08 August 2010

Much ado about nothing

It is incredibly strange to me exactly how much irrational sentiment has been stirred up by the proposed building of the Córdoba House at the Park 51 site in Manhattan. Nate Silver makes some good factual points in his blog post on the subject: Park 51 is not at Ground Zero but rather two city blocks north on a parallel street, nor is it even visible from Ground Zero; and a plurality of Manhattan residents support the project (though majorities of New York residents and American citizens, for one reason or another, oppose it). For my own part, I honestly think it shouldn’t be a controversial issue at all. I can see why some might be upset about it, but the Córdoba Initiative has legal title to the land, and they are guaranteed under the Constitution the right to build a religious community centre there, full stop. So much the better if they want to use their community centre to promote interfaith dialogue between the Abrahamic faiths; I’m always game for that, particularly if there are caffeinated beverages involved.

But sadly, as is so often the case in our political culture, the issue has blown up into a complete drama fest. Radical-right gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino said he would use eminent domain to halt the project even as NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg leapt to its defence; the ADL came out publicly against the project because it might potentially offend the sensibilities of New Yorkers; Fareed Zakaria went on CNN eloquently defending the centre and then announcing that he would return the ADL’s Hubert Humphrey Prize awarded to him in defence of First Amendment freedoms (kudos for integrity, but not for discretion); Abraham Foxman of the ADL declared himself ‘saddened’ and ‘stunned’ by Zakaria’s return of the prize; and so on and so forth.

As amusing as all this political theatre is, may I make a suggestion à la Alan Tudyk that we as a society please start showing some rudiments of maturity and class and start talking about some real foreign policy issues relating to outreach to Islamic nations rather than doing all this pointless posturing over a completely legal religious project at home?

EDIT: Oh, and let’s start reading mediaeval Spanish history properly, what say? (Hat-tip to Michael Bérubé at Crooked Timber.)

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