Entry from August 11, 2010

“Thomas L. Friedman is off today,” according to a note at the bottom of Maureen Dowd’s column in today’s New York Times. With the increasingly irresistible urge to talk back to the media stirring inside me I want to add that Thomas L. Friedman is off every day, whether or not his column is appearing in the Times. But the one he wrote a week ago was even more foolishly and hilariously off than usual. “There are several reasons why I don’t object to a mosque being built near the World Trade Center site,” he informed his eager public, “but the key reason is my affection for Broadway show tunes.” There’s just no recovery from a lead like that, I’m afraid, and Mr Friedman’s follow-up,”Let me explain,” only adds to the absurdity he is perpetrating upon us, which ought to be obvious to the meanest intelligence.

Basically his explanation is that show tunes — how long, by the way, until someone is writing them about 9/11? — are the product of creativity and creativity is the product of (you’ll never guess) diversity. After all, his view of the matter is derived from the highest philosophical authority:

I like the way Newsweek described it in a recent essay on creativity: “To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).” And where does divergent thinking come from? It comes from being exposed to divergent ideas and cultures and people and intellectual disciplines.

That a grown man could spout such cant in the pages of The New York Times while remaining blind both to its inappropriateness and to any counter-arguments I put down in part to the polarization of our political and media culture. Bad ideas like Mr Friedman’s are not tested by having to rub shoulders with good ones in mainstream publications like the Times anymore. Talk about “divergent thinking”!

Similarly, Hendrik Hertzberg writes in this week’s New Yorker that those who oppose the building of the mosque, in effect, “abandon rationality itself” — which means that there are “Zero Grounds” for preventing Muslims from building a mosque at Ground Zero. Yet the piece merely assumes that the motivation of such opponents of the mosque as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and John McCain could only be anti-Muslim bigotry — a straw man which Mr Hertzberg proceeds to slaughter with characteristic gusto. You’d think it wouldn’t be that difficult for him to find someone, if not Governor Palin, Speaker Gingrich or Senator McCain, to put an argument against the mosque that would pass even his no doubt stringent test of rationality. But then it’s a lot easier just to call people bigots, isn’t it?

My own argument against the mosque would be based on decorum — a consideration that has become so rare today that it doubtless appears irrational to the likes of Hendrik Hertzberg or Thomas L. Friedman. Also, I imagine, to the U.S. State department. For a day or two after the latter’s column appeared was the anniversary of the detonation of the Hiroshima atomic bomb and, lo, we saw that in a spirit of amity and concord and non-bigotry (no doubt) the “U.S. joins Hiroshima A-bomb memorial for 1st time.”

Allow me to suggest that we had no more business being at that memorial than Muslims do at Ground Zero — or than the Japanese would have at a Pearl Harbor memorial. This is not because of anti-American bigotry but because of what would once have been, and for the last 65 years doubtless has been, a common delicacy of feeling about an intrusion into an occasion for national mourning by those who gave that occasion in the first place by killing more than 100,000 Japanese with an atomic weapon. Why not let the relatives of the Japanese dead grieve in peace without submitting them to the boorish assurances of their killers that, hey, we’re real sorry too — even if we are? Why is that argument so hard to understand today that it is supposed not even to exist? I wonder.

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