Jewish World Review August 23, 2010 / 13 Elul, 5770
Let There Be Peace
By Paul Greenberg
The continuing foofaraw over construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in lower
As was observed long ago, the letter of the law killeth, while its spirit lets live. It's no simple task to follow even the simplest principle in the American scheme of things, including the separation of church and state. Or in this case, the separation of mosque and state.
Just because we have a right to do something under the law, like build a mosque in close proximity to what has become hallowed ground in our shared history, doesn't make it the right thing to do. Blindly following the letter of the law may produce only an on-going provocation and its surest result, on-going resentment. And so defeat an essential purpose of law: to let us all of us live in peace and with mutual respect.
And with respect for what can only be called the ineffable. There are certain places in this country that are hallowed ground, where a haunting presence stills us, humbles us, and makes us think of something besides ourselves and our own rights. The Lincoln Memorial at midnight.
Another such site is Ground Zero, where the
There are other sites around the world hallowed by what took place there. And other controversies have swirled around them, too, conflicts remarkably similar to the one now erupting over the location of a projected mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero.
A convent of Carmelite nuns once occupied a building at the site of the Auschwitz death camp. There was nothing wrong with the convent itself. But to have a symbol of another faith so dominate a scene where so many Jews were gassed in one of the great crimes of that or any other century ... it would not have been right. There should be no need to explain why; even to attempt to do so somehow demeans the memory of the dead. As none other than
How right would it be if, God forbid, the Dome of the Rock that now crowns the
Both the Japanese and Germans have long and interesting histories, with cultures to match. But surely no one would want to erect a museum of Japanese culture at
If this 15-story structure planned near Ground Zero is truly to be a center of interfaith understanding, surely those planning it could find a place for it where its purpose would not be obscured by its very location. For its presence so close to the scene of that monstrous crime would inevitably be seen as a thumb in America's eye. It would serve as a constant provocation, attracting protests and making still more work for
Only the literal-minded could view this controversy as just a matter of what the First Amendment says on paper and nothing more, including the historical context in which the rights it guarantees would be exercised. And the effect that exercising them would have on others. That kind of tone-deafness might qualify those who exhibit it as sharp lawyers, but not as serious thinkers.
Lest we forget, even black-letter law comes surrounded by white space in which there is plenty of room for commentary, nuance and reflection. Space in which reasonable men may differ over whether it is responsible to exercise a legally unquestionable, but ethically debatable, right.
All those dimensions were missing from Professor/President
Seldom has President Cool's distance from the feelings of his fellow Americans been so clear as in this legal brief and later addendum on what he treated as purely a question of law rather than one that touches Americans to the quick. The most impressive quality of this president is the unfeeling distance he manages to put between himself and We the People. He doesn't so much lead us as lecture us from some abstract plane where emotional reality never intrudes.
The letter of the law is no substitute for the understanding spirit that softens and raises it to the level of ethics and morality, a law above the law.
The Constitution of
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