This whole Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site thing has just gotten ridiculous. Actually, let’s revise that. This whole Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site thing started OUT ridiculous and has just gotten absurd. News sources all over the world, from LA to NY, from the Christian Science Monitor to CNN, just about every news source has gotten the story wrong. Either they’ve pussy-footed around the issue, presenting the stories of those still grieving in order to bolster their non-argument with emotional pleading, or they’ve just presented insanity. The fact of the matter is this: the Islamic religion as a whole was not responsible for the events of September 11th and acting as though a building for the study of one of the world’s largest religions should be a hot-button issue in any way is just ludicrous. And I’m not saying people don’t have a right to their emotions or something, I’m saying we shouldn’t let blind fear and hatred overwhelm our common sense. It’s about realizing that sometimes, two points of view do not carry the same weight. Just because someone out there believes something, that does not automatically make it a valid point of view, and the only group out there in the mainstream media that understands that is Comedy Central.
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So here’s my question: Why is it that the only mainstream media source in the world that’s got the ability to be clear and direct with a touchy but fairly, and I’m sorry if this offends, but obvious issue, is The Daily Show?
I think that what we’re seeing here is the same thing we often see in the media, the problem of a news source deciding there are two sides to this story. And I suppose that in some ways, there are. But one of the sides is wrong. And once again, I’m sorry if that offends, but there it is. We were not attacked by the Muslim religion. We were attacked by a bunch of douchebag extremists. After Jonestown, no one in San Francisco objected to having powdered drink mix on the shelves, after Ted Kaczynski, no one objected to people walking around mailboxes sporting outlandish beards and sunglasses. When tragedies occur, we are often able in this country to take a second and blame the people responsible, and not go after everyone that looks like them or believes what they believe. As John Oliver put it last week on that same Daily Show, saying you can’t have an Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero is just like saying Jews can’t wear kipas on Good Friday or that Catholics can’t have churches near playgrounds.
My guess is that what we’re looking at here is a news media terribly afraid that if they make someone out there feel uncomfortable, they’ll change the channel.
More than that, we’re seeing at work here the common post-modernist notion that viewpoints are equal, just because both are believed. That ideology is mistaken. In the world that we live in, there are some things that are objectively true. Scientifically speaking, the theory of evolution does not have to be contrasted to intelligent design just like the theory of gravity doesn’t have to be contrasted to my hypothesis that we’ve all got invisible glue on our feet. Although a politician may view this as a hot issue, from a legal standpoint it’s completely and totally cut and dry.
The people who want to build this new Islamic Cultural Center are fully protected by the first amendment to practice and study their religion however and wherever they like. That means, it’s not up to us to tell them “maybe you should go somewhere else.” The first amendment isn’t something that you can just throw aside when someone else practicing it makes you feel personally uncomfortable. So here’s the real rub: even if the people at this particular Islamic center were going to preach some sort of anti-American speech, which they’re not going to, it would still be protected under the first amendment of the constitution, as long as they were not explicitly inciting people to violence. If they wanted to, which they don’t, they would be allowed to preach that America was a capitalist devil right outside the World Trade Center site. It wouldn’t be in good taste, and we’d be free to protest it, but it would be perfectly legal and protected speech and no one would have any right to tell them they should go somewhere else to say it. It’s just like with our good friend Fred Phelps and his delightfully hateful Westboro Baptist Church. Our not liking what he says has no bearing on his right to say it, especially when he stands out on public property and says it. He has every right in the world to say what he says. Frankly, I’m pretty glad that it’s moderate Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, that wants to build a new religious structure and not an asshole like Phelps.
(My apologies to Imam Rauf for the implied comparison between him and Phelps. There are few people in the world that actually deserve that.)
Only one side of this story has any sort of legal precedence on its side. And that’s before you ever even get into the fact that these specific Muslims who want to build an Islamic Center had NOTHING TO DO WITH AL QAEDA. Shame on the news media for acting as though there are two equal sides in this debate. Implying that there is some reason why we should ignore the first amendment just to make people who can’t separate a radical minority from a group of over 1.5 billion feel comfortable is going to do nothing but allow a fairly clear issue to get more muddied.
There is a specific group that was responsible for 9-11. They acted out of hatred, desperation, malice, and a perverse need to attack us. They attacked us partially because they believed our nation was an enemy of Islam and because they wanted to change the way we lived. By acting out against their entire faith and allowing ourselves to abscond with one of our most cherished values due to a non-reality proves the terrorists fear of us and succeeds in their goal. There are issues out there where two sides are equal and I would like to see the mainstream media discuss them as such. But on plenty of issues the two sides are nowhere near equal, and treating them as though they each have merit does us no good.