Debates: Muslim community center and gubernatorial

“This issue does not appear to be going away,” Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins quotes an ABC reporter as saying. The issue? The proposed Muslim community/prayer center a few blocks from Ground Zero. The difference of opinion seems to be one of a different understanding of civility. Those who oppose the building find it uncivil to build a mosque, or something like it, so close to the place where 3,000 or more Americans were killed by Muslim terrorists. Those who support it, such as Rep. Keith Ellison, who is quoted in Collins’ story, find it uncivil to blame all Muslims for the actions of a few, and to argue for denying Muslims what U.S. law guarantees them on the basis of them following an unpopular opinion.

In Ellison’s words, “If a group can be stopped from their house of worship … that’ll be a setback for the idea that you can worship as you see fit in America. That’s not the Constitution that the framers wrote.” Ellison also appeared on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”; there, the host played a clip from Brian Fisher of the American Family Association, who says, “Permits, in my judgment, should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America, not one. We ought to be done with the building of mosques in the United States of America.” Ellison’s comments included the following: “[T]hose transnational terrorists who did attack the United States on 9/11, their narrative is that the west is at war with Islam.  My question to my fellow Americans is why would we want to reinforce that false narrative? Don‘t we want to undermine it?” Here is the transcript, and MinnPost has the video.

And Ellison isn’t the only local coming out in favor of the community center — and let’s note that we at the Glean are using the word “community center” deliberately, as we refer to similar organizations as community centers, such as Jewish Community Centers, despite that such places often have worship areas. Were we to call the proposed structure a mosque, we would have to call the Sabes Center in St. Paul a synagogue. Another local supporting the center is Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches and president of the National Council of Churches, as quoted in a story by Paul Schmelzer of Minnesota Independent. Chemberlin says, in part, “We are deeply saddened by those who denigrate a religion which in so many ways is a religion of compassion and peace by associating all Muslims with violent extremism.”

The truth is, however, that all of this discussion is a sort of a smoke-and-mirrors game. There is no issue with the proposed community center — its right to exist is guaranteed by our Constitution, and therefore any discussion of it is necessarily one of taste — whether you find the fact of it to be tacky or not. Thankfully, “tacky” is not something we legislate; if that were the case, we at the Glean would have helped right a bill in opposition to Thomas Kinkade years ago, because, honestly, it doesn’t even work as kitsch. Quel gauche! The community center is, however, an issue custom-made for outrage, and perhaps it’s why the issue continues to be trotted out, even though we couldn’t actually do anything about it without violating the first sentence of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

There are issues at stake beyond those of taste; locally, in the lead-up to the gubernatorial election, we get to enjoy a series of dialogues where these issues are articulated and differences are enumerated. We call these debates; Ambrose Bierce called them, and all politics, a “strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles,” and, depending on your taste, Bierce was either unusually cynical or unusually honest. The first of these strifes of interests between the various parties’ gubernatorial candidates took place Friday, and it was, as John Croman of KARE11 says in his summary, a “spirited debate.” Croman focuses mostly on the candidates’ differences concerning taxes. Democrat Mark Dayton wants to raise them on the state’s highest earners. Republican Tom Emmer wants to slash government instead — er, nix that. “We’re not talking about cutting government services, “Emmer said. “We’re talking about redesigning government and creating an economy that grows new jobs!” The truth is, however, that at this moment, Emmer has been talking about the idea of redesigning government — to this day, he has yet to produce a plan for how that would be done, and none was forthcoming at the debate; IP candidate Tom Horner pointed this out, as quoted by the Associated Press: “In all fairness, you haven’t given us any answer.

Horner also interjected occasionally to point out just how fighty Dayton and Emmer were, quoted by Croman: “I think when you see most of the hour devoted to Sen. Dayton and Rep. Emmer throwing bombs at one another, that’s the preview of the next four years if one of them is governor.” The AP also has Horner tossing out this mot: “If there were a JetBlue flight attendant watching this, he’d be saying, ‘You guys are nuts, I’m out of here,’ grabbing a beer and going.”

It will be interesting to see how these debates affect the polls, if at all. According to Paul Blume and Mary Costello of FOX9, were the election held today, the candidates line up this way: Polls have Dayton in the lead with 45 percent, Emmer trailing at 36 percent, and Horner at 10 percent, with only 10 percent of likely voters undecided.

In the arts: Continuing with the theme, a few weeks ago, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts asked a number of gubernatorial candidates about their commitments to Twin Cities arts. Mark Dayton’s answers can be found here (a quote: “There’s a saying that we build upon the shoulders of those who preceded us, and those who have preceded the next Governor have made a phenomenal contribution to our state by passing the Legacy Amendment and ensuring that that funding would be additional funding for the arts throughout the state.”). Tom Horner was also interviewed, which can be read here. (A quote from Horner: “I think it’s awfully important that we make sure that the arts remains an important part of our education curriculum. That kids are exposed to the arts in the same way that we want them exposed to language arts, to science, to math.”) The group contacted Tom Emmer but has, at yet, not heard back from him.

In sports: It was about six years ago that the Quad Cities River Bandits stopped being Minnesota Twins affiliates, but we like to check in on them now and again, mostly because minor league baseball seems to be a locus for entertainingly weird events. We missed this in May, but, thanks to YouTube, we can nonetheless still enjoy the spectacle of a River Bandits game getting shut down for three minutes because a rabbit has taken the field and refuses to leave.

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by kay smith on 08/16/2010 - 10:32 am.

    Max, I’ll join the bill against Kincaid ‘art’ if we add in Precious Moments. Gaakk!

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/16/2010 - 10:37 am.

    In a country ostensibly founded on religious tolerance, the anti-Islamic rhetoric is shameful demagoguery. We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life and it’s part of living in such a diverse country.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/16/2010 - 11:07 am.

    You just have to remember, the Republican right has never been about religious freedom, it’s objective is roll back the 20th century and establish a Christian Theocracy. Once you understand that the call for a ban on mosque building makes perfect sense.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/16/2010 - 11:31 am.

    Richard (#2) is on the mark, but so is Paul (#3). “Freedom” for the wingnuts that I’ve read and encountered means “believing, behaving and buying as I do.” If we’re going to vilify an entire religion for the actions of a few, people who claim to be Christian have a lot to answer for themselves.

    Meanwhile, I’m inclined to agree with Kay Smith, on both counts, as well.

  5. Submitted by Howard Salute on 08/16/2010 - 11:43 am.

    Would someone please clarify who is paying for this community/prayer center? That answer will help me determine if I support the project.

  6. Submitted by Lance Groth on 08/16/2010 - 12:28 pm.

    At least the controversy over the community center is flushing out those who either don’t respect constitutional rights as basic as freedom of religion, or are haters, or both. What’s distressing is that they appear to make up about half the population.

    Sadly, Gov. Pawlenty has declared himself to be one of them. I guess that will impress the 1% of Iowa republicans who think he’s worthy to be president.

  7. Submitted by Patricia Gundersen on 08/16/2010 - 12:29 pm.

    The founding fathers could not have envisioned an attack such as the one on 9-11 in NYC. It was the mass murder of law abiding citizens at work. Civilized people/nations do not intentionally murder without declaring war. Three separate devastations were planned for that day. Historically, muslims build a mosque at the site of their military successes.

    With that in mind it is an affront to all people of the US, especially to New Yorkers that a mosque is planned near Ground Zero. What part of that thought isn’t understood? Since the plan was created by a religious group, I feel they should be more sensitive to the feelings of the families and their 9/11 victims who either jumped to their deaths or were incinerated at the hands of Muslims. Those of us who are still alive can give some thought to what kind of panic and thinking goes thru the mind of a person when deciding to jump out of a skyscraper to avoid being incinerated. Add to that the huge number of dead. Are Muslims totally void of sympathy and respect?

    The opposition to the plan is not related to US non practice of religious freedom, it is related to honoring innocent victims of a vicious non wartime attack for the purpose of killing non military moms, dads, and youthful adults.

    What part of the above do the peaceful muslim people not understand? Why can’t they build further away from their current location? That kind of action would be more acceptable and they would have their “center” for meetings, etc. If that isn’t acceptable for Muslims, how can they justify their lack of compassion and understanding? Why has the Mayor of NYC not replied in favor similiarly on behalf of the murdered and their families?

    This plan is disgusting by all in favor of the project. Ground Zero is a burial ground of the murdered innocent as in Auschwitz. Perhaps the religious Moslems can understand if it is presented with that example.

  8. Submitted by Max Sparber on 08/16/2010 - 12:50 pm.

    I suspect the above-mentioned Muslims do not understand why they are held to be collectively responsible for the actions of a few fanatics. Would you be opposed to a church being built next to a womens’ health clinic? After all, Christians have bombed those clinics and murdered the doctors. Or is that sort of corporate responsibility, and corporate sensitivity, only demanded of Muslims.

    Besides, there already is a mosque within a few blocks of Ground Zero, and has been for years. Would you extend your demand for sensitivity to asking that it be shut down? What of the gentleman’s club that is the same distance that the mosque would be? What of any of this ordinary commerce:

    If it is to be a sacred ground, we must protect it from anything that is insensitive to the dead — and we wouldn’t put a Burger King on a grave. But it seems that there is only one sort of insensitivity that is intolerable, and it is the insensitivity of people who wish to worship, because of the coincidence of their being the same religion as a group of murderers.

  9. Submitted by Sue Halligan on 08/16/2010 - 01:29 pm.

    Totally agree with you (and thousands of New Yorkers, according to a poll I took online yesterday) about the Muslin Community Center. And hey! do I ever agree with you about Thomas Kinkade…

  10. Submitted by Lance Groth on 08/16/2010 - 01:46 pm.

    *sigh* this is tiresome, but o.k., let’s look at some of Ms. Gundersen’s assertions.

    No declaration of war: We were not attacked by a nation. We were attacked by a band of terrorists – individuals from various nations who signed up for bin Laden’s cause. Nations make war; individuals engage in terrorism. A declaration of war is largely irrelevant; even so, bin Laden did declare back in the 90’s that he considered himself to be at war with the U.S. – if that makes you feel better.

    “Mosque” near ground zero – It is not a mosque, nor is it anything new. The plans call for a community center which includes prayer space. A small mosque already exists in the same neighborhood, and no one has ever objected to it.

    Sensitivity to deaths – the horrors of 9/11 are self evident. Muslim-americans were among the victims too – are their deaths any less significant? The purpose of the center, as I’ve heard it explained, is to provide a community center for mainstream muslims, and to promote understanding between muslims, christians and jews. Is that not a more fitting memorial than suspicion and hatred?

    Muslim sympathy – why should all muslims feel responsibility for the actions of the terrorists? Do all christians feel responsibility for the actions of Timothy McVeigh? Muslims were victims too. This is not a religious war – christians are not at war with muslims in a new crusade. The concept of war doesn’t even really apply – the enemy is a band of terrorists, and it has far more to do with politics, power and control than it does religion.

    Non-military targets – this is not a war in the traditional sense, nor is the enemy a nation. Even if it were, the concept of not targeting civilians went by the boards when nations started bombing cities in WWII – the U.S. included. Were the civilians in London or Dresden legitimate military targets? Or the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The whole concept of nuclear war as it was planned for during the Cold War involved annihilating one another’s cities with ICBM’s. Civilians die in wars, and are often targeted deliberately. But 9/11 was not a wartime operation, it was a criminal act by terrorists. Was it cowardly? Yes. Vicious, abhorrent, horrifying? All yes. But it has nothing to do with the right of fellow americans who happen to be muslim to build a community center on private property.

    The rights and freedoms guaranteed to us by the constitution are the very core of what it means to be American. If we compromise those principles out of fear, vengeance, hatred or political convenience, we change in a way that means the terrorists have won. The proposed center should be viewed as a tool to promote peaceful understanding and a celebration of the rights that Americans hold to be precious – not as a wedge to cause additional divisiveness, suspicion and bigotry. I for one will not stop living as a free American regardless of what any external enemy may do, and that includes respecting the freedoms of my fellow Americans – including their right to build a place of community and worship on their own private property. We can show by the choices we make whether we are truly better than our enemies. Banning the community center – or all mosques, as Mr. Fisher wants – means that we are not.

  11. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/16/2010 - 01:54 pm.

    “First they came for the Socialists…” [Martin Niemoller].

    What our so-called “Christian” friends (not the majority of us who claim the name of Christ, I strongly suspect) fail to realize is that their right to worship as THEY see fit depends on the same Constitution that grants Muslims (and people of ANY OTHER faith) the ABSOLUTE right to freedom of religion.

    This obviously includes the right to build a community center which includes a worship site on property they legally own.

    Of course if some among us want to go back to the days when individual states, communities and neighborhoods outlawed all but one particular religious sect, or if they’d like to initiate new days when one stripe of Fundamentalist or Evangelical might like to keep another stripe of Fundamentalist Evangelicals or all varieties of liberal protestants from polluting the areas in which they live (or vice versa) I suppose they’re welcome to initiate a movement to amend the constitution to do so.

    Lacking that, however, it continues to be absolute fact and one of our great national strengths, that our constitution protects ALL of us from the extreme sensitivities of those few of us who believe the world should be carefully arranged so as never to make them even the tiniest bit uncomfortable with something someone else may (or may not) be doing.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/16/2010 - 02:28 pm.

    I think the left and it’s mouthpieces have hit the perfect note on the Cordoba mosque controversy.

    P-BO, especially, hit it right out of the park.

    More, just like that, please.

  13. Submitted by Max Sparber on 08/16/2010 - 02:40 pm.

    I am glad you approve, Mr. Swift. I would assume the left and the right would share that note, seeing as it is based in defending the Constitution and the essential freedoms our country promises all its members, but I have learned not to assume.

  14. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/16/2010 - 03:12 pm.

    Oh, the constitutional right to build monuments to hatred is well established, Bunny.

    It’s just that it’s not often that one end of the ideological spectrum accommodates the other by defending the righteousness of doing so very often…especially within two months of an election.

    I guess in their new found zeal to rally around religions, the scary smart, reality based community has gotten over that whole “clinging to guns and bibles” thing, eh?


  15. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 08/16/2010 - 03:26 pm.

    The “scary smart, reality based community” also realizes there’s not much to that whole “clinging to guns and Korans” thing either.

  16. Submitted by Max Sparber on 08/16/2010 - 03:33 pm.

    “Oh, the constitutional right to build monuments to hatred is well established, Bunny.”

    That’s an interesting statement. I wonder what it refers to? I always look forward to your next comment, because it’s a bit like a treasure hunt of trying to parse talking points and stereotyping to locate the facts underneath. Alas, I failed with this one; there just doesn’t seem to be a single fact I can uncover.

  17. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 08/16/2010 - 05:03 pm.

    Mr Swift- I read this space often enough to catch your repeated use of “bunny” when referring to Mr Sparber, but thankfully not enough to trace back its roots.

    So, enlighten me, and others like me who don’t hang out here all of their waking hours- is there a story we should know, or is this just the typical right-winger approach of resorting to name calling and bluster? Or do you just have a rabbit fetish?

  18. Submitted by r batnes on 08/16/2010 - 07:28 pm.

    Dimitri, Mr. Sparber has mentioned that “bunny” was a nickname of his in his late teens. For some reason, Mr. Swift loves to use it in his posts, dripping with condescension of course.

  19. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/16/2010 - 08:10 pm.

    Actually, reducing an opposing person to a pet name is a well-known psychological defense mechanism which helps the person inappropriately using the name to keep up the psychological wall which allows them never, ever to consider what that opposing person might be saying.

    I believe it’s possible to tell how much a particular issue has gotten under the skin of those inclined to do so; how close that wall might be to cracking, by how quickly and how often such names are used in their replies.

  20. Submitted by Max Sparber on 08/16/2010 - 08:49 pm.

    My nickname is still Bunny. It is possible Mr. Swift is trying to needle me, or perhaps just thinks my nickname is funny. However, I like it, and can’t be offended when somebody calls me a name I actually answer to.

  21. Submitted by Stephan Flister on 08/16/2010 - 08:57 pm.

    Please don’t feed the troll.

  22. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/16/2010 - 09:39 pm.

    Max, the risk in this overly-familiarized behavior is not to you.

  23. Submitted by Max Sparber on 08/16/2010 - 11:11 pm.

    To the other rabbits in the warren, then? Fiver did say he saw the fields covered in blood.

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