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9/11 victims' families need to stop being coddled

By Eric Harrison     9/9/10 7:00pm

As the reasons given for opposing the planned Cordoba House mosque in New York City have become increasingly incoherent and shrill, the one consistent appeal has been to the pain which the mosque's location will allegedly cause the relatives of those killed in the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, even if they've agreed on nothing else, supporters and opponents of the mosque seem to have agreed on the importance of taking the views and feelings of those relatives into consideration. To take just one example from the supporters' side, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach calls on the mosque's developer to poll victims' relatives for their views because he says theirs is the opinion that really matters. He also said of the former World Trade Center that it is utterly inappropriate to build anything on that cemetery without the consent of the families. But why should so-called 9/11 families be entitled to any special consideration on this or any other issue? Why do people flinch when "9/11 families" are invoked and go to such lengths to show that they are indeed taking these families' feelings into account? The death of a family member is neither a credential nor a qualification and losing a family member in a terrorist attack no more qualifies one to comment on the building of a mosque than losing a family member to cancer qualifies one to practice oncology - or worse, to tell others where they can and can't practice oncology. Inherent in this undue deference is the suggestion that what matters is not the content of an opinion, but rather the person offering the opinion. What sentiment could be more troubling? Those who demand deference to their opinions based on who they are rather than what they've said do not deserve it, and those who would offer them that deference do not deserve to be taken seriously.

Why, too, does it go unchallenged that these people's objections are based on the "pain" that the mosque's location will supposedly cause them? The principle objection of those 9/11 families who oppose the mosque is not that there will be a mosque in Manhattan at all, but rather that the mosque will be too close to the former World Trade Center. The only way the mosque's location could be a source of "pain" in and of itself is if one thinks in sloppy, collectivistic terms, and thus associates all things Islamic with the attacks on the Twin Towers. The word for this sloppy, collectivistic thinking is bigotry, and it must not be allowed to masquerade as "pain" simply because the deaths of their family members have made these people generally sympathetic figures. Can you imagine anyone seriously entertaining the possibility of segregating schools after a racially motivated shooting because the parents of the slain students couldn't bear to see people of the shooter's race at PTA meetings? And yet that is precisely the argument which is made here and that even supporters of the mosque have failed to challenge.

What's more, why does no one contest the idea that the site of the former World Trade Center is sacred or that its sanctity must be taken into account by all within some arbitrary distance of that site? The site is, in fact, little more than an unsightly ditch in the middle of Lower Manhattan. Precisely what area around that ditch needs to be kept free of all things Islamic in order to avoid violating its sanctity? The question, like the claim of sanctity, is absurd. What matters is not the territory on which the buildings once stood, but rather the lesson to be learned from the attacks: Countries decaying under authoritarian governments that don't respect individual rights will inevitably affect countries with governments that do. The way to honor those killed in the 9/11 attacks is not to fetishize the area around the place they died, but rather to redouble the effort against authoritarians abroad, while remaining suspicious of those who claim the authority to arbitrarily limit individual rights at home. What could be more arbitrary than the divination of what is or isn't "too close" to the former World Trade Center?

This inane coddling must stop. So-called 9/11 families are entitled to exactly the same deference and consideration as anyone else offering an opinion about the planned mosque - that is, absolutely none whatsoever. The developer's right to do with his property as he sees fit is not subject to approval by others, no matter how entitled they may feel themselves to be. It quite simply doesn't matter how 9/11 families feel about the proposed mosque or how much irrational "pain" they claim its location will cause them. What must not be allowed to happen here is for the property owner to be deprived of his rights - whether by government action or the ludicrous jeering of the mob - simply because 9/11 families feel entitled to indulge their worst tendencies toward bigotry and others are timid enough to let them. If there is anything which would be an affront to the dead, that is certainly it.

Eric Harrison is a Wiess College senior..

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