Friday, August 20, 2010


I don't know about you, but I am in the mood for some serious refudiation today!

By now, unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about the attempts to build a mosque/community center at or near the site of the World Trade Center buildings (or where they used to be).

In legal terms, the situation is quite simple: if they own the property and that property is correctly zoned, they can build whatever the hell they want.

If we want to concern ourselves with sensitivity or decorousness, things get a bit more complicated. There are lots of opinions on the subject; both sides have marshaled numerous arguments to their defense. However, I would like to address just one thing that has come up repeatedly, which I found irksome.

When someone says that the mosque site is just too close, their opponents will frequently say something along the lines of "Well, how far away is far enough?" That argument is just too smug for my liking. The suggestion, of course, is that "too close" is basically meaningless, because nobody will be able to make a rational argument explaining that, while two blocks is too close, three blocks (or whatever) would be fine. If the refudiators cannot offer a specific acceptable radius –– and of course they can't –– then their opponents feel they've won. Game, set, match. But they'd be wrong.

Let's do an experiment. You'll need a box of matches or toothpicks and a few friends. Begin to put the matches/toothpicks on a table, one at a time, stacking them roughly on top of each other. Tell your friend to say stop when you have made a "pile." Repeat with your other friends. Chances are, they will have stopped you at different points in the process. So, how many toothpicks does it take to make a pile? 5? 6? 83? Attempting to pick a specific number will always be arbitrary. However, that does not mean that the word or concept of a "pile" is worthless.

Trying to draw a line at the outer radius of a "too close to ground zero" zone is going to be arbitrary too. But that does not mean that there's no such thing as "too close." Mosque proponents ought to acknowledge that, instead of wasting time with semantic games whose sole benefit is ego-stroking, but which do nothing to promote understanding or further the possibility of a fair and amicable resolution.

1 comment:

J.B. said...

This is Keith Olbermann talking about the logistics of the 'mosque'

The blog post about boring church and the naked woman was great comedy (and a desired remedy).