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Monday, August 16, 2010

Opposing unwise juxtaposition of sites of tragedy and symbols of their causes, and bigotry

"Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week." - George Bernard Shaw


I wonder how many of the people supporting the 9/11 mosque (some of whom condemn those who are against it as bigots) were upset (or would have been upset) at another similar instance not too long ago.

The year was 2003, and the place was Germany.

Berlin was constructing a Holocaust Memorial (the "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe"), and Degussa was a company producing Protectosil - an anti-graffiti coating for the memorial. The nub of the issue was that a subsidiary of Degussa - Degesch - had produced a deadly chemical, Zyklon-B, in the 1940s: a chemical which had been used in the gas chambers (to kill people).

Most Jewish organisations were against Degussa's involvement in the Holocaust memorial. One Jewish critic even called the memorial a "pig sty". Presumably they were (are) bigots - except that in this case, there is no (perceived) powerless minority involved, so that accusation cannot be made.

Of course, people would say that this case was different, since there was direct involvement by Degussa, whereas the ones behind the 9/11 mosque are not the 9/11 hijackers. However, one has to consider several issues.

For one, the Degussa scandal broke almost 60 years after the end of World War II (and the end of the Holocaust), whereas it's only been 9 years since 9/11. It is certain that in 51 years time, this would not be so much of an issue (and that 51 years ago, there would've been even more controversy about Degussa if it'd similarly been involved in such a memorial).

We also have to consider that although companies are legal persons, this is just a convenient legal fiction (or perhaps conceit) to enable the path of commerce to flow more smoothly. Furthermore, there have been mergers and restructurings over the years. This is not to mention that Degesch was a subsidiary of Degussa, which further reduces the link between Degesch and the modern Degussa, part of the modern Evonik Industries. There is thus no direct connection between the two, just as there is no direct connection between the 9/11 hijackers (and other jihadists) and the putative mosque.

People are also wont to pose this as a freedom of religion issue - but even opponents of the mosque acknowledge that those who want to build it have a right to do so; they are just opposed to it.

Freedom of religion, a cherished American value, does not mean that other people have no right to protest what you are doing. Which naturally is another cherished American value - freedom of speech.

Of course, one could argue that protest is a form of opposition and thus restriction (there are seriously people who argue this - albeit only when [perceived] powerless minorities are being 'oppressed'), but this would lead us to the absurd conclusion that only those who speak first have the right to air their minds - and those who come late to the party must shut up (at least if they're not a member of a [perceived] powerless minority).

Which incidentally recalls a famous Singaporean logical fallacy - that expressing an opinion is a violation of other people's rights - among which primarily (presumably) the freedom of conscience/thought:

"Obviously there are some people who still think differently. That is their mindset and I have no business trying to change theirs as long as they don't change mine."
(Making the case for the Death penalty)


Also, see this letter:

"SIR – Lexington (August 7th) was correct about the planned building of a mosque near to the Ground Zero site from a legal standpoint: any attempt to stop its construction would be defeated in the courts, but his conclusions are wrong. The issue is not one of law or even morality, but of raw emotion. It is similar to an incident in the 1990s when the Catholic church in Poland wished to build a Carmelite convent near the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Jewish community objected to it because they felt that building a convent near where so many of their friends and relations had died was an act of incredible insensitivity. The matter was brought to Pope John Paul II who withdrew the plans as he did not want its presence to be a source of pain for the Jewish people. How decent of him. How sensitive to the feelings of others.

Those who wish to erect the Cordoba House mosque could learn from the pope’s decision and tell the people of New York that, after reflection, they realise that building a community centre will not foster understanding but is likely to have the opposite effect, and they do not wish it to be the cause of any further anguish to those who lost loved ones at that place on that terrible day.

Derek E. Barrett
Long Beach, New York"
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