The “Other” on Our Soil

In disappointingly predictable fashion, America’s favorite half-term governor, Sarah Palin, offers her thoughts on the New York mosque “controversy”:

Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing

Triggering the only reply she seems capable of generating: Twitter snark. Politico calls this “fully master[ing] the new media.” I call it being defined by it, to the exclusion of all meaningful content. But let’s engage on the merits.

As noted, Palin’s invective gets the facts wrong: the “Ground Zero mosque” isn’t a provocation, because it’s meant to serve a Muslim community already in place, not draw some new group. Besides, “provocation” is besides the point. What we’re seeing is xenophobic unease at the presence of a group, one we perceive as affiliated with “the enemy,” on our soil. Nothing else.

This sentiment is ancient and typical of our reaction, as a country, to any external conflict. In the early 19th century, we were at war with England and France. Responding to perceived espionage Congress passed — and President Adams signed into law — the Alien and Sedition Acts, permitting the executive to unilaterally imprison or deport any foreigner with perceived French sympathies. In World War II, we imprisoned 110,000 Japanese-Americans along the West Coast — with Supreme Court approval. These incidents share two commonalities. Both stem from an inability to separate the foreign enemy from those who look or speak like him, but don’t share his loyalties, and, in fact, hope to build a home in our culture. And following both, we swore — never again.

Sadly, American Muslims have already suffered through the third repetition of this disappointing trend. We’ve imprisoned and tortured Muslims for being Muslim, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or having a name that sounds like the enemy’s (Arar, El-Masri, Habib, etc.). We’ve subjected them to racial profiling, despite the fact that, mathematically, a suspect’s race or religion cannot contribute meaningfully to an analysis of potential criminality. Today we risk denying fellow citizens the earned right to enjoy their community, simply because we don’t like that their ethnicity reminds us of a wrong which they did not perpetrate, which they themselves decry, and whose re-occurrence they’ll contribute to preventing. Integration and co-existence, after all, are the greatest enemies of radicalization.

This can be our generation’s Korematsu. Or we can break the trend. Palin and Lazio have chosen their sides. How long will it take until we’re equally ashamed of them?



  1. Is it just me, or do the “pls” turn a bad statement to painful? Also, the clause “it stabs hearts” is like fingers down a chalkboard. It physically hurts to read sentences like that. This is a “UNNECESSARY provocation” on our fair language.

  2. James F · ·

    The tweet makes me cringe, too, but I have to wonder: couldn’t the building be expressly dedicated to promoting peace, since it’s in such proximity to the event associated with the worst fringes of Islam? I’m just not surprised by the reaction – the first thing I heard was HUGE MOSQUE AT GROUND ZERO!!!!111!, not Muslim cultural center that happens to have a mosque, like a Christian center might have a chapel (if I’m understanding it correctly). One talk show host compared the construction to a bear or dog marking its territory. I don’t think it would be an issue at all if it were elsewhere in the city, but as it stands this is well-nigh a PR disaster.

  3. “We’ve subjected them to racial profiling, despite the fact that, mathematically, a suspect’s race or religion cannot contribute meaningfully to an analysis of potential criminality.”

    Ok… with the caveat that I don’t understand statistics all that well generally (only class I ever failed was second-semester stat)… I don’t understand that. A% of convicted Yists are Xitarian, B% of Xitarians are convicted Yists, doesn’t that make P(Xitarian is Yist) just A * B? Is the problem that B is so small generally it makes A * B miniscule?

    I’m really asking here, because I honestly do not understand statistics and probability well enough to understand the truth of what I quoted – and damn if that isn’t embarrassing to admit.

  4. Anzezzle · ·

    Steve, you just declared that P(X is Y) = B%.
    You’re really thinking of Bayes’ Theorem, though:

    1. Anzezzle · ·

      Also, nitpicking: Percent and probability are related but different. You can multiply two probabilities together (A*B) but you need a conversion factor with percents (A*B/100).

  5. Of all the absurdities that Sarah Palin have uttered, the idea that discrimination of a minority can in any way support societal healing must surely be one of the worst. I can almost hear Jürgen Habermas crying in dismay all the way down in… Frankfurt or wherever he is these days.

  6. Anzezzle · ·

    Here’s a better idea, let’s settle this issue with SCIENCE! (rather than a few rough guesses of probabilities)

  7. […] The “Other” on Our Soil […]

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