Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sarah Palin, the Ground Zero mosque and the American presidency

More than most American leaders who might run for president someday, Sarah Palin has made a career of dividing "us" and "them." Most famously, she spent parts of the 2008 dismissing her opponents and their allies as residing somewhere outside the "real America" -- and while she apologized for it, her constant grievance-mongering suggests she sees the world, and this country, mostly in terms of its divisions.

Don't get me wrong: Other leaders can be "divisive." Palin is different: The divisions animate her.

I mention all of this because of a recent posting to her Facebook page, which features this title: "An Intolerable Mistake on Hallowed Ground." She is, of course, talking about the proposed mosque to be located 600 feet or so from Ground Zero in New York.

I agree with the sister of one of the 9/11 victims (and a New York resident) who said: “This is a place which is 600 feet from where almost 3,000 people were torn to pieces by Islamic extremists. I think that it is incredibly insensitive and audacious really for them to build a mosque, not only on that site, but to do it specifically so that they could be in proximity to where that atrocity happened.”

Palin cites a specific person associated with the proposed mosque whose statements about 9/11, she judges, are insufficiently sympathetic to the victims. But her concerns aren't quite so nuanced or specific -- witness this Tweet which asked all "peace-seeking Muslims" to avoid the provocation.

But it wasn't "peace-seeking Muslims" who flew the planes into the World Trade Center. It was 19 extremists -- people whose ideology unfortunately has broader support than we'd like, but whose views do not represent the vast majority of American Muslims. The truth is that more Muslims died on 9/11 as victims of the attack than as the aggressors. By implicitly lumping them in with criminals and vile murderers, Sarah Palin is suggesting that American Muslims cannot be full citizens of this country -- that they should have the "decency" to accept a "lesser-than" status that denies them the right to practice their religion as fully as their Christian neighbors.

American Muslims, in this view, aren't part of the community of Americans who mourned 9/11 -- they are more closely related to and allied with the transgressors. Not to put too fine a point on it: This isn't dissimilar from the "blood libel" that anti-Semites use to smear all Jews as killers of Jesus Christ. All bear a measure of guilt, regardless of their actions.

This is why Sarah Palin should never be our president. She simply cannot be the president of all Americans. Maybe few presidents ever are -- but they at least have the good sense to attempt it. Even George W. Bush recognized his duty in this regard.

Palin's statements on the mosque issue also point to another reason she should never be president: She cannot distinguish America's friends from its enemies. Her divisiveness would make her a poor president; her inability to make the right kinds of distinctions would make her a dangerous one.

UPDATE: Via Conor Friedersdorf's Twitter feed, this is simply ugly and evil.

No comments: