Common Sense, Decency, and Fear.

Yesterday on CBC I debated S.E. Cupp on the subject of the Cordoba House -- you can watch here, the segment begins about 14 minutes in. By the end I'm shouting, so I chalk it up in the win column.

The debate demonstrates how the project's critics simply assume that it is offensive for Muslims to celebrate their faith two blocks from the World Trade Center, to the point where they simply take the proposition as self-evident. Cupp kept repeating the phrase "common sense and decency," as if those terms are defined a priori, but couldn't explain why it's common sense that Muslims worshipping near the World Trade Center is indecent. That's because it's not common sense -- unless you happen to blame the religion of Islam for what happened on 9/11. It's an ugly kind of bigotry to admit. You can see Pam Geller, no shrinking violet, struggle with it in this interview, implying that an entire religion is to blame for the World Trade Center attacks but then denying she'd ever believe such a thing.

It's even worse as these critics smear Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, who spoke so eloquently of the bonds among the faithful at the funeral of Daniel Pearl, a man murdered by actual extremists.

The other takeaway from this ugly episode is just how frightened Americans have become. Aside from political opportunism, the main emotional driver behind this episode is a wild, unreasoned fear of ... well, anything remotely connected to a religion and culture most haven't even tried to understand. It's children in the dark, hearing a bogeyman under their bed. I can't even imagine living like that, constantly gripped by a frenzy of terror and cowardice. It's just so small, so distant from what makes the American character great. Where's the courage? Where's the confidence in our ideals?

You can just imagine al-Qaeda's leaders chortling about their victories. Nine years ago, Americans withstood a horrific and violent attack by coming together. Today, a mild-mannered religious leader seeks to build a place of worship that promotes interfaith tolerance, and our public debate descends into the paralysis of panic and mistrust.

-- Tim Fernholz

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