More Thoughts on the GZM

Since I weighed in on the Ground Zero mosque not quite two months ago, I have been troubled with my position. I felt a strong sense of discord in my thinking; while I held my reasoning was sound in my position of not wanting the government to use arbitrary force to stop the mosque, the mosque itself is such a monstrosity that the thought of it seems to fester in my mind like an infection or cancer. I chalked it up to what Paul Hsieh had described as a "lose-lose situation" in that there are no good options here.

This morning, Stephen Bourque made an interesting argument about the situation.
If individual rights were being upheld in a reasonably consistent fashion in America, one might argue that the breach constituted by blocking the building of the mosque would threaten the rule of law itself. (Such a breach still might not compare to the threat of Islam, but the argument could be made.) However, this is not a case of “the cure being worse than the disease.” We already have the disease. The government seems to recognize no restraint on its powers to regulate and control our lives. . .

In light of this, my dilemma can be expressed more clearly: Given the past and present failings of the federal government, should it now apply an incremental evil of its own to stop a monstrous, civilization-threatening evil? In those terms, the answer in the affirmative is obvious. [emphasis in original]
I'm not sure if it's obvious, but it is something to think about. Previously, I wrote:
. . .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.
The discord is still there, perhaps even stronger when contemplating Stephen's arguments, but I still think it's a lose-lose.


Anonymous said...

Quite a conundrum, isn't it? In a pincer movement between two evils, both of which seek to smother individual rights, capitalism, and so on, which one does one fight first? But, I've made this observation in past commentaries, and especially in the Towering Babble piece: The exponents of unlimited government power here would naturally side with the exponents of unlimited government (the caliphate) in the guise of Islam. It's a kind of "mutual admiration society," but could be more properly called a "mutual end-game society," the end being the nullification of individual rights. I viewed the tactic of blocking the GZ mosque for "landmark" and "sacrilege" reasons as fruitless and irrelevant, in light of the broader issues. I've been arguing against American-style statism and Islamic-style statism for years now with equal fervor, for they are equally repugnant to me, and they ought to be so for every conscious, thinking individual.

Ayn Rand might have deemed the phenomena as "chickens come home to roost." I'd call it turky buzzards flocking together to pick at the carcass.

Steve D said...

“would constitute a growth of arbitrary power”

No, not a growth, just one more exercise in the arbitrary power the government already has.

Just because the government has acted immorally in the past doesn’t make it any more moral when they do it again. This issue is not one of precedent but whether acting to stop the mosque is the right thing or wrong thing to do. Period.

“Given the past and present failings of the federal government, should it now apply an incremental evil of its own to stop a monstrous, civilization-threatening evil In those terms, the answer in the affirmative is obvious.”

I would rephrase this as: “Given the past and present failings of the federal government, should it now apply an incremental evil of its own to stop a monstrous symbol? In those terms, the answer in the negative is obvious.”

The argument for stopping the mosque must be based on how it may (or will) be used to violate my rights – Although, this seems probable that this would be the case, I still don’t see any proof and proof is required. In order to convict someone of a crime and take away their liberty proof is required that they violated someone’s rights or at least that they are planning and/or conspiring to do so. The same goes for taking away their property, which we have essentially done if we forbid them from using it the way they want. If the right thing to do is to stop the mosque then how we do it becomes a minor issue.

“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.”

Perhaps, but this is not the issue at stake here. Its not a choice between evils but a determination if our rights have been or are being violated.

There is no difference in principle between taking someone’s liberty and forbidding them the use of their property, only a difference in degree. The burden of proof is on those who say we stop the mosque from being built.

How can we have any rights without property rights?

Jim said...

It seems to me that the key argument of those advocating using government regulation of property to stop this mosque at this location is that Islam is at war with us. If so, then wouldn't the appropriate response be to ignore the proposed potential mosque in NYC and instead conquer Mecca and destroy the Grand Mosque there so as to actually defeat Islam.

Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for your post, C. August. This has been--and continues to be--an unusually difficult challenge for me.

Steve D, your comment helped me see something that might be ambiguous in my sentence, especially when it stands alone. By calling government action an "incremental evil," I was referring specifically to the use of arbitrary force, such as zoning laws. I certainly did not mean that government action is ipso facto evil. On the contrary, it is at least thirty years of our government's inaction in this matter that I consider to be evil. If America had met murderous barbarity with force instead of appeasement, the West would not now face questions of allowing mosques to be built or head scarves to be worn in public.

I sympathize with the property rights defense; out of sheer habit, that is where I started on this issue when it first came up. But I've come to realize that this an emergency--a state of war--even if our government doesn't seem to notice. The supporters of Islamic totalitarianism have surrendered all claims to rights.

C. August said...

I agree with you, Stephen. This is still very difficult.

Steve D and Jim, one thing I didn't mention in my post is that I don't actively wish the government to use zoning or other property laws to block the mosque. Instead, I want the FBI to look exhaustively into the backgrounds of the imam and all his funding sources, to identify the clear terrorist ties that are most assuredly there, and block the mosque on those grounds.

I wouldn't be terribly upset at the use of zoning laws, however. Because of the arbitrary nature of our government's use of force right now and for the past century, there is no clear cut solution available. The mosque should be stopped, and it should be done from a criminal or national defense standpoint. Failing that, other methods-- though undesirable for other reasons--would suffice.

Dammit. Now that I re-read that paragraph, it smacks of pragmatism. How to resolve this contradiction? I don't want to live in a world where Islamists build a mosque on Ground Zero to celebrate their "moral" victory over us, their "Great Satan," to rub our noses in it, and to use it as a beacon, motivator, and recruiting tool in their stealth jihad. I also don't want to live in a country that regularly and arbitrarily violates our rights, such as by blocking Wal-Mart from building in NYC. The only good answer is to stop violating rights at home, and start defending our rights abroad. But that won't happen any time soon, so what to do right now?

Of course, this is largely moot because the zoning question has passed us by, and we all know that the feds won't lift a finger to investigate these Islamists.

And Stephen, you said that we are in "a state of war--even if our government doesn't seem to notice," but I still am very uncomfortable with that notion. Emergency, non-war "war powers" are just what Bush did with the Patriot Act, the type of thing we won't ever be able to rid ourselves of. If we declare an official war, we can revoke the emergency powers.

What to do?

Burgess Laughlin said...

In any discussion, knowing what key concepts mean exactly is crucial. In discussions of this issue -- What should I do about the proposed Ground Zero Mosque? -- several such concepts emerge. "Islam" is one. Another one is "emergency."

My personal definition of "emergency" is this: A situation in which there is a threat to life, a threat unfolding faster than the normal procedures of government (legislation, investigation, prosecution, and judgment) can handle.

An example is a bank robbery. There is no time to issue restraining orders or similar actions. A police officer can react immediately by shooting the perpetrators (as appropriate).

However, even then he must be acting objectively. In this case he must follow the rules of engagement that his department sets up (hopefully, rational ones) -- and not act on whim ("I'll shoot everybody and let God sort them out later.").

The same is true in a war. A war that allows time for Congress to act is not an "emergency," though particular emergencies may occur within that war -- e.g., a Hamas submarine emerges (so to speak) in LA harbor and begins firing torpedoes. That is an emergency within a war. It doesn't make the war itself an emergency, that is, a social situation justifying abandonment of established objective procedures.

Does the construction of the Ground Zero Mosque create an emergency?

I will let those who have studied the situation in detail answer that. The main point is knowing what an emergency is and then whether we are in one. Once we settle that -- and a few other issues! -- we can act accordingly.

mtnrunner2 said...

I still don't think joining a bandwagon of bad government behavior is justified simply because it's going to happen anyway.

As I posed to Stephen, what about a more extreme example; what if the government was shipping innocent people off to prison for no reason? Would it then be OK to have the mosque builders shipped off to prison to stop the building? Where do you draw that line?

The reason that blocking the mosque can be acceptable is *not* because it's OK to use zoning or other existing unjust laws to your advantage simply because it's already being done. Using that premise, anything could be justified against anyone.

It's acceptable because of the different status of the mosque builders themselves, based on a de facto war; they have lost rights as sympathizers with the enemy. It's because they no longer possess the same rights as everyone else when they choose to engage in certain activities.

Again, it's the fact that we are in a war (de facto or otherwise) that is the key.

Anonymous said...

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the founder and main organizer of the Ground Zero mosque, and has terrorist ties.

He is listed as a key figure of an organization, Perdana, that provided about $350,000 to one of the key groups, Free Gaza Movement, that organized the Gaza flotilla.

This article is quite damning of his guilty ties.


Plus, he either consciously or negligently associates with members of subgroups of terrorist groups like Muslim Brotherhood. And the organization he founded, the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), has accepted funding from Qatar, which has Islam as the state religion, Sharia law, and has defense agreements with Iran.

From Pajamas Media:

Steve D said...


Assuming at least one tenth of these claims is true that about settles this particular issue. I should point out though that the money donation makes him much more than an enemy sympathizer but an actual active enemy. It doesn’t change my view that you don’t lose rights just by sympathizing with the enemy. An active form of help (including disseminating propaganda) is necessary. Also, the claims of course need to be corroborated at the very least by the standard of clear and convincing evidence.

There is still the issue that battling the mosque with zoning laws which does nothing to clarify the issue but may even help obfuscate it. This is a practical objection though not a clear application of principle. It also seems somewhat silly for terrorists to run afoul of zoning laws akin to getting Al Capone for tax evasion (or even worse for dangerous driving).

“it is at least thirty years of our government's inaction in this matter that I consider to be evil.”

You definitely have a point here. In this case it is the lack of government force which is morally wrong. It’s also the case that mistakes intentional or not by the government complicates this issues (and many other issues as well)

BTW: One of the things I’ve noticed is that when difficulties arise regarding the application of principle more often than not it is due to an incomplete or misunderstanding of the principle in the first place (rather than simply always a matter of thinking through the complexity). The second problem is incomplete or poorly interpreted evidence. I think Burgess’ point about concepts is important because we have to understand concepts (and have formed them correctly BEFORE we induce principles from them.

Steve D said...

I wanted to comment further on this because I think the principle is important. Regardless of the guilt or innocence of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf there will be cases where people will sympathize with the enemy but make no overt attempt to help them.

“I sympathize with the property rights defense; out of sheer habit, that is where I started on this issue when it first came up. But I've come to realize that this an emergency--a state of war--even if our government doesn't seem to notice. The supporters of Islamic totalitarianism have surrendered all claims to rights.”

I don’t agree that all supporters of Islamic totalitarianism have surrendered all claims to rights unless their support is active. First of all I don’t think this is an emergency although I am willing to be convinced. As horrible as the thing is at best it is one small piece in the decades long plans of those who would like to rule us. Yes, this is a state of war. The crucial issues here are: 1) with whom exactly are we at war and 2) the exact nature of the ‘support’ for Islamic totalitarianism by the mosque builders. If there are any substantive connections to terrorism and/or the Iranian government then I agree the issue is settled. But we don’t take away peoples freedoms for evil ideas only for evil actions (actually only those evil actions which violate someone’s rights). Otherwise we would arrest everyone in this country who sympathized with communism and anyone who burned the flag. It’s one thing to support an idea in your head; it’s quite another to take actual action to bring it about. Therefore, those people who support Islamic totalitarianism only through philosophical conviction and not action have NOT surrendered their rights although they may even believe they have.

Another way to look at this by example is to ask why we did not invade Spain during the 2nd world war even though they gave moral support to Germany. As evil as Franco was, he was not at war with us and did not take any ACTIONS to hurt us. (We could have justified invasion based on what he did to his own people but that’s another story)

Ayn Rand once made a very impressive point (well actually she made quite a few impressive points over her career) one time about how commitment to a principle means we have to stand up for its least desirable exponents. I believe the example she used was pornographers. (I don’t remember the details)

“What to do?”

One idea would be to use every possible legal and private means at our disposal to investigate, expose and trip up these people. If we do defend their right to the mosque we have to be crystal clear what we think of it and them so there is no misunderstanding our actions.

mtnrunner2 said...

Man, the level of discussion here, on Stephen's site, and on Objectivist blogs in general is just so much better than anywhere else. Awesome. Every time I read on this issue I have something more to think about :)

Steve D,

I don't think that there are a predetermined set of actions (i.e. physical attacks or support) that are the only things that warrant a response. Just because the mosque builders are not funneling money to the Jihad does not necessarily exempt them. If we were not at war, I could agree, but not now.

I think the standard for determining what an unacceptable activity is depends on the entire context of our national defense. It may be providing money to terrorists, or it may be providing moral sanction and inspiration to our enemies by building a mosque on scorched earth.

I admit it's difficult to arrive at a firm guiding principle for our government to use, but in this particular case, the symbolism is just too obviously in support of our enemies. I'm open to ideas about what the dividing line should be, but this is not merely sitting at home engaging in idle sympathizing. For one thing, they are clearly morally sympathetic with terrorists. For another, this is proposing to build a symbol of Islam on a site that Islamic fanatics turned into a crater with an act of terror.

Stephen Bourque said...

Steve D, you made a very good point: Using zoning laws to block the mosque would do nothing to clarify the issue and might only obfuscate it. I totally agree. Such a move would make utterly no progress in terms of American values--though, as I said, I've regretfully concluded that I don't think it would do much harm either, considering how corrupt things are now.

The value of blocking the mosque is solely to live another day (or year, or decade) so that we still have an America to save. The mosque is a symbol, but it is not a mere symbol. Of all the appeasements that have emboldened jihadists over the years, surely this is among the greatest. It sends an unambiguous message to Islamists that America is indeed as weak as they thought we were, and nothing--nothing--stands in their way. The least we can do is put a speed bump in their path. If the President and Congress won't do anything, I would at this point be satisfied with a municipal bureaucrat.

The court system in England already caters to Shari'a law, and I would not be surprised in Germany and others soon follow suit. How much further behind can we be from them? If and when that happens, it is game over.

Anonymous said...

I set the principle at providing material support to foreign enemies. People can sympathize with evil all they want, but cannot actively assist enemies.

It would be pretty easy for our government to monitor and find such domestic enemies during a real war when the bulk of non-fanatical Islamic Americans would be going out of their way to disassociate themselves from the few criminal, terrorist Islamists here.

Jim said...


I agree with you about investigation of the funding source. I appreciate the distinction that you are attempting to make related to government regulation of property rights.

My problem with answering this question has been that it is the wrong question. In my judgment, the premise that Islam is at war with us is false. Further, I see success in stopping the mosque as having zero positive impact retarding international terrorism; meanwhile, I see several negative consequences which undermine effective counterterrorism polices related to backlash and political reform. Specifically, advocating abusive government regulation of property undermines the types of political reform identified by Hernando de Soto as required in places like Egypt.

As far as what to do, advocate for the correct policies. There are already enough people advocating ineffective and wrong policies like those advocated by conservatives related to this mosque.

If you believe that it is necessary to defeat political Islam, then like John Lewis and Paul Hsieh advocate for regime change in Iran. If you believe that Islam per se is the enemy, then advocate the destruction of Mecca. However, the Ground Zero mosque debate seems to me to be an attempt to evade victory.

Related to John Lewis’ book _Nothing Less than Victory_, Fabius the Delayer would focus on this mosque dispute while Scipio would find the heart of the enemy and cut it out.

Steve D said...

“Man, the level of discussion here, on Stephen's site, and on Objectivist blogs in general is just so much better than anywhere else.

I agree. It makes a big difference when people can derive and understand principles and the discussion is about the way they should be applied.

I do think there is a predetermined (I would say standardized or objective) set of actions which determine a response and it has to be at some type of material or objectively definable support. I would include propaganda in this category.

“If we were not at war, I could agree, but not now.”

Well as I said, who we are at war with is crucial. If we are at war with Islam then yes, banning the Mosque is appropriate in principle albeit an embarrassingly weak means to wage war.

To go back to the WWII analogy I used we would not have (or should not have) arrested someone who built a monument to Franco on his property because we were not at war with him. However it would be appropriate to have arrested someone who built a monument to Mussolini (we were at war with him)

“The mosque is a symbol, but it is not a mere symbol.”

In my opinion this is the strongest argument because you can argue that the mosque itself is propaganda and the mere fact of its existence might be used to recruit enemy Jihadists to kill our soldiers. However, this still seems a pretty indirect argument since converting an abstract symbol into material support requires a number of other factors which may or may not occur.

“The court system in England already caters to Shari'a law”

But this is not really relevant – Unabashedly upholding the principle of property rights is the opposite of catering to Sharia law. If this is done consistently it could not be misinterpreted. If on the other hand we announce we are allowing the mosque to be built because of our respect for property rights and then go ahead and force the iman to make it a non smoking building, well then I can see how that could be interpreted as weakness.

Anonymous said...

If we are really concerned with symbols (though I find the concept of proclaiming domestic intellectual, moral support of bad ideas, even during a real war, as a crime, to be incorrect policy, a distraction now, and framed in a philosophically muddled typically collectivist-statist-nationalist "the mosque is un-American" Conservative fashion), then let's focus on the big, truly threatening symbols of Islamic totalitarianism: Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Paul Hsieh, in his excellent recent article, gives a precise formulation of Professor John Lewis' historical conclusions on the need to focus on the ideological, political source/symbols:

"Drawing on past historical experience, Lewis concludes that

1) We have to explicitly identify the enemy as such -- namely, the ideology of Islamic Totalitarianism.

2) We have to commit to victory over that enemy and its primary state sponsor, Iran."


[Paul Hsieh, "The Real Problem Is Not the Mosque, but the Nukes," American Thinker, August 17, 2010]

mtnrunner2 said...

Jason said:
>a philosophically muddled typically collectivist-statist-nationalist... fashion

Objecting to something during wartime on the ground that it would aid enemy morale is not muddled or collectivist. The crucial link is the fact that it's wartime and the symbolism would aid the enemy. Without those two features the defense falls apart.

I would say it's harder to show that freedom of religion, speech and property rights etc. are totally non-contextual and apply the same way under absolutely all conditions.

I would agree with Paul Hsieh and anyone else that the more important issue is how we act towards authoritarian Islamic states.

Anonymous said...

Banning anything that "aids enemy morale" or "aids" the enemy in general is way too vague. And banning speech that promotes evil ideas, even those one is at war with, puts shackles on the mind at precisely the time when a society needs complete freedom of thought/speech the most.

During war it's not "anything goes" in terms of what the government can do.

During a real war (and I would argue even now), the government would have the legitimate power to do things like monitor or question any domestic Muslims with a rushed warrant process or even no warrant at all, maybe set heavy restrictions on Muslim immigration, search random Muslims on the street and their homes/mosques for weapons and bombs, open fire on a crowd of hostile domestic Muslims even before that crowd showed to be violent, shut down mosques who have many members with personal, financial ties to Middle Eastern Muslim society, maybe ban personal travel to the Middle Eastern Muslim countries, etc.

Rights may be applied differently during a real war, but there are still rights and guidelines needed to deal with enemy sympathizers.

A few horrible domestic attacks will likely happen no matter what domestic policies there are. If a person really wants to commit a crime, nothing will stop him. The policy of "to catch domestic enemies, we need to take away major freedoms and potentially monitor everyone 24/7 with cameras and checkpoints and mandated paper receipts for all purchases" is a futile, logistically impossible attempt to fight a domestic war.

Banning evil ideas from being advocated does not achieve the good, it just puts mental shackles on the rational people.

Even during a time of real war, the government cannot tell people what to think and what ideas to speak in favor of. Censorship is never, ever correct. It doesn't work, because you can't force a mind to understand the right ideas.

The human mind is so incredibly delicate and needs full freedom to function properly, especially during a time of war when a society needs the clearest, most precise understanding of its ideas and those of the enemy.

Unknown said...

My position has always been that the Mosque is a threat, like burning a cross on the pavement outside a black man's home.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion does not permit threats, and physical violence is an entirely permissible response to a threat.