Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Myopic Mensuration of the Freedom of Religion

As evinced by the American right wing:

The silly controversy over the downtown mosque is excellent evidence that the conservative movement has become obsessed to the point of derangement with a right-wing version of identity politics that sees everything through the lens of the assumption that American identity is under seige. The modus operandi of the populist right is patriotic semiotics gone wild. 9/11 was a Great Awakening and Ground Zero is a sacred scar representing the sacrifice of those thousands who died in fire in order to shake the rest of us into recognition of the great existential threat to the American Way of Life. To refuse to resist the placement of a mosque next to the grave of those martyred in the Great Awakening is to fail to have heard the call, to fail to understand the battle now underway, to complacently acquiesce to the forces slowly transforming America into something else, into something unAmerican, a place for some other kind of people, a place not worth fighting for. It is to, as they say, “let the terrorists win.”

What Bloomberg has said reveals the utter zaniness of right identity politics. The sanctity of private property and religious liberty are of course essential elements of the traditional American creed. But to actually apply these principles misses the point. For a conservative movement marinating in metaphor, the security of property and the freedom of conscience are just two of many elements that make up who we are, not disembodied rules to be algorithmically honored with no regard to the semiotic context. For the cult of Americanocity, the primary purpose of politics is to preserve and assert imagined American identity against those imagined forces that are imagined to undermine it. I suspect that Bloomberg’s appeal to property and religious liberty will appear to many as a shady, lawyerly attempt to assert the American creed against the interests of American identity. But all he will have accomplished for these folks is to reveal which side he’s really on.
Will Wilkinson

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