Tuesday, August 24, 2010

That Cluelessness...

My previous post about the Manhattan Muslim center and the Carmelite analogy seems to have touched a nerve, with conflicting responses from readers who rarely comment (and some anonymous ones I can't know about). RK's comment is right-on:
If you do a quick Google search you'll find tons of people discussing the Carmelite convent analogy -- pro and anti. If you haven't seen any of this, it's because it's the analogue of the cluelessness about Israeli issues you write about all the time.
That's part of what I said: seen from here (i.e. far away from there), it really is hard to figure out what's going on. In spite of the fact that English is one of my mother tongues, that I'm (also) an American citizen, that I've lived in America and visit Manhattan regularly, that I spend time almost every day imbibing American media, that some of my best friends are Americans (some relatives, too): I'm as qualified as any incidental outside observer to figure out what's going on. But I haven't yet. Tons of folks are making the Carmelite analogy? Fact: I hadn't heard them. This is the same situation, by the way, as back when Americans were all agog about Obamacare, and to general incredulity I explained a number of times that I couldn't figure out what the discussion was really about.

This is not to say that external observers cannot possibly figure out what's going on somewhere. The entire conceit of the field of history, for example, is that if we try hard enough we can reach a reasonable understanding of a society which ceased to exist long before we were born. Indeed, historians at their best (and others, too), can sometimes achieve clarity the insiders never had. But there's the rub: it's hard work. It can't be done by osmosis, which is how the original locals did it. It can't be done without the language. It demands a long-term commitment, and sincere curiosity. If you know the answer in advance, you'll never know it.


Anonymous said...

Least flawed analogy I've seen so far, suggested by a conservative libertarian writer named Cathy Young:

What if a Planned Parenthood site was bombed by people citing Christianity, and then a conservative Christian group tried to build a huge religious social center in place of a retail store that had been wrecked by the bombing?


Would that be perfectly inoffensive and unselifsh? A fitting way to make a public statement that American pluralism should be inclusive toward Conservative Christians?

If many moderate Muslims have *some* of the same major problems with U.S. policy that Al Qaeda cited -- heck, much of the Far Left have the same problems -- then the above analogy would seem apt. But I can't see the conservative Christian group getting the same kind of support, as they tried to make a statement analogous to "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!"

Such statements are noble in themselves, but become difficult when they start trying to whitewash or reinterpret significant narratives about life and murder.

Anonymous said...

That said, I think with a couple of changes, the Cordoba House could be an OK idea in this controversial location.

Anonymous said...

What about another idea?

That kind of center defines "home". A "home" belongs to all who call it home.

Since religions are providing "home" for their believers, they also bar out non-believers.

I don't know if this does make any sense at all. I'm trying to explain the bad feeling I have about this mosque. I don't think it will turn out to be a bridge to other faiths and to the western world.

Regards, André

Anonymous said...

I agree -
ever since the Duisburg mosque has shown its powers of mobilisation after the "flotilla" *) I am weary of these mega-Mosque-projects. If it is a true bridge-building endeavour why does any one religion has to do it?

*) as of 1:30 you can hear Israel "mentioned" as of 2:50 Allahu Akbar gets going. Maybe this is OK by US-habits, it is not where I live. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_SsOea01VY&feature=related

don't take the cluelessness "accusation" to heart - even if one goes deep deep deep into a subject like one does as a clerk focussing on a narrow field it will always be possible that a hitherto by nobody previously imagined angle would show up. Once it has shown up (and caused some damage somewhere) everybody will be bowled over how obvious it has always been and how on earth one might have overlooked it.

as to Park51 what strikes me is that nobody seems to discuss whether size matters. Our Duisburg Moschee has room for the same number of worshippers which sounds small but as the "flotilla" demos have shown that is no hindrance to drawing (and directing) much bigger crowds.
i.e. Park51 is in a business district. What will happen at Friday prayers? Who will go there? Is a business district maybe ideal because on a Friday night there'll be lots of parking space available and for whom might that be an attraction?
with all these central gathering points one recurring "problem" seems to have been the massive traffic they draw at certain times (and no not only Muslim ones I remember reading about quite some unhappyness related to a Hindu temple)


Anonymous said...

in one of my podcasts somebody reminded "us" that in the days after 9/11

Anwar al-Awlaki

was considered to be a model moderate muslim, now it is Imam Rauf of whom is by now none everything worth knowing or is it?

One dissident I listened to long ago said, that listening to "moderates" I should pay close attention to how they condemn stuff i.e. if they don't name horse and rider i.e. shame an identifiable entity then it isn't worth much.

I have no way of checking whether that's true but having been alerted thus I seem to come across a lot of non-precise language.

How Jeffrey Goldberg's defense of the Park51 imam based on him declaring himself a Jew figures in that context I have no idea. Despite Goldberg's interpretation the quotes strike me as somewhat odd. (When Nick Cohen did it he did it with all the in my book appropriate qualifications without any presumption to anything he is not)

On the other hand Aaron Klein's often cited pressing the Imam to say something definite doesn't strike me as very conclusive either, even though the Imam came across as somebody who'd never judge on good or evil either way that sounded more clumsy than learned let alone convincing to me.


Bruce said...


I live on the upper westside of Manhattan, which happens to be in the same congressional district as Ground Zero (by the miracle of the gerrymand) and which has Jerry Nadler as its congressman. So you know and can perhaps appreciate a bit more the interesting lines of demarcation in this debate, Nadler, a strong supporter of Israel who is often condemned by the so-called "left" as an "Israel firster" and the like, has come out strongly in favor of the mosque construction at the designated Park Place locaation. Here's Nadler:

"As an elected official who believes strongly in the separation of church and state, I contend that the government has no business deciding whether there should or should not be a Muslim house of worship near Ground Zero. And, as a representative of New Yorkers of all faiths and cultures, I find the singling out of Muslim-Americans -- because of their faith -- for animus and hate to be shameful and divisive. We should instead work toward building tolerance and understanding."


I agree with Nadler, although I have to say that two things bother me about those who are leading the charge against the opponents:

1. There is a tendency to equate all opponents of the mosque location as bigots and I think that is just short-sighted and destructive.

2. Many on the so-called left have focused on the positions taken by the ADL and other Jewish groups and have gone so far as suggesting that the "lobby" is behind the opposition to the mosque. Here's MJ Rosenberg:


The whole episode is unfortunate, and like so many other issues, has been taken over by extremists and narrow-minded shouters on all sides.



Anonymous said...

for the umptiest time

there is a lot more to a big central mosque than just religion. also my idea of a community center is not the same.

but as this has up to now probably only been learned by (some) Europeans it is, just as was the case once upon a time with homegrown terrorists, irrelevant for the US.

Of course government should stay out of religion but what if it is a religion that is inextricably mixed with ideas of conquest - not proselytation, conquest?

and as I gather by now that "they" learned a lot about how to mix the two successfully from the Byzantines don't accuse me of Islamophobia, I wouldn't want Byzantine inspired ones to take over either.

Up to now "we" have since at least the events at Canossa have had a very different idea of the relations between state and church. If you fail to realise that "theirs" is something hard to grasp and imagine for "us" and just believe the Kumbaya you are being fed you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

I don't know about the US, but in my country I can't remember an event where a church has sent 1000s on a demonstration hostile to a state we live at peace with i.e. Israel. (the mosque which did it is partly or mainly financed by the Turkish state.)


Sylvia said...

I read the Jeffrey Goldberg piece on the matter and I think he should stay away from this kind of topic if he wants to retain his credibility.
I think, contrary to J.G., that the Imam will be applauded by Muslims: he managed to "slip" the shahada - the Muslim profession of faith - to an audience of unsuspecting Jews. He also managed to plant the idea that his religion contains Judaism and Christianity PLUS.

Anonymous said...

sincere thanks Sylvia
(for the how maniest time?)

I couldn't have nailed it, but having read Nick Cohen on the same it struck me as somehow a bit odd or rather leaving doors to ambiguity open


Soccer Dad said...

I believe that William McGurn was the first to make the Carmelite analogy.


Krauthammer cited it as an example too.

I know, by now where those "tons" of mentions are is really irrelevant. But just in case you were interested.

RK said...

Just so you know I wasn't making it up, here's Hendrick Herzberg discussing the analogy from the pro-Park51 side. Rich Lowry and Mark Schmitt also debated it on Bloggingheads. Soccer Dad posted the original mentions above, and as I said, if you Google, you'll find a lot of further discussion.

To provide a mirror-image perspective: I speak Hebrew well, I read a lot of Israeli media, I learned in yeshiva for a year in Israel and make visits regularly (one of which is coming up in a week or so), and yet I learn lots of things from reading your blog. That doesn't prevent me from having views about Israel (just as you sometimes vote in American elections), but you're completely right that it makes me (and other non-Israelis) less qualified to have them.

Bryan said...


MJ Rosenberg thinks "the lobby" makes his Kool-Aid tepid if he waits too long to drink it, so his opinion about the Ground Zero Mosque is not exactly surprising or constructive.

That being said, most of what the Left is saying about the mosque is neither surprising nor constructive, so why should anyone expect differently? The Left is making a huge strawman argument. Nobody really thinks that they don't have the *right* to build there, just that they *shouldn't* exercise that right. Just like I have the right to call the mosque's proponents stupid buttmunchers, but I shouldn't, because it's useless and nonconstructive.

Gavin said...

I think this is one of those many occasions where emotions cloud the thinking. I'm neither Yank nor Jew or any other religion and the issue is unimportant to me so I see it in a more clinical manner. I'd start at the beginning and look at what would be as close to facts as can be gleaned from this.

1... There isn't a Muslim in the USA who doesn't know that their religion has been linked (negatively) to 911 and the WTC

2... Anyone planning on building a mosque there cannot have avoided the realisation they'd be upsetting a lot of people by doing so. One would have to have lived in a cave the last ten years to miss that.

From that one can reasonably conclude the decision to build the mosque was made in the full knowledge that it would anger & upset many Americans. Since the mosque isn't a necessary edifice that predicates a deliberate intent to provoke or at least publicly reject non-Muslim Americans.

About the only mitigating factor I can think of is if the mosque is being built in a Muslim area as part of a normal community expansion. Then it could be construed as insensitive but not necessarily deliberately so. If it doesn't fit the pattern of mosque building then there aren't too many other conclusions can be made from it... it's a trophy. I'd probably run with Sylvias take; it's a deliberate taunt to Americans and the legal rights & wrongs are irrelevant.

Wouldn't surprise me to find Iranian money behind it, has their signature.


Anonymous said...

I am as far away as you are but following the mosque arguments has made me aware of the effect the continuous taunts and/or grievance mongering of our own Muslim talking heads has already had on me.

Somehow we must find a way to support the voices of those with whom we like to live in amiable disagreement but who get all but drowned in the continuous papperlapapping of the talking heads.

And from all I read and hear neither that Imam Rauf nor Tariq Ramadan speak for my former colleagues who were as adverse to any holier-than-thou drivel as I am.


Anonymous said...

Yaakov -

First, a disclaimer: I live in Brooklyn. I had 2 cousins murdered at WTC on Sept.11. Plus I know many, many people who either lost someone there, escaped the towers or were in the area the day of the attack.

I agree with you, Yaakov, it is hard work to know what is going on, even if you live in the thick of it. I will add that most people are too lazy to find out.

Here are a few factoids:

The area in question is not pure business. There is a large residential development across West St. as well as many converted loft spaces in the area.

There is already a mosque at 45 Park Pl. And there were 2 mosques downtown before.

There are numerous churches and at least one synagogue in the immediate area, as well as the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the National Museum of the American Indian.

Here are 2 interviews with Sharif El-Gamal, who is the project developer.

Paul Berman had this interesting (and short) essay at the NY Times site:

On this page, are links to 3 more essays that deal more with the nature of NYC and tolerance than the mosque itself.

Personally, I have not found the arguments against the center to be very convincing. The articles trying to link Abdul Rauf to militant Islam seem to be specious at best.


Anonymous said...

taken altogether what by now I have read and heard about and by Imam Rauf eerily resembles what I've "imbibed" for years about and from Tariq Ramadan - nothing Ramadan has said or done could make me trust him.

But in this context Raoul Marc Gerecht mentions in the TNR today another moderate i.e. Abdelwahab Meddeb http://www.tnr.com/blog/foreign-policy/77202/-ground-zero-mosque-war-on-terror-moderate-muslims-are-not-the-answer who had or has an hour long program in French radio where he interviews somebody. He comes across as a highly cultivated extremely well read etc etc moderate but why does he start to kind of audibly salivate if he sees a chance that his guest may say something negative about Israel? Then all of a sudden all that laid-backness is gone and he is on full alert "yes?! yes?! -like"- after that had happened a couple of times I stopped listening to his program.

By now I am kind of tired of the same ol' same ol' again and again especially when Berman tells me that mild well-behaved but non-vague Bassam Tibi needed body guards.

And from a German perspective there is a difference between a mosque and a mega-mosque - a mosque may be good or evil but it is not a hub or as yet has never been, from which Allahu Akbar yelling anti Israel mass demonstrations originate. (today it's Israel, tomorrow it's another Cartoon-grievance?)

Of course I may be totally wrong and Park51 is just normal size by US-standards.


Carrie said...

Hi Silke,

Do you have a link to what Nick Cohen said? I can't find it.

And no, Park51 is not normal size by US standards. The Imam and his defenders do however, compare this so-called community center to the JCC (Jewish community Center) or the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) which are both NON-DENOMINATIONAL and do not have a synagogue or church anywhere near them.

Also, I disagree with Nycerbarb. I work around the corner from the proposed mosque site and it is definitely in the middle of a financial and commercial district. The residential buildings he mentioned are a 10 minute walk away and by Manhattan standards that is practically on another planet. There are *some* residents who live in the financial district but nothing compared to other NYC neighborhoods. They have been trying to entice people to move down there for decades but when it comes down to it, it is still a commercial district. It's easy to see for yourself, just go there after 7 on a weekday to see how empty it is.


Anonymous said...

hello Carrie

here's the link
If their enemies say they are Jews, they should shrug and say: “All right, I am.”

so there will be a lot of parking space available for participants in Friday prayers from all over?


Carrie said...

thanks Silke.
There is no parking in the area, unless you want to pay $30-$50 daily for a parking garage.