Abe Foxman’s “Irrational Or Bigoted” Positions

The New York Times published a report over the weekend on the opposition to the proposed Islamic center to be built near the Ground Zero site in New York City:

An influential Jewish organization on Friday announced its opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque two blocks north of ground zero in Lower Manhattan, intensifying a fierce national debate about the limits of religious freedom and the meaning of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The decision by the group, the Anti-Defamation League, touched off angry reactions from a range of religious groups, which argued that the country would show its tolerance and values by welcoming the center near the site where radical Muslims killed about 2,750 people.

But the unexpected move by the ADL, a mainstream group that has denounced what it saw as bigoted attacks on plans for the Muslim center, could well be a turning point in the battle over the project.

Eric Boehlert at Media Matters explains the most apparent problem with the piece:

Even though the ADL statement has been widely, widely condemned as illogical and ill-advised, the Times adopts the stop-the-mosque viewpoint and announces the ADL’s move “could” change the whole debate over the proposed community center. (Then again, it “could” not.)

But the Times provides no supporting evidence. Is Mayor Bloomberg, a fierce supporter of the Islamic center, suddenly going to abandon his support because of the ADL press release? Is the local NYC community board, which has “has given overwhelming backing to the project,” suddenly going to reverse course because of the press release? 

There’s no indication that will happen. But the Times still predicts the press release “could be a turning point.” Why? 

There’s some other stuff, too. In addition to what Boehlert mentions in the rest of his post, I was disappointed that the piece failed to put this in the context of opposition to the building of mosques around the nation, not just in New York, and that it neglected to point out the stunning irrelevance of the construction of a mosque in New York City to a race for the US House in North Carolina. Is that about the “limits of religious freedom” or attempts to squelch it?

Beyond that, I tend to the absolutist when it comes to First Amendment guarantees. The “limits of religious freedom” are meaningless when they come in the form of, as Foxman put it, “positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.” Waving the bloody shirt of the Holocaust in defense of pure chauvinism is disgusting in itself. Applying it out-of-context to a symbol of shared national sacrifice is unacceptable. The meaning of 9/11, whatever it is, is not us-versus-them, and no one is entitled to irrational bigotry, no matter how much Abe Foxman wants to privilege their suffering. Not unless we want to concede that we have a two-tiered democracy divided along religious lines. I suppose Foxman would think that was just dandy. That’s his right. The rest of us don’t have to flush what little remains of our civil society along with him, though.

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