I do not intend to rehearse the arguments for or against the proposals to build a community centre, incorporating a place of worship, in lower Manhattan, but I think that the entire thrust of the Palin and Gingrich arguments against it is extremely dangerous.
It is not a matter of taste, decency or respect to the slain (at least 50 of whom, besides the hijackers, were Muslim), but of the right strategy to deal with the threat of the sort of militant Islam that drove the attacks. Defuse or detonate.
Militant Islam is a bundle of loathsome repressive doctrines, cloaking in religious justification ideas – such as, but in no way limited to, the systematic suppression of feminine equality – we thought we had nearly vanquished. We need none of that loathsomeness in either New York or London, but we are strong enough to let those ideas float and perish or flourish freely on their own merits.
Hundreds of millions of people around the world identify with Islam, but most don’t identify with the militant strands. Last night I was in a pub in Brixton, talking to a group of young men and women. Some of them were Muslim, and had been fasting; others had not, and admitted a grudging admiration for those that had managed the feat. There was banter as they ribbed each other, but respect for each person’s choice whether to fast and whether or not to drink alcohol. In that pub, showing each other that respect, these Londoners were helping to defuse the threat, and though we might not consciously have articulated it, we knew what we were doing.
America has a choice: it can either welcome, adapt and assimilate Islam, fostering a liberal environment in which Islamic thought and practice can develop in the image of a free society, or it can exclude, alienate and provoke it, driving those hundreds of millions into opposition to American ideals of liberty and so feeding the cancer of terrorism.
Most of New York seems to understand this, most of the hinterland doesn’t. Let’s hope New York prevails.