Thoughts on the NYC Mosque Debate

The following is a comment I left on Amy Peikoff's excellent counterpoint to Paul Hsieh's outstanding post.  If you haven't already, please read those posts.
I echo the other commenters in saying that this, along with Paul Hsieh’s (and others’) work greatly contributes to turning this into a valuable and reasonable discussion.

Now, I’d like focus on the boiled down argument for sake of simplicity. Let’s presume that you and I both agree about the nature of Islam — we believe the worst. (In fact, I do… no presumption here.) The issue, as you stated, in this lose-lose situation is “there’s a judgment call to be made here, but if the choice is secular statism vs. Sharia law, I will pick the former.”

You mentioned the active, immediate violence of Islam. Is it possible that you may be discounting the active violence (and passive violence) done by our government on us, every moment of every day? We’ve got the obvious but somewhat less frequent examples of abuse of power, arbitrary imprisonment and death by police, drug laws, etc… Then there are the less obvious, “death by a million pin pricks” attacks of regulations, taxes, etc., killing us slowly.

What I’m getting at is that we’re staring two evil enemies right in the face, and wondering which one we should give a little appeasement to in order to throttle the other one? Cost-benefit, risk-reward, which one can we least afford to appease in this lose-lose situation?

Again, fully recognizing the virulent evil of Sharia and Islam, I come down on the side of stopping the growth of our government’s rights-violating practices at all costs. If I were to guess which will be a greater threat to my kids’ lives in 20 years, I would unquestionably pick the arbitrary force of our own government.

Now, you brought up an important point, namely that “secular statism has less staying power than does theocratic statism” and I agree completely. That has me pondering my position, but I still think it is more important, right now, to check the power of our government.

My reason is summed up in the question: What gives Sharia the possibility of establishing a foothold in this, the most moral rights-respecting nation on Earth? It should be impotent, but our government and our culture is allowing it to be a real threat. The dominant philosophical trends in the culture are eating us alive from the inside out, weakening our defenses. We are thus vulnerable to both foreign (Islam) and domestic (our government) enemies.

But how do I then choose which threat must be stopped right now? I think that, because our government and the culture that drives it is, by the rule of law, the entity that is supposed to protect our rights, it is more important to strengthen it from within, to fortify those defenses, than it is to pick off one of the skirmishers from the foreign enemy camp.

We’ve got both strategic and tactical problems here. What is the best long-term strategy, and what are the short-term tactics to use in this particular situation? I think most Objectivists would agree with what I believe is the [long-term] strategy of the ARI, namely that we must change the culture of the West.

My view is that the long-term and short-term thus align. Checking the power of our government now would save lives now. Changing the culture long-term would empower it and thus the government to stand proudly and show Islam for the impotent force it should be in our country.

My concern is that if we don’t check the power of the state now, and start to roll it back, there won’t be anything left for Islam to conquer in the coming decades.
 After thinking about it, I added this a few minutes later:
One other thing I just thought of regarding theocratic statism as the greater long-term threat…

Considering this country’s history and some of the signs from the religious Right, I think it is more likely that we would swing toward Sarah Palin’s ideal of a Christian theocracy, both in response to the amoral secularism of the Left, and the threat of Islamic infiltration. The disdain of the “godless hippies” and the bloodlust for a religious war with Islam could be the perfect storm tipping us towards that hell. In that light, I think limiting our government is even more important, giving us more of a foundation to fight the Christians in our midst.
In essence, we are right to fear a theocracy, but I don't think Islam is the threat in the US that it is in Europe.  Instead, Obama's disastrous presidency and what I think will be the merging of the Tea Parties and the religious Right may radically strengthen the Christian theocrats, and a religious war with Islam would push us all over the edge.


mtnrunner2 said...

(I got a 404 error the first time I posted, so please excuse if this is a dupe comment)

Don't you think the critical difference between Peikoff and others is the fact that he regards us to be in a state of war? I don't think he's weighing protection of property rights against protection of the country under normal conditions. I think he's saying we are at war, and is recommending appropriate wartime behavior.

In my view, actions as blocking a building would not be warranted in a time of peace against a group that made no threat against us. That was my original stance.

However, if it is indeed war (and I am referring to de facto war, against the de fact enemy -- Islamic fundamentalism and the states that sponsor it) then might not actions be judged differently?

The problem for me is I am not entirely sure what that line in the sand is, but certainly part of a war effort must be denying the enemy both a moral victory and a potential material attack?

If accepted, this premise would certainly escalate our national security situation in my mind far beyond what I previously held. And if we are at war, as a nation we certainly are not acting like it, other than the valiant efforts of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

C. August said...

Yes, I think that is THE critical difference, and I think it drops the context of what the purpose of a real war declaration is, at least in a constitutional republic.

I think the most important function of such a declaration is to allow the government to prosecute the war successfully -- even including suspending some rights to do so -- and then hand back all those powers when victory is declared.

I posted another comment on Amy's post today, and in it I said

"As others have said, the political process of officially declaring war has the important function of making war powers _temporary_ and thus they can be taken away after the war. Conceding de facto war powers in an undeclared war means that the powers will just be added to the executive branch and will never be taken away."

We should be at war, but we aren't. We are being attacked, and doing next to nothing. It's a lose-lose situation with no good answer. But to my mind, our own government is the greater long- and short-term threat that is enabling the attacks from Islam, and thus should be the thing that is checked.

But the mosque itself makes me sick to my stomach, and I wouldn't be upset if it was wipe off the face of the earth. I just don't want to give the govt. more arbitrary coercive power over my life to get that result.

mtnrunner2 said...

>We should be at war, but we aren't

Ah, gotcha.

What if we were to officially declare war against the true enemy? Would they then be considered sympathizers and blocked from building the mosque?

C. August said...

Good question! Based on the evidence I've seen so far, I think a case could certainly be made to block it. And with the force of a true declaration as a motivator, my guess is that the authorities would actually do a thorough job of digging to establish the terrorist links we all presume are there.

So in this case, I think yes, it would be blocked.

Now, what if there were no ties? Would war powers allow it to be blocked simply because it's right next to Ground Zero? I think it should, but I don't know enough to say definitively.

The proximity to GZ is the key there, whereas I think a regular mosque in Kansas City should possibly be allowed during such a war.

My guess is that my last statement would be objected to by those who say that there "are no peaceful muslims" and that the religion by nature is at war with all infidels.

I agree that is a core part of the religion, but I think there is a line there between the doctrine of the religion and its translation into "political Islam" in this country. I'm reminded of the John Lewis' TOS article (and later book) about the US actions in Japan after winning the war, and how McArthur specifically stated that political Shinto, i.e. state-supported Shinto, was to be wiped out, but that peaceful, non-state Shinto shrines and private observance was fine. Of course, this was after we won.

One question, which is muddied because of the internment camps: would it have been OK, during the war, for peaceful, fully Americanized Japanese-Americans to practice the Shinto religion here, and build temples for it? I'm not sure.

I'm inclined to say "yes" but if it wasn't, then that would be saying that in an officially declared war on Iran and Islamism, a Shi'ite mosque couldn't be built in Kansas City. That's a tough one. Thoughts?

Brian Fritts said...

I haven't decided which side of this debate I support yet. To be honest, work has really precluded me from taking the time to carefully consider it and read all the relevant posts. I'm planning on using some of the extra time this holiday weekend to dig into it.

However, my first cursory review made me think of Dr. Lewis's article and book as well. The relevant distinction to me seems to be private worship versus political Islam and the advocacy for Sharia law. To the extent the mosque is going to be used for the latter, the justification for banning it increases.