Moral Myopia at Ground Zero

Source: National Review Online

By Charles Krauthammer

Supporters of the mosque fail to see its true significance.

It’s hard to be an Obama sycophant these days. Your hero delivers a Ramadan speech roundly supporting the building of a mosque and Islamic center at Ground Zero in New York. Your heart swells and you’re moved to declare this President Obama’s finest hour, his act of greatest courage.

Park51 - Site of Ground Zero Mosque

Park51 - Site of Ground Zero Mosque

Alas, the next day, at a remove of 800 miles, Obama explains that he was only talking about the legality of the thing and not the wisdom — upon which he does not make, and will not make, any judgment.

You’re left looking like a fool because now Obama has said exactly nothing: No one disputes the right to build; the whole debate is about the propriety, the decency of doing so.

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What does take courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and consider whether the imam’s alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor’s offer to help find another site.

Where the president flagged, however, the liberal intelligentsia stepped in with gusto, penning dozens of pro-mosque articles characterized by a frenzied unanimity, little resort to argument, and a singular difficulty dealing with analogies.

The Atlantic’s Michael Kinsley was typical in arguing that the only possible grounds for opposing the Ground Zero mosque are bigotry or demagoguery. Well then, what about Pope John Paul II’s ordering the closing of the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz? Surely there can be no one more innocent of the atrocities that took place there than those devout nuns.

How does Kinsley explain this remarkable demonstration of sensitivity — this order to pray, but not there? He doesn’t even feign analysis. He simply asserts that the decision is something “I confess that I never did understand.”

That’s his Q.E.D.? Is he stumped, or is he inviting us to choose between his moral authority and that of one of the towering moral figures of the 20th century?

At least Richard Cohen of the Washington Post tries to grapple with the issue of sanctity and sensitivity. The results, however, are not pretty. He concedes that putting up a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor would be offensive, but then dismisses the analogy to Ground Zero because 9/11 was merely “a rogue act, committed by 20 or so crazed samurai.”

Obtuseness of this magnitude can only be deliberate. These weren’t crazies; they were methodical, focused, steel-nerved operatives. Nor were they freelance rogues. They were the leading, and most successful, edge of a worldwide movement of radical Islamists with cells in every continent, with worldwide financial and theological support, with a massive media and propaganda arm, and with an archipelago of local sympathizers, as in northwestern Pakistan, who protect and guard them.

Why is America fighting Predator wars in Pakistan and Yemen, surveilling thousands of conversations and financial transactions every day, and engaging in military operations against radical Muslims everywhere from the Philippines to Somalia? Because of 19 crazies, all of whom died nine years ago?

Radical Islam is not, by any means, a majority of Islam. But with its financiers, clerics, propagandists, trainers, leaders, operatives, and sympathizers — according to a conservative estimate, it commands the allegiance of 7 percent of Muslims, i.e., over 80 million souls — it is a very powerful strain within Islam. It has changed the course of nations and affected the lives of millions. It is the reason every airport in the West is an armed camp and every land is on constant alert.

Ground Zero is the site of the most lethal attack of that worldwide movement, which consists entirely of Muslims, acts in the name of Islam, and is deeply embedded within the Islamic world. These are regrettable facts, but facts they are. And that is why putting up a monument to Islam in this place is not just insensitive but provocative.

Just as the people of Japan today would not think of planting their flag at Pearl Harbor, despite the fact that no Japanese under the age of 85 has any possible responsibility for that infamy, representatives of contemporary Islam — the overwhelming majority of whose adherents are equally innocent of the infamy committed on 9/11 in their name — should exercise comparable respect for what even Obama calls hallowed ground.


  1. George Michalopulos :

    I’ve really got to hand it to Krauthammer. Even though he is/was a neocon, he finally (and for once) clearly sees the necessity that Christians have for the sacral and that it’s not proper to mess with it. He admits as much in his previous essay on how his support for a Disney-themed park at Manassas was a terrible idea. It’s too bad that the rest of the coterie of secularist neoliberals/neoconservatives (Michael Kinsley, John Podhoretz, Eugene Robinson, Nancy Pelosi, etc.) can’t or won’t. More fool them.

  2. Roger Bennett :

    I’m not overly impressed with the conservative commentariat stepping in with their own gusto, penning dozens of anti-mosque articles, etc. Maybe the best “argument” was Krauthammer’s: this is sacred ground. But that theory has gotten a bit of the luster knocked off by the “adult” businesses and gambling parlors just as close to sacred Ground Zero as the Cordoba Center would be. Most of the others are goofy (e.g., all Muslims are crypto-terrorists) or morally dubious tit-for-tat (there are no Christian Church in Mecca but a big Mosque in Rome).

    It seems to me that we’re simply at a juncture where whatever we do, it’s apt to have unintended consequences. If we retreat and smile benignly as the Center is built, it may turn out that the radicals will take over; or it may be that one of our own occasional crazies will bomb or attack it, or ….

    If we bully them off this location, we may radicalize more Muslims, or find that the proponents really were the moderates they claimed to be, or find that almost as many think all of lower Manhattan is “sacred” as think that this particular location is, essentially nullifying their “right to build.”

    Does anyone here think all the consequences of bullying (or “persuading”) them off this site are foreseen and benign? Will our “persuasion” strike us in a few decades as shameful, as the name Korematsu brings a flush to my face now?

    For my money, (1) “they have the right,” plus (2) “land use is a local matter,” equal “national commentators on both sides should bug off.” And I would include AOI as a national commentator.

  3. George Michalopulos :

    Roger, you bring up good points about the “conservative commentariat” but I’ll take their musings over the brain dead ones of the liberals anyday. As for the “unintended consequences,” so what? We can’t please these people anyway. Besides, I take Bin Laden at his word: the people of the Middle East will follow the “strong horse, not the weak one.” There’s wisdom there.

    Since we’re talking about unintended consequences, the Muslims have opened up a can of worms here. I can state with confidence that they are genuinely shocked that surly Americans are not rolling over and playing dead like our leaders want us to. Believe, that’s knocking them back on their heels. We need more of this, not less.

    Will this result in more atrocities? Yes. But so will weakness. They won’t stop until sharia is implemented everywhere. If we are going to lose then we might as well go down fighting.

    • Elder Paisios of the Holy Mount Athos: On The End Times

      We must remember: The more a person fears, the more he is tempted by the enemy. If a person refuses to strive to become courageous, and doesn’t strive for real love, then when a difficult situation arises he’ll become a laughingstock.

      The warrior takes joy in the fact that he’s dying so that others won’t have to. If you dispose yourself this way then nothing will be frightening. Courage is born from much love, kindness and self-sacrifice. Today people don’t even want to hear about death. However, he doesn’t remember about death is living outside of reality. Those who fear death and love life’s vanities are in a state of spiritual stagnation. Bold people, who always keep death before them and think about it constantly, on the other hand, conquer vanity and begin to live in eternity and heavenly joy while still here on earth.

  4. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Placement of the mosque is a local issue. Everybody knows that. The destruction of the Twin Towers however was meant for America, not only New Yorkers. The attacks were coordinated: Twin Towers, Pentagon, and if the brave Americans had not won back the hijacked plane at the cost of their life, the National Capital. It’s entirely appropriate that more than New Yorkers take part in the discussion.

    Don’t forget, the Mosque is named Cordoba Center. This is a provocation that should not be overlooked.

    I disagree George that this will result in more atrocities. Weakness invites more aggression, resolve makes the aggressor count the cost. Look at Europe.

    • George Michalopulos :

      Fr, what I should have said was “yes, probably more atrocities, but it’s equally possible that there might be fewer.” My point was that regardless of what transpires, we got to do what is right and damn the consequences. My larger point is that there is no appeasing Islamic civilization in general. It has been on a relentless drive for domination since its very foundation. It only retreats when we push back, a la Charles Martel and the Reconquista.

  5. It is really interesting to see the whole GOA narrative develop regarding these events. In some ways I think the GOA is waiting to see how the political left responds after being stunned. Once the left bounces back the GOA will follow. In considering how the 79th street narrative unfolds lets remember the following.

    1) Fr. Mark Arey on Fox news was very vague. It was almost as if he was briefed on a position beforehand and then let the time expire during the segment before any big questions got asked. It was not a good performance He ran out the clock if you ask me……
    2) Giannoulias ( the proposed heir to the throne of the omogenia in America) is for the mosque…no way 79th Street sets itself in opposition to Giannoulias. Giannoulias really has hit the trifecta in supporting Abortion, Same-Sex Marriage and the Ground Zero Mosque.
    3) The GOA press release does not mention any leaders names or their positions. Nor does it offer a quote.
    4) Frank Schaeffer is his usual nutjob self calling opposition to the mosque the new anti-semitism.
    5)Bishop Savas on his facebook page posts an article from NPR saying the words “Ground Zero Mosque” are words that kill. Likewise comments from others on his facebook page seem to be concerned more with conservatives than with Islamic fundamentalism.
    5)The National Herald has an article blaming Fox News for fanning the flames of Ground Zero Anger.

    If you ask me the GOA is more concerned with religious and social conservatives than with the Mosque and St. Nicholas Church. I still don’t think the GOA wants to confront this issue. Maybe 79th Street is positioning itself to follow the narrative of the political left on this issue. The real enemies are the conservatives and people who hold to traditional morals and beliefs.

    • Greeks + Expensive Real Estate + NYC + Lefties + so long they thought nobody was looking= she – nan – i – gans….. Somebody doesn’t want the lights turned on here….

      • George Michalopulos :

        Andrew, Harry, I fear that there is significant skullduggery behind the scenes, that the Sob Sisters of 79th St don’t want the light to shine too brightly on this matter.

  6. Well I’m sure a title search will reveal whether there are ‘entanglements’ to the property and when those obtained.

    With all the pull Greeks have in lefty quarters and in NYC in particular eight years is too long a time for red tape to be the reason there was no building.

  7. In addition to a title search, I believe the Port Authority (and other government agencies) are subject to an inspection of public records. An enterprising reporter or citizen journalist with enough initiative could easily file a request under Freedom of Information Act for all the correspondence surrounding the rebuilding of St. Nicholas Church.

    Think of what a goldmine 8 years of correspondence and emails are……

    A full release of public records is the best way to shed light on this ongoing dispute.

    Harry and George, Is there a word for “Freedom of Information Act” in Greek????

  8. cynthia curran :

    Well, didn’t the Moselems built the Doom of the Rock doom on up of two jewish temples. And of course they immedately made Hagia Sophia a mosque after the conquest of the eastern roman empire. Many people see the mosque another way for the moselems to show they have triumph over a religion. This is one of the thought floating around.

  9. What troubles me is the double standard. The Port and its obstruction of the re-build of Saint Nicholas [nine years] on the one hand, and the NYC bureaucracy and elite’s support (with no similar obstruction) of Park51, or Cordoba House. Personally, I think they should both be allowed to build, according to the legitimate laws of NYC and those laws applied uniformly. Is it “insensitive” to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero? It is to me. But (then) how far away and in what direction will I not feel it is “insensitive” to build one? What’s wrong with this is that it has become “politicized”. There are more American muslims in the US than Greek or other Orthodox and they have more political clout. If we agree we live in a multi-cultural and secular republic, then the application of our laws should not be based on “sensitivity” or “insensitivity”, or which religion or not. We can’t have it both ways. I don’t want to see “Christian sharia law” in this country anymore than I was to see Islamic sharia law.

    • Churches run up against zoning problems all the time and in every state. We can’t build a church anywhere we are able to buy property just because we want to build a church. The purpose of the memorial at ground zero is to commemorate what happened at ground zero. Having a mosque choose a provocative name in a store that was destroyed by landing gear from terrorist acts of radical Islam violates the intent and purpose of the ground zero memorial.

      There is no objection to building a mosque, just not there. We’d say the same thing if the Japanese wanted to build a Shinto shrine across the street from the entrace to the Pearl Harbor memorial.

      If we can’t say no to the mosque, how did we say ‘no’ to the people who wanted to put their businesses back on the 9-11 spot? How did they say ‘no’ to the people who wanted to put their church back and now it’s an excavated pit.

      Moreover there is a social policy at stake: allowing the mosque there is definitely encouragement to radical Islamic terrorists of tomorrow.

  10. Kevin, would you be so good and explain to me “Christian sharia law”?

  11. John,

    The use of the terms “Christian sharia law” really doesn’t apply here. My apologies.


  12. George Michalopulos :

    Kevin, you raise some very good and principled points. If we believe in freedom of religion we should care not a whit about which house of worship gets built or where. And as a libertarian-leaning Conservative I’m in grave danger of hypocrisy on this one.

    But here goes: I fervently believe that our Founding Fathers did not view “freedom of religion” as the ACLU types do. Far from it. They had no problem at all with state-supported churches or religious tests for state office holders. The First Amendment was created to prevent the Congress from creating a “national church.”

    Also, in reading their writings on the subject, the Founding Fathers always envisioned the United States as made up of Englishmen who adhered to the customs and traditions of Great Britain. This meant common law and the Christian religion. They made no provision for Islamic or Hindu or Buddhist immigration and would have thought it outlandish. Even Franklin was genuinely alarmed at the growing German immigration into his beloved Pennsylvania.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that nations should belong to a people who constitute its majority and that any minorities then (like me) should respect the folkways of the majority and not try to impose our views and customs on them. After all, if the ways of us immigrants were so successful and to be copied, then we wouldn’t have had to pull up stakes and come here.

    Does this mean that I don’t believe in Evangelism? Not at all. I very much believe that a more orthopractic, traditional Orthodox faith, one respectful of the American experience, can and will become a major part of the American experience. Of course, we’re Christians and I believe that is why we have a starting chance to do so, because America was founded by Christians and continues to live off the accrued capital of two millennia of Christianity.

    Islam doesn’t have this claim on America, neither demographic nor cultural. It is very much a foreign implant, as is Hinduism, Jainism, etc. These people should be allowed to worship as they please but if they push against the American grain, we should not feel any compunction about pushing back.

  13. George,

    Okay and I get your point. Here’s my counter argument. One of the strategic goals one hears from some Muslims about their diapora in the West is that eventually they seek to become the majority through procreation and immigration. I read one Muslim bragging about how this is a current reality in Dearborn, Michigan and should be their goal in other American cities and eventually entire states. So if nations should belong to a people who constitute its majority and that any minorities then (like me) should respect the folkways of the majority and not try to impose our views and customs on them. , as you suggest, what happens – I say God forbid!- if this would ever become a reality in certain states (which have the right to impose their own laws through their own state legislatures)? It seems the only way to protect against this is perhaps to create more – not less – space between the laws of the secular government and (any) religion. This is the context in which when I previously mentioned the term “Christian sharia law” versus Islamic sharia law. In this way NO ONE’S religious laws(IE “sharia”)or views trump another’s. I fear the genie is out of the bottle in terms of going back to the sort of Founding Fathers and Constitutional interpretative narrative you present. I think we need to look ahead to protect minority religious views because one day we Christians may be one!

    • George Michalopulos :

      Kevin, you’ve hit the nail right upon the proverbial head. That’s why immigration should be heavily restricted. One of the worst things that the late, Sen Ted Kennedy did was spearhead the change in the immigration which he changed in 1965. Previous to that time, strict quotas governed immigration, with an emphasis on Europeans and Christians (nominally then the same thing). This btw was not all that great for my people: my dear grandfather overshot the quota back in 1928 and had to reenter a couple of years later. But we learned to live with it and became better for it (at least IMHO).

    • George Michalopulos :

      Kevin, please understand, I don’t disagree with your central point, nor your prescription of creating “more space” between the individual and the state. Truth be told, I was a raving libertarian in this and other regards, thinking that a strict, principled libertarianism could referee disputes between what factions. Unfortunately as we are seeing with Islam, the “refereeing” is almost totally anti-American and anti-Christian. I don’t know whether this is purely out fear or if there is something more nefarious going on (basically an anti-Christian/traditionalist/American conspiracy). We see this same paradigm operating with the push for amnesty for illegal aliens as well.

      So, am I a hypocrite? yeah, I guess I am. Principles only get you so far, the real world is not reflective of Platonic realities but is messier. What I’m trying to say is that in order to maintain the liberal democratic values intact in this country, we’ve got to be cognizant of the culture that gave rise to it. If I saw one example in the world where this is happening with Islam, I’d say “go for it.” But the most liberal Islamic country in the world is Turkey and things are going downhill so fast there freedom-wise that it’s frightening.

      Maybe there’s something inherent in Islam that does not allow for such liberalism. What do you think?

  14. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    If Muslims gain a majority in an American city and use their clout to impose Sharia law, we face a constitutional crisis. Say for example a Muslim family murders their daughter to avenge the honor of her family. Is it a crime? Under Sharia, no. Under American civil law, yes. But if a Sharia compliant city council hires a Sharia compliant Chief of Police who in turns hires Sharia compliant police officers, how will the laws against murder and manslaughter be enforced? This is already happening in England and other parts of Europe.

    How will a conflict like this be rectified? Do we give in to it like Europe has? Or does the Governor of a state take over the administration of that city and force compliance to the law?

    If Muslims live under American law and submit to it, there won’t be a problem. If they insist on Sharia in the civil and legal realm however and seek to replace American jurisprudence with Muslim jurisprudence, a line has to be drawn against it.

    Partitioning is effectively the abrogation of the US Constitution; piecemeal succession without civil war.

  15. alexis banias :

    I can’t thank you enough again for this wonderful website!! Father Johannes, thank you as well for your insightful analyses! I enjoy reading Mr. Charles Krauthammer’s columns. He is a nice antidote to the current weak president and his fruitcake administration.

Care to Comment?