The Plum Line - Charles Krauthammer’s transparent dodge
I’ve not read a lot of Greg Sargent, but I’m really starting to like him.
It must be tough being Charles Krauthammer these days. Here’s his difficulty, in a nutshell: How do you insinuate that all of Islam should be viewed through the lens of 9/11 while disguising the fact that you’re insinuating that all of Islam should be viewed through the lens of 9/11?
After arguing against the project last week by invoking government zoning against liquor stores and strip clubs, Krauthammer is back again. He protests mightily that he is not arguing that radical Islam counts for a majority of Islam, but that the project must not be built because the attacks were carried out in Islam’s name:
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., more than 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.
Here’s the thing: If you believe that it is “provocative” to put a center devoted to the study of all of Islam near the site of the attacks, then you are inescapably legitimizing the idea that all of Islam is somehow responsible for, or should be vaguely associated with, those attacks. If you don’t believe that — if you believe that the attacks were carried out by a group that perverted Islam and wasn’t genuinely acting on its behalf — then you wouldn’t have any reason to see the building of a project nearby devoted to studying Islam as “provocative.”
Claiming that the attacks were carried out “in the name” of Islam is a transparent way to dodge that simple truth. It’s a way for Krauthammer to make an argument premised inescapably on the idea that all of Islam should be somehow conflated with the attacks while claiming he isn’t doing that at all.
Opponents of the project point out that majorities believe building the project is insenstive to the families of 9/11 victims. No one is arguing that there aren’t enormous sensitivities surrounding this. As the events of the past few weeks have shown, the scars of 9/11 are far from healed. No one is arguing that the feelings of the 9/11 families shouldn’t be taken into account as we weigh what to do here.
But not all 9/11 families oppose the center. Some are in support of it, even though they suffered through the same tragedy that those opposing the project did. And the question here is not whether the wounds of 9/11 should be weighed as a factor. Rather, it’s whether those senstitivities should ultimately dictate our position on whether the center should proceed.
The arguments in favor of the project have all been ably hashed out elsewhere by people who know far more about national security than I do. Allowing it to proceed is an important reaffirmation of American values that we must always support — no matter what. Building it would send a strong signal about American democracy and religious tolerance to the Muslim world. Moving it would give terror recruiters a potent symbol to foment anti-American sentiment.
The question for Krauthammer and other foes is why lingering sensitivitives about 9/11 should take precedence over all the reasons proponents have given.
As hard as this may be to accept, the more rational response is to support the project — even if causes many people discomfort and even pain. This is discomfort and pain we must work through for our own good. Simply put, the cost of doing the alternative is unacceptably high. Opposing the center on the grounds that 9/11 was carried out “in the name of Islam,” and is sacrilege towards hallowed ground, signals that our commitment to American values is not unshakable when maintaining it is emotionally wrenching. It legitimizes, unwittingly or not, the notion that it’s valid to vaguely and irrationally conflate all of Islam with the attacks. In the long run, doing these things is worse for America.