Redecorating Other People's Houses

I’d like to associate myself with Matt Yglesias’ comments earlier today on the Cordoba House business.

[O]ver the weekend some kind of hair-splitting distinction opened up between the idea of publicly and forcefully acknowledging the legal and constitutional right of the organizers to place their community center at 51 Park Place in Lower Manhattan and supporting construction of the mosque. I sort of see what the distinction is. People have the right, legally speaking, to go stand on the sidewalk outside my office and scream obscenities at me when I go to lunch. But I really wish they wouldn’t do that, and I think sensible people would condemn the decision to behave in that manner.

But when it comes to matters of religion, I think this distinction gets a bit confusing. I’m after all not a Muslim. And if pressed, I’d have to say that I think Islam is a false doctrine. It’s not the case that there’s is no God but Allah, nor is it true that Mohammed is his prophet. If everyone collectively decided that nobody should ever build a mosque anywhere again, that would be fine by me. Which is just to say that people simply don’t actively support the construction of other people’s religious monuments. You don’t expect Jews to stand up and applaud the construction of new Mormon temples, but I do expect them to acknowledge the right of Mormons to build temples and to stand up to demagogues who would try to abridge that right. And this is what we have going on in Lower Manhattan today.

That’s correct. But it’s is also why I’m wary of the argument that we should be especially supportive of the Cordoba House because it’s being run by the right kind of Muslims – and, more generally, that we need to be actively engaged in promoting “moderate” Islam and opposing “radical” Islam. I have no idea whether “allowing” Cordoba House to be built sends a positive or a negative “signal” to the Muslim world – and, in general, I question our ability to signal effectively at all. The absolutely craziest things go totally viral all the time, and we can’t stop them, and facts about which there is an absolutely universal consensus among anybody with any knowledge at all – say, that the Holocaust happened, or that the universe is billions of years old – remain stubbornly controversial despite our best efforts. Any debate should be about who we are, not about who they are or what we want them to think of us.

And as for Mormons, I think this gets Romney off the hook, doesn’t it?