Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Muslim/American Relations: The Story Behind the Story with the Ground Zero Mosque

Ground Zero Mosque

I find the debate about the mosque in Manhattan fascinating. What I find fascinating about the debate is not the interreligious debate. What I think is interesting is two different approaches to property and property rights.

One could easily make the argument that our nation was formed for two reasons. First, most colonies were formed seeking some sort of religious liberty after being persecuted in Europe for their varied denominational expressions of their religious faith. Second, our nation was built on the quest for aquiring personal property. Most of Westward Expansion was built on the desire of people to own their own little piece of earth. Most of the impetus for leaving Europe was to pray and worship in peace.

Both of these foundational principles of our nation would argue in favor of the building of the "Ground Zero Mosque". The people who own the mosque hold the personal property rights to the facility, and they are using this prayer to express their faith with the freedom and liberty that the founding fathers envisioned people of faith being able to do in America.

On the other side of the issue lies the more primal approach to land and property. That approach is a tribal approach to one's people's territory. Throughout most of human history, people lived on tribal land, and saw land ownership through the lens of "ours" vs. "theirs". Many people have begun to see Islamic believers as a rival "tribe", and see the Ground Zero Mosque as a territory claim in a place that the "enemy" attacked at an earlier time.

Constitutionally and legally, property rights and freedom of religion trumph the territorial instinct. Intuitively, nearly every American believes this and knows this. But deep down, many American's are strongly driven by the tribal instinct, and believe that they can put enough pressure on the people that might be building the mosque to move it to a different place.

I think we need to consider the primal instinct toward territory and tribe. We need to understand it, even if we disagree with it. Many people in America and throughout the world live by this tribal mindset, and it will become more prominent as our economy gets worse.

President Bush did much to rally American's toward tribalism. When we were attacked on 9-11, we were attacked by a small group of people from several different places in the world. We were not attacked by an identifiable group of people from one geographic area. We were not attacked by a specific nation, and most of the attackers were from a nation that we consider an ally.

We were, however, as a military, organized as a national military, and we were designed to fight other military groups on a field of battle. Our military is made up of the best trained, smartest, best soldiers in the world. But it was and is a modern army, designed to fight other nations, states, and military groups.

Our enemy, was made up of cells, was stubbornly ideological, and was not necessarily loyal to any governmental authority. As terrorists their authority was decentralized, fluid, and difficult to nail down. And when you shut down one part of the group, other parts could survive and reorganize. The terrorists of September 11 were postmodern warriors, and a large, powerful miliary is ill equipped to fight postmodern secret societies.

So what was Bush to do? He announced a "War on Terror". In doing this he chose to attack two Muslim countries. He referred to the region as an "Axis of Evil." Bush rallied people to an "us' vs. "them" mentality. And it wasn't very long before the "them" became Arabs. Then the "them" became anyone who is a Muslim. Then, somehow, in most American's mind, there were two tribes. One tribe was "us"--American Chrstians of lighter complexion. The other tribe was "them" which went from Muslim to Arab, then from Arab to Middle Eastern, and from Middle Eastern to fearing everyone of a little darker complexion.

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