The Republican rhetoric on the Park51 mosque and community center seems to have settled into a steady chant of blame the victim. Now, Imam Rauf and the other backers of the center are being blamed for provoking the anti-Muslim backlash that is spreading across the country. Although they are within their rights to build a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero, Rauf and the other organizers are being tarred as insensitive and as instigators.
Sarah Palin crystallized the GOP talking point in a tweet when she said "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts." Instead of letting this talking point pass, it's worth considering exactly what Palin and her friends consider provocation and what irritates their sensibilities.
The whole situation seems to parallel a conservative commentary I saw at The Thinking Housewife, a Christian blog. A reader wrote in seeking advice. There were lesbians in his neighborhood, and they had offered his family a stroller their child had outgrown. He wanted to know if he should decline, rather than be troubled by his stroller's provenance. Laura, the owner of the blog, reassured him that it was reasonable to turn the stroller down and told her reader not to feel bad about his decision.
I wouldn't worry about their feelings; after all, it's not a serious rejection. Furthermore these women (who may be perfectly nice) have not considered your feelings at all by bringing their unusual lifestyle into your neighborhood. Remember that. They are not so worried about your feelings; their apparent consideration for others and their outward niceness have serious limitations.
There's nothing these lesbians could do that would mitigate the harm that the letter-writer feels is done by their very existence. The author of the letter even cites their well manicured lawn as a compensatory gesture that reinforces how out of place they are. According to Laura, the only way that the lesbians could demonstrate real consideration for the sensitivities of Christians would be to move away or become unnoticeable. In this framework, there is no such thing as a considerate lesbian, since the act of being openly and visibly lesbian is an offense against the feelings of others.
It's easy to say that the people behind the Park51 mosque and community center should have simply placed their center farther away to avoid giving offense, but it's hard to guess how far away would be safe. After all, there's already a mosque within four blocks of the Ground Zero, and the Pentagon contains a prayer room for the Muslims on staff.
For some minority groups, their very existence is perceived as offense. Whether the mosque is two blocks away or 80 (as Newt Gingrich prefers), the offense is still in existence. The real provocation is the act of being publicly Muslim and then demanding to be treated the same as everyone else.
When your existence is the insult, there's no compromise you can make to satisfy the sensitive. What is really sought is your disappearance, so that everyone can return to pretending you don't exist. For bigots, the existence of Muslims or gays going about their business and proving themselves to be human and deserving of respect is an assault. And I suppose it is. It's a devastating attack on their prejudices.
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