[Note from Diana: Alas, I spoke too soon! Shortly after I closed off the contentious debate about the NYC Mosque here on NoodleFood, Amy Peikoff posted a really excellent essay in defense of Leonard Peikoff's view. So an unpleasant debate has turned into a really fascinating and friendly discussion. Yay!
I'm so grateful for Amy's careful examination of many of the points that I and others raised: that's the kind of argument that I needed. At this point, I still lean toward my original view that the mosque should not be stopped using by unjust laws -- for the reasons that Paul articulates below. However, I've got a much better grasp of the merits of the opposing view -- and I'm glad of that.
As for the comments on this post, please restrict yourself to just one or two comments. I don't want the kind of fruitless back-and-forth that cropped up in other threads.
And now for Paul...]
Amy Peikoff has posted a nice analysis of the NYC mosque issue, and I wanted to thank her for it. She’s raised some excellent points and given me much important food for thought. I very much liked her principled approach to the various issues and I highly recommend everyone read her piece.
In particular, I’m glad she addressed my primary concern, namely the issue of rule-of-law and the specific question of using current bad non-objective laws (such as zoning regulations) to stop the mosque construction, even while opposing such laws in principle.
One of the many good points she raised was that if one takes a long-term vs. a short-term perspective, trying to adhere to proper legal procedure could put Americans at potential tremendous risk in the immediate future, and that the government isn’t strictly following those procedures anyways.
Others have made similar points online, for instance arguing that using these bad zoning laws wouldn’t create new victims but could help stop an immediate threat.
However I’m still extremely concerned about the danger of setting such a bad legal precedent, precisely because I view it as the greater long-term danger. I’d like to explain why, below.
First, I completely agree that the Islamists would love to destroy the US and/or impose totalitarian Sharia law upon us. And they are working hard to achieve this (as Amy notes) both “via immediate violence and via cultural/infiltration persuasion”.
However, I don’t think that the Islamists could actually impose Sharia law here in the US. (This is in contrast to some European countries where the Islamists are taking over the culture alarmingly quickly through both methods.)
Based on my best reading of the current American culture, I believe the Jihadists would fail in their quest to impose Sharia law here. Yes, they could do tremendous damage in the process, killing thousands of Americans. Because of our government’s failed policies, I believe we are at serious risk of future 9/11-style attacks or attacks along the lines of the failed Times Square bombing or attacks as have already occurred in London and Madrid.
And in my darker moments, I also fear “nightmare scenarios” such as the bad guys sneaking 10 Iranian-made nuclear bombs into the 10 largest US cities and detonating them all simultaneously. Such attacks would be devastating and kill millions of Americans.
But as devastating as such attacks could be, I don’t think this country would just roll over and submit to Sharia law. Instead, I believe we would face a much more serious danger — specifically, from the resultant backlash.
A renewed attack (or series of attacks) on American soil would be the one thing that could rouse the dying embers of the American sense of life — and channel it into a dangerous totalitarian direction. The populace would (rightly) demand that we “do something” and I fear that this sentiment would sweep into power extremely bad conservative ideologues who would (correctly) identify the enemy as Islamic Totalitarianism — but instead offer as their alternative a Christian right-wing tyrannical regime.
Already, such social and religious conservatives are working hard to exploit the anti-Obama sentiment at Tea Parties to advance their agenda. Any successful serious jihadist attacks on US soil could greatly accelerate this dangerous trend, and quickly propel American religionists into power. And they would have tremendous popular appeal. They would use all the right language of “protecting America”, demanding a “muscular response” in “self defense”, etc. And they would speak with a moral confidence that Americans desperately seek (and which our recent governments have lacked).
Just as one example, I heard Brigitte Gabriel speak at the same LPR 2009 conference that Yaron Brook spoke at. She is a staunch Christian who took an uncompromising stand against the Islamic threat to America. She told some heart-rending stories of life as a Christian under Islamist rule in Lebanon. She made a compelling case that the Islamists want destroy America. And she had the mostly-conservative crowd eating out of her hand.
And she’s just one of many eloquent Christian conservatives out there on the lecture circuit making their case against the Islamic threat — and arguing that the only solution is for this country to recommit to Christian values.
If they ever gained power, these American religious statists would also have tremendous staying power compared to the current secular statists for precisely the reasons Leonard Peikoff has discussed multiple times.
Furthermore, these religious statists would have no qualms about using bad legal precedents set by prior secular leftist statists for their own ends — another danger that Leonard Peikoff warned about in one of his recent podcasts. So even assuming these American religious statists took some better (and much-needed) military actions against the jihadists at home and abroad, they would very likely also use the precedents of non-objective law to destroy freedoms at home in the name of “protecting American values”.
So although we wouldn’t create any immediate new victims, we could create many more later victims under a future government which would tell us:
“We’re denying the Ayn Rand Institute permission to expand its building facilities. According to our zoning board, the ARI has been violating anti-blasphemy laws by criticizing the religious agenda of our new President.”
“The philosophy of selfishness has no place in America’s schools. The books sent to our impressionable youths under the ARI Books for Teachers program are corrupting their morals and undermining core Christian American values of selflessness and sacrifice for the greater good. The works of Ayn Rand are hereby placed on the banned list for K-through-12 schoolchildren.”
“Dr. Paul Hsieh has been making pro-abortion statements on his blog. Now that the Congress has recognized a fertilized egg as a legal person with full rights, such statements are an incitement to murder. Because he is not a licensed journalist, his actions fall outside the scope of protected free speech, and we are thus issuing this warrant for his arrest.”
In short, my biggest concern is that if we use non-objective law to stop the mosque, we may help temporarily stop creeping Sharia law and we may stop some immediate attacks (which could save many lives). But because we still wouldn’t have dealt with the underlying problem in a proper fashion (i.e., by declaring and fighting a proper war), the danger from abroad will not be prevented — but merely delayed.
And because of the non-objective means we chose to stop the mosque, reality will extract its inevitable price in the form of accelerating the trend towards a home-grown religious tyranny.
Again, I’m not unmindful of the danger posed by the jihadists. The prospect of a new NYC mosque inspiring jihadists at home and abroad as a rallying point (and as a symbol of American weakness) fills me with dread. The prospect of further attacks on US soil make me sick to my stomach. And the prospect of thousands of needless American deaths fills me with horror.
But in my personal judgment, I don’t think the jihadists — as violent and barbaric as they are — can ultimately conquer and enslave Americans. On the other hand, we Americans can enslave ourselves.
Or to quote from Shakespeare’s “Richard II“:
This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world… That England, that was wont to conquer others, Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
(Just substitute “America” for “England” and you’ll have our current unfortunate circumstances.)
In other words, we may be on the verge of falling into the trap that Benjamin Franklin warned about of “trading essential liberty for a little temporary security”.
As before, I recognize that others who I know and respect have come to the opposite judgment call on the NYC mosque issue. Again, this is a consequence of the fact that the only good option (of waging a proper war) has been taken off the table.
I also again acknowledge that if the specifics of this particular situation were different, then I might come to the opposite conclusion and make that painful trade while hoping to best avert the dire downstream consequences. Likewise, if there is sufficient evidence that the mosque and/or its supporters are planning terrorist attacks against the US, then we should use all appropriate means to protect ourselves, including closing the mosque.
As someone else who I respect noted on Facebook, during the Cold War we properly respected the free speech rights of Marxists (as odious as their views were), yet also properly employed government force against members of the Communist Party of the USA (who were receiving orders and funding from Moscow with the intent to overthrow the US government). We can and should apply the same principles to the current situation.
I don’t want to leave this post on a too-gloomy note, so I want to end by thanking Amy for her post.
She raised good points that I had not thought of before. She advanced the discussion in a positive direction and helped me understand the issue better. And she helped me re-examine and re-affirm my love for this great country in which I can still work, speak, and live as a relatively free man to pursue my own happiness and self-interest — something I will be especially thankful for this July 4 at OCON.