Against the plans by Muslim associations to open not one but two mosques (gasp!) in New York City’s Financial District — Manhattan’s tiny, densely-packed tip, where any building is necessarily within sight of Ground Zero — Human Events raises two racially-tinged, needlessly nasty complaints. First, that the mosques are unnecessary for the District’s tiny Muslim population, and thus purposeful affronts to the memory of the victims of the 9/11 attacks; and second, that the construction of the mosques effects a conquest of sorts, a literal appropriation of American holy land by a foreign power. These are ridiculous arguments, but funny, so they get a reponse.
Our author’s first point seems to depend on the very mathematics of need that conservatives normally reject as “socialist” or “statist” when applied to anyone other than Muslims. Who is “Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch” to comment on the needs of a religious community? Why should it matter whether they need a second mosque or not, if they can afford it? He’s also blessed with an active imagination, styling sidewalk prayer services, led from a decrepit-looking second-story apartment on Chamber Street, as a publicity stunt done to “give the impression that they’re in dire need of more space.” If so, downtown Muslim leaders deserve some credit: these services have been going on for at least four years now, far predating the “second Mosque” “controversy.” Talk about foresight!
One can only imagine what the author thinks of the halal carts that pepper the city.
As far as comic paranoia goes, this is all pretty great, and leaves no real doubt that, as far as the author’s concerned, America’s not at war with Al Qaeda, or even with fundamentalist Islam, but with every Muslim, everywhere. This is the clear import of the latter half of the article, which attempts to equate the construction of a downtown mosque with the Ottoman conquest & Islamification of Justinian’s Hagia Sophia. Conquest-by-appropriation, the author calmly explains, is what Muslims do: they move in, take your landmarks, and make them their own, and by the end of it, you won’t even recognize your country anymore.
This is actually true; historically, Islamic empires have appropriated critical bits of conquered territories and remade them to reflect their values and faith. But landmark appropriation isn’t a peculiarly Muslim thing. It’s a human thing, and one that early Christians raised to an art form. Look no further than the thousands of Roman statues covered in cross graffiti; the Pantheon, where the Virgin Mary replaces Juno; or St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Angelo’s Castle, and the entirety of the Holy See, all built from the marble literally hacked off of earlier Roman temples. Men who live in glass houses, especially those built of the vitrified remains of other religions, shouldn’t throw stones.
Granting that this sort of thing happens in war, on both sides, it’s still not what’s happening here, because contrary to both the American far right and Osama Bin Laden — their interests are closely aligned here — Islam isn’t at war with the West. We needn’t, and shouldn’t look askance at fellow citizens just because a madman attacked our shared country in their name, and we shouldn’t question the motives of Islamic communities when they seek to integrate into our country. In fact we should welcome that fusion as a victory. What greater victory could there be over fundamentalist Islam than mainstream Islam’s complete and seamless integration into American society, not as a dominant force displacing those of us already here, but as a fellow participant in the American experience?