Three Casualties of the Ground Zero Mosque: The Enlightenment, the American Constitution, and the Bill of Rights?

It has hit me forcefully this past weekend that the United States is facing a challenge to the very character of its existence: will we continue to be an Enlightenment-based Jeffersonian nation committed to treating people as individuals with universal reason and inalienable rights, or will we devolve into a 1930s-style German Herderite nation of blood and soil nationalists led by anti-liberal demagogues who apportion to out-groups collective guilt for harms done to the collective nation?

The Ground Zero mosque (which is not actually at Ground Zero, but never mind) is our crossroads. That mosque, under the circumstances that have evolved around it, has to be built now. Treating Muslim American citizens not as complex human individuals (as are we all) but as cartoonish monstrosities collectively guilty for 9-11 is to lose the deepest narrative thread of our country’s founding. Our nation is not a volkish collective; it is peopled by citizen individuals. And in our highest selves, we do not scapegoat. If being American means anything, it means these two things.

And so the existential choice before us is a stark one: Thomas Jefferson or the Herderite mentality that led to Kristallnacht?

We better get this one right.

 1938 Interior of Berlin synagogue after Kristallnacht.jpg

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Three Casualties of the Ground Zero Mosque: The Enlightenment, the American Constitution, and the Bill of Rights?

  1. Rummuser says:

    Hello! I am from India and what is popularly known as Hindu. My forefathers ‘got it right’ many centuries ago. That getting it right, first made our land into two separate entities and subsequently, with some very unavoidable assistance from us, into three. The tolerant, peace loving people of the sub-continent have not been the same since then. We are still having to spend scarce resources to protect ourselves from our neighbours who are, shall we say unfortunately, Muslims? The so called vast majority of ‘moderate islam’ is, with very rare exception, silent about many developments that have caused the widely prevalent islamophobia including the ground zero mosque. I suspect that they are watching from the sidelines and laughing at the cupidity of the two sides fighting the issue out.

    I hope that the USA will indeed get it right this time so that its future does not become like what we became because our forefathers got it right many centuries ago.

  2. santitafarella says:


    Just to be clear: are you saying that the United States should discourage the building of mosques in our country, and that Muslims are simply not capable of really living with other cultures around?

    My impression is that the division of Muslims from Hindus into two nations was a tragedy—that you might have done better trying to live alongside one another, not breaking into ethnic enclaves. Now you’re in a face off of separate nations.

    What’s your take? What do you mean, exactly, by getting it right?

    It seems to me that getting it right means treating every person as an individual innocent until proven guilty of a crime, and not as a member of an ethnic or religious group collectively guilty for evils done to a nation.

    Please help me understand your position.


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