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.