Alaska News

Sensibility without sense no way to govern

They are really well on the way to total victory, aren't they? By "they" I mean "them" -- terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists, al-Qaida, pick your label. "They" are turning "us" into "them." We have become a nation of small-minded, parochial bigots. They took our Fourth Amendment rights first. A trip to the airport ought to persuade anyone of that fact. We are a nation under constant surveillance. We checked our privacy rights at the door long ago (seemingly our common sense too) in favor of color-coded threat levels designed to keep us in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety.

Now they are after our First and 14th Amendment rights too, and giving pretty good chase. At a time when our attention ought to be occupied by more important things -- jobs, economic growth, health, education, peace and stability -- we are mired in a national debate on what one would think would be a local zoning issue -- whether or not to build a mosque in New York City's financial district near ground zero. Whipped into a tabloid frenzy driven by polls, our national leaders appear entirely willing to abandon our freedom of religion and association, and to completely ignore property rights. Shame on them. Shame on us.

What is wrong with building a mosque in New York? It means jobs. Good union jobs. Good non-union jobs. It means collateral economic benefits. People will want cabs, transportation, perhaps a restaurant before or after Friday prayers or on special events. It reflects the nature of our pluralistic society. It promotes New York City's standing as a world financial center. It is a shrine to our values, and those used to mean something.

It is correct that several Islamic countries are intolerant. It is correct that churches or synagogues cannot be built in some Islamic nations. I honestly do not care and neither should you. "We" are not "them." I do not want my country anchoring its worldview to 13th century values. We are better than that. And I see no reason why our national leaders should be concerned with a local zoning issue. If they are so inclined, they ought to come look at my neighbor's shed. Actually, if that is where their focus is centered, they should resign office, go serve on their local zoning board and leave the business of state to others.

The only substantive explanation we are provided is that building a mosque near ground zero somehow offends "sensibilities." It seems to me that "sensibilities" is just a dressed-up way of saying "ignorant prejudices." A sensibility without sense is no way to conceive policy or to govern.

Some commentators compare the mosque issue to the Pope's prior decision to close a convent near Auschwitz. I mean no disrespect to the Pope or the Vatican but the Pope rules by autocratic fiat. That is an appropriate decision-making model for a religious or spiritual leader. However, we have (or had) a different model.

We ought to see this for what it actually is -- another attempt to sensationalize our national political dialogue. Anytime we approach an election, anytime we face difficult decisions, we allow our attention to be diverted by another national circus. If it isn't something about gays, then it's something about Muslims, or Chinese, or Mexicans, or some hapless group upon whom we can pin a fanciful issue. It's nuts. You know it. I know it. We can do better.


We started out as a nation of Anglican farmers who believed in core values. There were not many (values, that is). But they were real. We believed in God, family and religious freedom. We believed in privacy and the sanctity of the home. We believed in limited government. We believed in property rights. We believed -- as a concept, at least -- in an Age of Reason. We were accountable to and for each other. Along the way we've grown, evolved, expanded and assimilated. But we have consistently had one compass -- our core values. If we lose those, and we are just about there, then there is really nothing to separate "us" from "them."

Build the mosque.

Gregory Fisher is an Anchorage attorney.