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Monday, August 09, 2010

Little Mosque in the City

John Moore conflates libertarians and conservatives:

The true test for a libertarian is when he must defend the rights of his real or perceived enemies. The plan to build a Muslim cultural center complete with sanctuary for worship in New York City two blocks away from the footprint of the former World Trade Center is proving to be just such a test.

The term libertarian is a highly elastic one. Libertarians, however, believe that there should be a government - unless they are anarcho-libertarians - whose ultimate purpose is to defend individual rights. If someone is your enemy, i.e. someone who intends you bodily harm, defending their ability to harm you does not make you a libertarian, it makes you suicidal. Someone whom you simply dislike, or is a rival, is not really your "enemy." 

The only appropriate response to enemies is to restrain, or if necessary, destroy them. A Muslim cultural center is not, necessarily, a den of enemies to be destroyed. There are, after all, Muslim libertarians, albeit very few of them. Opposition to the construction of a Muslim cultural center, or mosque, the reports vary, has precious little to do with libertarians. It instead comes from some conservatives. Their logic runs something like this: Muslims flew plans into the World Trade Center, putting a Muslim center / mosque (of which there are plenty in New York City already) near Ground Zero is a powerful signal of surrender to the Muslim world. But Moore seems to believe that this is a line widely held by libertarians:

Libertarians believe in holding government to an absolute minimum of control over just how much freedom citizens enjoy. So when government starts withholding rights from some but not others, Libertarians usually sound the alarm.

On the matter of the New York mosque the political right is not only on the wrong side of the issue but demonstrating the kind of self contradictory doublethink that has come to define much of the Repubican and Tea Party movement. Sarah Palin who uses the word “freedom” more often than a Hawaiian airport greeter says “aloha” infamously urged moderate Muslims to “refudiate” the idea of constructing the Muslim center. Newt Gingrich insists that until a church can be built in Saudi Arabia the mosque is a non-starter, a line of reasoning that allows the world’s most repressive regimes to set the bar on American liberty.

The political Right is not the same thing as the libertarian movement. Just ask any libertarian opponent of the Drug Wars. Only the more imaginative denizens of the Left would describe Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich as libertarian. Conflating libertarians with conservatives is plain sloppy.

The construction of the near Ground Zero community center / mosque is seen through the prism of the cultural wars. Liberals, who regard Islamist terrorism as a mere criminal activity, do not see the project as a threat, and view opposition as an expression of bigotry. To many conservatives, who subscribe to the Clash of Civilizations thesis, it is a woeful concession to an avowed enemy. Islam, or variant of Islam, is the enemy, and if only for symbolic purposes, a mosque at Ground Zero would be a triumph for the other side. A modern day version, in reverse, of the Marines hoisting Old Glory over Iwo Jima. 

Libertarians tend to focus little of their energy on foreign affairs. With some notable exceptions, it is a blind spot for the movement. This is typically justified as fighting for freedom at home, before you go fighting for it abroad. Having a naturally jaundiced view of government action, libertarians lean toward regarding Islamic terrorism as another one of those unfortunate side-effects of big government. 

In this light, the narrative of a bumbling, and grasping, oil driven foreign policy creating, or exacerbating, terrorism seems quite plausible. The big government as bad approach is usually understood as a one way street. Big American government is bad, and it causes nasty things at home and abroad. Strangely the logic is rarely used on other countries, that really big and bad governments in other countries might be generating terrorism, Islamic themed or not.

This blind spot in libertarian foreign policy analysis dovetails with another, and broader, shortcoming in how many libertarians view politics, the fallacy of economic man being universal man. Human beings are certainly motivated by money. It is not for pleasure that commuters fight their way through heavy traffic each morning and evening. But along with economic man, who carefully strives for profit maximization, there is also social man, romantic man, spiritual man and dozens more like him. We are driven by many things, including our ideas and beliefs. 

The believer in economic man assumes that violence is simply an expression, albeit a perverse one, of this profit maximizing tendency. Thus some libertarians subscribe to the poverty-causing-terrorism theory. This round peg, however, has a very square hole to enter. How is a suicide bomber behaving economically? Bits of flesh have a hard time enjoying the material benefits of life. Such fanaticism cannot be explained in economic terms, it can only be understood philosophically. 

The bulk of conservatives understand that we are engaged in an philosophical struggle, one in which symbolism is indeed important. An Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, however, isn't that important a symbol. The most important symbol of our Clash of Civilizations is that after nine years there is still a hole in lower Manhattan. It took less than seven years to build the original twin towers. Yet, nearly a decade after primitive religious fanatics scarred the skyline of New York City, it remains scarred. A confident culture would have, and very quickly, rebuilt the World Trade Center, to a new and better standard. That symbolism is far more powerful that a mere mosque two blocks away.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 9, 2010 | Permalink


Actually, Publius, the reason there is still a hole in lower Manhattan is because people cannot decide what to put there. That's nothing new for New York; many landmarks, notably the Brooklyn Bridge, were very nearly not built, thanks to years of political wrangling. (Interestingly, it took only 18 months to build the Empire State Building.)

I've nothing against the mosque in theory, but I do think the imam in question can be accused of insensitivity and misreading the political situation. He needs the support of the community at large for this, and hasn't earned it. Moderate Muslims are frequently accused of being too accommodating of violent Islamic terrorists, and as long as that label sticks, they're going to find themselves outsiders in their own country. The fact that another Muslim recently tried to blow up Times Square isn't helping matters. Even if the imam's heart is in the right place, he has been ill-served by his mind.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-09 6:22:50 AM

I have noticed a high level of solidarity between 'conservatives' and libertarians on this issue. The majority of both groups have been and continue to be extremely vocal in opposition to the planned mosque. Sometimes an issue will transcend political divisions, and this is one such issue. To any person with common sense, a mosque at the sight of Ground Zero is just a bad, inflamatory idea.

Posted by: Leigh Patrick Sullivan | 2010-08-09 8:53:20 AM

..- sorry, 'site'. Coffee hasn't kicked in yet.

Posted by: Leigh Patrick Sullivan | 2010-08-09 8:54:11 AM

Wrong. The main opposition to this Mosque is not coming from "Conservatives," but rather from us LIBERTARIANS!! Pamela Geller of the Ayn Randian blog Atlas Shrugs is the main opposition leader to the Mosque (i.e. Radical Islamist Terrorist Traning Ctr.)

LIBERTARIAN Kristin Davis, running on the Anti-Probition Party ticket for Governor of New York has similarly been out on the forefront of this issue.

We at Libertarian Republican were on the forefront of this issue, long before the Conservatives ever caught on.

It is us LIBERTARIANS who are most fiercely opposed to Radical Islam.

Islamism is opposed to our beliefs in legalization of marijuana, legalized prostitution, gay rights, booze, gambling, topless beaches, and most especially free speech rights for cartoonists, comedians and documentary producers.

We stand with our European Libertarian bretheren like Geert Wilders who oppose the onslaught of thei highly un-libertarian Radical Islam.

Posted by: Eric Dondero | 2010-08-09 11:08:18 AM

I agree with the commenter above who states that there's a high degree of cooperation between US conservatives and libertarians on the Ground Zero Mosque issue.

However, it was us libertarians who took the lead, most especially us Libertarian Republicans. Like the Obama birth certificate issue, and the Tea Party, conservatives were to put it politely "late to the game."

We libertarians are on the cutting edge, as always. Our conservative friends are merely cautious followers.

Posted by: Eric Dondero | 2010-08-09 11:11:14 AM

It's been reported that the mosque is scheduling the sod turning ceremony for September 11. "Insensitive" doesn't begin to describe their actions. The Muslims behind the financing of this building are giving the finger to America and all those who suffered and died in the twin towers atrocity.

Posted by: BoomNoZoom | 2010-08-09 11:48:54 AM

Who cares if they build it? New York is about as far removed from America as Toronto is from the ROC. I hope they build it, and there's a never ending clash between jihadists, and village people. I hope the facility is used to plan, and launch an attack on Toronto city hall. I hope this is the first shot in the war that's coming.

Don't try to claim libertarians are more aware of the coming battle between muslims and the civilized world, because you really aren't. You guys are at the extreme end of a loose immigration policy. You actually believe that individual rights will somehow cleanse the evil thoughts from the minds of the average islamists. You are as blind as the rest of the appeasement crowd.

The only way to win this war is by isolating the enemy. Having them coagulate in NYC is as good a way as any. Once they turn it into hell on earth, the rest of America can fence it off, and turn it into a penal colony.

Right now, it's hard to see any way around muslim domination. Saudi Arabia, the worst enemy America ever had, is getting F15s. Iran will have nukes. At the same time the US has to deal with this threat, China is busy building an arsenal to destroy their carrier strike capability. It's getting very close to the point where they need to circle the wagons. If they can show an ability to protect the homefront, they might avert an all-out invasion.

Posted by: dp | 2010-08-09 12:09:43 PM

"Invade America? Their people have too many guns." - Russian general

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-09 12:19:04 PM

I guess we libertarians are good for something afterall. We shouldn't confuse 'Republican' with 'conservative', however. Sadly, there has been a growing gap in those two definitions for decades now.

dp- I mostly agree, but wouldn't it be better to isolate the enemy over there instead of on NA soil?

Posted by: Leigh Patrick Sullivan | 2010-08-09 12:31:04 PM

To paraphrase, libertarianism is not a suicide pact.

Posted by: Pacific_waters | 2010-08-09 2:17:40 PM

To paraphrase, libertarianism is the assumption of the supremacy of the self.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-09 4:27:26 PM

Shame-Yamamoto said the same thing, even thought the Japs were convinced they'd defeat the US. The Islamists seem to be better strategists, though. They used a Trojan Horse called religion of peace to get behind enemy lines. They still have the issue of weapons in the hands of citizens, hence the push for strict gun control, with the left-wing Judas Goats leading the way. Nothing against Libertarians, but your live and let live attitude is allowing bad people to get a foothold.

I'm keeping an eye on Newt Gingrich. He seems to be saying what a lot of people are thinking. If he were to make a run at the top job, he'd be hard to beat, especially with someone like Romney on his wing. That would set the stage for a return to basic values, and less political correctness.

Posted by: dp | 2010-08-09 4:54:23 PM

"However, it was us libertarians who took the lead, most especially us Libertarian Republicans. Like the Obama birth certificate issue"
-Ugghh, embarrassing.

Posted by: Cytotoxic | 2010-08-09 6:13:06 PM

"Strangely the logic is rarely used on other countries, that really big and bad governments in other countries might be generating terrorism, Islamic themed or not."

Posted by: Cytotoxic | 2010-08-09 6:19:51 PM

Actually, dp, you may find Left-wingers pushing for more gun control, but not many Muslims will join them. In fact, in many Middle Eastern countries, people fire guns into the air in celebration. Muslims actually identify more with Right-wingers than Left-wingers; hence Gutfeld’s threat of the gay bar. That wouldn’t work on liberals. It would be like “threatening” to open a pot store.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-09 9:36:47 PM

I loved that story from a couple of years back, where people were firing into the air at a muslim wedding, and a bullet came down and hit the bride on the head, and killed her. I laughed til I couldn't catch my breath.

Posted by: dp | 2010-08-09 10:27:07 PM

Don’t laugh too hard, dp. That sort of tomfoolery also went on in the American South until quite recently. I’d in fact be surprised if to some extent it doesn’t continue today in rural regions. Frankly it's a waste of good bullets and a frequent source of unwelcome roof leaks. Of course, Americans, who favour revolvers, can always stuff them with blanks; that's not an option with the Russian-made clip-loading pistols Middle Easterners use. Yet another argument in favour of the noble wheelgun.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-09 10:55:40 PM

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