“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.