All politics starts local, but it doesn’t always end that way: often, local decisions influence national policy, or produce legally cognizable harms, which both residents and non-residents should aspire to redress. But when neither of those factors are present — where a local decision truly stays local, and neither reflects nor impacts anything other than the policy preferences of the locals — how much should other people care about it?
The libertarian answer, shared by most conservatives, tends to be “not at all.” Interesting, then, that the far-right feels entitled to state their objections to a New York City community board’s decision to approve the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero. Setting aside moral arguments about how a downtown mosque is probably good, and not just “not bad,” it’s not clear why nonresidents have any stake at all in the question of how New York City chooses to treat local Muslim citizens.
As our cultural capital, New York is something in which all Americans have some kind of stake. But no matter what building a mosque near Ground Zero says about New Yorkers’ laudable ability to separate Islam from fundamentalist Islam, it’s not a decision that alters any of the parts of New York that should matter to America, writ large. In a city so dominated by tourists, this is a true local issue, to be resolved by New Yorkers, for New Yorkers. The Financial District may be truly American land, because of its centrality to our collective history, and Ground Zero should properly be treated as hallowed ground. But how New York City chooses to organize itself around and in relation to those nexuses isn’t anyone’s business but ours — especially where, as here, the result is to conspicuously and poignantly state the City’s openness to all Americans, regardless of faith, and our determination to not let that relationship be soured by a madman who would pit us against each other.