Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In Cordoba Debate, Some Good Arguments

Forgive me- I'm beginning to think that the Cordoba House debate is really interesting. It is providing a more broad-based discussion of constitutional values than we've seen in the last twenty years, even with recent blockbuster SCOTUS decisions.

While I was reading a Daily Mail anti-Cordoba screed, I happened across an interesting, and in many ways compelling analaogy:
No, not every Muslim attacked us on 9/11. But it was Muslims who attacked us in the name of Islam. Excuse me, this was like opening a gun store near Columbine High School.
Don Surbur hits this dead-on. We have here two instances of mass murder carried out by sociopaths.  They targeted large groups of people and were designed to shock.  These violent acts had outsized impacts on the nation's psyche. Both were reprehensible. Both were horrific phenomena which authorities were ill-equipped to predict or prevent.

First, the motivation behind the violence is vaguely similar. The Columbine student shooters lashed out at bullies who they believed oppressed them; al Qaeda is lashing out at a country they perceive to be pushing around Islamic nations.

Second, Mr. Surbur is correct that "not every Muslim" was responsible for the violence. This is very similar to the Columbine killings where 'not every Columbine High School student' was a deranged murderer. To blame whole groups of people because a tiny number are sociopathic is so obviously wrong.  It is worth noting also that 'not every Christian was a Nazi' and 'not every American is in the KKK'.  To make a statement about an enormous group of people based on one twisted and unpopular ideology is obviously not helpful.  I'm glad that Don Surbur agrees.

This is where the analogy falls apart a little bit, because in this case, opponents of Cordoba House are attempting to deny to Muslims as a whole a community center, and across the country, new mosques. The Columbine corollary would be if we denied to students as a whole Columbine high school, and stopped the construction of new schools across the country.

The third and strongest aspect of the analogy is that both involve a fundamental right.  The Supreme Court recently exposited the fundamental nature of the right to bear arms, and the right to free exercise of religion was highlighted as a natural right of citizens throughout the founding era. It is no surprise that both these rights are being weighed against threats to our security.

This has always been one of the most contentious balances in American political history, and both sides seem to think that we get it wrong about as often as we get it right. After all, it spawned the apocryphal Franklin quote, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

But to answer the question I immediately asked myself upon reading the analogy, there are
10 gun stores within 10 miles of Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado

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The closest gun store, Denver Guns and Ammo, is about 1.5 miles away in a much less dense neighborhood.  In Manhattan terms, that's just down the block.

That's why this is a good analogy.

Building an Islamic community center two blocks north of Vesey Street would fit very well into how Americans deal with constitutional issues: rationally and without prejudice.
Americans care about their core values.  Even in the immediate aftermath of a national tragedy, we tend to stick to our core values, which include the freedom to guns and god.  Any laws touching a right deemed fundamental must meet a standard of compelling state interest.  The objections of the anti-Cordoba crowed doesn't even come close to being compelling let alone a reasonable state interest. in the end, the partisans pushing this issue in order bring out more anger among GOP base voters are going to end up hurting themselves once everyone calms down and realizes what's going on. Our job is to give them enough rope.

That's what the good folks at the Reality-Based Community seem to be thinking: 

NB: These are the 10 gun stores I found within 10 miles driving distance of Columbine High School:

Denver Guns and Ammo
Shootin Shop
Green Mountain Guns
CO State Shooting Assn
Shootist Pistol Range
Predator International
M W Reynolds Inc
Sundance Bullets
Prairie Arms Manufacturing LLC
Frontier Gallery LLC

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