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 Freedom of Expression
Histrionics Over the Mosque: Symbolism Crowds Out Reality
The Independent Institute, India Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The American media is usually unable to make sense of symbolism, though it focuses on it. The latest instance of such ignorance is the controversy over the ground zero mosque. The liberal media allowed the conservatives to shreik that this is an issue of callousness and insensitivity. Even if it is insensitive, the conservatives won't have any point. Moreover, the prevention of it will radicalize moderate Muslims all over the world, writes Ivan Eland in The Independent Institute Newsroom.

The American media, and to a lesser extent the world media, focus on symbolism at the expense of underlying reality. And sometimes they can’t even make sense of the symbolism. The artificially generated controversy over a proposed mosque within about two blocks of the site of the 9/11 attacks is illustrative of this ignorance.

The “liberal” media, which can’t pass up a chance at controversy, has allowed conservatives, who often claim to be defenders of Philadelphia freedom, to shriek that this is not an issue of religious freedom but one of callousness and insensitivity in putting a mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center. The conservatives, however, were certainly leaning on government to use its power to prohibit the building of the mosque using zoning rules, a clear violation of the founders’ intent to ban any law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

Meanwhile, liberal President Barack Obama, in speaking about the mosque, first defended religious liberty, implied that opposition to the mosque violated such freedom, and then later seemed to back off by saying that he wasn’t commenting on the wisdom of building the mosque—just defending the right of a construction permit.


Yet conservative opposition to building the mosque is based on ignorance. Even if erecting the mosque is insensitive to the pain of 9/11, which I would argue that it is not, the Constitution doesn’t require people or groups to be sensitive to others’ concerns in order to enjoy religious freedom.


Some proponents of building the mosque argue that mainstream Muslims should not be punished for the actions of militant Islamists. Since zoning laws or public pressure have not been used to prohibit the construction of evangelical Christian churches near the sites of abortion clinic bombings, these advocates have a good point. Moreover, not allowing this mosque to be built, whether because of government zoning restrictions or mere public pressure, could help radicalize moderate Muslims around the world. Muslims around the world pay close attention to how American Muslims are treated, because they fear a “war of civilizations” between the Christian and Islamic worlds.


Most important, stifling the construction of this mosque would further add to the delusions of the American public about the causes of the 9/11 attacks. Radical Islam had less to do with those attacks than retaliation for long-standing American meddling in and occupation of Arab and Muslim countries.


So the media’s and public’s attention to trivia, such as the creation of a third mosque in the neighborhood of “ground zero,” crowds out a national discussion that is sorely needed about why terrorists are heinously attacking the United States in the first place. Perhaps then the contributory negligence of the U.S. government would be exposed to its own people, and an unnecessary, outdated, expensive, and dangerous interventionist foreign policy would be reined in.

This article was published in the The Independent Institute on Wednesday, August 18, 2010. Please read the original article here.
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