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Richard Cohen’s Muddled Message



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Richard Cohen is upset with President Obama for whiffing on the mosque controversy. Cohen starts out promisingly, writing that the controversy is “not, as Obama insisted, about freedom of religion but about religious tolerance.” He sneers at Obama for merely standing for “freedom of religion.” That opening suggests that Cohen is about to make an argument for the mosque that does not pretend that its critics are subverting the First Amendment. If so, Cohen would be ahead of Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson, both writing in the same edition of the Washington Post.

Cohen continues by quoting and arguing against some dumb comments from Newt Gingrich. Then he turns to Charles Krauthammer.

Others have joined in the false analogy contests. The most surprising is Charles Krauthammer, my longtime colleague on The Post’s op-ed page. In a belabored analogy, he said that while “no one objects to Japanese cultural centers, the idea of putting one up at Pearl Harbor would be offensive.” Yes, indeed. But all of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States. It was not a rogue act, committed by 20 or so crazed samurai, but an attack by a nation. You can look that up.

Krauthammer, though, could not be stopped. He likened the mosque to a “commercial tower over Gettysburg,” then to the attempt to establish a convent outside of Auschwitz and, inevitably, to “a German cultural center at, say, Treblinka.” Enough said. We all have bad days.

True, and this is one of Cohen’s. Because “all of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor” — itself a dubious comment — present-day Japanese people don’t deserve the tolerance due Muslims?

Cohen continues,

Minority rights are embedded in our Constitution. It was the perceived lack of them that caused the states to seek some immediate amendments, what we now call the Bill of Rights. King, Boehner and the rest of the GOP mob are showing a fearless willingness to pander to majority prejudice.

So in other words Cohen doesn’t see the issues any more clearly than Robinson and Milbank.

(For what it’s worth, I think the people who want to build the mosque/Islamic Center/Cordoba House/Park51/whatever-we’re-supposed-to-call-it are within their legal rights but ought to shelve the project — a position that puts me maybe a few millimeters to the right of President Obama.)



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