In the Arena

Intolerance Zoning

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Bomber Boy Charles Krauthammer occasionally eschews right-wing hackery for principled, thoughtful positions that are at odds with his ideology. I remember, back in the day, when he used to do this all the time, having left liberalism behind and not yet been captured by the right. Even in the past year or so, he came out for a universal single-payer health care plan (although he didn’t seem to understand that he did) and a stiff gasoline tax that would be refundable to taxpayers. I agree with him on both.

But freedom of religion appears to be a bridge too far. Today, he invents a concept that can only be called “Intolerance Zoning.” His argument: we create areas where certain types of behavior are allowed or not–commercial and non-commercial, alcohol or no; we also make decisions about whether certain forms of usage–a Disney theme park near the Manassas battlefield–are appropriate or not. But all these decisions have one thing in common: they concern activities that are not protected by the Constitution. Freedom of religion is protected. Period. (Even by Krauthammer’s standard, the Mosque will be located two blocks away from Ground Zero–in a heavily commercial areas filled with office buildings, bars [some topless, if I recall], fast-food stores, betting parlors, cheap clothing stores…would his “hallowed zone” be impinged upon by those activities–or is it just the presence of Muslims that defile a place where innocent Muslims were among those who died?)

Krauthammer raises a second shoddy argument: You wouldn’t want the Japanese to build a memorial or cultural center at Pearl Harbor. This is conflating ethnicity with religion. But I’d also be open to a Japanese monument that honored those who died on December 7, 1941, apologized for the attack and expressed the desire for continued close friendship between our two countries. The Polish government’s gesture of allowing Israeli jets to be photographed flying over Auschwitz–which Jeff Goldberg describes in his Atlantic cover story this month–is sort of like that. And so is the Cordoba Center: as planned, it is a celebration of American diversity, a monument to those who died (including the Muslims who died) and a rejection of the extremist theology of those who carried out the attacks.

I knew people who died in those attacks; nine people in my suburban town didn’t come home that night. I also have Muslim friends–some of whom live in that town, some of whom knew and maybe even were friendly with those who were killed–who are appalled by what they consider Al Qaeda’s perversion of their religion. They represent the overwhelming majority of American Muslims. They are part of this country, too. They deserve the same essential rights as the rest of us, including freedom of religion. And if they, and people who share their beliefs, wish to build a community center celebrating the rights they have as Americans, and dedicated to interfaith dialogue, God bless them.

Those so-called “conservatives” who are raising this issue now, cynically attempting to “wedge”  some votes in the midst of a political campaign, are betraying what they claim to believe–the essential protections of the United States Constitution–for short-term electoral gain. How un-American.

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