A Mosque, Some Muslims, and a Mob

Is it possible The People should ever be their own enemies?

~ Fischer Ames (1805)

Remember 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.

Admittedly 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 distractions. (Call 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.

The political 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.

The farce 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.

The entire 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.

Like many 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.

Where once 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.

James Madison 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 lifeboat.

C.J. Maloney
Whiskey & Gunpowder

December 29, 2010