It does seem as if this is a story that won't quit. It doesn't matter that much of the rhetoric is either misplaced or politically expedient. As Romesh Ratnesar writes in a Time Magazine online piece entitled Ground Zero: Exaggerating the Jihadist Threat, the "jihadist threat" that everyone is so worried about is actually fading away. Yes, the militants are still doing their thing -- largely in Muslim countries and rarely in the West --but their support in Muslim countries is dissipating fast.
What I find unfathomable is the idea that a mosque sponsored by a moderate group of Sufi Muslims would constitute a victory for radical Islam. I simply don't get it. What would constitute a victory in my mind would be the ongoing fear mongering that grips our nation. The goal of terrorism is to terrorize people -- make them afraid. I think, from all the rhetoric, that these militants have done just that. The American people have been cowed, which makes the susceptible to demagogues such as Newt Gingrich. As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggests:
"We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else," Bloomberg said on Governors Island, the Statue of Liberty behind him in the distance.
In the long run this is an "debate" that will go nowhere. The group seeking to build the center have the right, according to the Constitution, to build at the site. No court in the land would disallow this and its not the government's business to decide between religions. The Constitution's guarantees don't simply apply to Congregationalists in New England and Anglicans in Virginia, or Presbyterians in the middle states. We've outgrown the question of which Protestant church will dominate.
But perhaps even more importantly this "debate" maybe focusing on an threat that no longer really exists. Remember it's 9 years since 9-11. We've been in Afghanistan for much of this period, with no end in sight, largely because we put Afghanistan on the back burner to engage another phantom threat in Iraq (where we've been at war now for seven years).
But, whether the threat is receding or not, I can't stop reiterating the fact that principles of American identity are at stake in this debate -- the principles of religious freedom. And if Muslims and other minority religions are denied their Constitutional rights, then our nation will have betrayed its founding principles. I know the President has taken a lot of heat for his position -- David Gergen, whom I normally regard highly, made a statement last night that stunned me -- that in this President Obama demonstrated a lack of understanding of the feelings on the part of the American people. I'm sorry, but standing up for what is right when religious freedom is under threat for political reasons (even among Democrats) is astounding.