Friday, June 04, 2010

A Mosque at "Ground Zero." The Horror!

Here is the latest from Pat Condell. My comments are below. Up to you whether you want to read them before or after watching.

(alt. video link)

Pat Condell is someone I hugely admire, someone far more articulate than I could ever dream of being, and someone with whom I often agree to the point of raising a clenched fist and shouting BOO-YEAH!

However, I also feel that he sometimes goes one step too far. This impassioned speech is one of those times.

As much as I dislike organized religions, especially the top three monotheistic brands, as much as I dislike people who let their lives be run by religious superstitions and the related pretensions of tribal superiority, and as much as I agree with many of the subsidiary points Pat makes here (the anti-free speech initiatives of Saudi Arabia, et al, at the UN is an especially sore point), it is at the very least a strategic mistake to think that the way to win the struggle against all the bad parts of religion (and they are legion) is to tar everyone with the same brush.

For example, to refer to "the religion that murdered them [the 9/11 victims]," as he does around 0:50, is idiotic, both as an assessment of reality, and as a tactical choice of rhetoric. It's been said many times, but evidently not enough: not every Muslim in the world approved of the attacks, or thinks that every "infidel" should be killed, or even that violence is the best way to deal with grievances. Not even close.

We will beat those insane people who cloak themselves in religious guise by separating them out from those who do not present any sort of threat to civilization, and by showing that overwhelming majority, just in case they have any doubts, which is the better way. We will only aggravate the problems by making a group of people, who already feel put-upon, think that we cannot tell any of them apart.

(I'll leave aside the obvious problem of trying to win their proverbial hearts and minds by dropping things on them from airplanes. That's a topic for a different screed.)

I don't doubt Pat's deeper-than-my concerns about Islam as its ugly aspects infect his home land. By all accounts I've seen, England and other parts of Europe are having more problems integrating immigrants who are Muslim into their society than we are in the US. However, it's more than a bit hysterical to warn us against "falling asleep," or indeed, even to tell us that any sort of inevitable menace is looming.

Another bit: At around 4:20, Pat refers to "conquered sacred ground." Ugh. In the first place, it's hardly "conquered." Last I looked, I'm pretty sure I saw the Stars and Stripes flying somewhere around there. Also, women delightfully not in burqas. And as far as "sacred ground" goes: Wingnut, please. It was a terrible thing that happened that day, but you don't get to be stridently anti-religious and then use the s-word to privilege your own sense of righteous indignation. (As you'll have noted from the irony quotes in the post title, I don't even like the term "Ground Zero.")

And yes, some people in the "Muslim world" will see this construction as a beachhead, as Pat calls it, or as a symbol of their ongoing conquest, as he would also have it, or whatever. So what. We can't make decisions based on a requirement that unanimity obtain, that nothing should be done unless we can be sure that absolutely no one will get the wrong idea.

Another: Pat talks about the US becoming "soft" and "decadent," in part because we are, in his view, dhimmi-ing out. To my mind, we are at our softest and most decadent when we let the actions of a fringe few cause us to scurry under our beds.

One more: Pat says, around 4:52, that this will be a "permanent affront." Okay, fine. So let it be, if that's how he wants to take it. But you know who else it's going to be an affront to? A whole lot of Muslims who are unhappy with how their faith has been misappropriated, that's who. In other words, the way to think of this is not as an "affront," but rather, as a permanent reminder, of the dangers of letting religious fanaticism run amok. And to all those whose SUVs feature fading bumper stickers saying "Never forget!!!1!," well, here ya go -- this will guarantee that nobody will.

The way to deal with a billion Muslims, no matter how much of a threat you think "they" are, is to encourage the religion to come to its own Enlightenment. Rather than refusing its adherents admission, or suppressing their cultural expressions and monuments, the way to beat their bad parts -- in particular, their occasional susceptibility to opportunistic faux-populists trying to rev them up with hate speech -- is to welcome the people, warts and all, and show them how they have nothing to fear from us or our ways of life.

I am fairly described as a militant atheist.* And, despite what Sarah Palin would have you believe, I am also a proud American. But I do not take the building of a mosque near one of the sites of the 9/11 attacks to be an "insult." In fact, my feeling is, if you wanna get right in the face of the extremists and the psychopaths, this is exactly how to do it. I look forward to this mosque as a reminder of what can go wrong, as I have already said, and better still, as a symbol that we Americans can take a punch and still open our arms to the masses who want only to bring their better angels.


Hat tip to SkepticDoc, who has started a discussion thread about this issue over at If you'd like to weigh in over there, you only need to give an email address to be allowed to post. (And they won't share it or spam you.) You can post under a pseudonym, if you like, or your real name, as I do. In any case, I encourage it, not only for this issue but as a general principle -- though of course it's got no shortage of noise (in no small part from your humble servant, it must be admitted), the forum continues to be one of the best places on the Internet where a real spread of perspectives is presented.

* [Added] Or not. Please see Alastair's reaction, in the Comments.


Alastair said...

I agree with you, he does go too far here.

One minor nit though: you are (probably) not a "militant atheist". This is a hyperbolic phrase used by religious people to mean "atheist". I have ranted about this in the past.

Brendan said...

Hmmm, how the hell did I miss that one? Good post, and thanks for the link.

I do take your point, and I am going to think about it some more, when I am not running on fumes as I am now. (I think even a Shorter of my last few posts would span multiple screens.) I will just say for the moment that I accept the term when others apply it to me, in a relative sense -- I am more outspoken about atheism, and against religion, than probably 99% of the US population. And it is also true that I deployed the term there as somewhat of a gambit, as a cheap way of bolstering the point that followed; i.e, that "even" I didn't take this proposed mosque location to be an insult.

But your point is well-taken, in that we should not, as a general rule, let a perfectly moderate and sensible point of view be tarred with a modifier suggesting extremism and violence. I should not have implicitly condoned the too-familiar term, and instead, should have just gone with outspoken.

Thanks for the feedback.

Brendan said...

Also, see here, for a proposed alternate.

Alastair said...

Fair points, I understand where you're coming from.

I don't mind the qualifiers "affirmative" or "outspoken" when applied to "atheist" but I wonder what what the practical difference is, when compared with plain "atheist". I think for a lot of people just coming out and declaring yourself as an atheist is an act of affirmation or outspokenness.

There may be a need for a modifier to declare that you're an athiest who has given the issue of our collective origin some consideration, including theist arguments. As opposed to someone who just can't be arsed making a commitment either way.

In my experience though generally people who can't make a commitment (either due to general indifference or active indecision) tend to use the term "agnostic". This has in turn come to mean Atheist Lite, even though that is strictly inaccurate, and hardly anyone besides pedants like me cares about the difference.

Brendan said...

Alastair: Generally, I think you're right about the quiet atheists usually, or at least often, preferring to describe themselves as agnostics.

However, in certain conversations, I do think it's legitimate, even helpful, for modifiers to be prepended to atheist. There is a difference between someone like, say, Dawkins, et al (or me, for that matter), who is eager to mix it up with the religious proselytizers, and someone else who is quite convinced in his or her own mind that there is no reason to believe in god(s), but doesn't care to argue about it. Or, maybe more to the point, who does not want to agitate for public understanding and respect -- indeed, even tolerance -- for such an attitude.

If nothing else, there sometimes is a need to describe the difference between someone who holds a private non-belief and someone who is active in arguing for that point of view.