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Phil Maymin: In the Lower Manhattan Islamic center debate, everyone is pretending to be something they’re not

By Phil Maymin, 2006 Libertarian candidate for U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticut’s 4th congressional district. Forwarded by Marc Montoni via email.

When it comes to the mosque to be built near Ground Zero in New York City, everyone is pretending to be something they’re not.

Perhaps for the first time since Grover Cleveland, a Democratic president is championing private property rights, states’ rights and a limited federal government. Barack Obama endorsed the right of Muslims “to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and regulation.”

Has Obama, of all people, flipped through the Constitution and achieved a clearer understanding of the first, ninth and tenth amendments?

No, it is merely a mask. Otherwise, he would repeal a host of invasive laws. Your First Amendment guarantees to free travel, association, speech and religion are violated whenever your naked body is scanned at an airport, your political book club’s reading list is secretly inspected, your phone is tapped without a warrant or your tax dollars are funneled to religious groups and nations that actively fight against your own sacred beliefs. If Obama were sincere, he would end those intrusions and more.

What could or should Obama have said instead? He could have said nothing. It is simply not his place.

This is a rare quality, to be sure. The only politician (other than Ron Paul) who I have ever heard say that something was not his decision was Jesse Ventura, when he was governor of Minnesota. Asked by a reporter about some private entity, though he obviously had a strong personal opinion, Ventura’s response was simple and clear. “It is not my call,” he essentially said. “It is not within my duties as governor.”

Obama could have answered as Ventura did. Instead he chose to inflict his unsolicited opinion on us.

Deep in his heart Obama still denies the intended limited role of the federal government. He thinks it, and he, should be everywhere. He does not fathom that some things are just not his call, whether they be banks, car companies, foreign nations or where LeBron James should have taken his talents.

Most other Democrats actually are silent, refusing to go on the record, probably because they feel, and rightly so, that whatever they say will be used against them. But ironically this silence is a mask for them too. They have donned it not as a principled stand for local autonomy, but purely out of fear for their careers.

Democrats are not alone in their hypocrisy. Republicans who have spent the past decade preaching the need to spread democracy abroad are now upset that democratic institutions at home prevent them from successfully meddling. Republicans have called the project an “unnecessary provocation,” an example of “territorial conquest,” and “an aggressive act that is clearly offensive.” But they don’t really think the mosque is a truly violent act. If they did, they would seek to file charges or sue for damages. No, they just want to ride our emotions to get back in power and continue expanding the American empire.

Even libertarians are hiding behind a mask of tolerance. Citing basic property rights, they argue anybody can build a mosque on any property they own and there is nothing anyone can or should do about it. They are right about the first part, but deeply wrong about the second. There is nothing wrong with voicing disapproval for the mosque. It is an expression of free speech. They may build, but we may protest. True tolerance does not mean you approve of everyone; it means you do not do violence even to those of whom you disapprove.

So far, I too have been hiding behind a mask, the mask of indifference and neutrality, as if I am above these petty issues. But unlike the others, my mask will now come off.

I am deeply offended by the project, for two reasons. First, it strikes me as an ugly ploy. Any religious or political entity that intends to launch on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 seems disingenuous to me, more interested in its own publicity than in actually doing good.

Second, the name of the entity is nasty. They intend to call it the Cordoba House and the sponsors call themselves the Cordoba Initiative, both named after the city in Spain where, they say, Jews, Christians, and Muslims co-existed peacefully. Theirs is the most contemptible mask of all, because what they don’t say is how that peace ended. Fundamentalist Muslims gave all its residents a choice: convert to Islam or die. My great-great-great-…-grandfather Maimonides took his family and fled. In my mind, the name Cordoba does not conjure images of peace and co-existence.

By their logic, they would see nothing wrong with opening a German cultural center in downtown Tel Aviv called the Dachau House. After all, there was a time when Jews and Gentiles lived peaceably side-by-side in that pleasant Munich suburb

Dr. Phil Maymin is a professor of risk management at the NYU-Polytechnic Institute.

Previously at IPR on the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” (New York candidates for Governor in bold): Ron Paul, Mike Beitler, Howie Hawkins, Jake Towne, Warren Redlich video, John Jay Myers, Darryl Perry, Wayne Root (1) and (2), John Hospers, Reactions to Root’s piece from the libertarian blogosphere, LNC member Daniel Wiener, Tom Knapp, Kristin Davis, Warren Redlich (print commentary), Carl Paladino, and LPHQ interns Marissa Giannotta and Josh Roll.

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  1. Deran Deran September 1, 2010

    Yes, well, if we are going to base our policies on medieval history. let’s not forget the ghetos Jews were forced to live in in Christian Europe, and the massacres of jews by the Crusaders. And, let’s go modern and talk abt the racism in Israel between the “white” Ashkenazi and the “non-white ” Sephardim and Falasha.

    The bitted Nativist Know-Notings who are so hysterical abt this building are the same people who are hysterical abt illegal immigrant workers. This all goes back to the collapse of the economy, and the continuing dismantling of white male supremacism since the 1960s. The crypto-fascist racist Beckites (yes, yes, I know the Beckite rally had a black gospel singer, how nice and tokenistic!) are the real threat to the Constitution and our Republic.

  2. Jill Pyeatt Jill Pyeatt August 28, 2010

    Okay! I’m still somewhat computer-challenged.

  3. paulie paulie August 28, 2010

    Happy to help.

    If you want to know how to find it yourself on any youtube clip you see embedded anywhere give me a call at 415-690-6352. It’s pretty easy, but I would have an easier time explaining it on the phone.

  4. Jill Pyeatt Jill Pyeatt August 28, 2010

    Thanks, Paulie!

  5. Gene Berkman Gene Berkman August 27, 2010

    “The idea that “Cordoba” was meant to invoke the image of an Islamic regime where Christians, Jews, and others were “universally accepted and respected” is laughable. I guess we’re supposed to overlook the discriminatory and punitive extra taxes minorities were required to pay (‘dhimmitude’), which went into Islam’s coffers; as well as overlook all of the other Islamic laws that made all those ‘accepted and respected’ minorities second-class citizens, even during the so-called “golden age” the mosque’s supporters keep citing…”

    There was no place in the world at that time where people of all communities had equal rights. Yes, Christians and Jews were discriminated against by Muslims, but after Chritstians reconquered Spain, Jews were expelled en masse.

    One cannot know for sure what values others attach to symbolism, and in politics and religion dissimulation and dishonesty are common. But we really do have to consider how people act today, and try to look at the past for lessons rather than issues, if we want to move beyond the “clash of civilizations” that threaten to destroy all of us.

  6. Jill Pyeatt Jill Pyeatt August 27, 2010

    Paulie, can you send me a link so I can post the video @ 3 on Facebook?

  7. Jill Pyeatt Jill Pyeatt August 27, 2010

    Paulie @ 3: Thanks for the great video!

  8. paulie paulie August 27, 2010

    Freedom of Religion in Lebanon: The Ground Zero Synagogue

    Posted by Anthony Gregory on August 26, 2010 06:34 PM

    Despite having suffered greatly under the invasions, bombings, and occupations courtesy of the Israeli government, the Lebanese welcome a lavish synagogue, constructed in part with Muslim money, in the center of their own “ground zero.” As on many other questions, Muslims abroad seem less collectivist than Americans in looking at alien cultures and casting a wide net as to who is and who is not “the enemy.” Good on Lebanon for this great example of toleration. Would Americans take a cue from it. Thanks to Joseph Asbell for the link.

  9. Marc Montoni Marc Montoni August 26, 2010

    First, to those who would try to use the power of government zoning regulations to prevent construction of the mosque, I say you’re wrong. All zoning laws should be abolished. Land-use control has no place in a free society. If one wishes to control the property next door, one should go about it in the honest manner: buy it. Assuming the property of the proposed mosque is really on private property, bought without fraud or government favoritism, then whoever owns it should be able to build a mosque.

    Second, it is a “mosque”, and not “just a cultural center” because under the Islamic tradition, the property is a mosque if it has a prayer room. Those who disagree should read what more than a few Muslim sites have to say on the issue.

    Third, I agree that we must honor the property rights of the Muslims who want to build the giant whatever-it-is. However, we don’t have to be stupid and convince ourselves that everything will be fine. The Islamist lessons that will eventually be taught there will advocate for the destruction of our individual freedom and the end of our way of life. However, I would note that we could also say that the lessons taught in government schools are meant to accomplish exactly the same end.

    Fourth, Maymin’s suggestion — that the center’s name is intentionally misleading — is a credible argument. The idea that “Cordoba” was meant to invoke the image of an Islamic regime where Christians, Jews, and others were “universally accepted and respected” is laughable. I guess we’re supposed to overlook the discriminatory and punitive extra taxes minorities were required to pay (‘dhimmitude’), which went into Islam’s coffers; as well as overlook all of the other Islamic laws that made all those ‘accepted and respected’ minorities second-class citizens, even during the so-called “golden age” the mosque’s supporters keep citing. Hmmm… wonder why we never hear about how atheists were treated during the “enlightened era”?

    It is within reason to believe Cordoba House was named in honor of the “final solution” at the end of the supposedly wonderful dream-time.

    It is within reason to believe the Cordoba House Mosque was intended to be a publicity machine and was announced to the world with that in mind.

    It is within reason to believe the imam leading the project is using the publicity controversy has fueled to raise funds from radical Islamist governments such as that of Saudi Arabia and others, as well as from individual Muslims.

    And of course, the Commie In Chief as well as the TP crowd have used the issue as their own publicity platform.

    Mr. Maymin’s article to be a perfect summation of the politics of this issue.

    Like Maymin said, it’s all masks.

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