Notes from Underground


The Ground Zero mosque
on the skyline of Babel




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The fact that Muslims in New York want to build a community center housing a mosque near the former site of the Twin Towers, felled nearly a decade ago by a dramatic and horrific act of Islamic terrorism, is nothing less than manna from Heaven for certain Republican politicians, both in New York and across the country. Here they have an easily exploitable issue, touching on still-prevalent fears and resentments held by Americans toward Islam, particularly since September 11th, 2001.

Indeed, a raw and visceral outrage rises in the hearts of many at the very notion of a star-and-crescent minaret's being erected near the very spot where the Towers crashed and burned after being rammed by black-hearted jihadist hijackers of passenger planes. It seems like an insult, a slap in the face, for such a structure even to be contemplated, much less actually constructed, at such a location. And righteous resentment can be a potent animating force come election time.

But however delicious a "red meat" meal such an issue makes, one is hard-pressed to find in it a nourishing morsel relating to anything of substance. The symbolism inherent in the very notion of a "Ground Zero mosque," while undeniably powerful, rests on nothing of significance. This political football deflates when one grips it too hard.

In the first place, those looking for legal grounds on which to disallow the construction of Cordoba House appear to be out of luck, assuming the property has been properly purchased, deeds signed, and applicable zoning laws respected. Today's conservatives, though proclaiming themselves to be strongly opposed to statism, never have much trouble twisting themselves into pretzels of inconsistency if circumstances change just a touch. Examples abound: Obama's current Big Government power-grab is intolerable, but George W. Bush's equally atrocious record of reckless federal spending is easily forgiven; socialistic welfare-state programs are perpetually frowned upon, while the continuous and escalating orgies of warfare-state budget-busting by the military-industrial complex rarely provoke consternation. As activists try to throw a wrench into the planning of Cordoba House with filibuster-like maneuvers over building codes and such, we again witness the upsetting spectacle of movement conservatives agitating for governmental intrusion into the free market. If one were in an ungenerous mood, one might assume that their adherence to capitalism is entirely contingent upon circumstances, instead of being a treasured end in itself.

But beyond such legalistic machinations, opponents are attempting an even more profoundly ineffectual appeal: it is the approach first honed and perfected by liberals but now used by just about everyone: the guilt-trip shame-o-rama, most famously expressed in Joseph Welch's maudlin riposte to Joe McCarthy, in a tone fairly dripping with patrician exasperation and self-righteousness: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?"

This "How dare you!" approach is now a hallmark strategy employed in skirmishes between warring factions in our degenerate Western culture, which perpetually wants to apologize for its very existence, and for which acts of contrition for past sins (real or imagined) have become a near-daily ritual. Accuse a man of being racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic, and you've got him by the short hairs. If he denies the charge he sounds as though he's just "in denial," and if he indulges in attempted contrition, he is never forgiven and forever held up for ridicule.

Republicans can now play this game nearly as well as their opponents; witness David Letterman's abject humiliation after making a joke at Bristol Palin's expense or the fallout over Senator Robert Byrd's remarks about "white niggers" a few years ago. These days it's liberals, as often as not, who are hoist with their own rhetorical petard; movement conservatives have grown equally adept at turning the tables and employing political correctness as a bludgeon against their enemies. Now, some may call that progress, but others, your humble correspondent among them, would beg to differ.

As amazingly effective as the "shame-hazing" ritual is nowadays, however, it simply won't work when its targets are people representing an alien culture. Muslims haven't been trained to think that their existence is a cancer upon the face of the Earth, so they're not going to feel ashamed about any purported lack of sensitivity at building their mosque a mere spitting distance from the ash and wreckage of the Twin Towers. They are quite immune to all mawkish "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" rhetoric. Whether they yearn to blow themselves up and meet their doe-eyed virgins in Paradise or prefer quieter demonstrations of piety, they won't go along on any Western-guided guilt trip. Their notion of decency isn't to meet the approval of the Infidel but to do the Will of Allah. Whatever we may think of them, their activities, or their conception of the divine, we must admit that this type of appeal is doomed to fail. It's not a language they speak or understand.

If Cordoba House proceeds as planned, it will indeed be a precedent-setting project. The hand-wringers do have a point when they ask whether a Shinto-Japanese monument would ever have been allowed overlooking Battleship Row ten years after Pearl Harbor. The cultural decline of the West continues apace — it has gathered momentum by leaps and bounds in the years between December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001. A healthy, virile culture — whether relying on means social or statist — wouldn't let adherents of fundamentally alien ideologies establish offensive citadels in its midst. But the absence of sturdy Western morale isn't the fault of Islam, a growing faith that seeks only to thrive and to conquer and subdue the world in accordance with its understanding of divine dictates. Rather, it is an inevitable result of a society that has come unmoored from its spiritual and cultural roots. The only way to regain our strength is to rediscover these roots.

It would take a miracle for such a rediscovery to take place at this point, but stranger things have happened in history. Radical Islam, for all of its faults, is not the catalyst of our decline. Those unduly worked up over the Cordoba House project should look at broader questions and seek deeper solutions. And an examination of James Burnham's prescient and prophetic book Suicide of the West, written almost five decades ago, might be a good place to start.  Ω

August 17, 2010

Published in 2010 by WTM Enterprises.

Related article:
"Repatriating the West," by Ronn Neff (1997)

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