from diverse religious backgrounds to comment on the compliance of certain decisions with their religious laws and to provide guidance to their religious communities on how kosher or Shariah compliant these decisions are” and that "religious communities" should be allowed "more leeway to judge among themselves".

Posted by: Andrew at August 18, 2010 2:16 PM

Do they have a right to build their mosque in the desired location? Yes.

Do I think they should be allowed to build here? Absolutely not.

As Andrew's post correctly put it...this is a "sacred" place.

It's sacred to those who were murdered there.
It's sacred to their families.
It's sacred to the 343 FDNY firefighters who died there.
It's sacred to the many hundreds of firefighters and other rescue workers who are continuing to die as a result of their work on "the pile".

Lastly, this is a direct slap in the face from those Islamic leaders who are proposing this site. Why not another site?

As for the perceived discrimination against Islamic can there not be at least a suspicion from US citizens?

Posted by: Tom Kenney at August 18, 2010 4:25 PM

Tom, good points, and I forgot to mention Andrew's original post being well conceived and accurate.

Thanks, Andrew.

Posted by: michael at August 18, 2010 5:26 PM

"That said,the Flying Tigers,American folk heroes who fought the Japanese prior to WW2 actually were serving in the Chinese Air Force as the American Volunteer Group.No one questions their patriotism."

Wa also changed our laws so that the AVG members could retain their commissions, and we paid them under the table. Fiorello LaQuardia was the paymaster, not so sure how that happened. I think he was considered "reliable".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 18, 2010 8:01 PM

And they flew P-40's which were most definitely not in the inventory of the Chinese Air Force.
I read Robert L.Scott's book,"God is my Co-Pilot" in grade school and it covered that operation pretty well.
The Germans used the Condor Legion-Luftwaffe "volunteers" in the Spanish Civil War to similar effect.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 18, 2010 8:25 PM

"Do they have a right to build their mosque in the desired location? Yes.
Do I think they should be allowed to build here? Absolutely not."

So what's the remedy here? Tyrannically ignoring citizens' rights, or outright dissolving them?

"this is a direct slap in the face from those Islamic leaders who are proposing this site. Why not another site?"

If New Yorkers felt that there was a veil of 'sacredness' that extended beyond the actual Ground Zero site, I doubt their representatives on the Community Advisory Board would have voted 29-1 in favor of the site.

Also why this site? It's a $18M building that they -already bought- for about $5M, with approval from all the various authorities. There's demand for the center in the neighborhood. There are probably tens of thousands of Muslims working in the financial district.

So here's my question Michael, how many blocks does it take for the sacredness to wear off? If you were walking down Park Place and someone spat on the ground, would you say something?

The polling on this is great... Seems that only 2/3rds of Americans even know about the first amendment.

Posted by: mangeek at August 19, 2010 12:59 AM

Mangeek, I honestly wouldn't care if they built their mosque dab smack in the middle of ground zero. The damage is done, nothing will change that. That's just me. I don't visit my parents at the cemetary either. Personal beliefs is all.

The people who build it should know better, however, but they don't, and never will. A little sensitivity goes a long way.

Posted by: michael at August 19, 2010 9:03 AM

What should we do with the Black Hills of the Dakota, long a sacred area for the Lakota Sioux? I say stop the mosque, but only after we return the Black hills to those who have always held that ground as sacred. Similarly, same question about The Grand Canyon. If you work on it you can list a dozen or so more to return before we attempt to stop the building of a house of worship in Manhattan.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at August 19, 2010 1:40 PM

"how many blocks does it take for the sacredness to wear off?"

I'll answer. The area is defined as any building seriously damaged by debris as the two planes were rammed into the World Trade Center. (That includes this building.)

Posted by: Monique at August 19, 2010 2:41 PM


Though it took a few thousand years of Western civilization to figure it out, using the sacred as the basis for drawing political lines is a very bad idea. I don't think that's a lesson we want to unlearn.

Posted by: Andrew at August 19, 2010 8:07 PM

Did you read what you just wrote? My Italian grandmother would have asked, Non hai vergogna? My Jewish relatives would have been amazed at such chutzpah. My American Indian friends would be stunned by such crassness.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at August 19, 2010 10:12 PM

So you're trying to tell me that your American Indian friends believe that, on the whole, assigning a sacred quality to political boundaries has been a positive?

Posted by: Andrew at August 19, 2010 10:51 PM

No, Andrew, I'm telling you that you can't pick and choose your way around what is sacred and what is not. I'm telling you that you have written off the Black Hills, not a word about their spiritual value to a people, and written-in a bombed site as sacred. I'm asking you why you think that we should be concerned with one and not the other. I'm asking you to explain the differentiation. You might want to read "Black Elk Speaks" before you do.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at August 20, 2010 9:57 AM

Everyone has to pick and choose their way around what is sacred and what is not. Hopefully over time, we all come to some common understandings, but in the case of the Ground Zero mosque, its builders (supported by its proponents) aren't really moving in that direction, saying that their idea of the sacred trumps all others, and everyone else should just deal with it. It is a very poor start to a supposed mission of peaceful outreach.

Many of the opponents are saying that they respect a mosque as a sacred place, no matter where it is built, and asking if there's a compromise where conflict between discordant notions of the sacred will be reduced. By insisting that there's no place else where it can go, the mosque's builders are implying that there's something, apart from its sacred nature that is important about putting this mosque at this location (unless maybe they are claiming that part of the sacred nature of a mosque is that new ones be placed at specific sites.)

I don't believe that claims that ownership of a plot of land belongs to a particular blood-line should be elevated to the sacred. Such claims can become the concept of lebensraum as quickly as anything else [look, I can use foreign words too!] and is something we're trying to evolve past. This is wholly separable from the question of whether property has been improperly taken from its rightful owners and should be returned, which is resolvable in the secular realm (once you understand that the idea of thou shall not steal rests on a sacred basis, of course).

Posted by: Andrew at August 20, 2010 1:22 PM

OTL-now get off YOUR soapbox.What are you,one of those Ward Churchill or Bill Kunstler wannabes with a ponytail and lots of turquoise?
I actually had a Navajo buddy who made jewelry and I wear it because it is nice quality and design.Not because I want to fantasize being an Indian.
I had a full blood Mohawk team leader in Miami in 1980 during the investigation of the Mariel boatlift.He was to the right of Rush Limbaugh.I love the way you sorry liberals bury yourselves in group dynamics.You are tyhe LAST people on Earth to recognize the value of individuality.Yeah,I know-"freely assert,freely deny-blah,blah....etc.
Have a nice weekend Mr.Groupthink :))

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 20, 2010 2:47 PM

The Ground on Which We Stand
Justin Katz
Built on the belly of an exit ramp, as West Main Rd. transitions into Rt. 24, in Portsmouth, its parking area looking like a racetrack pit stop for daily commuters, Patriots Park is likely most often treated with a high speed curiosity about its import and forgotten. Only those headed toward Bristol will find curiosity convenient to answer; those heading toward locations north must take the exit and then weave through the northwestern side of town to reclaim their path. Arguably, that's a worthwhile coda to the visit.

The monument describes the Battle of Rhode Island, August 29, 1778, and the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, consisting mainly of blacks and American Indians, some literally fighting for their freedom. The front side of the wall, facing the road, addresses the collective identity of the Americans; the opposing side provides the historical lesson, and on a summer's afternoon the sun beating on one's back seems deliberately to recall the heat of battle.

Upon speeding back into the race of modern life, it's natural to consider those who once trod the ground beneath the suburban homes along the way and to share the experience of looking across the bay as the soldiers must have done as they marched.

I've lamented, in the past, that Rt. 24 thrusts into view the coal plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, placing the factory and stacks into a vista in which one would prefer some ancient castle, as might be encountered in Europe. Such is modern life, though, that blend of contemporary functionality and history. In Rhode Island, at least, we've much of that history to encounter as we go about our days, if we care to look.

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Posted by: David S at August 20, 2010 5:38 PM

The last comment I made was not a 'gotcha’ but a way I could make a comment on the mosque issue. Justin's eloquence on patriot park moves me. He asks- How can some consider something sacred while others pass it by day after day with no recognition of the site or its significance? That question seems appropriate for this discussion.

Posted by: David S at August 20, 2010 8:09 PM


Thank you for posting that and thank you to Justin for writing it. But it seems as though the bigots are winning the day. Maybe some of them could help me understand who it is that I should fear and loath more... Muslims with their mosques and Sharia laws or Hispanics with their anchor babies. It seems like a toss up these days. Who is the bigger threat to us. (Whatever "us" is is not exactly clear) To whom are "we" to be "sensitive" to? Whose hollowed ground becomes "hallowed ground"? And when and under what circumstances is victimhood assigned? OldTimeLefty has given us an example but there are no takers. Under usual circumstances conservatives mistrust "victims" , but now they are in full throat about essentially a property rights issue and most definitely a local issue. What would they NOT object to being built on the same place as the proposed mosque? Just two blocks away! Monique goes further and suggests making a much larger area untouchable. So what should be built there all you new urban planners? How large an area do you wish to restrict certain structures to be built or restrict access to certain types of people?

Posted by: Phil at August 20, 2010 9:29 PM

Whoa, boy.


I have plenty of friends who watched the towers burn through office windows while we saw it all on the television, who breathed the dusty air from the towers on the way to class and work while we all heard talking heads. None of them are against this center, as far as I know.

And yet a majority of New Yorkers oppose the mosque. Or is your clique decisive?


As mangeek said, two blocks in NYC can be a really long way. You can be two blocks away from what you're looking for and be lost.

Not if what you were looking for was the Twin Towers or, now, a big gaping hole in the city.


I assume that my Sunni Muslim neighbors left Morocco to come here for similar reasons.

How in the world do you make the assumption that people have recently moved to the most prosperous nation in the world had the same motivation as people who left the most prosperous nation in the world in order to set up camp on a wild and unexplored continent? And as I recall, the Puritans weren't exactly "welcome all comers" types.


The western world,particularly Catholic countries,had a close church- state relationship. Protestant countries really didn't.

Huh? The Church of England? The aforementioned Puritans?


how many blocks does it take for the sacredness to wear off?

I don't know that a boundary can be drawn, but the density of the dust cloud carrying particles from the pulverized bodies of murdered Americans could be a factor. How about a distance from which one could have seen specks — people — jumping to their deaths from the top floors?

David S:

Justin's eloquence on patriot park moves me. He asks- How can some consider something sacred while others pass it by day after day with no recognition of the site or its significance?

I thank you for the compliment, but I should adjust your paraphrase. The ground has an inherent sacredness, so the question is why folks pass by that which is sacred without recognizing it. The difference is subtle, but crucial, because it brings the recognition of the sacred back to living people. I wrote that post in part to persuade people to stop and consider such things; to look at their own back yards and think of the history that might have passed over the plot of land. But they would think I was nuts if I suggested that there should be no new construction within a half mile of the battlefield. On the other hand, you can bet the proximity to the monument would come up (rightly) were the KKK to set up a recruitment center next door.

The fact of sacredness doesn't dictate a particular policy for land use in some objective way. It comes back to the feelings of living people and mutual respect.


Maybe some of them could help me understand who it is that I should fear and loath more... Muslims with their mosques and Sharia laws or Hispanics with their anchor babies.

Neither. Loath and fear those who refuse to enforce and maintain the neutral processes by which our civic community regulates its interactions.

And note something very important that you elide: Nobody here is saying the levers of government — much less state or national government — should be used to restrict property rights. The same is manifestly not true in the service of leftist causes, including the protection of "victim" classes and minorities.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 21, 2010 9:08 AM

Justin-your point is well taken but Protestant churches had less to do with government than the Catholic Church.That's why there was an Anglican Church,if you think about it.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 21, 2010 4:50 PM

Neither. Loath and fear those who refuse to enforce and maintain the neutral processes by which our civic community regulates its interactions.


This I take to mean that a local board which has the authority to review and vote on proposed uses for properties does so without respect to the laws that relate to the specific case and bends to emotional and bigoted appeals then there is reason to fear and loath that abuse of power. From what I understand those hurdles facing the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhatten have been cleared. The mayor of the city is on record for its construction. We all may feel as though we have a right to comment but at this point halting construction would be a mistake. It would be accepting an idea that is closer to the attitudes and ideas of those who flew the planes believing that those who would die as a result of their actions were as guilty as those in the government whose policies internationally are seen as destructive to members of their group.
Again I would ask those who object to this construction in that location what would you support in its place? A house of commerce? A hotel? A parking garage? A house of worship other than a mosque?

Posted by: Phil at August 21, 2010 7:00 PM


No. If I think about it, the Anglican Church came into being so that the church and the government wouldn't come into conflict as much.


No. No good. Before you went from the specific and posed general (snide) questions. Now you want to respond to the general response to your questions to the specifics of this case.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 21, 2010 8:50 PM
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