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.
We better get this one right.