Thursday, August 05, 2010

Your ethical challenge of the day

I'm having one of those moments where someone has made a good argument on an issue, but the argument is deeply annoying me. Alas, I can't find the article that annoyed me, so you'll just have to take my word that it was there.

This all started when I read an article on the National Post's website over the controversy about building a mosque a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Center. Ordinarily I'd be reluctant about reading the Post, but I figure it never hurts to get different perspectives with your news. The problem with reading the Post is that I sometimes make the mistake of reading the comments section.

The comments section for any media outlet - the CBC, the Globe and Mail - are all pretty annoying and often frequented by people I'd like to smack repeatedly. But the Post's comment section is like being dipped into Liquid Crazy. Liquid Crazy is like being covered in filth or something. It makes me want to get in the shower for 12 hours or something.

You can just imagine what the comments section on an op-ed piece saying the mosque should not be built near the site. It was like Concentrated Liquid Crazy. It made my skin feel like I'd fallen asleep on a beach without sunscreen for 14 hours.

So yes, deep badness. The kind of badness that makes think things like, "I know forced sterilization is bad and violates any number of basic human rights, but really, this guy here saying the mosque is the beginning of the Islamo-fascist takeover of the United States, would it really be such a terrible thing if his genetic line died with him?"

Anyway, amidst all of this, the columnist in question made one of those points that aggravates me because I disagree with most of the rest of what they're saying. My view on the mosque was basically, why the hell not? The awesome thing about New Yorkers was that most of them simply didn't give a shit about the mosque going up. They didn't view it as outrageous. They didn't view it as a heroic New York thing. It was simply, this is New York. You want to build a mosque there? OK, sure. Fine. Whatever.

It's probably the most multicultural city on Earth. Why wouldn't you have a mosque there? What exactly is the acceptable distance for the World Trade Center site? Four blocks? Ten blocks? The entire island of Manhattan? It just stuck me as absurd. It wouldn't even be news if not for the human starting pistol of stupid, semi-literate self-promoting controversies (Hellooooo, Sarah Palin) hadn't gotten involved.

So what was the annoying point this columnist made? What if a gun club or target range wanted to open up right next to École Polytechnique, where 14 women were murdered by a lunatic with a gun. I'm pretty sure there were be no shortage of groups and organizations horrified by this and arguing that these people were being deeply insensitive to the horror that had happened at the school. I guarantee you women's groups would go ballistic.

This is where it gets dicey. You look at the mosque and say that 99.9 per cent of American Muslims were deeply horrified by 9/11. They would never do something like that. The people who carried out the act were not representative of Islam. That they were lunatics, monsters and fascists using Islam as their excuse for the horror they enacted.

Except, of course, 99.9 per cent of gun owners are law abiding citizens who were deeply horrified by the action that madman took at École Polytechnique that day. They would never do something like that. That man was a deeply disturbed individual who bears no resemblance to most gun owners.

So what's the difference between the two situations? Because honestly, I can't see it. I have a visceral reaction that the shooting range near the university would be bad, but have no problem with the mosque being near the WTC site. But logically, there's little difference between the two.

Seriously, I'm open to holes in my logic on this, because I can't see any. I'm fully open to the idea I'm missing something really obvious. Otherwise, I'm forced to concede the point...that as much as I dislike the idea of a gun club near the university, logically there's no difference between that and building a mosque near the WTC. I'd have to support both ideas or neither.

It's really annoying when someone whose opinions I suspect I wouldn't care for very much actually makes a good point.

Last Five
1. All the old showstoppers - The New Pornographers
2. Spare parts II and closing (live) - Tom Waits
3. Numb - U2
4. Pay me my money down (live) - Bruce Springsteen*
5. I tried to leave you (live) - Leonard Cohen


Anonymous said...

You just have to toss your hands in the air with the USA these days. There is no middle road as the "spin doctors" have taken over the asylum and the Fringe Right and Fringe Left turn the media into their own personal mud-pit, without the benefit of editorial oversight or a "common-Sense" filter. Everything and ANYTHING can be an issue to harp upon. America in 2010 is a place where people bring guns to public places in hopes of intimidating a president they don't like. Two sides fight over fixing Health-Care, but neither side seems to know what they got or if it will be better. Tele-evangelists like Jack Van Impe publicly suggest that Obama is the Anti-Christ. The Left demonizes the Right-wing, the Right demonizes the Left.
In the end, a Mosque is a place of Peace. A real statement would be for a Mosque, Synagogue, and Church all to be built next to each other....though to radicals - even that would make it a target from all sides perhaps.
Maybe it's best just to enjoy living in Canada and hope that the spillage from the south of us is minimal.

me, just me said...

Your basic "wtf" is about why I sometimes wish I could get out of Dodge while the gettin's good. heh.

Anonymous said...

Well now. That's one that will keep me up at night.

My reaction is basically the same as yours. I guess the most relavant difference is that a Mosque is *supposed* to be a place that teaches the actual tenants of Islam, which are at their base, peaceful and similar to all other religious beliefs, intended to be a code of conduct that I can support.

Guns are just plain bad, in my opinion. (the irony of *me* making that statement is not lost on me) There is no useful pupose to a hand gun or automatic weapon aside from shooting people. Hunting for sustenance (trophy shooting of animals is not comprehensible to me), I don't have a problem with, but would a "hunt club" alongside EP be any more tasteful? Certainly not.

Yep, that one is a lulu.


Dups said...

Okay the columnist in question is obviously insane, but what they are doing is an age old way of arguing where you look at two fruit and instead of saying an apple is clearly different from an orange, because by basis of them being two fruit they must be the same.

In school we used to get these questions as kids, if A is to B in this manner then C must be to D in the same. So let's break down the argument. The Mosque is related to 911 because the people who flew the planes were islamic fundamentalists who would have frequented a mosque. The same argument is made about speaking Arabic, having the name Mohammed or Hussein, invoking Allah and whatever else that is associated with the Middle East.

The Gun shop is related the Ecole Polytechnique in that a gun was used to kill those women and because a mad man had access to a gun then that is the reason that it happened.

Both of these arguments fundamentally do not make sense except that both are *related* in some way to the event in question. But in both cases you are comparing an Apple to an Orange in the event and also to each other. The items are not related and you end up with explanations that lead to Alannis singing about Irony with no understanding of arguments or irony.

The danger of these arguments is that what you do is draw a simplistic enough reasoning which, sadly, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in each case in the minds of a less analytical thinker.

A better argument, if one were to make one, is iof Al Quaeda, an organization which sponsored and created 911 announced they were opening up a recruiting agency to recruit for its so-called Jihad on the "Western World". Or, if a women's hate group opened up an office in Ecole Polytechnique.

Basically there isn't an ethical challenge, because the argument is flawed, invalid and poorly put from the start.

There you go, my longish 25 cents this morning.

Jay L said...

To your logic paradox, look at this this way. The person in question in Montreal used a gun in a horrible way. To locate a gunshop at the scene WOULD be insensitive.

al-Queda did not use Islam to attack NYC. They may have thought they did, but really, they didn't. They used two jets. Locating a mosque someplace in the general vicinity of a place where 9 years ago some lunatics did something insanely wrong.... not a problem.

Of course by that logic you shouldn't have a Boeing office in Manhattan either... but that's a paradox for another time.

Kirsten said...

I'm on the fence on this whole issue myself - sometimes I think it's at the very least distasteful if not offensive to build a mosque there, other times I think it's a symbol of healing and unity, really depending on whose opinion I happen to have been reading at the time. It is a tough, tough question, and I think the answer is going to be different for every person.

But the one thing I actually want to point out is that I've now seen both sides claiming that a majority of New Yorkers support their side. Depending who you read, either most New Yorkers are opposed to the mosque, or most New Yorkers are not bothered by it - er, what? Maybe it's time for an actual vote?

Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel any better, I'm totally with you on this one. Though really, that will probably make you feel worse.

I tried.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there are any real legal objections that can be made against the mosque so long as there is no U.S. government funding for it (if there is I would hope for a establishment-clause-based lawsuit).
Still, this seems about as tasteful as building a Catholic church near a hospice for sexually abused children or an ultra-orthodox synagogue in Sabra and Shatila.