Xenophobia, Patriphobia and the Ground Zero Mosque

The Ground Zero Mosque Debate has been interesting.  The vast majority of Americans oppose it, while about a third of Americans support the building of the mosque.  This issue has been debated quite a bit on this blog, and my opposition to the mosque is set forth in my post Cynical Brilliance which may be read here.  The debate has raged around the internet, much of it merely repeating the same points ad nauseum.  One of the more original contributions is that of Professor Carson Holloway at Public Discourse:

Liberal patriphobia also arises in part from liberals’ sensitivity to the historical traumas that have been inflicted on the human race through a disordered love of one’s own. In the European experience, Nazism and Fascism stand as sobering reminders of the enormous criminality that has been done in the name of a perverted patriotism. In America, the historical crime of slavery was initiated and defended on the basis of whites’ definition of Africans as alien and other, and hence as not possessed of any rights that demanded respect. Liberals are correct to be mindful of such injustices, sensitive to their causes, and alert to avoiding their recurrence. They err, however, in laying the blame for such crimes entirely at the feet of the love of one’s own as such. The real culprit is the excess of the love of one’s own, not to say an insanely inflated version of it. As St. Augustine remarked, the abuse of a thing does not take away its use; and it would be no less foolish to abandon the love of one’s own because of the excesses of nationalism than it would be to abandon erotic love because of crimes of jealousy.

Although well-intentioned in its origins, liberal patriphobia should be rejected as incoherent and morally dangerous. It is incoherent because it is what C.S. Lewis called, in The Abolition of Man, a mere moral innovation—that is, a novel teaching that rejects important portions of the moral tradition of the human race on which it is nevertheless silently parasitic. This was, in fact, Lewis’s criticism of Nazism. It wrenched from traditional morality the universally accepted principle that a man must love and serve his country, while at the same time it abandoned the equally venerable claim that justice requires that we respect the rights of all men, even those of foreign nationality. Modern liberalism simply reverses this error, denying that a man may especially cherish his countrymen while groundlessly insisting that he love the whole human race. In fact, modern liberalism learned its love for humanity from a traditional morality that also taught a heightened love for one’s own. If one principle is to be rejected, then both are groundless. If one is to be retained, then both have authority.

Liberal patriphobia is morally dangerous both in its direct and indirect effects. To the extent that liberals succeed in their moralistic denunciation of the love of one’s own, they debunk human sentiments that are perfectly normal, natural, and just, and they therefore directly desensitize men to duties of love and service that go beyond the minimum owed to all men in common. In the long run, liberal patriphobia cannot succeed precisely because it is up against a natural human love and humanity’s moral common sense. The indirect effect of the liberal denunciation of love of one’s own as xenophobia is to discredit the charge of xenophobia and rob it of all of its force. Given humankind’s sad proclivity to lurch from one irrational extreme to another, liberalism’s campaign against the love of one’s own threatens to wear out the charge of xenophobia and thus leave us disarmed in the face of real xenophobia when it arises.

Opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is not xenophobia but an ordinary, predictable, and understandable manifestation of the human proclivity to distinguish between what is one’s own and what is alien and to give preference to the former over the latter. The core of the opposition arises from those who feel most directly brutalized by the 9-11 terrorist attacks, either because they are New Yorkers themselves or are other Americans whose love of one’s own is so intense that they feel those attacks as attacks on themselves. They view the mosque as a provocation and an affront because of its association with a religious tradition that is alien to the historically prevalent American culture and that is in some forms admittedly hostile to that culture, as in the case of the 9-11 terrorists themselves. Additional opposition to the mosque arises from the same feelings operating in other Americans who, though more distant from the dispute, nevertheless find themselves drawn into it. They see a current controversy between those that they regard as their own and those they regard as other, and they feel impelled by national and cultural loyalty to side with the former against the latter.

Go here to read the interesting rest.  Of course people can have other reasons for opposing or supporting the Ground Zero Mosque.  I oppose it due to the fact that I think the Flim Flam Imam (Feisal Abdul Rauf) who is behind the project  has been dishonest about the purpose of the mosque/community center and that he is sending one message to gullible Western elites, and another message to his  funding sources, most of which are in the Middle East.  However, Professor Holloway has said something about the debate which is very true.  Since the Sixties in this country, the predominant attitude of elite opinion in this country towards patriotism in regard to the US is at best skepticism and at worst sneering hatred.  To these people 9-11 means little other than the precipitating factor in regard to wars which they opposed.  The Flim Flam Imam speaks a universalist pablum they are comfortable with, and the opponents are simply nefarious right wingers.  All supporters of the Ground Zero Mosque certainly do not fit in this category.  Some genuinely believe that opposition to the mosque is a manifestation of religious intolerance that is at war with the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment.  It is trite to say that reasonable people can disagree but on this issue they can and do.  However, the constant divergence of elite opinion from that of most Americans in the past few decades is demonstrated by this debate and is a much more worrisome problem for our society than the ultimate outcome of the Ground Zero Mosque debate.

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