The American people, having been put through endless sensitivity training over the past few decades, know offensiveness when they see it. And they see it in the mosque proposed for lower Manhattan.
So, yes, the American people are a bit stunned to find the fingers pointed at themselves when controversy erupts over a $100 million Islamic project just two blocks from where 10 terrorists brought down two 110-story towers in the name of Islam. They don’t find this turning of the sensitivity tables ironic, but outrageous.
They are more than irked to hear the speaker of the House of Representatives suggest that those Americans speaking out against the mosque should be investigated to see who’s bankrolling them, not least since the identities of the mosque’s donors are still being withheld.
They hear lofty talk about tolerance and upholding the First Amendment — or at least part of it — and they think, “The freedom to practice Islam in this country does not hinge on the specific placement of one mosque in downtown New York. That’s not what this is about.”
They find it hard to believe that reputedly moderate Muslims dedicated to “improving Muslim-West relations,” as the Cordoba Initiative group behind this project says it is, would be surprised to learn that Americans’ wound hasn’t scabbed over in nine divisive years. Or think that they can demonstrate good faith by tacking on a 9/11 memorial at the last minute.
In fact, if the Cordoba planners and their supporters understand anything about America in 2010, they will see a country that can’t seem to snap out of an economic downturn, that is underemployed and overextended, where an entire coastline stands to be covered in oil (until it isn’t), where the states are suing the feds over a health care law and the feds are suing a state over an immigration law and everyone is suing everyone else over gay marriage laws, where anti-war protesters are throwing pies in the faces of Democratic senators and flight attendants are cussing out their passengers and taking the emergency chute.
And they will think, maybe this is not the very best moment to gauge the national reserves of tolerance and patience.
The wiser heads among us will think about the ground zero mosque and that immigration law, and their thoughts will turn once again to that place that so often lately has been showing us the future consequences of our present actions: Europe.
They will recall that the political class’ general prescription for everyday Europeans’ misgivings about their substantial Muslim influx has been more insistence on tolerance, more multiculturalism and the dismissal of any concerns to the contrary from polite political conversation.
They will observe that the result in formerly tolerant places like Holland, where a filmmaker and a politician critical of Islam and immigrants were assassinated, and Belgium, where certain immigrant-heavy areas of the capital Brussels and the port city Antwerp are virtual no-go zones for people who look European, has been a spike in the popularity and electoral success of openly anti-immigrant, anti-Islam political parties.
They will note that the failure of political leaders in these countries, and in places like Denmark, Switzerland and even Britain, to deal seriously with popular complaints about the other has not ended the complaints but made them louder and uglier.
And they will conclude that even in America, with a prouder history of assimilation and inclusiveness than Europe has, it would be prudent to meet this outrage with something other than finger-wagging.