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Shut Up, He Explained

Mayor Michael Bloomberg to New Yorkers.

Aug 16, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 45 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Last Tuesday, standing in front of the Statue of Liberty, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke on the subject of the proposed mosque at Ground Zero. His remarks will be read with curiosity by future generations of Americans, who will look back in astonishment at the self-deluding pieties and self-destructive dogmas that are held onto, at once smugly and desperately, by today’s liberal elites. Our liberation from those dogmas, and from those elites, is underway across the nation. But it’s worth taking a look at Bloomberg’s speech, if only to remind us of what we need to ascend from so our descendants can look back with curiosity at the ethos to which we did not succumb.

Shut Up, He Explained

As is the way of contemporary liberals, Bloomberg spoke at a very high level of abstraction. He appealed to the principle of religious toleration, while never mentioning the actual imam who is responsible for and would control the planned Ground Zero mosque. To name Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf might invite a consideration of his background, funding, and intentions. Do Rauf and his backers believe in the principles underlying the “inspiring symbol of liberty” that greets immigrants to the United States and before which Bloomberg stood? Bloomberg didn’t say. It apparently doesn’t matter. Toleration means asking nothing, criticizing nothing, saying nothing, about whom or what one is tolerating. This is the Sergeant Schultz standard of toleration: I know nothing.

Knowing nothing, or wishing to know nothing, about the mosque, Bloomberg took it upon himself to lecture his fellow New Yorkers on their obligation to be true to “the best part of ourselves.” That part is apparently the part of us that allows at once for intellectual obfuscation and moral preening. Bloomberg never acknowledged that sane and tolerant people might object to a 15-story Islamic community center and mosque right next to Ground Zero. He could not be bothered to take seriously the reservations and objections of a clear majority of his constituents. “In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists—and we should not stand for that.” So public sentiment be damned. There’s nothing to be learned from the ignorant and bigoted residents of New York.

Instead, Bloomberg lectured: “On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to?’ ‘What beliefs do you hold?’ ” True, certainly true. But Bloomberg did not permit himself to ask what vision of god, what set of beliefs, inspired those who set those buildings aflame. Bloomberg said that it was our “spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11.” But attacked by whom? Bloomberg wouldn’t say.

In fact, he denied the propriety of asking such a question. It would have been one thing—a more defensible thing—if Bloomberg had argued that there was little that could be done legally to stop the mosque and that New Yorkers should therefore make the best of a bad situation. But that was not his message. Instead, Bloomberg came to the Statue of Liberty not simply to accept the mosque, but to praise it: “Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation—and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our City even closer together. .  .  . I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire City.”

But have the real, existing organizers of the mosque shown much sensitivity to other New Yorkers? The answer is no—but if you’re a contemporary liberal, you don’t get into the actual, existing facts in order to make a judgment. You govern on the basis of what the organizers’ “plan” nominally “envisions,” you appeal to a hope and expectation that even Bloomberg can’t really believe in. But it allows him to avoid coming to grips with what is really happening and what lies behind the popular sentiment of disgust, even revulsion. 

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