"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." (Anatole France, The Red Lily, 1894)
In 1896 the Supreme Court ruled against a man named Homer Plessy who had challenged Louisiana's law mandating separate railroad cars for whites and blacks, establishing the precedent for "separate but equal" that persisted until the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. The Plessy Court pointed out that prohibiting black patrons from occupying cars designated "White Only" did not constitute discrimination since whites could not sit in cars designated "Colored Only."
Years ago I was teaching a group of students who (luckily, as it turned out) were all Caucasian. I say luckily because we were discussing racism and one coed began to rant about "them": "We try to be friends but they won't talk to us." The other students looked embarrassed but seemed not to know how to answer these charges. When the coed paused at last after complaining "they always sit together in the cafeteria," I asked her, "And with whom do the white students sit?"
Her generalizations about "them" represent the lazy way to reach a conclusion, as in the blasé assertion that whites and blacks are equally racist. We call such an assertion "common sense." As a people, we adore common sense. It obviates any need to strain our gray matter over, for example, contemplating differences between white and black experience. It relieves us, in that case, of any need to ask ourselves whether oppression that leads to anger and hostility is the equivalent of anger and hostility that spawns oppression.
Going back to Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court conceived of "colored people" as "socially unequal," a condition they ruled could not be rectified by law. The law in all its majestic fairness gave people of color access to "civil and political rights" and that must suffice. By dint of black people's inability to function socially on par with whites, acts of personal discrimination were justified.
The argument against the erection of a cultural center containing a mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero falls into a similar logical pit. Muslims are "equal" in their civil and political rights, but they are socially inferior in ways the law can't touch. Therefore, they shouldn't erect houses of worship in places that non-Muslims don't want them to erect houses of worship. In fact, perhaps they shouldn't be able to erect houses of worship anywhere in the U.S. since protests against mosques have been launched coast to coast.
In the case of the New York cultural center, the line of reasoning put forward is this: Muslims slaughtered the victims of 9/11. Placing a mosque close to the site of the destruction amounts to gloating. At the very least, such a mosque would be offensive to the victims and survivors of that horrendous event.
The fundamental flaw in this position is the flaw of generalization. Like the coed, those who argue that Muslims seeking to honor their religion are "gloating" fail to perceive distinctions among people who differ significantly from themselves. If one of these things is not like the other, what is it like? Apparently, it's like everything else with which it shares any characteristic that is "unlike the others." So we see that, if some psychotics happen to be Muslims, Muslims are psychotic. And, if some psychotics argue that the Koran blesses their murderous impulses, we have to believe that, in fact, the Koran does bless their murderous impulses. After all, if we can't have faith in what lunatics say, who can we believe?
Shouldn't we apply this logic to the Catholic Church, today in The Netherlands embroiled in yet another pedophile scandal? If so, we should believe that all priests are child molesters and, therefore, Catholic churches should never be built in proximity to children.
Obviously, such reasoning is ridiculous (at least, I hope that's obvious). But perhaps not. We soak up the ludicrous without blinking while our TV blowhards report it pontifically. On the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, Glenn Beck declares that he, the Tea Party-supporters, and Fox-news devotees "started the civil rights movement." He praises America, God, and the military. Subsequently, Beck asserts that Obama is a "liberation theologist," "not a Christian." According to Wikipedia, "liberation theology is a movement in Christian theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions." In Glenn Beck's twisted parlance, Christ must have hoisted an AK-47, battled advocates for justice, and had only contempt for those whining slackers, "the poor."
That's Christianity with antecedents in the Crusades and the Inquisition. But Muslims are the terrorists?