Perhaps you’re a dedicated multi-cultural-respecting liberal who believes the Ground Zero mosque
represents progress and, even, righteousness.
You might be stoutly civic-minded and regard the mosque as a reasonable and fair-minded part of the reconstruction of the neighborhood.
Or an ordinary, not-too-aligned, middle-of-the-roader who feels it is sensible not to dwell too much on the issue.
You might be unsettled by it, even vaguely creeped out, but too polite or acculturated to want to make a fight of it.
Or you could be against it because you feel it’s unnecessary. Why stir up stuff? Why invite conflict?
Or because you have a personal connection to the attacks on the World Trade Center and oppose it because…well, because it’s discordant…and because you believe your greater interest should give you a greater say about what’s appropriate.
Possibly you mix specific causes with inchoate emotions: You’re angry and this makes you angrier; you’re on guard and this threatens you more.
It could be that your worldview makes constant hierarchical distinctions among ethnicities and religions and, with regard to the Ground Zero mosque, you’ve drawn a specific line (this worldview includes people generally regarded as racists, and, as well, atavistic Jews).
Or you have an ideological and career interest in the issue—you understand the usefulness and value and leverage of the symbol. The Ground Zero mosque is an objective correlative, conflating Arabs, terrorism, liberals, Obama, and abiding suspicious about New York (even though New York was the scene of 9/11).
There are some crossovers here, of course; the top of the list merges, as does the bottom.
The top has the force of bureaucracy and real estate development and the complicated political realities of New York—including the fact that this is purely a local decision (so no matter the national outcry, it will probably happen). The bottom of the list has the advantage of canny polemicists, real and manufactured outrage, and the support of an organized movement (Palin’s
It is, curiously, almost an entirely abstract and symbolic issue, except of course for the Muslims involved—but we never hear from them. In that sense there is hardly any controversy—nobody is really defending the mosque, per se. The defense is, at best, about having a good attitude. For that matter, the opposition’s real issue is about not letting the side defending the mosque win. And even that, not so much. Were a mosque to rise on Ground Zero, that, too, would be a useful symbol for the people who don’t want it to rise.
So all, in other words, signifying nothing.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.