Thursday, August 19, 2010

Howard Dean's Epic FAIL: Former Governor Refuses to Back Down From Opposition to Mosque

Howard Dean has published a statement on Salon.com that forcefully defends his controversial statements regarding the Cordoba House (or so-called "Ground Zero Mosque"). Yesterday, Dean said that the mosque proponents needed to compromise and that they should pick another site. Today, facing heated criticism from progressives, Dean has defended his comments.

Dean claims that he supports religious freedom and says that it is undeniable that the mosque proponents have the right to build near ground zero. Dean, however, argues that they should accept a compromise:
My argument is simple. This Center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are "justified" or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully whether they are right or whether they are wrong.
Dean also tries to rebut the assertion that his arguments could justify other forms of intolerance, like homophobia and racism:
This has nothing to do with the right to build and unlike same sex marriage or the civil rights movement it is not about equal protection under the law. The rights of the builders are not in dispute. This is about ending the poisonous atmosphere engendered by fear and hate, and in order to do that there has to be genuine listening, hearing and willingness to compromise on both sides.
Epic FAIL
Dean's arguments, to use the vernacular of a younger generation than my own, are an epic FAIL. I do not doubt that Dean agrees that the individuals have a right to build the mosque. Dean also concedes that many individuals oppose the mosque because they are bigots.

Dean's arguments, however, fail to persuade me because he wants a group of seemingly well intentioned religious individuals to capitulate to irrational fears, bigotry, and "emotions" of individuals who oppose the mosque. No tangible evidence or logical argument can link mosque proponents with the 9/11 attackers.

Religious bigotry, however, makes it impossible for many mosque opponents to distinguish Cordoba House proponents from the radical individuals involved in 9/11. Rather than countering this bigotry, Dean argues that Muslims should acquiesce to its existence. This is hardly an emancipatory rhetoric.

Dean also fails in his effort to distinguish this discussion from other civil rights issues. Many bigots have said "I am not a racist, but. . . ." Others have said, "I have nothing against gay people, but. . . ." During the Civil Rights Movement, many liberals (e.g., President John F. Kennedy) claimed to agree that racism and segregation were wrong, but they urged black leaders to accept compromise, modify their demands, wait until society was more understanding, and refrain from protest. Thurgood Marshall famously said that the Negro waited nearly a century for Americans to respect the constitutional guarantee of Equal Protection. Further compromise was unacceptable.

The same twisted logic that Marshall rejected pervades discussions of Islam in this setting. It also serves as the basis for Dean's comments. While many people who oppose the mosque might stop short of explicitly denying that its proponents have the right to do so, this distinction is meaningless. By linking all Muslims with 9/11, the mosque opponents render their professed religious tolerance a nullity. Dean, who once excited progressives with his position on social issues, should be ashamed of his stance towards the mosque.

UPDATE: Howard Dean conducted an interview with Glenn Greenwald on this subject. During the interview, he tried to walk away from his argument that moving the mosque would be a "better idea." Instead he said he simply seeks discussion and compromise. Dean also criticized progressives for being inflexible.

Dean denied Greenwald's assertion that his arguments mirror efforts to get civil rights leaders to curb their activism due to social pressure. I highly recommend that Dean read Dr. Martin Luther King's Letter From A Birmingham Jail. It discusses the issue of delay, compromise, the fear of white moderates, and injustice.

9 comments:

Eric said...

There are so many reasons why opposing the mosque is against U.S. interests and, of course, 250 years of tradition, but here are some very simple ones:

First, according to Dean's logic, we should cave and relinquish our rights when confronted bigotry, for the sake of keeping the peace. In other words, fear-mongering always prevails.

Next, if we say we are not fighting Islam but the extreme Al Queda bread, and then we publicly blame any form of Islam, how can we be present in Islamic countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and expect to "win hearts and minds" if we per se think they are evil? It simply doesn't work. By banning the mosque and rejecting 250 years of history, we are declaring that we are at war with Islam and therefore with each person in the countries we have invading and are occupying. There is no other way around it.

And who's next? As John Stewart said, do we ban Catholic Churches from being too close to school yards? Do we start analyzing the doctrine of particular religions and the criminal records of each of their members prior to granting them First Amendment rights?

The irony is that if you visit your average Muslim country (and one that we are not invading) the people are actually less anti-American than we are anti-Muslim. Are we listening to ourselves? Can't we hear how we have become the extremists? Imagine what would happen if we experienced a real threat. With minor technology and training in Europe and the U.S., caves in Afghanistan, Bin Laden and a handful of freaks have essentially gotten the American people to abandon all of their principles and invest billions of dollars in futile wars.

tedra said...

In addition to the addiction to finding compromises (which is surely well-meant but is, I think, a fatal flaw in the liberal "personality", politically speaking), I think I'm most frustrated by comments of this sort:

"This Center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but..."

... which, as far too often happens, contains a glaring omission: the center is surely *also* intended to serve the local Muslim community. It isn't just for the benefit of non-Muslim Americans. There's a sort of solipsism in a lot of liberal attempts to bridge "divisive" issues that really gets under my skin.

(Have also seen defenses of the community center that unthinkingly talk about "Muslims" vs. "Americans," as if the two categories were mutually exclusive.)

calugg said...

Eric's point is well-taken. The despised minority is always asked to "be reasonable," and "compromise," by the majority. And Dean is being willfully blind to his own white, Christian heterosexual privilege.

The kicker on the Islamic Center (it's NOT a Mosque) is the Iman is a Sufi, a despised religious minority within Islam. It's as if folks have gone insane because the Quakers are moving in. *SIGH!*

What this entire incident DOES underscore is the depth of ignorance and hatred towards anything and everything Muslim. So much for the land of the free and the home of the brave .... I haven't seen so much collective bed-wetting since I left kindergarten.

Eric said...

And I keep thinking about the other "similar" examples on the opposite side of the fence. No Republican ever thinks that raising the Confederate flag or state celebrations of the Confederacy should raise any concerns, even though Confederacy was more damaging to Americans than 911.

Or how we are so quick to criticize Muslims who are offended by cartoons that mock Islam, and yet 70% of Americans are outraged by Muslims attempting to exercise their First Amendment rights peacefully.

Michael said...

- Dean saying he thinks a better place could be found simply isn't a call for that to be done. He has been clear throughout that the decision lies with the Cordoba Initiative, and that he is not calling for the CI to change their plans - only to discuss people's concerns, in accordance with their desire for the center to be something that brings communities together.

- MLK Jr's letter is not analogous here, because there was no claim (that I know of) that efforts to seek justice in that era were meant as an effort toward conciliation between the black and white communities in the short run. (MLK Jr. was not a man prone to idle fancy or illusion.) Rather, the imperative of that time was a plain demand for the justice that was decades overdue. It would help Prof. Hutchinson's rhetorical purposes i the Cordoba Institute were engaged in a similar effort, but they are not. If they were, they would simply have moved ahead with their project regardless of the feelings of the community around them, and they would have been vindicated in the courts. But that is not the enterprise in which they say they are engaged. Rather, they say they are engaged in bridge building. Gov. Dean's point is that, to the extent that is not an empty claim, they are obligated to engage in dialogue with those in the community who have taken an interest in their project and to listen to their concerns, and that is what he has called on them to do.

- To Tedra's point, it may inconvenient that the CI people said they intended the center as a bridge to the community, and by no means does that imply that is its only intended function, but that doesn't make that an inoperative point. The Initiative could simply disavow their bridge-building purpose and move forward in a vindicating-rights posture, and the opposition would melt away, because it would be revealed as ineffectual in the face of our courts' ability to enforce the Initiative's civil rights. This whole discussion is made possible because the Initiative opens itself to the legitimate expectation that it be receptive (though not deferential!) to the reaction of the community by stating as one if its purposes the desire to act as a bridge/conciliation attempt. If it would choose to move forward on the basis of firm determination to claim its civil rights within the community regardless of reception, we would shift to ground on which many of us would find ourselves much more analytically comfortable.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Michael: Thanks for your response.

I think you are downplaying Dean's stance a bit. The interviewer specifically asked him whether he believed that the Cordoba House planners should pick another site, and he said that locating the building elsewhere would be a "better idea." In other words, he specifically endorsed the position that the center should chose another site over this one.

During his interview with Greenwald he denied ever saying this and stated that ALL he only wanted was dialogue. This is simply untrue.

As for King's letter, obviously the facts of the entire civil rights movement and this situation are not entirely congruent. Nonetheless, during the Greenwald interview, Dean appeared ignorant of fact that many people actually conceded that blacks had the right to equality but demanded that civil rights activists capitualate to local concerns (i.e., white discomfort). King's letter is a stirring rebuke of that position. It's also an historical lesson for people like Dean who apparently believe that well meaning individuals cannot impede justice.

Michael said...

And thank you for the response, Professor.

I really think this is a false equivalence: "he said that locating the building elsewhere would be a "better idea." In other words, he specifically endorsed the position that the center should chose another site over this one." He endorses the position that the Initiative should listen to people's views on the matter (in accordance with their "intent to bridge" and decide for themselves what to do. In that discussion, apparently, he would say that he thinks another site would be a better idea. But this just doesn't amount on a call on them to take that course. For example, if in the formal discussion it turned out he was in a tiny minority among stakeholders, perhaps his recommendation would be for the site to stay in the same place, despite personally feeling another one would be better. That's an entirely legitimate distinction.

I listened to the interview and I did not hear where he denied ever admitting to the preference. If so, then that is obviously dishonest.

As to the analogy, a fundamental detail doesn't hold up: the stated goal of integration was not making people feel better about each other. Take that goal away on the part of the Cordoba Initiative, and I'd agree that the calls on them to even engage the community in their decision would be at least redolent. But with a stated purpose of bridge building, they create the expectation that they be mindful and even sensitive to the community's reception to their proposal.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I think you are splitting split ends. Dean believes the mosque should pick another site -- whether he specifically commanded or advised them to do so. The point is, he still personally prefers another site, but this view is rooted in the context of public outcry (much of which is rooted in bigotry).

Second, as for the civil rights movement, I do not see how the factual distinction you point out matters. Dean denied that people of good faith told civil rights leaders to accept partial justice. That is historically wrong. Whether they were seeking to make the broader community feel better is irrelevant to this historical point.

Michael said...

We're both splitting hairs. The endeavor you are engaged in (holding Dean tightly to account for the words he's used, even if he's clearly choosing now to emphasize different points and explain what his meaning was) requires it.

I did not hear where Dean denied people made that demand of bus integrationists. What I heard him deny was that the situations were analogous. And he was right precisely because of the factual distinction I am making.

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