Is a mosque near Ground Zero "insensitive"?

How you look at things.
Aug. 23 2010 8:11 AM

Sensitive Conservatism

Is a mosque near Ground Zero "insensitive"?

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It's natural to be angry at Muslims for 9/11. In fact, it's natural to want to kill them. We've hated and killed each other for centuries. You kill us; we kill you. The "you" is collective. You aren't exactly the infidel who slew my grandfather. But you're close enough.

Seen against this backdrop, the mosque fight represents enormous progress. We aren't talking about killing Muslims or banning their religion. We're just asking them not to build a mosque near the place where they murdered thousands of our people. "Putting the mosque at a different site would demonstrate the uncommon courtesy sometimes required for us to get along," Hughes suggests. In turn, "this gesture of goodwill could lead us to a more thoughtful conversation to address some of the ugliness this controversy has engendered."

But if our revulsion at the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero is irrational—if it's based on group blame and a failure to distinguish Islam from terrorism—then maybe it isn't the mosque's planners who need to rise above their emotions. Maybe it's the rest of us.

Once we recognize the sensitivity argument for what it is—an appeal to feelings we can't morally justify—there's no good reason why the Islamic center shouldn't be built at its planned site, in the neighborhood where its imam already preaches and its members work and congregate. Asking them to reorder their lives to accommodate our instinctive reaction is wrong. We can transcend that reaction, and we should.

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    By all means, let's have a thoughtful conversation about Islam and its place in the United States. Let's ask the imam what he means when he says sharia is compatible with the U.S. Constitution. Let's confront the reluctance of Muslim clerics, including this one, to denounce Hamas. And let's demand transparency in the fundraising process so extremists don't finance the new building. Moving the building farther away from Ground Zero won't advance any of these discussions. It's the wrong fight. Let it go. Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on  Twitter. William Saletan's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: