Ross Douthat Clarifies Why He’s Wrong About the “Ground Zero Mosque”

Three days and one obfuscating blog post after the fact, New York Times Reasonable Young Conservative™ Ross Douthat has finally gotten around to expanding on what he meant when he published an op-ed declaring people who think Muslims have the right to build a community center in Lower Manhattan need to respect the “wisdom” of the people who are campaigning against it:

But the fact that Newt Gingrich has said offensive things in the course of grandstanding on the issue — and that other opponents of the project have been more offensive still — doesn’t change the fact that many critics of the mosque/cultural center are asking perfectly reasonable questions. Questions like, is an instantly-polarizing project like this really the best way to pursue the kind of inter-religious dialogue that the mosque’s planners claim to seek? Is Rauf so invested in building bridges to Muslim communities overseas that he’s unable to draw the kind of moral distinctions — regarding Hamas, say, or regarding the Iranian theocracy — that Americans rightly expect from a truly moderate Islam? In its quest for intra-Muslim debate, how big a tent is his project likely to have: As big as the Upper East Side mosque his father helped found, for instance, where an imam blamed 9/11 on the Jews in October 2001?

These are the kind of questions that American Muslim leaders should have to face, when they undertake a project designed to put them directly in the public eye.


There is no way to disentangle the crusade against the “Ground Zero mosque” from the offensive things the crusaders say. Douthat’s entire case for a reasonable opposition to the project depends on accepting the bigots’ terms. If these are the reasonable questions, what are the unreasonable ones?

“Instantly polarizing”? The community center only became polarizing when people

decided to grandstand about it

. At first, it was

taken to be inoffensive

. “Designed to put them directly in the public eye?” Same goes. Since it wasn’t really a mosque, and the site

wasn’t really at Ground Zero

, how are the organizers supposed to be blamed for people deciding to be angry about the provocation of a Ground Zero mosque?

As for moral distinctions: an imam at a mosque that this project’s organizer’s father “helped found” said something offensive? Like the

definition of Ground Zero

, this string of guilt by association seems endlessly elastic. What if a guest speaker at this other mosque had said something? What if a guest speaker at this other mosque had gone to a conference where someone said something bad? How far are we supposed to go to determine who is a Good Muslim and who is a Bad Muslim?

This is the other way that the bigots poison the whole discussion. Over and over, since the Sept. 11 attacks, Muslim leaders have been challenged to denounce radical Islamism, and then to denounce it again, and then to denounce it some more. Prove you aren’t responsible for this thing you didn’t do. Are you with us or against us? Well?

Are you with us or against us?

When “us” includes Newt Gingrich and

Orly Taitz


Pam Geller

, what’s a Muslim to do? Douthat, under the rules of his

made-up history of discrimination and assimilation

, would have these Muslims do the accommodating thing and bow to the abuse, abandon their project, and move to somewhere else—even if somewhere else is

less welcoming than Manhattan

. It’s the price of learning to be a proper American.

Not all opponents of the Lower Manhattan community center are bigots. Some are

shameless opportunists

. Many are simply people who have heard from the bigots and the shameless opportunists that something awful is being done, and who would prefer that awful things not be done.

In the real world, the world where

nudie bars

and an

Off Track Betting parlor

already occupy the sacred ground around the site of our national tragedy, none of these people are worth listening to. Not the bigots, not the demagogues, and not the ignorant ones. Their opinions are worthless.

This is self-evidently impossible to Douthat, who believes that feelings must be honored. Of his critics, he asks, would they

really like to live in a world where the two-thirds of Americans who oppose the project just had their sentiments ignored, because of the bigotry woven into the anti-mosque cause?

Is this a rhetorical question? Here’s one in return: how do you get onto the New York Times op-ed page without a sixth-grade civics education?

Would I like to live somewhere where people are allowed to practice their religion, even when two-thirds of the general public would deny them that right if they could? Hell, yes, I would, Ross Douthat. That place is called


. Love it or leave it.