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Print view: The Post lets us know what Dr. King thinks about the Park51 project
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THIS ISN’T WHAT STRATEGY LOOKS LIKE! The Post lets us know what Dr. King thinks about the Park51 project: // link // print // previous // next //

THIS ISN’T WHAT STRATEGY LOOKS LIKE (permalink): According to the Washington Post, Stephanie Jones is “a public affairs and government relations strategist;” she was “executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute from 2005 to 2010.” On Saturday, she wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining how we should proceed with the Park51 project.

Question: Can you name a single project conducted by the National Urban League from 2005 through 2010? No you can’t, perhaps for this reason: Jones’ high-minded, unintelligent column just isn’t what “strategy” looks like.

Jones starts with the classic statement of the tribal avenger: Whatever the other side doesn’t want, that’s what we must have! Because some people oppose the planned site, we have to build right there:

JONES (8/21/10): Lost in the furor over the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero is a simple fact: The opposition to the center is the strongest argument in favor of it going right where it is planned. By most accounts, much of the opposition is based on an inaccurate conflation of Islam with terrorism, stemming from ignorance about the Muslim religion, culture and people. While troubling, this is hardly surprising in a nation in which a significant minority of Americans believe that our Christian president is Muslim (and so what if he were?).

Exiling the center to another part of Manhattan will expand and deepen the gulf between the Islamic community and its neighbors. The best way to bridge this gap is to help people understand that their trepidation is based not in reality but born of a myth that has been cruelly exploited. The Islamic cultural center can help span this chasm.

Actually, much of the opposition is based on an inaccurate conflation stemming from a propaganda campaign being conducted by public hate-mongers. (People like Sean Hannity, Pam Geller, Newt Gingrich.) But in the best clueless tradition, Jones never names the public hate merchants who have been driving this opposition—nor does she ever show any real sign of knowing who is opposed to the site. Instead, she presents classic tribal logic: If the other tribe doesn’t want the center at Site X, then Site X is where it must be! At this point, she turns directly to improbable claims for which she never argues. For example:

Why would “exiling” the center to another part of Manhattan “expand and deepen the gulf between the Islamic community and its neighbors?” Jones never attempts to explain or support this claim, variants of which she keeps advancing throughout her column. According to Jones, “Muslims who are being told to wait, to go away and remain out of sight until their presence can be tolerated by others.” It’s hard to know what new location in Manhattan would be “out of sight”—an unfortunate image Jones uses two times, perhaps reinforcing one of the claims which has been pimped by the opposition (see below). But for unknown reasons, she seems to say that the planned center can only do good at the current planned spot. “The Islamic center needs to be right where it is planned because that's where human change will come about—one parent, one child, one friend at a time,” Jones writes.

Why couldn’t that human change come about somewhere else in Manhattan? Jones, a top strategist, doesn’t say.

Should the project stay? Should it relocate? Sensible arguments can be made on all sides—unless you are a tribal avenger, in which case only your view makes sense. But rather than address the matter at hand. Jones is quickly swept away—with vast disrespect for the honored dead—to a different time and location. Presuming to speak for Dr. King (headline: “Martin Luther King Jr. tells us why the mosque must be built”), Jones recalls the monumental decision this greatest American moral leader made in 1963:

JONES: Sadly, minorities have long shouldered the burden of proving to the majority that they pose no threat, that they are not inferior and that they, too, deserve everything the majority takes for granted as its due—while patiently enduring misunderstanding and even abuse. They do all this in the face of demands that they are going too fast, pushing too hard and making life too uncomfortable for others.

That was the case in 1963 when white ministers in Birmingham, Ala., accused Martin Luther King Jr. of exacerbating racial tensions by leading protests against the city's segregation laws. They called his actions "unwise and untimely." Dr. King responded with his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in which he wrote: "Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was 'well timed' in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.' "

Nearly 50 years later, it is Muslims who are being told to wait, to go away and remain out of sight until their presence can be tolerated by others. While much has changed in the past five decades, the drumbeat against the Islamic center echoes the calls of the well-meaning but misguided Birmingham ministers. Following in the footsteps of those who called for King and his "outsiders" to retreat, opponents of the cultural center urge that it be banished to another neighborhood because its presence near Ground Zero is unsettling and potentially dangerous.

Even when we evoke Dr. King, we feel no need to be accurate. In the case at hand, Imam Rauf is not being told to “remain out of sight”—he is being asked to build somewhere else in Manhattan, a high-visibility island. (Unless Jones means that a relocated center would be “out of sight” of ground zero. As far as we know, it would be out of sight of ground zero at the current location too, despite the efforts of the demagogues to confuse that point, an effort Jones may help advance.) But this central part of Jones’ column is designed to bring Dr. King in the mix—and to claim that he’s on Jones’ side. We’d have to say Jones has a lot of nerve to commandeer Dr. King this way—especially since it isn’t clear that the current case is like the monumental historical case to which Jones refers.

In that 1963 letter, Dr. King chose to act; he said “the wait” must be over. In saying this, he was codifying a judgment he had reached some years before. In this case, of course, Dr. King was addressing a problem of three or four centuries’ duration—a monumental problem which was being maintained by ruthless, unblinking state power. And by the way: Dr. King’s decision to act carried a heavy moral burden, and exacted a terrible price. Almost surely, his decisions were correct, in 1963 and before; only direct (non-violent) action was going to move the world forward. But “the deed of gift was many deeds of war,” as Frost wrote of the first revolution. Children were murdered in Sunday school class, in part due to Dr. King’s decisions to act. Civil rights workers were murdered by night; dogs chased children down by day. Murdered too was Medgar Evers—and then, Dr. King himself, the last century’s greatest moral giant.

It’s astounding to see the casual way Jones seeks to model our current “strategies” around that horrific past fight, especially since no one will be harming her if such action should lead to real mayhem.

Jones’ column makes little sense; in truth, she seems amazingly clueless about the actual shape of this fight. Does she have any idea who opposes this project? As she closes her column, she offers this puzzling work:

JONES: If the center is established in Lower Manhattan, the people most opposed to it now will eventually have a chance to learn that Muslims aren't the enemy. That they aren't dangerous or terrorists or even, in fact, outsiders. They are the lady who smiles at them in the grocery store; the teenager who roots for the Yankees; the little girl who plays with their daughter. Muslims are their neighbors. They are Americans. They are their friends.

The Islamic center needs to be right where it is planned because that's where human change will come about—one parent, one child, one friend at a time. Instead of demanding that the Muslims get out, the residents of Lower Manhattan should be grateful that their fellow Americans are willing to stay put and make the effort, under difficult circumstances, to build bridges so that, as King said, "the deep fog of misunderstanding can be lifted from our fear-drenched communities.”

Earth to Jones: Wherever this project may take shape, “the people most opposed to the center” will nottake the chance to learn that Muslims aren’t the enemy.” The people most opposed to the project—the Hannitys, the Gellers, the Gingriches, and the average people most enraged by their hustles—will not be dropping by the center. But these high-ranking miscreants are never challenged or named at any point in Jones’ column. Instead, Jones seems to imply that “the residents of Lower Manhattan” are the people who are most opposed.

We have no idea where she got that idea. Nor does she try to explain it.

As polling has made abundantly clear, Americans all over the country are opposed to the site. To Jones, that is of course the very best reason to build the center right there! In the early 1960s, Dr. King made his decision to fight with great care, knowing the deeds of war which would follow. But Jones can’t wait to do it again. This column is remarkably feckless.

Sorry, liberals. This really isn’t 1963, and Manhattan isn’t Birmingham Jail. The current situation is deeply unfortunate, but it isn’t the civil rights struggle. Dr. King made a sound moral judgment in that time, but it was a judgment he made with great care. Today’s liberals don’t get to jump on his back—although such conduct typifies the moral functioning of the modern “liberal” world.

Here at THE HOWLER, we didn’t know Dr. King; Dr. King wasn’t a friend of ours. But Stephanie Jones is no Dr. King. She should stop stealing Dr. King’s words; she should name the real people at fault here.