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Republicans pander over 'Ground Zero mosque' -- Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

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Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; 1:00 PM

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Eugene Robinson: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our weekly encounter group, which we always end by holding hands and singing "Kumbaya." Lots to talk about, of course. Today's column was about the Manhattan development project that opponents and opportunists fraudulently call the "Ground Zero mosque" -- it wouldn't be at Ground Zero; and it would contain a place of worship, or mosque, but would look like an office building, with none of the minarets and domes that the phrase "Ground Zero mosque" invokes. But truth is increasingly absent from this shameful exercise in Muslim-bashing. Anyway, that's my take. What's yours?

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comments: Have you read any of the comments about your column? I usually avoid them because they are often so nasty, as they are on this subject. It's amazing how people ignore the facts and just continue to repeat their prejudices and misinformation. So, are you and "Barry" (what happened to the mandatory inclusion of his middle name?) worshiping at a mosque? Uninformed minds want to know.

Eugene Robinson: The only time I can ever recall being inside a mosque was during a trip to Damascus, but the nastiness of some of those comments makes me want to convert. Some have clear racial overtones -- one scholarly commenter, amid a string of insults, saw fit to call me "big-lipped." Somehow I don't think the facts matter to those people.

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Move On: The people behind the mosque should take Obama's comments as a victory: freedom of religion lives, for everybody.Then they should move the mosque to acknowledge the feelings of the people.Win/win.

Eugene Robinson: No, that's a loss. I really hope the organizers don't get bullied into relocating the project, though I would understand if they made that decision -- they must be fearing for their safety, at this point, with Newt Gingrich calling them jihadists and Nazis. The Constitution protects the individual from the mob. If "the people" of Little Rock had been allowed to decide, would Central High School ever have been integrated? W0uld that have been win-win?

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It's not "your" take...: It's what you were told to say by the Soros controlled Lib spin machine. Also, roughly half the Dems don't want it built in the proposed location - what's "your" take on that?

Eugene Robinson: I interviewed George Soros once for a story, years ago in London, but he doesn't seem to have my number on speed dial. Those Democrats who want to relegate Muslim citizens to second-class status are wrong, too.

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Religious Sites and Tragedies: If there shouldn't be a mosque 3 blocks from Ground Zero, there shouldn't be a Catholic Church 3 blocks from any middle school, or a Southern evangelical church 3 blocks from any African American civil rights organization. But, intellectual consistency is never a consideration among the GOP wingnuts.

Eugene Robinson: True. And don't forget that we're talking about Manhattan, where a given block can include peep shows, wig shops, delicatessens, and of course the obligatory Starbucks.

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Sensibilities to the Muslim World: The US has fought two wars (Iraq War 1 and Bosnia) in support of Muslims populations or nations, we have funneled billions into Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to support those nations, still we have been the subject of ongoing attacks from Nov. 4, 1979 (Iran hostage crisis) to the NY Square Bomber, all perpetrated by Muslims. You column suggests we should not do things to inflame the 1 billion muslims, but you do agree we were the victims on 9/11? At some point, shouldn't they be concerned about offending us, indeed we are still a superpower or should we continue to walk on egg shells ?

Eugene Robinson: "Shouldn't they be concerned"? Who do you mean, "they?" Hundreds of innocent Muslims died in the WTC towers on Sept. 11. Go to Arlington Cemetery and walk among the graves, and you'll notice the headstones marked with the Islamic crescent -- the many Muslims who have given their lives for this country. Every day, we are asking Iraqi and Afghan Muslims to fight and die for our national interests.

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Gleen Beck and the Mosque: Do you think there is any parallel that can be drawn between the plans to buid Cordoba House a couple of blocks north of Ground Zero, and Glenn Beck's plans to address a rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech? Both have people who are sensitive about the proximity of a building/event to a location with heavy historical import. For the record: I think both the mosque and Glenn Beck should go forward. Your take?

Eugene Robinson: Yes, there's a parallel. And yes, both should go ahead as planned.

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Mosque: Is the issue not one of sensitivity to the victims families? I think it is incorrect to paint every opponent of the Mosque as anti-islam. This seems to a common problem with your columns and your MSNBC appearances. If someone questions an Obama policy, he is a racist; if someone questions gay marriage, he is anti-gay, etc, etc, etc. The liberal/progressive movent is losing traction because of its intolerance of different views.

Eugene Robinson: Good lord, where to begin? I'll just note that I have questioned any number of President Obama's policies, and I don't consider myself "a racist." But tell me, how else can one interpret the message "Muslims not welcome" as anything but anti-Islam? When my friends and I attended what once had been the all-white high school in my South Carolina home town, I'm sure we disturbed the sensitivities off some students, teachers and parents.

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Possible solution: Build a 10-story Wal*Mart at the site. Put a prayer room at the top story. Then, the people of Manhattan might actually start opposing it, and the rest of the country can go, "Ehh, maybe it's not so bad."

Eugene Robinson: Great plan.

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This is an invention: This is a non-issue along the lines of the Holy Roman Empire (it wasn't holy, it wasn't roman, and it wasn't an empire). It's not at ground zero, it's not a Mosque and it's not a provocation aimed at the United States. It is however another highly successful example of the national media being gulled into acting as a gigantic megaphone for the extreme right and facilitating their agenda. Very similar the Sherrod at USDA only far far more damaging in that it seeks to subvert fundamental Constitutional rights. The sad thing is the number of columns and blog posts by media pundits after the Sherrod debacle talking about how they had learned their lesson and weren't going to be buffalo'd by dubious right wing spinmeisters.

Eugene Robinson: We swear we'll never get fooled again! Ooops -- our bad.

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Leadership: I can't begin to tell you haw disappointed I am in the lack of leadership from President Obama. His "clarification" last weekend saying he did not endorse building the cultural center only served to reinforce his whishy washy image. Can you make any sense out of his I oppose gay marriage and also oppose proposiiton 8" position? Axelrod looked like a pretzel trying to explain that on TV last week. what's the problem with the WH?

Eugene Robinson: Your guess is as good as mine. I thought the president said what needed to be said about the mosque on Friday. Why he chose to speak again on Saturday -- and it sounded as if he were trying to back away, even though the White House says he wasn't -- is beyond me. And I've never been able to make sense of his position, or positions, on gay marriage.

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"Ground Zero Mosque": I think we should start calling it the "Ground Zero Plus Two Blocks Community Pool."

Eugene Robinson: An even better idea.

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Religious Freedom: I most certainly agree with the aspect of the religious freedom, and the right for anyone to practice their chosen religion anywhere they please. However, the United States has already set a precident that if people are offended by a display or proclaimation that is under the guises of the freedoms granted by the Constitution, then it cannot be permitted.I find it interesting that whatever the situation, the majority always has to bend to the will of the minority. In this case, it has been shown that a majority of New Yorkers and people residing or working near the proposed site would rather it not be the location of a mosque. What ever happened to the concept of "majority rule," or "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?"

Eugene Robinson: What happened was, all together now, the Constitution. Those guarantees of our sacred rights -- freedom of press, religion, assembly, etc. -- are there specifically to protect the individual and the minority from the whims of the majority. If our nation were dedicated to the absolute principle of majority rule, there would be no need for the Bill of Rights.

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Sept 11, 2001: Let me go back to that day - because I was working on that day in Lower Manhattan and had to hoof it by foot since all mass transit was shut down. When the second tower fell, I will never forget what I saw around me as I shared that moment with them all as direct witnesses of that day. People of all colours, all ethnic backgrounds and nationalities, were shouting in fear, weeping with sorrow, and struck silent by the agony of knowing there would be no possible way people survived the collapse. It didn't matter who we were, where we were from. We truly were pulled together in that moment in time.People of all colours, ethnic backgrounds and nationalities died on that day. I cannot believe the fiasco this "debate" has turned into. It shames me to think that this country has made this turn towards intolerance.

Eugene Robinson: Thank you for that. I was in Washington on 9/11, and I'll never forget the plume of smoke from the Pentagon and the gash in the side of the building. I couldn't agree with you more.

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All ridiculous: Hi Gene,Every aspect of the fight against building the mosque seems ridiculous to me, but this idea of a "Victory Tower" is my favorite. It is as if a 13 story building will dwarf this huge empty area of sacred ground. A 13 story building in that part NYC is like a basement apartment in Nebraska.

Eugene Robinson: I know, but there you go again, injecting facts into the debate.

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Vitriol: After conducted discussions like this, do you ever feel like you need to cleanse your mind and/or body? Some of these 'questions' are just outrageous. I'd hate to see the ones that are being rejected.

Eugene Robinson: You wouldn't BELIEVE the ones that are being rejected.

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Community pool approved: It is my impression that New Yorkers, at least those in power to do something, approved the whole thing. What am I missing?

Eugene Robinson: The project was approved by local officials and given the green light. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a passionate supporter of the project. You're not missing anything.

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President Bush: I disagreed with most of Pres. Bush's policies while he was Pres., and have admired his decision to be silent and not be critical of the current Pres. , but I do wish he would speak out about this issue. He was adamant in his defense of Islam and the distinction between the terrorists and all Muslims. I am glad that several in his admin have spoken out--- Gerson and McKInnon, but I think this is an issue important enough that he should speak out in support of the Mosque and Muslims.

Eugene Robinson: I, too, would love to hear from former president Bush on this issue. He held Ramadan iftar dinners in the White House as part of a much broader effort to show that our fight against the al-Qaeda murderers who attacked us on 9/11 was not a crusade against Islam. He was absolutely right on this point, and it would be helpful to hear his views.

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It is August or what?: I have to admit to surprize at how this " to Mosque or not to Mosque" story has blown up. I thought Kurtz had an interesting article about how the media has played to story in today's paper. I also admit to being somewhat naive--- but most of the stories seem to be about what the POLITICAL impact is going to be for the DEMS and the Pres opposed to what is right, defending the constitution and what impact the opposition to the mosque does to our national security interests. I am also SAD and disappointed by most Dems reactions. it would seem defending the constitution is less important than getting re-elected. I was particulary offended by a column Roger Simon wrote in Politico today. Not that he isn't a good reporter-- or that his premise was wrong. The story was about the fact that any president who wants to have 2 terms must follow public opinion polls and never comment on controverial subjects in order to get re-elected. Cynical and probably right, but upsetting nevertheless. I would rather have a one termer who stands up for what's right --- so maybe I am too dumb for this game.

Eugene Robinson: I guess you can call me dumb, too. If you think about it, President Obama had no choice but to say something. Every day, in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, radical imams are preaching that the United States and the West are trying to destroy Islam. This narrative has been alarmingly successful in recruiting suicide bombers, jihadist fighters and others seeking to "defend" the faith. Given the brewing controversy, Obama had to continue Bush's campaign to make it as clear as possible that we are at war with al-Qaeda, not with Islam. Michael Gerson's column in Monday's paper was the best explanation I've read of why Obama's intervention on Friday was not optional, but mandatory and urgent.

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The real issue: I often wonder why your column covers nothing but the defense of Islam and the Muslims rights to build and worship. How come you never talk about and defend the rights of Christians? Do you realize the left relentlessy attacks Christian values, our right to use God in our schools. How come the left has made it an issue to remove crosses from war memorials and the 10 Commandmants from public institutions? You see thats what i see is wrong in America, your so quick to defend Muslims but not the Judeo-Christian principles that the United States Constitution was designed after. For the record i highly doubt our forefathers had Muslims in mind.

Eugene Robinson: Please read a history book. Please. And then read the Constitution. There is no attack on Christian values. It's just that there is no state religion in the United States. It says so, right there in our most sacred documents. Please take a look.

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Love Fest: Well, it is obvious that this is certainly not a debate but a lovefest of like-minded individuals who agree with Mr. Robinson. There appears to be no posting of positions that counter yours, which as a columnist I suppose is your right. Still, it is sophomoric to evaluate this matter from a constitutional rights perspective. As with every right provided in the Constitution, there are limits including those contained in the 1st Amendment. The "right to practice one's religion" can be curtailed when there is a compelling state interest that supercedes that right. Such as medical care for an infant. I am not certain if this mosque controversy rises to that level (I suspect is does not), but an argument could be made nontheless. For instance, if it is determined that the Iman has not only preached US culpability in 9/11 but also received funds from terrorist organizations or recruits or has aid the recruitment of terrorist, a compelling state interest could be found. I guess after 9/11 and the actions/omissions of so-called moderate muslims subsequent thereto, I am not simply going to take it at their word that this is intended not to offend and for peaceful purposes. I know you are a columnist not a journalist but I would appreciate a bit more exacting analysis on your part. Thanks.

Eugene Robinson: Our government, going back even before the Bush administration, has been quite aggressive and successful in going after radical mosques and imams that support, fund, or otherwise encourage terrorism. Even my MSNBC colleague Pat Buchanan acknowledges that the group behind the lower Manhattan project is moderate.

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What's going on these days?: It's baffling to me the string of events: we have California battling to prevent gays from marrying; we have Arizona looking to get suspected illegal immigrants to prove their citizenship; we have New Yorkers fighting to prevent a Muslim cultural center. Why all the hate?

Eugene Robinson: Hateration is rampant. But we have to believe that ultimately it will not triumph.And with that, folks, my time is up for today. See you again next week. In the meantime, increase the peace.


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