Park 51 and Fear-Mongering

Excellent post on Park 51 and fear-mongering at Vox Nova. I’ll post it here:

According to Sarah Palin, a large publicly visible sign and structure of Islam close to Ground Zero “feels like a stab in the heart to, collectively, Americans who still have that lingering pain from 9/11.” Stated explicitly, Park 51 feels like a knife separating the skin, rupturing the flesh, and piercing the very source of life. It is no coincidence that Palin illustrates the building project of Iman Rauf as a weapon and fatal act of violence. Indeed, she has gone so far as to call it the “9/11 Mosque,” using the name of an event of fanatical mass murder as an adjective to delineate a house of religious assembly. She’s not the least bit shy about manipulating language to play on people’s fears, but then, her use of language reveals a likely perspective: Palin literally sees Park 51 as an act of violence. It’s not merely insensitive in her book; it’s like the threat of a knife-wielding enemy. At least, it feels that way.

To protect the U.S. against this alleged enemy violence, Palin wants the area around Ground Zero free of impressive signs and structures of Islam. She desires, to use Glenn Greenwald’s expression, a Muslim-free zone, and she’s not alone. I don’t mean that Palin doesn’t want Muslims at all present in the area at and around Ground Zero. She clearly desires, though, that Muslims assemble and worship elsewhere, at a location where she and others won’t feel stabbed in the heart and the lurking presence of Muslims.

Palin’s appeal to emotion plays on the fears Americans have about a religious people we don’t understand. Most Americans, for example, couldn’t explain the difference between Shia and Sunni, note the reasons why Iman Rauf’s Sufism matters, describe the ways the different cultures in Iran and Somalia shape religious interpretation and practice, or locate Mecca on a map. Islam is a subject with which we’re mostly ignorant. We’re largely Christian and we have trouble understanding relatively similar Christian denominations! How many Protestants could accurately explain the Catholic appreciation of the Virgin Mary? Heck, how many Catholics could accurately explain why they pray the Hail Mary and where the prayer comes from? If we’re in the dark about the diversity in Christianity, how much more are we in the dark about Islam? Most of us are not even in a position to assess whether some Muslim (or former Muslim) expert on Islam really knows what he or she is talking about. We may think we’re listening to an trustworthy authority on Islamic orthodoxy when we’re really taking lessons on True Islam from a Muslim version of Garry Wills.

The last thing Osama bin Laden wants is a friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims. He wants us all afraid, ignorant, and at war. The way to fight against bin Laden (aside from bringing him and his accomplices to justice) is to work against the grand narrative of civilizational warfare he promotes through propaganda and terrorism. We do that by welcoming Muslims into our homes and hallowed ground, teaching about ourselves and learning from one another, and encouraging each other in our respective faith practices. Would Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia also benefit from such a hospitality? I have no doubt, but we don’t really have the power to promote religious hospitality there. We do have the power here. And the obligation to do so. Plus, doing so would really piss off the brute Osama bin Laden.

So, seriously, let’s cut the fear-mongering. Be not afraid and all that.

20 Responses to Park 51 and Fear-Mongering

  1. Donato Infante III says:

    Thanks for sharing this excellent piece. My one concern is about the original name of the building. Why Cordoba House? Surely the builders realize that name evokes bad memories in the West. Or is that an example of simple ignorance on their side?

  2. Rachel Lu says:

    Having lived in the Islamic world twice, my overwhelming impression is that most rank-and-file Muslims know virtually nothing of Sufism, could not “describe the ways different cultures in Iran and Somalia shape religious interpretation and practice” (which sounds like a dissertation topic), and could not locate Mecca on a map. But they *are* strongly under the impression that Islam encourages violence. Even the ones (most of them) who are completely uninterested in heeding this instruction are still confident that this is what their faith teaches. (A lot of people’s comments on this topic reminded me of Western Catholics talking about contraception. “Does Islam encourage you to invade other nations, punish the Infidels, and fight for Allah?” “Sure, of course.” “Are you interested in doing that?” “What, me? Now?”)

    In the spirit of this article, I’ll freely admit that I have no authority whatsoever to opine on the True Meaning of Islam. But to me, a non-Muslim, that’s not really the important question. I’m more interested in the number of people who think it’s their religious duty to kill me.

    Now, concerning the Cordoba House, I don’t really suppose that it will function as a home base for planning murderous attacks. That would be a little too… obvious. But there is still reason not to want it there. The families and friends of September 11 victims shouldn’t need degrees in Islamic Studies before we give them leave to have strong feelings about this. They know something much more relevant: that their loved ones were murdered by adherents to this faith, for religious reasons. This wasn’t centuries back, like the Crusades; it was less than a decade ago, and those wounds are still fresh.

    Yes yes, I know, it wasn’t THESE Muslims, it was THOSE OTHER ones who did that. I should go back to school and learn the difference. But see, my feeling is, if the founders of Cordoba House were really so accommodating and so peaceful and so totally different from the kind who planned the terrorist attacks, they would be willing to be understanding about grieving families who find their presence there upsetting. They could say, “OK, that wasn’t our fault, but we can see how the association would be upsetting to you, so we’ll open our center someplace a little further away.” Now, wouldn’t that be a nice sign of good faith? But obviously they’re not interested in doing that, so, while I don’t think we should bend the laws to oust them, I do think it perfectly reasonable to subject them to social opprobrium for their insensitivity.

  3. Mason Slidell says:


    Some 9/11 families oppose the Islamic Community Center, but other 9/11 families support it.

    Is there justification for preferring one group of 9/11 families over and against another group other than similiar opinion on the matter?

  4. Rachel Lu says:

    Some families of 9/11 victims are offended by the opening of the center/mosque at that location. Others are not. But I don’t see how any of the families could be offended by the opening of the center in a different location. Which is what ought to happen, but the Muslims won’t agree to it.

    See, the interesting thing about this situation is that it’s become a zero-sum game, but it didn’t need to be. That is, it didn’t need to be, if the motives of the Muslim founders are really as innocent as they claim. Certainly, we can understand why they would want to open a center that would foster community and celebrate Islamic art and culture. But there just don’t seem to be any compelling reasons why it needs to be *in that particular location.* There isn’t a large community of Muslims in Manhattan that needs an outlet, and the Burlington Coat Factory has never been holy ground. The city has offered to help them find another suitable spot for the center, but they have refused even to countenance this possibility.

    In large part this controversy centers around the question: what should our attitude be towards Muslims generally? The author of this post seems to think that we should give them the benefit of the doubt, unless we’ve extensively studied the religion, learned all about the different branches of Islam etc etc. But see, that’s the thing about murdering thousands of innocents in horrific terrorist attacks. It loses you the benefit of the doubt. And while I do want uninvolved Muslims to be able to live peacefully here, I also think it’s reasonable to expect them to exert themselves a bit to show how utterly different they are from their murderous co-religionists. Here they had a fairly painless opportunity to make a gracious gesture. They declined to do so. So long as their actions are all legal and above-board, the project should be permitted to proceed, but they should not expect to be welcomed into the neighborhood with open arms.

  5. Mary says:

    It stands to my logic that the most useful and honorable thing to put on the former twin towers site is another financial and working set of buildings, towers, that can once again reclaim the “financial center” in NYC. This would honor those that died on the site, working for the dream they had for life/work in the USA.

  6. Greg for Peter says:

    Many reasons have been given for building or not building a mosque within a few blocks of the greatest act of terrorism ever to happen on U.S. soil. Even the President has dithered, or so it seems, as to whether this should happen. Where he and I both agree is that the legality of the idea is unquestioned.

    What troubles so many today is that, like so many issues, this has been politicized. But, like it or not, this is a political issue, though not for the reasons most people adduce.

    On the one hand there are those who presume to speak for religious liberty. They wish to take the high moral ground, and – admitting that radical Islamists perpetrated the crimes of 9/11 – they think that by permitting the mosque to be built America is staking a claim for exactly the kind of religious liberty we would wish our Arab and Islamist friends to notice and respect.

    On the other hand there are many who speak for religious sensibility. They point out the incongruity – even the effrontery — of an Islamic center being built in such close proximity to the place where zealots, inspired by their own particular vision of Islam, wreaked havoc and spilled innocent blood on our shores.

    The problem is that neither side has clearly understood the nature of Islam. Both think that Islam is a “religion”, and therefore should be accorded the same rights as any other religion – even religions that we believe to be seriously misguided and that might harbor latent violent tendencies. Hindus and Muslims have been fighting it out over in Kashmir for years, yet we do not discriminate against Hinduism. Tibetan Buddhists have been waging an underground resistance movement against China’s secularized “Confucians”. But, again, we do not cast aspersions at either Buddhism or Confucianism.

    We are a tolerant people, and religious tolerance is one of the hallmarks of our nation’s history. Indeed, it is one of the main reasons why this country was founded. Charleston itself can take pride in being among those American cities that from its earliest days welcomed religious minorities: Huguenots, Quakers, Jews, to mention a few.

    So, why should we not be tolerant of a mosque at Ground Zero? If we will not use legal grounds, why would we use public pressure to “encourage” the Muslims of lower Manhattan to find a different location for their place of worship and cultural center?

    The answer to this may be somewhat shocking: the fact is that Islam is not a religion. At least, it’s not just a religion. Of course Islam has religious rites, ceremonies, and doctrines. It has all the trappings of a religion. But it has one other factor that changes the landscape entirely. It does not recognize the separation of “church and state”. Therefore everything Islam does has an inherent political implication.

    But why should this little detail matter? After all, it can be argued that through the centuries Christianity too merged church and state. Glance at the landscape of Europe and an obvious fact becomes clear: different countries have their own religious heritage, and in many cases that religion has through the centuries been totally intertwined with the state apparatus. What were the 17th Century wars of religion but Protestant and Catholic nations waging war against one another? Then reach back a bit further in history and you bump into the Crusades. While it is arguable that the Crusades were primarily aimed at reclaiming land that Arabs and Turks had violently taken from Christians, most Christians rightly cringe at the thought of knights and fellow-travelers killing in the name of Christ.

    Believers can thank the Enlightenment for one thing: it shamed religious zealots of all stripes for their use of violence to promote otherwise worthy aims. It threw the gauntlet down at the feet of those who would promote religion by the use of violence. On this point the Enlightenment echoed Jesus who had said: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” And it reminded us that Jesus also said: “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

    These and other similar statements by Jesus have led many Christians to adopt pacifism as the only tenable Christian position. However, “turn the other cheek,” may have been Jesus’ definitive word on interpersonal conflict; but it was not his final word on international conflict. His Apostle Paul, after all, said: “The governing authorities do not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13:4) Most Christians, therefore, have adopted the idea that there is such a thing as a “just war.” To support it an elaborate set of conditions have been worked out to define which wars might be just and which not.

    What has never been part of the teaching of Jesus, his Apostles, or those who have sought to follow the plain teaching of the Bible is that there is an inevitable interweaving of the civil and religious authorities. But, for Islam such an interweaving is absolutely required. It’s why faithful Muslims who live outside of the sphere of Muslim authority, that is those who emigrate to non-Muslim lands, are expected to have an approved rationale for doing so. Plus, whenever possible they are duty-bound to bring the local civil authority where they live in compliance with Islamic (i.e Sharia) Law.

    But didn’t ancient Israel wipe out cities and even nations in the name of Yahweh? Indeed. But scholars argue that those were just punishments for egregious crimes, and furthermore in those days God was “in the real estate business.” That is, God was creating a people who were to live on the land and be a “light to the nations.” Unfortunately, the ancient Israelites took God very seriously about exterminating the Canaanites, but they were very un-serious about being a “light” to the nations. From the time of Jesus Christ onwards, it is clear, the civil and religious authorities are not inherently connected.

    But in Islam they are. Therefore Islam is not so much a religion as it is a “way of life.” It is a total cultural, religious, political unity. To separate any part of this is heresy. This leads modern Muslims to some shocking conclusions. For example, in the Islamic Republic of Egypt where 10% of the population is Christian, I am told it is not a capital offense for a Muslim to kill a Christian, but it is a capital offence for a Christian to kill a Muslim. Non-Muslims inside Muslim states are dhimmi, that is, second- class citizens. They dwell only in relative freedom because – no matter how many centuries they may have been in that land — they are now there “by permission” of the Muslim majority.

    Americans rightly cringe at some of the rigors of Sharia Law where a woman’s testimony in court is worth half that of a man’s, where honor killings of children who “stray” are upheld, where a couple accused of adultery can be stoned, and where the faithful are duty-bound to kill those who convert away from Islam. But the larger issue is the merging of religious doctrine and the civil authority. It is why one cannot separate the building of a mosque at Ground Zero from the political statement that is being made – a statement that abjures Islam from any responsibility for 9/11 and turns shame into victory.

    If Muslims are to be our neighbors, as they now are, we would all prefer to be surrounded by Muslims who consider themselves moderate. We are told that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his flock are just that, although questions remain even about that claim. But if they are indeed moderate Muslims, then they – of all people – should understand why American sensibilities would be offended by a mosque near Ground Zero.

    —Peter C. Moore, D.D is the former President of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. He is an Associate for Discipleship at St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, South Carolina.

  7. Mason Slidell says:

    The words of Peter Moore are precise in revealing the ideology behind opposition to Park 51.

    The Cordoba House is not really about sensitivity for the 9/11 families or local zoning laws or principles of religious freedom or even the merits of various branches of Islam. Really, this is about war – total war against all things Muslim.

    Fundamentally, this is the neo-con ideology at work in our time. Total war – economic, cultural, diplomatic and most certainly physical – is the only solution to the global nemesis – the specter that haunts our “way of life,” even our dreams.

    From 1945 until 1991 Communism, from 1991 until 2001…harder to say…but from 2001 until now Islam.

    Whatever the threats posed by a neighboring political ideology/religion, sobriety and vigilance are not enough. In fact, they are cowardly. The only position to take is naked aggression on all fronts. Provocation is essential, blowback is helpful in rallying the masses, and victory by complete subjection is the only way. No co-existence, peaceful or otherwise, is acceptable.

    This sort of ideology is warped and incongruent with reality, so propaganda must fill the vacuum for full effect. Islam, you see, is not a religion. Oh yes, it has the veneer of religion but it is much more than that. It is sinister because it holds that religion and politics share common concerns and so may have common goals in certain circumstances.

    It is funny as well to witness the hypocrisy that is enforced by this ideology. For traditional evangelical Protestants, all of a sudden, the separation of church and state is a cherished principle that Muslims are duty bound to accept before they can integrate into the modern world. All those “Justice Sundays” in which these same evangelical Protestants denounced Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists and loudly proclaimed that in no way did the founding generation envision the separation of church and state and that this country is a Christian nation. Whatever works, I guess?

    Given that Peter Moore is a Protestant, his line of reasoning in recalling the Christian history of church/state relations is typical. The vices of throne/altar governance can be laid at the feet of that whore of Babylon, that apostate pseudo-religion known as the Catholic Church. Thank God the reformers came along and restored Bible Christianity (even though Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans showed just as much interest in assuring government favoritism as Catholics).

    For a Catholic, however, Peter Moore’s words should cause pause and should probably not be considered a good source of information. I would suggest the words of our bishops at the Second Vatican Council as a better starting point for dealing with all things Muslim:

    “The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even his inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

    Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all humanity social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” (Nostra Aetate, 3).

  8. therese says:

    “Palin’s appeal to emotion plays on the fears Americans have about a religious people we don’t understand.”

    Ok, then Nathan, plz explain to me why I shouldn’t be skeptical of the intent of this Imam & his spouse (both of whom are openly critical of this country) & all their big contributors to erect this huge mosque in this particular place? You cite our (my) ignorance in Palin’s appeal. Then enlighten me.

  9. I didn’t cite anyone’s ignorance. I quoted someone else.

    I think the comments so far and particularly Mason’s have answered your question.

  10. Rachel Lu says:

    Well, Mason, I agree with you that the quoted article is a little hyperbolic at times, and suggesting that Islam is “not a religion” because it doesn’t support secularism is, well, rather funny. What would it mean to be “just” a religion? Don’t all religions have wider social, cultural and, yes, political implications of one kind or another? That’s hardly a disqualifier.

    However, your post also feels a bit over-excited. Total warfare? Hardly. Mostly we’re just expecting them to conform to ordinary standards of decent behavior, which includes respect for the dead and compassion for the bereaved. Because they’re unwilling to do this, they suffer the appropriate penalty: social censure. That’s not treating them like lepers. It’s treating them like fellow members of a civil society who can be expected to take responsibility for their own actions.

  11. Mason Slidell says:


    My illustration was meant to contextualize this particular issue as a symptom of a larger disease infecting our body politic through neo-conservative thinkers. If you doubt their advocacy of total war (by which I mean that physical war alone will not suffice, but economic, diplomatic and cultural war is required as well), I suggest you read some of their most prominent gurus (Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Christopher Hitchens).

    If, however, you don’t find yourself a member of that camp and your opposition is based upon other factors, fair enough. Some 9/11 families (and some New Yorkers and some Americans) feel that, given what happened in this section of lower Manhattan, property owners should acquiesce to their sensitivities and gain their assent before building. OK, nothing wrong with feeling that way and your response (which is, as I understand it, to encourage social censure and isolation when they move ahead without said assent) is fine and proper in the context. Those who support the project will attend Cordoba House events and those who oppose it will not. Perfectly acceptable on both fronts.

  12. crystal says:

    Mason mentions the Second Vatican Council and their stance on Islam, but I think that’s not a good example. You can see in the materials the material written by Patriarch Maximos IV for the council a worry about the political fallout of Nostra Aetate, and if I understand correctly from what I’ve read in John O’Malley’s book, “What Happened at Vatican II”, the council members were especially concilliatory in their remarks about Islam in Nostra Aetate because they were worried about the political reaction of Arab states …..

    “The Secretariaat prepared an Arabic translation of the text, which included the relatively long and appreciative section on the Muslims, and this section appeared in the text before the section on Judaism …. Then Willebrands and Pierre Dupray personally delivered the translation to the Arab states’ embassies in Rome, and the Secretariat made other moves that sucessfully assured the Arab world that the declaration had no political implications.” (p.275)

    I think it’s more complicated than we would like to think.

  13. Mason Slidell says:


    So because the bishops debated the language during the Council, we can then cast doubt on the validity of the statements as finally crafted? Are you aware of a major document, papal or conciliar, that was not drafted, debated, edited and then redrafted?

    You seem to be setting up allowance for anyone to dismiss the content of major ecclesial documents if they can prove some controversy during the phase of development and construction. It is good for Catholics to have historical appreciation of our major documents, but that should not be used to justify the marginalizing of their content.

  14. crystal says:

    “So because the bishops debated the language during the Council, we can then cast doubt on the validity of the statements as finally crafted? ”

    I think some of what they wrote (and didn’t write) in the document may have been fueled by fears of reprisals by Arab countries against Christians in the East. I’m not saying documents should be suspect, just that in that case fear may have led more to the outcome than love.

    Here’s just the opening of Maximos’ Vaticn II statement on the subject ….

    “The reaction of Arab countries to the conciliar declaration on the Jews surpassed in violence the most pessimistic expectations. Like any popular reaction, it at times went too far, above all because of the public’s ignorance of the exact tenor of the conciliar text, which, as we know, was still only a draft. But, even independent of all passionate exaggeration, the reaction of the Arabic peoples, Christian and Muslim, Orthodox, Protestant or Catholic, should be an eye-opener. It was not without cause that the Eastern patriarchs warned the Fathers of the council that such a declaration was inopportune.”

  15. therese says:

    I’m sorry, I obviously am missing something here. The comments haven’t really helped much. I understand that we are all brothers & all worship & are created by the same Father. I also understand that Muslims have about 99 words for God & none of them are “father”. I’ve read several first hand accounts of women who have lived under Sharia law, have escaped & are terrified to go back to it. I know that the Catholic Church has had several worship sites taken over & covered over by mosques around the world, NB: Istanbul. I know that the Catholic Church has fought muslims for centuries just to have the right to worship Jesus as the Son of God.
    So, you’re right, I am “in the dark” about Islam but, if I’m skeptical, its probably not without reason. I know this is not a PC Position. I’m simply asking why I shouldn’t be wary. I don’t think that’s “fear mongering”. Its seems to me its more about being “wise as serpents & docile as lambs.”

  16. Rachel Lu says:

    The quoted paragraph (from Vatican II) is a little snippet written by people who were mostly not experts in Islam, for a document not primarily about Islam. It shouldn’t be dismissed entirely, but there’s also no reason to think it will shed much light on the present question. In fact, there really aren’t any authoritative Church documents that tell us terribly much about the nature of Islam.

    In response to Mason’s earlier post: while I neither embrace nor shun the neo-conservative camp generally, I don’t think my position was entirely distinct from the one you loathe. What I’m saying is this: the Muslims are behaving badly in this situation. Building this center is reasonably offensive to many people, and instead of responding in a sensitive and caring way (surely not too much to ask after your co-religionists murder thousands in cold blood) they are seizing the opportunity to paint themselves as victims instead. Now, many people (myself among them) have reasonable doubts about the real intentions of supposedly peaceful Muslims. The left would have us believe that the terrorist bomber-type and the Cordoba House-building type are totally unrelated to one another, but this doesn’t seem very plausible. Anyway, *I* don’t find it plausible, and as I mentioned before, I’ve lived in the Islamic world twice, and interacted extensively with ordinary Muslims there.

    That doesn’t mean that all Muslims are evil. Not to be cliche, but I do have many Muslim friends. Still, there are good reasons to be suspicious; the anti-Western feelings of Muslims are pretty well documented by now, as is their willingness to engage in violence at times. One way to judge the good faith of a particular group of Muslims is to see whether they can respond appropriately to situations like this, in which they are confronted by the pain and grief of the victims of their co-religionists’ atrocities. They failed that test. They have been decidedly callous and uncooperative. That gives us at least one reason to think that they may not be as ideologically distant from their terrorist-bombing cousins as they would like us to believe.

  17. mary2 says:

    Therese Istanbul hasn’t any catholic church took over and covered over by a mosque.
    Cordoba, Spain, has a mosque covered over by the catholic catedral

  18. Mason Slidell says:


    The Muslims have not “behaved badly” in this situation.

    They have exercised their property rights and religious freedoms under the law. They have incorporated into the governance of the center Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as 9/11 families. They have actively worked to make this initiative a place of intentional multi-faith interaction. They have publicly refused to take money from any source that contradicts their principles of religious cooperation and mutuality.

    What they have done is refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to equate the ideology and actions of al-Qaeda with Islam. In particular, they have been courageous in rebuffing those who use the claim of sensitivity for 9/11 families as a façade to hide exhibitions of aversion and repugnance for Islam per se.

  19. […] week’s discussion of the proposed Park 51 mosque reminded me of the tour guides’ story.  The original post argues, […]

  20. Rachel Lu says:

    I apologize for adding to this so belatedly, especially when Tony’s thread above has offered some very nice perspective on many of the questions discussed here. I just thought a reply should be made to a specific quote here:

    “What they have done is refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to equate the ideology and actions of al-Qaeda with Islam.”

    The interesting word here is “equate.” Probably some do seek to equate al-Qaeda with Islam. Others would like to act as though there were no relationship whatsoever. But the truth is in between; al-Qaeda is not *equivalent* to Islam, but it is *associated* with it.

    Thus, the builders of the Cordoba House do have a non-trivial association with the suicide bombers of September 11. Quite rightly, it isn’t the sort of association that affects their legal rights, and they are indeed exercising those rights in this case. But reasonable people make lots of associations that don’t affect our legal rights, and sometimes decency requires us to acknowledge those.

    Interesting analogies can be drawn to the associations we have with our families. Let’s consider a case like this: suppose that I am a kindergarten teacher, and I have a sister who also worked as a kindergarten teacher until she was the perpetrator of a hideous crime of some kind, perhaps involving the kidnapping and murder of some of her students.

    Now let’s suppose that, a few years after this incident, I have reason to seek employment at the same school. I come for an interview, the principal examines my resume, and finally sits me down for a candid chat. “Look here,” he tells me. “You are clearly the most qualified applicant we have for this job, and legally, I have to offer it to you. But I think you should know that this is still a grieving community, that you will not be trusted, and that your presence here will be painful. I understand that it would be unreasonable to prevent you from finding employment because of something your sister did, but you know, I have a friend in a neighboring school district, and I think he could find you a good job in one of their schools. I’d really appreciate it if you’d let me arrange that, rather than stir up bad feelings among people who have already been hurt so much.”

    How should I respond to such an entreaty? I could tell the principal that it’s unfair to make judgments about me when we barely know each other. I could complain that it’s not my fault that I’m related to such a monster, and that really, *I* should be especially pitied, because it’s no picnic being the sibling of an infamous criminal. I could say all of those things, and they would even be somewhat justified… but at the end of the day, I don’t think it would be decent to make such complaints. Because really, the principal’s position would not be an unreasonable one. I am truly and rightly associated with a person that the school has excellent reason to resent and fear.

    This is not to say that I am in any way at fault for what happened. Certainly, it would be unreasonable to hold me accountable for my sibling’s crime. Whether it would be reasonable to *mistrust* me in light of the relationship is harder to say; sibling relationships can take many forms, and while some siblings have a lot in common, it’s also perfectly possible for a warm and loving person to be related to a fiend. You would have to know me and my family more closely to evaluate that question. On the other hand, you need no intimate knowledge of my family in order to see that it would be insensitive in the extreme for me to ignore the feelings of those who have suffered from my sister’s crimes. It’s entirely natural that the community should find my presence upsetting after a traumatic incident of that kind. And if I really *am* a much more decent person than my sister, I should be especially eager to make what small amends I can for her sins, by willingly enduring a little inconvenience to myself in order to spare her victims some pain.

    If I’m not willing to do that, I should expect the community members to mistrust the purity of my motives for coming there. And I should not be surprised if they are less than welcoming when I take up my position.

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