i’m sorry, who says “po-tah-to”

8/18/10

When I write blogs, I am to some degree “myself” and to another degree a “character” that tries to be interesting every time you stop by. Some entries require a bit of passion to be, in my mind, readable. To be sure: simple, short statements with bullet points would have been more accurate, but also inherently boring and pretty much the same thing you can find on Twitter and Facebook comments. As Tessa always says when we tackle scripts, “clarity is the enemy of drama.”

So when I discuss touchy subjects on here, I tend to go into character – it’s a place to let old feelings and ancient biases burst to the surface, because I figured it was my little concert hall and my precious drum solos could last as long as I pleased. Lately, since about 2005 or so, I’ve viewed the blog more as a choir, where I sing the first verse and then you guys invent your own chorus and take it from there.

In that light, I’ve tried to be mindful when it comes to religion, but it remains a bugaboo. And it’s impossible to describe my resentments against “organized faith” without people thinking I’m talking about them, even though I really mean “the collective influence of organized faith”. I mean, I frickin’ LOATHE what the Mormon Church stands for, but I absolutely adore and love love love my cousin Wendy.

I’ll save that line of thinking for later. When it comes to the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, I will have to resort to bullet points:

• Many of you are confusing the belief that it should be built with the emotion that goes with it. It’s right here in the Siena poll of New Yorkers: 63% don’t like the idea of the center, and 27% support it. But at the same time, 64% believe that Muslims have a Constitutional right to build the mosque and develop a community at Ground Zero (as opposed to 28% who don’t). Which leads to…

• In the comments section, Scott wrote something that many people also thought: “to oppose the construction for any reason, indeed to be opposed to it at all, is a sign of internal bigotry.” I agree to some extent. But the world is an analog place, not a digital one. It’s messy, and we’re animals, and things get complicated. You’re asking someone to feel something they don’t feel. That’s why we have laws, to keep our demons in check, and the law (thank goodness) is clear on this one.

• I personally don’t care if the Islamic center is built or not. I simply have very complicated feelings about religious institutions and very complicated feelings about 9/11. That’s a personal issue that I chose to disclose on the blog for reasons stated in the first paragraph.

• To answer once-a-heel’s excellent question: No. I don’t think admitting that you’re a dick absolves you of being a dick. To me, the proclamation is a road sign on the way to healing that part of yourself. But I openly admit that religion still fills me with anxiety and anger, and it’s proving very hard.

• I’ll say it again: that mosque-interfaith community center will have to have the best baba ghanouj kebabs and 3D Imax Koran experience in HISTORY to make up for all the interfaith enmity this brouhaha has caused.

20 thoughts on “i’m sorry, who says “po-tah-to”

  1. Mom

    Resorting to analogy:
    At my daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner, in a beautiful formal situation in a lovely restaurant, with everyone elegantly dressed and festive, I was seated next to a female relative (one that wandered into our family from a trailer park in outer space). After we chose our entrees, she opened her purse and pulled out her knitting. I gasped, “What are you DOING?” Now, she wasn’t dancing drunkenly on tabletops, she wasn’t throwing plates, she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She looked at me in amazement and said “What? What’s wrong?” Dumbstruck, I said, “It’s… it’s INAPPROPRIATE!” I couldn’t believe she could be so “tone deaf” to the situation.
    Now, the two things are not remotely the same in scope or substance, but… That non-Mosque at not-Ground Zero has every right to exist. This is America. Our constitution and history gives us absolute freedom of (and from) religion. I believe that as long as they don’t break any zoning laws or building codes, they have the right to be there. So why is it making me so uncomfortable? Because it’s INAPPROPRIATE. Tone deaf.

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  2. once a heel

    A little off topic I know but…. there’s a sentiment often expressed here that the world would be a far better place if we could just go back in time, wave a magic wand, and prevent the formation of organized religion(s). I think in some ways, that notion really misses the mark. I think I’ve mentioned my love for the “The Wire” here before. One of the questions the show asked is why can’t we fix the problems of our cities (or country) even when they’re so plainly obvious. The “answer” posited was that we’ve organized ourselves into institutions and these institutions, and the people beholden to them, are only interested in their own self-preservation and power. It doesn’t matter what the institution is… government, police departments, school districts, drug rings… no institution is immune. We serve our institutions, they do not serve us.
    This notion that a Coastopic paradise freed of the shackles of organized religion would be freed of the problems we blame on organized religion is a myth. Inevitably we would organize ourselves into different institutions, but institutions nonetheless. And those institutions would be equally self-serving and indifferent to the individual, and ultimately, just as destructive. The problem is not organized religion, it’s us.
    Now this isn’t to excuse organize religion or absolve it of responsibility when it goes off the tracks. But it’s an easy target, certainly easier than pointing the finger at our own very nature. The problem with easy targets though is that they offer false rewards. They’re easy to hit, impossible to kill, and provide the illusion that we’re fighting the good fight when really we’re just avoiding the real hard work/choices. It’s like this simplistic proposition that if we just pulled out of Iraq we could use that money to fix our schools or that if we killed the space program we could instead tackle homelessness. The problem isn’t that we lack the resources, it’s that we lack the will to reform our institutions that fight us every step of the way.

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  3. Anne

    Ian, I was thinking as I drove home from work last night that I wanted to thank you for bringing the topic to your blog this week. The mosque question is certainly not as black and white as I myself may have painted it. I’ve appreciated your candor and the way it allows your smart commenters to bounce their thoughts off of your posts. Sometimes these current events are processes rather than topics.
    While I still support the idea of the Islamic center in lower Manhattan, I will agree that this is one thorny proposal, worthy of the plain-spoken wag (Yogi Berra? Casey Stengel?) who once said: “It may be correct [or legal], but it ain’t right.”

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  4. *im*sorry

    Organized religion is bad. Okay. But “organized religion” is a big umbrella which can describe everything from Unitarianism to the Lyman Family and beyond. At that point, the category has lost almost all meaning. And it’s hard to have a meaningful dialogue about a catchall. I realize this is a blog comments section but, Christ, a little rigor would go a long way in furthering the conversation that some of you seem to want to have.

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  5. Piglet

    I think I understand you better now.
    The main reason I didn’t before, it seems to me, is that I never got as far as asking “Should the cultural center be built?” Seems to me, that’s a question for the owners, the relevant zoning board bureaucrats, maybe those members of the cultural center’s religious and social community who would be anticipated to use the facility, and the construction companies that will bid on and build it. Seems to me, for anyone else to bother with such a question is as dumb and irrelevant as asking how many angels can fit in a shoebox, or whether it is right for Piglet to choose pizza over a sandwich for lunch. It ain’t our decision, or our business.
    Seems to me, the only relevant political discussion is, whether a bunch of outsiders, or their representatives in the government, have the power to prevent the establishment of the center, or whether the government should intervene. The government is every citizen’s business; the cultural center is only the business of people who will use it, and of neighbors who will be impacted directly by its existence (if there were shown to be issues of pollution, noise, increased traffic or crime or things like that). That’s it.
    This is America. American Nazis get to parade through Jewish neigborhoods. Swishy pride activists get to parade wearing (nonobscene) fetish costumes in traditional Norman Rockwell neighborhoods. Activists get to burn American flags in the presence of wounded combat veterans. Dr. Laura can call someone “nigger” on the radio. You don’t like that, suck it up and switch the channel to Big Ed, and then use your own First Amendment rights to make your feelings known on your blog.
    The real test of a First Amendment Patriot isn’t supporting the rights of people who agree with you. The most repressive tyrants in history allowed free speech for people who agreed with them. The real test is the willingness to stand back and let people say shit that curdles your blood, publish noxious columns, and gather to worship blasphemy. That’s what tells me who really stands on the side of liberty.

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  6. GFWD

    Ian, thanks for fulfilling my personal request of you to put the mosque topic out there on your blog. I know you weren’t quite ready to put your thoughts to the screen. Sorry my simple request meant you had to take it on the chin.
    Though it’s off topic now and a day or two too late, my main concern with the mosque opposition was the hypocrisy of wanting the Constitution to be upheld but then choosing to oppose the building of this mosque in contrast to that fundamental belief. I think some of the posters, such as dean, admirably handled their dueling feelings about the mosque by noting, as Anne referenced today, that just because you CAN build it, doesn’t mean you should.
    Building the mosque there is like the douche who showed up to the Carolina viewing bar in Atlanta during the UNC v. dook game wearing a j.j. redick jersey. Free to wear it. But know that you’re a dick for doing so in THAT bar.
    I like the poster, I think it may have been the Bashful Badger, who made the comment asking when it would be okay to build it and how far away would be good enough, given that there are already other mosques in NY. The part of me who didn’t appreciate seeing a dook jersey in my favorite bar also liked the poster who talked about the WTC construction workers who eat at the restaurant two doors down from the proposed mosque site. Very funny. Mainly I wanted to read debate from folks who weren’t pandering to their base, or shouting into a microphone while preening in front of a camera.
    As for the religion issue, I think people need to keep their religion to themselves on their Sabbath. YOUR religion is fine with me until it impinges on my rights. I hate that I can’t buy a six pack before an NFL game on Sunday because some Bible thumpers thought it was a sacred day–and I consider myself to be Christian. I cannot imagine how a Jewish person, who does not even recognize Sunday as THE sabbath, must feel about that stupid religion-based law.
    The part where religion really gets me is when there is talk about it in school, whether it’s prayer in school or putting religious “caveats” in science books. The reason it bothers me is that the those screaming the loudest for prayer in school are the ones who would flip out if their kids’ teacher was from a non-Christian faith and chose to have a minute of prayer by bowing down in the direction of Mecca. Can’t have it both ways.
    What I do like about religion is that, when you factor out the extremists, it serves as a guide for people who want to belong to something good, people who want congregate and feel uplifted. Religion generally helps people who want to give of themselves and help others. I go to church and teach Sunday school to two year olds and four year olds because my kids are in the class and I get to bond with them. We read children-based versions of the Bible and popular scripture. The other day, I told them: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . and he made the sky Carolina blue because that’s his favorite team.” Kids at that age will believe anything you tell them. Who said religion couldn’t be a little fun?
    Go Heels!

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  7. Bud

    Now that I’ve spent half the week thinking about this, I realize how smart it was for the conservative talking points machine to stir this up. It’s hard (maybe impossible) to take ANY position on this issue without being a dick.
    Oppose the center and you’re anti-freedom, anti-Muslim – golldang it, anti-AMERICAN. Support it and you’re tone-deaf, insensitive.
    Take a nuanced position and as usual you’ll lose points with both sides.
    Meanwhile, there are a hundred things that ACTUALLY need our attention and effort that we’re NOT thinking about because we’re trying to figure this one out.
    Good thing we’re too smart to fall for their Jedi mind trick, right?

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  8. Deb

    Again, an Amen to both Ian and Linda. I couldn’t agree more.
    On a slight tangent, I hate how taboo it is to express an opinion that’s divergent from the group you most closely identify with, and how that one divergent opinion gets you lumped in with “the other side”, and all their prejudices and loathe qualities are somehow ascribed to you.

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  9. littlerattyratratrat

    What Bud said. “Ground Zero Mosque” is the Big Lie at work; it’s not possible to take any “good” stand on this issue because the issue itself is bogus. But watch and learn, friends, see how well it’s been done, 100% of Americans have an opinion about an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan. Goebbels couldn’t have done it better.
    And fine, I’ll invoke Godwin’s Law on myself and shut up now.

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  10. Neva

    GFWD, will you teach Sunday school at my church?
    I agree with you on this one and on pretty much everything you said today. Good on you Greg.

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  11. mairinpgh

    A word from the provinces here in the middle of America: this so-called brouhaha is nothing but a manufactured distraction, and is really just a cynical game batted about by the talking heads on TV. Sadly, you are just feeding the beast with this discussion. Meanwhile, out on “main street” America, most people I encounter daily just don’t give a rat’s ass about this issue. Truely. Its not real for them, only a vague academic discussion. Instead, people are scared about their jobs/how to keep their businesses open, worried about their kids in Afganistan (because they couldn’t find a job other than by enlisting), how to pay the mortgage-tuition-bills, worried whether their food is safe or even enough to feed the kids, or whether a gas well in their next door neighbors yard might explode b/c govt has basically given up enforcing any rules against big corporations. These are the things that upset people the most right now (notwithstanding the blathering of illiterate “tea-baggers” or even the hyprocritical neocons who suddenly believe govt should increase regulation of private property because they see a weak chink in Obama’s armor). As usual, there is a real disconnect between the media and the general public. Jim Carville really summed it up best: its the economy, stupid. Everything else is secondary. (And yes, I say these things even though I personally believe our bill of rights is the most crucial/vital part of our country. But people just don’t care right now. They are scared to death that their society is cratering before their very eyes – and it has nothing to do with freedom of religion or speech. Its pretty bad out there folks.)
    But hey, how are the Heels looking this year for football season?

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  12. GFWD

    MAIRINPGH, the Heels are going to be stout on defense, but we run the risk of losing space-eater Marvin Austin, our stud interior defensive lineman, due to an NCAA investigation. Our end, Quinn, is faster and possibly stronger than Julius Peppers–ostensibly, however, with smaller ears. (Shhhh, Peppers probably heard that last remark) We kick off the season in the Chick-Fil-A bowl against LSU in Atlanta on September 4th. Come on down and forget about your problems for a while.
    And I would not recommend smoking or grilling out in your neighbors back yard.
    Neva, what time is Sunday School? I’ll make a visit to your church and shake up the curriculum!

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  13. Bob

    “…that mosque-interfaith community center will have to have the best baba ghanouj kebabs and 3D Imax Koran experience in HISTORY to make up for all the interfaith enmity this brouhaha has caused.”
    Oh, boy.
    As has been said I don’t know how many times, this mishegas has been caused not by the folks behind the Islamic center, but by wingnuts in search of a wedge issue. And had the Islamic center folks folded their tents, the wingnuts would have needed an entire ten minutes to move on to the next wedge issue, with the bonus of having been “right” about the Islamic center (had they not been right, why would their opponents have backed down?).
    I’m not suggesting that every dumbass manufactured confrontation that the right comes up with is worth a full-scale confrontation, but freedom of religion–even if you’re not sold on the idea of religion yourself–seems important enough to stand up for.

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  14. tregen

    chickencrap.
    the rationale that “it may be legal, but it ain’t right, is BS” So what if the kabobs have to be the best to overcome the negative, these same arguments are made every day in regards to gay marriage (civil unions are fine, why rock the boat with marriage), abortion (it may be legal, but it aint right), etc. The insensitivity argument is part of our current problem in this country, political correctness has gone so far amuck that offending anyone is considered reason enough for the offending comments or actions to be crushed, even if they are correct statements or actions.
    95% of what people say they believe in is just BS. In reality, if everyone would just set deal with their hyprocrisies, think about what they truly believe in and then stick to those beliefs, regardless of there PCness, we could do away with these ridiculous statements (I am not a bigot, I just don’t want black people in the neighborhood because they drive down real estate prices. Wouldn’t it be better if they just recognized that by moving into my neighborhood they are causing all of us more economic damage than their basketball playing son will ever be able to make up in the NFL? They are just selfish, inconsiderate blacks who should have known they would stir up a mess moving in here.)
    Sorry, Ian, I agree with you a lot but bowing to bigotry in the name of complaceny is as insidous, damaging and hateful as any other type of bigotry.
    I would rather you say that these freedoms just aren’t that important to you than seeing a well writen but flawed position in order to justify the soft placation of true bigotry.
    It is always easier and more pc to avoid the fight but that doesn’t mean that because we avoided the fight that we are just or right.

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  15. jp

    “Building the mosque there is like the douche who showed up to the Carolina viewing bar in Atlanta during the UNC v. dook game wearing a j.j. redick jersey. Free to wear it. But know that you’re a dick for doing so in THAT bar.”
    Are you all suggesting that this site was specifically chosen so as to offend people? That this group chose the location not because of price, convenience, accessibility, etc but as a big fuck you to NYC and the rest of the country? That the WTC area is specifically a non-Muslim zone?
    This is totally baffling to me.
    “I’ll say it again: that mosque-interfaith community center will have to have the best baba ghanouj kebabs and 3D Imax Koran experience in HISTORY to make up for all the interfaith enmity this brouhaha has caused.”
    The right-wingers created the brouhaha, not the people wanting a build a cultural center that’s going to be more like a JCC or a YMCA than a mosque. The builders have been working on this process for *years*.

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  16. GFWD

    jp, I was not at the planning meeting for the mosque, so I know not whether this is some big “eff-ewe” to the establishment, an oversight or simply the best real estate deal in the entire city.
    I seriously doubt the issue wasn’t raised at a meeting though. I seriously doubt it was overlooked. I hope it wasn’t an intentional jab at a national sore spot, though, as my syllogism suggested. Maybe it went down your way.
    So, giving the mosque backers the benefit of the doubt, maybe it went like this (and I preface my imagined exchange by saying that I think it would be cool if the planners called each other by food names):
    Planning committee member #1: “Hey, Baba Ghanouj, I’m stoked to hear about this great new deal for the cultural center. Where is it? How did you get to the building?”
    Planning committe leader #2 “My friend, Kebob, the easiest way was to come down Wall Street and turn left at Ground Zero, then two quick blocks.”
    #1: “Ground Zero, huh.”
    #2: “I know, I can’t believe it’s been that long ago. Nine years. We lost 63 of our own when those asshats hijacked the plane. I hate those fuckers. I can’t get a cab or get on a plane without getting hostile looks from everyone 15 years old and up. One grannie spit on me. What I wouldn’t do to get a chance to go back in time and get medieval on those fucktwads.”
    #1: “Seriously, though, do you think anyone is going to object?”
    #2: “Why? Cause we’re Muslim? Hadn’t really given it any thought til now, but at $4 million for the whole kit and kaboodle, I think we can take the 60% savings and hire a PR firm and a security guard and still be saving a shit ton of money. It’s not like anything else is being built and maybe, when they build the memorial, we can get some foot traffic and tourists for the cultural center. Besides, there are 100 mosques in the city. New Yorkers won’t care.”
    #1: “Still, aren’t you concerned whether we’ll get the permits?”
    #2: “Well, that will be the deciding point then, won’t it. If we don’t get the permits, despite having the funding, then I guess you can say the people will have spoken and we’ll look elsewhere. But seriously, dude, people know the difference between an Islamic Fundamentalist and a Muslim. Not everyone is going to ‘refudiate’ us.”
    #1: “Good one.”
    #2: “I know, right.”

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  17. dob

    Weak, Ian, very weak. The responsibility for the entire brouhaha rests with the demagogues who stirred up the crazy pot with their disingenuous bullshit.

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