I originally posted this on an Alternet Blog I created the other day:
There has been quite a bit of controversy over the proposed community center/mosque that is “right by ground zero” in the media lately, it’s gotten to the point where after Barack Obama decided to come out and defend the right to build a Mosque in the location, the White House had to come out and defend the fact that Obama is a Christian and prays daily. The White House continues to be on the defensive against the far-right of America (their apparent favorite group to try to appease). Although the far-right is gaining steam with more and more conspiracy theories introduced to the main stream by folks like Beck (a recent poll suggests that 46% of the GOP thinks that Obama is a Muslim)
So this controversy has made it “to the top” and has turned from a local issue for one city to a national debate. However, the framework of this debate is a sad site to see. Top Democrats (Howard Dean, Reid, etc.) have come out in opposition to this community center in an apparent attempt to continue the Democrats turn to the right. Even those Democrats like Pelosi and Obama who have supported the right for it to be built, have also made it clear that they don’t want to comment “on whether they support it being built or not specifically” but just that they support “the right” for it to be built (this emphasis is theirs).
Those who have come out to support it, do so for reasons that are just as ideologically loaded as the bigots who want “no more mosques” in America. The common line is that we should be preaching “tolerance” in the US. We want to demonstrate that “we’re better” than intolerant nations like Saudi Arabia, goes the line of the tolerance promoters (which to me reeks of American Exceptionalism). But is promoting tolerance problematic?
Absolutely. The idea that we should just “tolerate” groups like Muslim-Americans or “Illegal Immigrants” contains in it the idea that there is something uneasy about these groups, yet we are going to “put up with” them to achieve a moral high ground. Such idealism doesn’t come from a genuine attempt to help to change the status of the most marginalized of this society to become less marginalized, but instead is the notion that we should treat “the Other” well. This doesn’t challenge their position in society in the least. This “anti-tolerance” stance, of course, comes mainly from the Slovenian philosopher (and intellectual “rock star”) Slajov Zizek, who has written extensively on the problems of “liberal tolerance.”
Perhaps we should try to promote tolerance to those who are the most “intolerant” in society: the far-right. Their intolerance is obviously quite problematic: based on xenophobia, bigotry, etc. But does that mean that we want to promote the idea of “we should tolerate the ‘Other’ groups of society” in general?
This kind of logic leads to comments like Howard Dean’s on Muslim Americans:
There’s a growing number of American Muslims. I think most of those Muslims are moderate. I hope that they’ll have an influence on Islam throughout the world, because Islam is really back in the twelfth century in some of these countries, like Iran and Afghanistan, where they’re stoning people to death.
This is based on the idea that “we can promote an Islam that fits American culture throughout the world” which is just as imperialistic as the overt hawks who are trying to promote war in places like Iran.
Instead of preaching the idea that we should tolerate groups that are considered by some to not be “mainstream,” perhaps we should be building real solidarity with the most marginalized of society. After all, those are the groups that need to be on board to build a real alternative to the insane system we currently live under.