A Mosque at Ground Zero?

For those of you who are unaware, a Mosque will be built at Ground Zero and is tentatively scheduled to open on 9/11. According to the following article, the project is controversial because of its insensitivity—and, apparently, there are a host of moderate Muslims who oppose its construction on these grounds. Although one could spend much time refuting the latter claim and mourning the culture’s lack of objective reporting, let’s focus on an issue of greater importance: along with sensitivities, individual rights are at stake.

Whereas some Objectivists (been on facebook lately?) claim that banning the mosque would be a violation of property rights, others (Jim Allard and myself included) argue that building the mosque is a rights violation. Sound controversial? Read the Hsiehs’ position here, and my response below:

I consider it unjust to assert that opponents of the mosque are for “allowing government to exercise force in a grossly non-objective fashion.” If you believe, as you have stated, that this debate encompasses the application of agreed-upon principles, then a refutation of banning the mosque must not assume but argue that government would be “violat[ing] basic principles of objective law [if it] chose to destroy the mosque.” I have yet to encounter any Objectivist advocating an exception to the principle of individual rights embodied by our Constitution. To the contrary, the mosque’s opponents make the case that, while “we live under a government that refuses to properly identify [our] enemy, refuses to wage a proper war of self-defense, and refuses to protect our individual rights,” banning the mosque is consistent with a foreign policy of self-interest and therefore is not one among two “death-promoting choices” differentiated only by degrees.

As an opponent of the mosque, I wish to demonstrate the level at which I think this discussion must proceed. In particular I aim to show that if one regards the mosque as an objective threat, then building the mosque, not banning it, constitutes a violation of individual rights. On this view, its prohibition (or destruction) would neither entail granting exceptional powers to government nor fueling “the danger of rapidly accelerating tyranny.” Defending freedom can hardly be construed as tyrannical, unconstitutional or the lesser of two evils. Therefore to support the mosque, one mustn’t view it as an objective threat. It is this issue that must be decided.

As I see it, public advocacy of Islam assumed the status of a threat when first the Twin Towers fell in its name (and possibly before). This threat is infinitely more severe and unambiguous when issued at Ground Zero. If individual Muslims wish to separate their advocacy of Islam from the war being waged against us, they must explicitly denounce all translations of Islam into violent political practice—the opposite of erecting a mosque over the graves of persons killed by its enactment. To concretize what is sure to be a controversial point, consider the following analogy, conceived by fellow Objectivist Jim Allard:

A series of murders in Manhattan fit the profile that a man approaches a woman from behind and shouts, “Hold your purse in the air!” at which point he shoots her. If a man is caught in Manhattan approaching a woman from behind and shouting, “Hold your purse in the air!” one can hardly claim it is irrational to regard him as a threat or that it is a violation of his rights to treat him accordingly—even if no weapon was fired. Yet nothing inherent in this statement begets violence. And neither does the statement, “Give me all your money,” except that it can only mean one thing when spoken to a bank teller, whether or not the robber in question is actually armed.

These examples instantiate speech bearing an acquired but non-arbitrary relationship to violence, rendering them threats in their respective contexts (I will clarify the meaning of “non-arbitrary” later). In this vein, we must consider the context in which the mosque is being built.

That Islam motivates an actual (as against strictly ideological or theoretical) war against America was rendered undeniable when the Twin Towers collapsed into Ground Zero on 9/11. Muslims are acutely aware of the same reality and, recognizing that their ideology is being used to justify the murder of Americans, they have chosen to erect a mosque at Ground Zero, which will open its doors on 9/11. Under these conditions, whatever “speech” takes place inside the mosque needn’t be considered: we know that its existence will provide fuel and inspiration for a deadly movement—and so do its creators. We know that it will symbolize Islam’s supremacy over the West, which in times of war is a sanction of violence—and so do its creators. Moreover, we needn’t invoke intent to establish these points; in fact a mosque at this location, opening on this date, stands as an endorsement of the war instantiated by the attack. Thus death to Americans is the context in which the mosque advances Islam.

It is precisely the enactment, the imminently actionable form of Islam that a mosque at this site embodies and emboldens, and its ideological advocacy will necessarily operate in the context of this understanding. Being at war means there is no such thing as promoting violence in the abstract; “Muhammad commands us to kill the infidels” loses its status as an idea—as speech—and becomes a call to action when Americans are in fact being killed in the name of Muhammad. Put succinctly, erecting the mosque under these conditions constitutes propagandizing for the enemy, thereby endangering American lives.

To conclude this point, consider another analogy conceived by Jim Allard: a man cannot whisper violent innuendos into the ear of someone he knows is psychotic and claim impunity for the crimes that person commits. Given the nature of the recipient, supplying the violent innuendos is a crime. The mosque is not a whisper but a primal scream into the ear of the warring Muslim world.

Returning once more to the Manhattan murders, note that government could not legitimately treat all black men as threats if the perpetrator had been black. Why? Because there can be no causal connection whatsoever between a man’s un-chosen ethnicity and actions of his choosing. Similarly, although being Muslim is a choice, government could not forbid a Muslim from moving into an apartment near Ground Zero (although profiling is another matter). Why? Because wartime prohibitions apply only to persons acting in the capacity of advocates of Islam. In other words, ideas and actions bear a non-arbitrary relationship to one another.

But this raises another issue for the mosque’s (non-Muslim) defenders: if promoting Islam is more like being black—meaning no necessary connection exists between its advocacy, the attack on the Twin Towers, and the war at large—why is it nevertheless considered insensitive and grotesque for Muslims to have undertaken this project? Would it be offensive for a black man to patronize a bank because another black man robbed it? Or is there something fundamentally different about these two cases—namely, the power of ideas and the context of war?

Bear in mind that 9/11 is not merely a painful memory; it is part of a lethal legacy that continues to unfold. Though the mosque is a cruel reminder of the past, we shouldn’t let this obscure the fact that we continue to face grave danger. Yes, the mosque adds insult to injury, but it doesn’t simply make Americans recall their healing wounds; it offers them to the enemy as fodder. By advocating Islam in this context, it sanctions a war whose aim is our total annihilation.

To close, I would like to stress that being principled does not mean precluding certain facts from informing one’s judgments; contextual understanding is necessary to determine how the relevant principles apply. If I have not provided a fully self-sufficient argument, I hope to have established that the choice before us should not be envisaged as “the danger of rapidly accelerating tyranny” versus “the real (but not quite as imminent) danger of death and destruction from the bad guys.” By framing the issue in this way, one assumes what one purports to explain: that government would be violating rather than protecting individual rights by prohibiting the mosque. It is crucial that both sides argue why this or the opposite claim is true.

It seems to me that the mosque is an unequivocal threat. We are not merely dealing with an ideology, but with a war waged in its name.

Addendum pertaining to legal matters: Congress’s abdication of its duty to declare war notwithstanding, we are in fact at war (and not in a perpetual “state of emergency”). Many of the points I’ve made must be understood within this framework and do not apply under normal conditions. Once again, Jim Allard has devised a useful analogy as regards this issue: Under current laws, if two policemen discover that a murder has taken place after breaking into a house without reading the owner his Miranda rights, the case against the owner must be dismissed. But in reality, two crimes have been committed, not none. One cannot enact justice by erasing one crime (murder) with another (illegal entry). Likewise, one cannot erase wartime threats by saying we have not formally declared war, while we wage it.

6 Responses to “A Mosque at Ground Zero?”
  1. froivinber says:

    Great! Thanks for this very insightful and informative blog article!

  2. I agree and it was very well stated.

    It is important to distinguish being MORALLY opposed to the GZM — which every right-thinking person should be — and being LEGALLY opposed to it on the grounds that it constitutes an actual threat of force against the rights of American citizens — which it also does. Instead of attacking those who are opposed to the mosque as wannabe rights violators, we should be calling for a declaration of war from Congress and bringing suit in court under good objective laws, presenting evidence of the criminal conspiracy, and stopping it.

  3. Thanks, as I think you make sound arguments. Without a declared act ofwar, maybe nothing can be done about it legally, but it is aiding and abetting the enemy to propose such a mosque so close to ground zero — the destruction of the WorldTrade Center Towers knocked down by Militant Muslims. We need to stop the construction in any legal way we can, because our government is too busy cowering and appeasing the enemy.

  4. Stephanie Bond says:

    “If I have not provided a fully self-sufficient argument, I hope to have established that the choice before us should not be envisaged as “the danger of rapidly accelerating tyranny” versus “the real (but not quite as imminent) danger of death and destruction from the bad guys.” By framing the issue in this way, one assumes what one purports to explain: that government would be violating rather than protecting individual rights by prohibiting the mosque. It is crucial that both sides argue why this or the opposite claim is true.”

    The proper way to prohibit this edifice (call it mosque or community center for the Promotion of Islam, as you prefer) is to on the basis of prohibiting Islam. Simply put, Islam advocates the destruction of all who do not accept its edicts and worship as it dictates. It represents the enemy of reason, of freedom, of individual rights and thus the enemy of America. Recognizing that Islam is the code of the enemy that attacked on 9/11 will assist in identifying the enemy nation states full of people who support this view in whole or in part, and then declaring war on them. The rest of the story ought to be heroic and self-serving in the best possible way: fighting for freedom and a new American way.

  5. John says:

    You do know that most followers of Islam are not violent extremists right? The attacks were (most likely) carried out by extremist terrorists who were not devout muslims (they spent their last days partying and hooking up with strippers, not exactly pious if you ask me), and i don’t think anyone can honestly say they were unprovoked, but anyways that’s besides the point, this is a matter of the Constitution, and there is nothing unlawful about the mosque. I can only laugh at all the people saying that Islam is the enemy of America and then to get a boost of patriotic support point to 9/11 as proof. If you truly believe in individual rights and pursuit of happiness and all that then you should have no problem with the mosque. If you are against it on the grounds of it being an enemy of reason, then I have to ask, would anyone care if it were instead a church of Catholicism being built? Is Islam any more an enemy of reason than Catholicism? Is Capitalism itself any different than Islam in the way it advocates the destruction of of those who don’t accept its edicts? Is it time for a history lesson?

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