Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The right to believe vs. the responsibility to doubt

We are quick to claim our rights. We are not so swift in owning our responsibilities. I am reluctant to suggest that there be a moratorium on any particular belief, any brand of belief or any style of belief. I agree that some beliefs will land you in a padded room but no belief should land you in jail.

Behavior. Actions. These we not only may police but we must police them. It is very nearly the definition of belonging to a social group. We have rights as individuals but we also have responsibilities to the group, at least if we are to be part of the group.

But beliefs... Erroneous belief is but a symptom. Unqualified belief, likewise. It is the process of thought (or lack thereof) that allows and leads to faulty and/or unqualified belief that is the underlying issue. We (humans) are quick to claim superior knowledge, quick to defame conflicting opinions and information but reluctant to meticulously verify the evidence and lay out a case. That's hard work. No wonder so few people make the effort. And many of those who appear to make the effort use erroneous or subjective evidence, faulty reasoning and fallacious premises. Trusted "thinkers" often jump to ostensibly solid, often predetermined, conclusions.

We have the right to speak. We have the right to hear. We have the right to draw conclusions. But do we not also have the responsibility to think clearly, rationally, logically, rigorously, deliberately, diligently...?

We are quick to claim our rights but slow to own our responsibilities.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

No new mosque near ground zero! (part 2)

After writing “No new mosque near ground zero!” I had a subtle but nagging sense of anxiety. I realized that I was thinking viscerally. Thinking viscerally is a course of action I generally discourage. What bothered me is the question of "What is right? What is just?" I allowed (or maybe forced) myself to focus more on what would be the right, fair and constitutionally consistent course of action. While I FEEL the mosque is a bad idea, while I can identify why it's a bad idea, I can't deny that preventing its construction would be government infringement on religion.

As a militant atheist I would love to see the mosque blocked by a "community standards" decision the way we might restrict porn shops and strip clubs from opening near a school. As a militant atheist I would love to see the mosque blocked by public safety standards the way we might restrict toxic dumps from opening near populated areas. As a militant atheist I would love to see this applied equally to all buildings and organizations dedicated to the promotion of unqualified belief, for example a church, or a temple, or a Discovery Institute…

But as an American I have agreed to the EULA, the terms and conditions that apply to being American. Due to the underlying jihadist motives of the 9/11 attackers I don't want to see a mosque built near ground zero any more than I would like to see a Japanese embassy built within site of the USS Arizona memorial. (and I love Nihon) I don't want it there. But (back to the terms and conditions) if a mosque can be built at any other US location and there are no restrictions for other religious or secular misinformation centers then obstruction there would be serious Infringement issue.

While the attackers were fringe followers of a more common ideology their heinous act was accepted, and even praised, by many muslims of the "moderate" or "religion of peace" variety. Even some among those who regard the attack as unjust may still regard the attackers as martyrs for the cause. In a community where it is universally considered good to be a follower of the faith, stronger convictions are (intentionally or otherwise) encouraged. Throw in political discord, a lack of opportunities and a feeling of unused potential (or self-importance) and the resulting militant extremists should not come as a surprise. The wider islamic community is a crucible for extremists and fanatics. Not that we don't have a similar (typically less violent) problem with christians here in the U.S.

It is illogical to infer causation from correlation. (begin facetiousness) As long as we can count on eastern muslims (liberal, moderate and fundamentalists) to be logical we shouldn’t need to worry that a new mosque will be perceived as the result of the 9/11 attack. (end facetiousness) But to the wider islamic community, the building of a new mosque near ground zero will be interpreted as being a direct result of the 9/11 attack. It will be interpreted as the mayor of New York posthumously presenting the attackers with the Ahmadiyya and the key to the city. It will legitimize (in their eyes) future attacks. Generally, information proliferation is driven less by factuality and relevance than it is by how interesting it might be. And this story has been sensationalized. It is likely this story will be shared around the world. Maybe not. I have yet to find it at english.aljazeera.net. There's room for hope. How it is presented and how it will be received is more likely to be tied to ideology than to reason. It could catch some positive spin overseas. The idea that America is a land where spite, paranoia and persecution do not reign could come through. I would expect that to come from a quiet minority but it is an idea that could spread and perhaps outlast initial propaganda. Maybe.

While the perception of jihadist victory may be a good reason to block construction I must acknowledge it is not an adequate reason. And I don’t see how we can justify blocking it based on the palpable sensitivity of an historical event. It's as though New York has to choose between unjust or stupid. Maybe someone will present a legitimate, legal and just reason for the cancellation of construction. As much as I want to, I haven't found it. I doubt there such a reason can be found.

I was staunchly against this project. And I still don’t like it. But I’m more interested in seeking the right answer than clinging to what I find most comfortable. For my aversion to feeding the hand that bit me and for my revulsion toward organized disinformation, I oppose this mosque at the location. But if the burden were placed on me to decide whether the mosque should be blocked or permitted I would have to permit it. Foreign perception and the harm of unqualified belief do not supersede the values of law.

If we are at all concerned about doing what is right, what is fair, then this project will not be obstructed.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

No new mosque near ground zero!

Building a mosque near ground zero (and as a consequence of 9/11) reflects the wisdom of Montezuma when he sent gold to the conquistadors in an effort to make them go away.

Am I the only one that sees this sends the message of, "Want to proliferate islam? Maybe you can get things rolling with some preliminary demolition work."

What? I'm being extremist? I'm being xenophobic? I'm being a bigot and intolerant? BULSHIT. Every muslim extremist and nearly all moderate non-American muslims will interpret (and laud) the building of a mosque near ground zero as a justification for and victory brought about by the 9/11 attack. "At least something good came out of it. It must have been allah's will."

It doesn't matter how non-muslim Americans view this. It doesn't matter that this may display an ostensible warmth to muslim Americans. It doesn't matter that this could be a symbol to show we can all be friends. What does matter is that this action rewards the faithful for biting us. And apparently we are so worried about the feelings of the few faithful who haven't bitten us that we can't see the scope of our magnanimity.

And it will be there forever. I like the Haghia Sophia as much as the next secular human. But as a society that pretends to value education, the rule of law and a better tomorrow how can we be so desperate to anchor ourselves to the dark ages? Maybe they could build a sharia courthouse? Oh wait, that would be seditious to American law. We better get some more mosques built first.