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NYC Mosque: Respect Property Rights

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On Facebook, I've been involved in some heated debates on the proposed building of a mosque near the World Trade Center lately. They were spawned by Ed Cline's note in support of conservative Pamela Geller's since-resolved dispute with PayPal. (For the record, I find Geller's use of Playboy'ed Atlas Shrugged images for her conservative politics offensive in more ways than I can count.)

Here's the problem: Geller wants to use the power of the state to prevent the mosque from being built, even though it's private property. That's wrong.

For people to protest the building of the mosque at that site would be entirely proper. (They could write letters to the editor or picket the site, for example.) For the government to investigate the builders of the mosque for any ties to terrorism is likely warranted. (Mere foreign funding is not evidence of terrorist ties though.) However, to forcibly block the construction of the mosque by using unjust laws that violate private property rights is morally wrong, not to mention politically dangerous.

People should not be judged guilty by the law and stripped of their rights just because they accept or advocate certain ideas. A person has the right to hold whatever beliefs he pleases -- however wrong -- provided that he does not attempt to force them on others. He has the right to practice the religion of his choosing, so long as he does so without violating the rights of others.

Even in times of war, a government cannot justly treat all immigrants from the enemy's country or all adherents of the enemy's religion as enemies. To strip a person of his rights to life, liberty, or property without some concrete evidence of his sympathy for or assistance to the enemy is to punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty. It's pure collectivism.

Yet people on that Facebook thread -- including some Objectivists -- claim that we're at war with the religion of Islam per se, that all Muslims are terrorists due to the Koranic command to wage war against the infidel, that to respect the property rights of Muslims would be suicidal, that Muslims should be barred from entering the country, that all Muslims should be treated as suspected terrorists, etc. That shocked me. It's not a view that's consistent with individual rights, nor with Objectivism.

So a few days ago, I briefly stepped into that thread to lend my support to an Objectivist philosopher under attack for arguing that law-abiding Muslims have a right to build what they please on their own property.

Here's what I wrote:

Private property must be respected, even when we find the views and actions of its owners odious, provided that they're not acting to violate rights. Totalitarian Islam is a major threat, but that threat needs to be fought by the military -- by destroying the states that sponsor terrorism -- not by violating private property rights in order to prevent a mosque from being built.

It's standard conservative strategy to use the rights-violating machinery of the state to achieve some (supposedly) noble purpose, rather than working for the kind of fundamental change necessary to eliminate the problem at its root. That fundamental change isn't "practical" or "realistic," conservatives say. It's "pie in the sky" fantasy.

Hence, for example, conservatives advocate "right to work" laws, rather than advocating for repeal of the unjust legislation (like the Wagner Act) that gives unions so much power. Fundamentally, that's because conservatives don't care about liberty, despite their occasional pro-rights rhetoric. They're just in a political struggle with the left: they want power, nothing more.

Ayn Rand, in contrast, always took a principled approach. That's why she opposed "right to work" laws -- and that's why she upheld the rights of communists to speak, provided that they weren't attempting to overthrow the US government. In her "Screen Guide for Americans," Ayn Rand wrote:

"Now a word of warning about the question of free speech. The principle of free speech requires that we do not use police force to forbid the Communists the expression of their ideas--which means that we do not pass laws forbidding them to speak. But the principle of free speech does not require that we furnish the Communists with the means to preach their ideas, and does not imply that we owe them jobs and support to advocate our own destruction at our own expense. The Constitutional guarantee of free speech reads: "Congress shall pass no law..." It does not require employers to be suckers.

"Let the Communists preach what they wish (so long as it remains mere talking) at the expense of those and in the employ of those who share their ideas. Let them create their own motion picture studios, if they can. But let us put an end to their use of our pictures, our studios and our money for the purpose of preaching our exploitation, enslavement and destruction. Freedom of speech does not imply that it is our duty to provide a knife for the murderer who wants to cut our throat."

Based on that, do you really think that Ayn Rand would have advocated violating the private property rights of Muslims? If so, then you're thinking like a conservative, not an Objectivist. You're being pragmatic, not principled. As the trajectory of modern conservatism into more and more statism has shown, that's a losing strategy.

I was hoping that the Objectivists on that thread might see fit to check their premises. I was disappointed, so I decided not to post further. However, I'd like to add a few more comments here.

If, without any known terrorist or criminal connections, the government need not respect the property rights of the Muslims seeking to build this mosque, then why respect the property rights of any Muslims? Can the government prevent the building of mosques elsewhere? Can it destroy existing mosques? Can it seize the home of Muslims? Can it shut down Islamic web sites, even if unconcerned with the infidel? Can it ban Muslims from advocating their religion? Can it imprison Muslim leaders? Can it intern Muslims in camps? Can it execute people for refusing to renounce Islam?

These are serious questions. If the rights of Muslim citizens need not be respected, then logic demands that a person answer "Yes" to all those questions. That person must endorse totalitarian control over Muslims -- solely for their ideas -- even when lacking any evidence of criminal activity or intentions. He must endorse the idea of thoughtcrime, i.e. punishment by the state for unwelcome ideas. The slope here is very, very slippery.

As Paul argued in his recent op-ed on free speech:

Free speech is essential to human life. Man's primary means of survival is his mind. In order to live, we must be free to reason and think. Hence we must be left free to acquire and transmit knowledge, which means we must be free to express our ideas,
right or wrong
.

That's what's at stake here.

Personally, I regard the principles underlying the call to ignore the property rights of these Muslims as a major threat to my liberty. Suppose that Muslims are stripped of their rights and shipped off to the gulag. Do you imagine that our government -- statist behemoth that it is -- wouldn't use those same powers to silence other critics? How long before Paul and I would be declared enemies of the state, stripped of our property, and sentenced to years of "re-education" or "labor"? Do you think that Leonard Peikoff, Yaron Brook, and Craig Biddle wouldn't be silenced, if not worse? Do you think that you'd be safe?

I'm not keen on the gulag. (Amazing, but true!) So if you're supporting political action that will get me there sooner, then we're not political allies. In fact, you're nothing but a wolf in sheep's clothing to me. You might be smart, pleasant, and conscientious; you might not wish me any harm; you might wish to promote liberty. Nonetheless, you're a danger to me and mine. I can't ignore that, and I hope that this post will give you pause.

I'm appalled that our government is not waging anything remotely like a proper war against the states that sponsor terrorism. Yet that problem cannot be solved by violating the rights of random Muslims in America. If our government is permitted to strip people of their rights based solely on ideology, the Muslim fanatics will be the least of our worries.

Update: Ari Armstrong just posted a great analysis of prominent conservative arguments for forcibly preventing the building of the NYC mosque. He found that all clearly reject the principle of individual rights.

3372618-6137607076575822730?l=blog.dianahsieh.com
_GXQaMPw-74

Cross-posted from Metablog

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Should we respect the property rights of people who build mosques in Iran? If the same people want to build a mosque in NYC, isn't that even worse ?

even when lacking any evidence of criminal activity or intentions.

When we bombed Dresden, did we look for evidence of criminal activity of the people living in each house before releasing every single bomb? Don't confuse war with crime.

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Even in times of war, a government cannot justly treat all immigrants from the enemy's country or all adherents of the enemy's religion as enemies. To strip a person of his rights to life, liberty, or property without some concrete evidence of his sympathy for or assistance to the enemy is to punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty. It's pure collectivism.

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Thank you for saying what needed to be said Diana.

I'm starting to see the Objectivism movement on a track similar to a political movement in regards to certain subjects, especially this one vs. one of personal philosophical and academic superiority and it is scaring me a little bit. The main area under durress from this seems to be that of foreign policy and things which extend or hold some relation to that subject. I have seen some utterly racist and equally rediculous comments respecting the Muslim community, both in respect to this Mosque fiasco as well as in general by people that identify themselves as Objectivists...betraying the very objectivity which they advocate. This troubling situation has also manifested itself in general foreign policy, such as specific comments by the likes of Craig Biddle of The Objectivist Standard (I like the majority of his write-ups. One must contend to the legitimacy of compartmentalized errors) as an example along with yours of Edward Cline....and there seems to be a verbal bias in respect to Israel among some areas of the Oist community.

While Israel has, without question, moral supremacy, it seems like certain individuals wish to throw aside every single atrocious thing their government does. I am not referring to the flotilla, of which I fully supported Israel's action and my comments can be seen in the thread on this forum...but that things that government has done that were completely unnecessary for defensive purposes and were obviously attributable to anything from chain of command discrepancies to religious zionism or flat out racism by certain elements of the government are at best ignored or at worst made justified by supposed Objectivist philosophy....have created some personal annoyance for me. Conclusions made that are in stark contrast from what is found in original Objectivist literature (Ayn Rand's works). A few too many traditional conservative views are finding their way into the arena and are being justified by (supposedly) Objectivist philosophy and principles. As you have already illuminated on this specific issue here, this is often times an attempt which is far from the actual reality of things.

It is up to real Objectivists such as yourself, Diana, to make use of your highly trafficked websites to clear the air of this intellectual disingenuousness that is pervading our community and I am quite glad to see that you are doing just that. Any movement can be perverted by outside influences or lazy thinking, and it is becoming clear that in certain respects this is becoming a problem for us and it needs to be rooted out before it can entrench itself further and hinder our movement with false ideas (one merely needs to reference the online MSM or amateur blogs for plenty of that) especially when it is clear Oism is having a modern revival. I do not want Objectivism to become another Libertarianism because we choose not to correct the individuals who state they support Objectivist philosophy but do anything but, be it in a compartmentalized fashion, which is much more often the case, or in its entirety.

Edited by CapitalistSwine

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Should we respect the property rights of people who build mosques in Iran? If the same people want to build a mosque in NYC, isn't that even worse ?

When we bombed Dresden, did we look for evidence of criminal activity of the people living in each house before releasing every single bomb? Don't confuse war with crime.

How does that even matter here? There is nothing wrong with building of a mosque. And sure, you should respect the property rights of people who build mosques in Iran, at least until there is an actual war going on there (note I am not suggesting the Iranian government hasn't ever done anything wrong). The context is entirely different here, as there is no "War on Muslims," nor should there be. Yes, you should oppose any Muslim ideologically, just as you should oppose any Christian ideologically, but I know of no reason to say that *this* mosque should not be built.

Edited by Eiuol

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I must say after reading that entire commentary thread on Edward Cline's facebook....I naturally cannot speak for her but I have to say I am inclined to believe that Rand would be rolling seizurically in her grave over some of the comments by so called Objectivists on there. Thank you for bringing some reason to their discussion Diana, among the others who are not present here, even if it was not accepted by those engaging in the discussion.

Edited by CapitalistSwine

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Of course building a mosque is wrong. How can you say there is nothing wrong with that? The point is, building a mosque is not an initiation of force, therefore these "Objectivists" are advocating rights-destruction against anyone who shares this religion. If a mosque should be shut down by the government in city A, then why not shut it down in city B, and city C, and county D, and state E, then just make Islam illegal. What about a mosque being over here should be outlawed, but being over there is okay? Then there is no freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, intellectual freedom, no probable cause. These were the kind of people that would sanction internment of Americans of Japanese and German descent because "we are at war." I am really surprised at some self-proclaimed "Objectivists" who are litterally indiscernible from conservative Republicans.

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Of course building a mosque is wrong. How can you say there is nothing wrong with that?

Morally speaking, yes it's wrong, but only because that would be, to some degree, sanctioning the ideas of religion. It's a poor choice of words on my part to flat out say "there is nothing wrong with building a mosque."

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Should we respect the property rights of people who build mosques in Iran?

Yes. We should respect the property rights of anyone building anything anywhere. On the other hand, when people renounce the protection of the moral principle we call property rights by initiating force, that's when we use force to stop them. As far as I know, the people building this cultural center/mosque near ground zero haven't violated anyone's rights. Am I wrong?

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As far as I know, the people building this cultural center/mosque near ground zero haven't violated anyone's rights. Am I wrong?

I would think if there had been any rights violating going on it would be all over the alternate news media if not the MSM. Then again some people seem to think being disrespectful is a rights violation. Naturally they are wrong.

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Yes. We should respect the property rights of anyone building anything anywhere. On the other hand, when people renounce the protection of the moral principle we call property rights by initiating force, that's when we use force to stop them. As far as I know, the people building this cultural center/mosque near ground zero haven't violated anyone's rights. Am I wrong?

I don't think they have violated anyone's rights.... yet. It's important to be aware of the fact that the Imam founding the mosque appears to be a liar (surprise!) and an advocate of Sharia Law. As such, he stands squarely in opposition to individual rights:

The Pajamas Media exclusive reveals on March 24, 2010, Abdul Rauf was quoted in an Arabic Rights4All article as saying, "I do not believe in religious dialogue." Rights4All is the website of Cairo University's media department, the leading educational institution of the Arabic-speaking world. But as recently as May 26, one day after his Daily News column, Abdul Rauf appeared on the popular Islamic website Hadiyul-Islam with even more disturbing opinions. That's the same website where, ironically enough, a fatwa was simultaneously being issued forbidding a Muslim to sell land to a Christian because the Christian wanted to build a church on it.

In his Hadiyul-Islam interview with Sa'da Abdul Maksoud, Abdul Rauf was asked his views on Sharia (Islamic religious law) and the Islamic state. He responded:

"Throughout my discussions with contemporary Muslim theologians, it is clear an Islamic state can be established in more than just a single form or mold. It can be established through a kingdom or a democracy. The important issue is to establish the general fundamentals of Sharia that are required to govern. It is known that there are sets of standards that are accepted by [Muslim] scholars to organize the relationships between government and the governed." [Emphasis added.]

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/is...e-95107454.html

In my view, assuming that the mosque is being built on private land and with no taxpayer funding, it should not be stopped by the government. However, if the leaders and/or the other Muslims who attend this mosque are found to be supporting enemies of this country or engaging in other illegal acts, then they should be prosecuted immediately and to the fullest extent possible. Fundamentalist Islam is a violent, poisonous ideology and it has to be watched closely.

Edited by gags

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I won't address a private debate such as one carried on on Facebook since we cannot see what the actual arguments and positions are. However, I am quite surprised at the implication that any Objectivist would ever advocate improperly using the power of the government to block the construction of any kind of church on private land using private funds. Even the most elementary understanding of Objectivism would teach you that it is not proper to use the state as an instrument for suppressing relition, no matter how heinous the religion is. I would not be surprised to see than kind of frothingly irrational behavior from standard conservatives such as the ACLJ. Objectivists should staunchly oppose this project though the private sector.

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"I won't address a private debate such as one carried on on Facebook since we cannot see what the actual arguments and positions are."

As far as I am aware you can if you at least have a facebook account. I am not friends with Edward Cline on facebook yet I can read it.

Edited by CapitalistSwine

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As far as I am aware you can if you at least have a facebook account.
As far as I am aware, it is not possible to get rid of Facebook once you've created it; I don't need any more spam in my life.

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As far as I am aware, it is not possible to get rid of Facebook once you've created it; I don't need any more spam in my life.

Hurrah! I am not the only one who refuses to be assimilated into Facepalm!

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I, too, refuse to be assimilated. :(

Me too, but if anyone here wants to know what Ill be having for dinner, or any other fascinating info, PM me.

(not really)

please.

j..

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These were the kind of people that would sanction internment of Americans of Japanese and German descent because "we are at war."

"Descent" is quite a broad continuum, but let's look at the relevant extreme: Suppose it's 1942 and a guy who has just immigrated from Japan walks into a gun store and wants to buy a dozen automatic rifles. That OK with you?

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"Descent" is quite a broad continuum, but let's look at the relevant extreme: Suppose it's 1942 and a guy who has just immigrated from Japan walks into a gun store and wants to buy a dozen automatic rifles. That OK with you?

What laws did he break?

I don't think 'descent' is very broad at all. They just found people who are Japanese or descended from Japanese based on their immigration papers and census responses and put them into the camps. Locked them up. Is that okay with you? Is it okay to ban a religion? Is it okay to violate rights of people who have committed no crimes, initiated no force, simply because they are a Muslim? Why stop there? Shouldn't we just round up all the Muslims and send them to camps?

You don't intern citizens based on race or shut down churches or ban religions if you are at war. War is about killing the other poor dumb bastard, not the banning of religious practices and shutting down churches. Sending people to concentration camps based on their genetic ancestry and shutting down a church based on nothing but its religion is the practice of dictatorships that are purging undesirables, not the practice of a free country defending itself.

Edited by 2046

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Don't you see a little ... um, tension, between wanting to kill him on the one hand, and demanding respect for his property rights on the other?

Yeah, that's the point. If Islam is to be banned because "we are at war," why stop at just shutting down this one church? Why not shut down ALL mosques? By what criteria do you say "you can practice your religion on your own private property over here, but not on your own private property there"? And if you're going to shut down all mosques because "we are at war," why stop at just shutting down the mosques? Why not put all Muslims in concentration camps? I mean, after all, you didn't get rid of the Muslims, they are still there, at their homes, at their places of business. Still practicing Islam. Still preaching their religion. By what criteria is it not okay for them to be doing that in a mosque, but it is okay for them to do it at home? By what criteria did you stop at just not letting them do this in whis building, but not in that building? So clearly we must round up all the Muslims and lock them up in concentration camps. But then, they are still alive. I mean, "we are at war" right? I just can't possibly think of any distinguishing criteria other than "you are Muslim, then you must be a threat," so if they are a threat, and we are at war, by what criteria do you just stop at putting them in camps? Clearly, we must just kill all the Muslims. I mean, why just stop at demanding this one mosque in this one place be shut down, but NOT demand we kill every single Muslim in the country? Why say "no" to that?

Edited by 2046

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Yeah, that's the point. If Islam is to be banned because "we are at war," why stop at just shutting down this one church?
The fact that "we are at war" does not license the conclusion "therefore all rights are suspended". We are nominally in a war against terrorism, which is broader than just "Islam". It is not even, properly, limited to just being "a war against religion". It includes religious and secular terrorism.

The challenge for a rational, rights-respecting government is to figure out a way to stop those bent on violating our rights, without perverting the government into an irrational, rights-violating one.

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Because we need to do X in order to defend ourselves effectively, but we don't need to do more than X.

So we need to shut down the mosque at ground zero to defend ourselves? Exactly what force is that mosque initiating? That's not even the point that those people are making (their argument was [paraphrasing] "we are at war with Islam, and it would be an insult to the 9/11 vicitims.")

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Islam is being SO insensitive to the feelings of New Yorkers and Americans here. It's almost as if they WANT to cause us pain. It's almost as if they find us weak and lacking proper self-respect, so they take this opportunity to LAUGH at our agony.

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