Is it possible
The People should ever be their own enemies?
~ Fischer Ames
the "Ground Zero
Mosque" controversy? It took place last summer in New York
City when some people — with no sense of how a democracy works —
had the foolish notion to build on property they owned an Islamic
cultural center to worship God as they pleased. In both Constitutional
law and simple humanity they were well within their rights but their
proposed location was, unfortunately, just two blocks from where
the Twin Towers once stood. Crushed under a wave of populist indignation,
the Islamic center has yet to be built.
I hadn't thought about it in some time, and would gather that most
New Yorkers hadn't thought about the "Ground Zero Mosque,"
either, since the tabloids stopped telling us to think about it.
The angry mobs that once gathered outside the proposed location
have taken their pitchforks and torches and run off toward other
of Duty: Black Ops was released, for one.) Now emotions
lay at low tide, all is calm. So it's time to take stock of what
it cost us.
The fact that
a most basic human right — to worship in peace as you please — came
under blatant assault in America, in our greatest, most liberal
city no less, is tragic but predictable. This is what you get from
nine (and counting) years of living under endless war, breathing
the harsh, poisonous air of an increasingly militarized society,
and the effects were shown in the tepid defense my great state's
political grandees' offered in response to this populist rejection
of religious freedom.
leaders of New York were, with but rare exception, either outright
scoundrels or mealy-mouthed cowards. Steve Israel, my local House
representative, took a few moments to defend our Constitution in
a fuzzy, kind of, sort of way that characterizes those without any
spine. "While they have a constitutional right to build the
mosque," he began (and history would be kinder to him had he
stopped there), "it would be better if they had demonstrated
more sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims."
So there we
have it. Our Constitution, Israel laments, is too insensitive. Freedom
isn't free, the saying goes, and here Israel is unwilling to pay
even the price of hurt feelings. Mr. Israel's feeble gesture sums
up all that New York's timid Congressional representatives could
muster in defense of religious freedom; highlights how bereft our
leaders are of any courage to stand up to a howling mob.
deepened as the one politician who came
out the hero of this sad tale was none other than the Golden
Tongue himself, Barack Obama, a man not exactly known for political
courage. “In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance
with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion. I was
not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the
decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically
on the right people have that dates back to our founding."
For once I applauded the man and realized I was wrong about one
thing — he has read the Constitution.
sad episode of the "Ground Zero Mosque" gave warning that
democracy is no bulwark for liberty; it never has been and cannot
be. I look at America today and see the wisdom in Bertrand de Jouvenel's
assertion that democracy is "the time of tyranny's incubation."
(de Jouvenel, 1978, 15) Americans have forgotten to remember that
Hitler — who was elected — is not only a symbol of the vile
Holocaust but of sweet democracy, too.
of our ancestors these newly arrived Muslim immigrants pinned their
hopes on America's reputation as a nation of law and not of men
but found, in this case, that reputation to be far short to its
reality. Today, America's reality starts for the Muslim immigrant
as soon as they disembark onto freedom's golden shores.
our forefathers, upon entry into New York harbor, came up from steerage
to gather on the ship's deck and watch the Statue of Liberty slide
by, today's immigrants come through an airport. What do they think
when they first spot a line of freedom-loving Americans, standing
meek with shoes in hand and pants around the ankles as surly TSA
agents bark orders and jam their hands into our crotch? Do any of
them take a moment to think about the lawlessness they had fled
and wonder, "Why did I bother?"
Don't be alarmed,
new Muslim-Americans, all you see and hear about you is from what
democracy is made! As H.L. Mencken noted long ago, a citizen of
a democracy will be met everywhere by "an assumption of his
disingenuousness and dishonour." (Mencken, 2009, 156) So take
off your sandals, lift your robe, and wait for Uncle Sam's frisk.
I don't claim
this anti-Muslim populism to be anything unusual. History tells
us that all human societies need a dog to kick. Without exception
every race and nationality has been through the ringer at one time
or another and, also without exception, every race and nationality
has behaved like a beast when given the opportunity to pummel some
minority in their midst. Every dog has its day, and every society
has its dog. Current dog in America are Muslims within our borders.
Native born or no, these poor people now find themselves cursed
to be Muslim in a land that doesn't want them.
once looked about him at 1774 Virginia and its wave of religious
persecutions and exclaimed that he had "nothing to brag of
as to the State and Liberty of my country…that diabolical Hell conceived
principle of persecution rages among some." Now, over two hundred
years on, some Texas Congressman named John Cornyn declared of President
Obama's defense of religious freedom "the president himself
seems to be disconnected from the mainstream of America." No
truer words can be said of 2010 America. Democracy has spoken; The
People have made themselves heard. Freedom of religion is conditional
upon the mob's approval, the Constitution be damned.
As things currently
stand any Muslim who comes to America in search of freedom is to
be pitied — they are like a drowning sailor climbing into a sinking
on Democracy (Dissident Books, New York, 2009)
Power: The Natural History of Its Growth (Liberty Fund,
Indianapolis, IN, 1975)
[send him mail] lives
and works in New York City. He blogs
for Liberty & Power on the History News Network website and
His first book Back
to the Land (Arthurdale, FDR's New Deal, and the Costs of Economic
Planning) is to be released by John Wiley and Sons in