No compromise on religious freedom

Posted on August 25, 2010


By Richard Cohen, Washington Post
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; A15

When it comes to the mosque that’s neither too close to Ground Zero for its proponents nor far enough away for its opponents, the disturbing word “compromise” is now being tossed around. It has been suggested by New York Gov. David PatersonArchbishop Timothy M. Dolan and, in Sunday’s Post, Karen Hughes, once an important adviser to George W. Bush. These are all well-meaning people, but they do not understand that in this case, the difference between compromise and defeat is nonexistent.

This is not a complicated matter. If you believe that an entire religion of upward of a billion followers attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, then it is understandable that locating a mosque near the fallen World Trade Center might be upsetting. But the facts are otherwise. Islam was not in on the attack — just a sliver of believers. That being the case, those people with legitimate hurt feelings are mistaken. They need our understanding, not our indulgence.

If, on the other hand, you do not believe that the attack was launched by an entire religion, you have a moral duty to support the creation of the Islamic center. Lots of people fall into this category — or say they do — and still protest the mosque. They include Newt GingrichNew York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio and that Twittering Twit of the Tundra, Sarah Palin. They indulge in a kind of pornography of analogy — a bit of demagogic buffoonery that is becoming more and more obvious. They pretend that they have a solemn obligation to defend the (powerful) majority from the demands of the (powerless) minority and champion people whose emotions are based on a misreading of the facts.

Those of us who are of a certain age remember the days when African Americans and their champions were being cautioned to go slow, compromise. They were being told to consider the tender feelings of whites, no matter how ugly their racism, and protect their dewy Scarlett O’Hara way of life. Leading politicians espoused this course, President Eisenhower among them. Wrong was somehow to become a little less so, but right would be painfully postponed. What was compromise? The middle of the bus?

From that era I exhume a term: moral suasion. Repeatedly, civil rights activists urged Eisenhower to use the bully pulpit to guide the country on a moral course, to set an example. For the longest time, Ike refused to budge. The hero of Normandy somehow forgot how to lead until Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus forced the president to literally call out the troops. The era remains a huge blot on Eisenhower’s otherwise exemplary record. [Please click here to read the remainder of the article]