Friday, August 20, 2010

You Want to Build What Where?

It's the first part of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." A right guaranteed before freedoms of speech, press, and assembly.

So I'll start by saying that from a Constitutional, and patriotically American standpoint, you can build a mosque wherever you want.

But I'll also provide some free advice and say that you might be asking for drama if you're not careful.

Barack recently said: "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances."

While I agree with Barack, the two words that struck me were "lower Manhattan." The conceivers and proponents of the proposed mosque at 51 Park Place didn't just want to build a community center in "lower Manhattan." They deliberately selected a location only 600 feet from 6 World Trade Center. So for Barack to use words like "lower Manhattan," instead of "2 blocks from Ground Zero," is a slight misnomer. And an intentionally slight misnomer.

The location was chosen specifically to be near the WTC. It wasn't just a lower Manhattan mosque that coincidentally was also close to the WTC.

They chose the location with benevolence. They don't want to make a pro-terrorist statement. They're trying to make a pro-Islam statement. One of the mosque's biggest sponsors is Feisal Abdul Rauf, who seems to think that building the mosque can help strengthen the bond between Islam and the West.

But this is a foolish and stupid way to try to accomplish such a goal.

Unlike Bill Maher, I don't blame religion for what people do with their religious beliefs. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Most aren't. Some people are monstrous on their own, and they use religion, nationalism, anything, in order to psychologically justify their wrongdoing by painting it with a brush of morality. They often use words like "cleansing," and "purifying." When leaders use terms like that, it's time to worry. That's why Billy Mays infomercials always freaked me out.

Some have described the building of this mosque as "arrogant." As a "slap to the face." As "insensitive." I think it's essentially innocent. I'd classify it as misguided.

If guys like Rauf are trying to unite Islam and the West, then this is an incorrect way to go about it. Somebody made the comparison to a German culture center built adjacent to a concentration camp. And that's not too dissimilar. German culture is not inherently bad or good. Germans don't, by definition, hate Jews. But many of them did, and they did something horrible with that hatred, in the name of German culture. To paraphrase the NRA, cultures don't kill people, people kill people.

But I don't this mosque would be, as Newt Gingrich described: "like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum."

It's called a Swastika, Newt, and everyone knows that. And it's not quite that directly provocative. This is merely ignorant hyperbole.

A better way to unite Islam and the West would be to build a memorial to the innocent Muslims killed in the 9/11 attacks. And there were a few dozen, including police cadet and paramedic Mohammed Salman Hamdani, whose remains were found in the rubble of the North Tower, next to his medical bag.

We forget that the 9/11 terrorists indiscriminately murdered Muslims on September 11th. If we remember things like that, "us" and "them" will become "we."

If you want to unite (what you see as) two cultures, you have to treat them as one. And if you want to improve relationships between those two cultures, then you have to consider the perspectives of both. About 2/3 of Americans oppose this idea. More than half of New York City residents oppose it. So far, this mosque has done more dividing than unifying. Even the 1/3 of Americans and slightly less than half of New Yorkers who don't have a problem with the mosque, probably aren't feeling more unified by it.

It's ridiculous that people in Oregon are being polled for their opinions regarding a proposed religious building in Manhattan. Then again, it's ridiculous to want to build a mosque 600 feet from Ground Zero. Or at the very least, it's provocative, in that it's meant to provoke some sort of reaction.

I for one don't particularly care, except that it seems like everyone else cares. I started caring when the President of the United States once again chimed in on an issue that should be handled by city-level government.

All the defenders of this mosque, at least the ones I've heard and read, have been quoting the Constitution and citing precedents of religious freedom. And while that is all true, and is why the mosque can be built. Very few people have discussed why it should be built. What is trying to be achieved, by intentionally selecting such an interesting location? What are the goals of this mosque? We've heard overtures and vague sentiments, but I've yet to hear the explicit reasons for selecting this location.

I've read some defenders argue that two blocks is hardly next door. "do you have any concept of how far two blocks is in a city like New York" asked Joyce Pines of the Kalamazoo Gazette. It's slightly over one tenth of a mile, or 600 feet, or less than a minute walk away. That's close. And the building that will be replaced by the mosque was struck by United 175's landing gear after it plowed through the South Tower. That's close.

In one poll, 68% of Americans opposed this mosque. But 61% also felt as though it had a right to exist. We as Americans have the right to build mosques pretty much wherever we want. And we also have the right to disagree with the building of a mosque. And all these rights, opinions, and freedoms are part of what the 9/11 hijackers hated about us.

I'm afraid as an instrument of unification and connection, this mosque has failed. It'll sadly be the target of vandalism and scorn by an ignorant minority. And that will further deepen the sense of separation. So I think this mosque most certainly has the right to exist and operate. But it will divide what it's trying to unify. Rather, it already has.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Barack's War

How many American soldiers have "won" Purple Hearts since Barack won his Nobel Peace Prize? How many American soldiers have died serving their "Peaceful" President? About 300 since he won that meaningless award.

How many nuclear weapons have been dismantled since then? How has North Korea behaved? How have things been going in Israel/Palestine/Canaan lately? The only thing Barack has done to foster World Peace is to ensure that China never declares war on the US, for fear that their debts wouldn't get repaid.

The US isn't "losing" in Afghanistan. They're not being pushed back, driven out, and the causalities haven't been atrociously high. Then again, June saw the most US combat deaths than any of the other 106 months of the war. And October of '09, the month that saw Barack awarded the NPP, was the second bloodiest.

But the US isn't winning, either. How can I tell? Don't you think you'd be hearing Barack and the Democrats gloating if we were winning?

There's nothing stronger than a soldier of the United States armed forces. But the War in Afghanistan is more about public relations than strength of arms. It's more about not being offensive, as opposed to taking the offensive. It's more about tact than attacking. One or two more Wars like this one, and the US Army will attach Human Resource representatives to every platoon.

Would the Allies have defeated the Nazis if they were simultaneously trying to win the hearts and minds of the German people?

Barack should understand unwinnable situations by now. That's what his Healthcare Reform campaign turned into. And that's the kind of wall he was up against with Afghanistan.

He couldn't just pull out, and look like a soft President. After all, even Liberals have been supportive of our operations in Afghanistan. And it's much harder than you think to pull out of a war that hasn't yet been clearly won or lost. You get people asking "What did we sacrifice so much for over the last 8 years?" You get mocked for "cutting and running."

He couldn't just leave things as they were, and allow US soldiers to die as our grip on the region slipped away.

He can't stay there forever, either. No President could.

So he implemented a surge, threw out an arbitrary deadline, and turned an unwinnable political situation into one that he could not lose. He'll be lauded for trying, then lauded for either victory or for extracting us from the War.

He also fired a General for making fun of him in Rolling Stone. An interesting move for a Commander in Chief, to remove a theater commander for remarks made in a publication with this as the cover:

God Bless America!

It's much easier to pull out of a war after fully committing your resources to it and coming up short. People will get tired, and only the most sadistic of Hawks will want to "finish the job." But most people will realize that the job cannot be completed. They'll support a withdrawal.

Or he'll win. And won't that stick in the craw of Conservatives? Don't get me wrong, Barack definitely wants to win in Afghanistan. He's not just playing a game of political chess with the lives of American soldiers. But imagine if by some miracle the US wins this War. Come November, the Republicans wouldn't stand a chance in any contested election for any office.

But the US cannot win this particular War. It reminds me of so many other Wars in history, where even strategic triumph wouldn't result in any real victory. The American Revolution, for instance. Even if the lobsterbacks had annihilated the Continental Army, they'd have to govern America as subjugated territories, not amenable colonies. Washington's armies could have been crushed, but the anti-British sentiment in the 13 colonies was unbeatable.

And no, I'm not comparing the Taliban to the Continental Congress. But the situations are similar. To the average person living in the Afghan countryside, the US must seem like just one of many factions vying for dominance in the most geographically fucked up corners of the world. That tribesman doesn't care about 9/11, or his right to vote for some corrupt politicians. He just wants to feed his family. He'll support anyone that helps him do that, fight anyone that prevents him, and ignore anyone that does neither.

If enough of the people of Afghanistan wanted the Taliban out, they'd be out. The Army and Marines might physically be capable of destroying them, but not the ideas that have kept them in power. Nor can any military action CREATE a desirable government. And any obliteration of the Taliban would have to include the obliteration of many Afghan civilians. Warfare is an inexact science, which is why it should only be attempted when the victory is worth the total cost.

Meanwhile, North Korea, an actual threat to our interests and our allies, is getting bolder. Our armed forces and our people have grown weary of war, and I'm concerned that even if it becomes necessary on the Korean peninsula, the Nobel laureate will be either unwilling or unable to commit US forces to their 3rd war in 10 years.

I'll reluctantly defend Barack for his War in Afghanistan. But I'll also ferociously attack anyone who purports him to be a champion of peace.