Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A cross at Auschwitz and a mosque near Ground Zero

I have been aware of the controversy in the US about the proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero but not following it all that closely. But a post by Maverick Philosopher has crystalised my thinking on the matter.

He cites a very useful analogy with Carmelite nuns taking over an abandoned building next to Auschwitz to pray for the souls. This was taken to be an attempt to Christianise a place of profound Jewish suffering. Pope John Paul II asked the nuns to move.

An even better analogy is the controversy over erecting a large cross as Auschwitz, a controversy that James Caroll considers at length in his book Constantine's Sword. Given that the Shoah is the end-point of centuries of Jews being killed for failing to follow Christ, the use of Christian symbols at the site is profoundly inappropriate, even offensive.

Yes, the Nazis killed Jews for racial rather than overtly religious reasons, nevertheless the Shoah is essentially a great big pogrom. One done by a modern European state with modern technology and organisational capacity to be sure, but it follows the pattern of a pogrom--it starts with vicious rhetoric and legal persecution of the Jews, the killings begin slowly, peak in an orgy of death when whole communities are wiped out but is erratic in its impact (in some areas, everyone is killed, other places they are driven away, or killings are sporadic and interwoven with theft and extraction of labour) and then drops away dramatically.

Nazi Jew-hatred was a secularisation of centuries of Catholic (and Orthodox) preaching, extending back to the C4th based on the "wicked" failure of God's Chosen People to accept Christ. Indeed, under the accusation of Deicide, the cross was a symbol of Jewish "evil". To erect a cross as a marker at Auschwitz is simply monstrously inappropriate.

I fail to see how a mosque at Ground Zero is any relevantly different, particularly since 9/11 was an explicitly jihadi act, one done for explicitly religious reasons, so the connection between religious thought and history and mass murder is direct.

ADDENDA Two Canadian Muslims label the proposed mosque a provocation and include their own striking analogy. A prominent American Muslim is quoted as being against the proposed mosque. While a wicked suggestion, which made me laugh, is proposed.

FURTHER A comment on the Mosque near Ground Zero controversy which works for me:
... while religious freedom permits this mosque, building it so close to Ground Zero is like building a Militia Movement Recruiting Center next to the Oklahoma City Memorial and saying, “Hey, it’s just to promote dialog and understanding.”


  1. It feels like a case of misplaced political correctness.

    I assume the point is to show that moderate Islam is against 9/11, and that they are also grieving etc. And it's a noble sentiment. But still, it is just looking for trouble. Being insensitive in the name of sensitivity at best, or being cynically political and politically correct on the expense of actual grieving people.

  2. I assume the point is to show that moderate Islam is against 9/11, and that they are also grieving etc.
    Part of the problem is that is not at all clear. But, even if it was, it is massively inappropriate.

  3. Well, I would have a different reaction to a group of Sufis praying at Ground Zero for the victims like the Carmelites than to a cross or more blatantly a triumphal basilica being erected at Auschwitz. Yes, the motives are anything but clear - indeed it is much more likely given the preponderance of salifist jihadi sources of money for such projects that the project should not be tolerated. But that is all symbolic gamesmanship - it is totalitarianism that should not be tolerated at all.

  4. The mosque is not at "Ground Zero", it's two blocks away. And it's scarcely visible from the site, being blocked by other buildings. And it's not on a route which would generally be taken by visitors to the 9/11 memorial. And it doesn't look much like a mosque from outside. So, your comparison to the cross at Auschwitz doesn't really hold. Suggest you read:

    Secondly, what would you propose the government do? Ban it? I think in a society which respects freedom of speech and freedom of religion, to ban a religious site simply because it offends some people is wrong. Especially when we are not talking about symbols intended to be blatantly offensive (e.g. a Nazi group erecting a swastika next to Auschwitz), but rather symbols whose offensiveness is dependent upon particular interpretations.

  5. The proposed mosque is on land which is available due to damage from 9/11.

    I am not in favour of use of planning laws I do not agree with anyway. But, one can think folk have a right to do something without thinking it is the right thing to do.

    Given there already about 30 mosques in Manhattan, there is hardly much limitation on freedom of religion involved. This is not about mosque building per se but about building a mosque on a site of murderous jihad attack. The significance is obvious and direct. Hence, for example two Canadian Muslims label the proposed mosque a provocation and include there own striking analogy. While a prominent American Muslim is quoted as being against the proposed mosque.

  6. Well, the cross at Auschwitz is a symbol "whose offensiveness is dependent on particular interpretations". And I am not in favour of using planning laws against it I do not agree with anyway. But, that folk have a right to do something (or should have so) does not make it the right thing to do.

    The mosque is on buildings damaged by 9/11, this is why the site is available. So, it is in the ambit of immediate impact. It remains very poor symbolism and monumentally tactless. One way to think it about is: what would those who planned the attack think of having "cleared ground" for a new mosque? Hence the tactless inappropriateness of the project.

  7. Comparing a mosque nearby Manhattan to the cross nearby Auschwitz is completely stupid. Muslims did jihad attack, Muslims were not killed there, whereas Christians didn't make Auschwitz and nearby 200 000 of them were killed there.