Feelings Mustn't Trump Reason When It Comes to Rights

The furor over plans for an Islamic worship center near Ground Zero is symptomatic of a larger problem in our nation's public discourse.

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Islamic-center supporters and protesters. (Michael Nagle/Getty)

President Barack Obama's sober assessment of the Cordoba House controversy late on Friday -- "Muslims have ... the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan" -- has, as you might imagine, been met with dissimilarly unrestrained caterwauling. Possible Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that Obama was "pandering to radical Islam," while former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie said on Face the Nation that Obama's statement proves "he has a very disdainful view of the American people."

Just try to wrap your brain around those mental acrobatics: Obama saying that all Americans deserve places of worship shows a disdain for Americans.

Equally absurd was Republican strategist Ed Rollins' initial reaction. Rollins, the campaign manager for Reagan-Bush '84, said that Obama's comments were "probably the dumbest thing that any president has said or candidate has said since Michael Dukakis said it was OK to burn the flag." That's wrong, of course -- George W. Bush's "Heckuva job, Brownie" is the dumbest thing any president has said in decades -- but Rollins quickly followed up with something right, something so succinct and rational that most everyone carelessly breezed by it: "This is an emotional issue," Rollins said. "Intellectually, the president may be right. But this is an emotional issue."

What Rollins touched on in that couple of sentences, and what's at the core of this anti-mosque nonsense, is also something that has haunted President Obama since he took office. It's something at the heart of most, if not all, of our nation's most recent divisions, and it's something that doesn't seem to being going away anytime soon: the subjugation of the cognitive in favor of the emotionally arousing.

It seems impossible to believe that, in discussions of something as serious as whether Muslim Americans should be allowed to worship wherever they please, as their Christian counterparts do, there is an earnest call for less intellect and more emotion. And yet here we are, with people condemning as treasonous Obama's intelligent, legally sound and accurate assessment of the Cordoba House flap. The president has been criticized in the past for his thoughtful considerations of complex issues, which some deem as "elitist," but Rollins' statement is perhaps the first time someone has said outright, essentially, "Too much thinking, not enough praying on it."

How exactly we arrived at an America in which heart trumps head on weighty matters of public import is anyone's guess, but the fallout has been tremendous. In addition to politicians on both sides of the aisle now coming out against Muslim Americans' First Amendment rights -- their excuse being that Muslims praying in a certain place will hurt some people's feelings -- we've also got town hall "meetings" that amount to little more than sanctioned shouting matches. We've got cable-news hosts of every stripe going on cloying rants and weeping openly about practically everything. We've got congressmen shouting down the president during his State of the Union address, and Representatives Peter King and Anthony Weiner flecking each other's face with spittle on live television.

Behold our modern America, where people advocate censorship and the stripping of Muslims' basic rights because they think something is offensive. It turns out that Rollins' comment was an understatement -- nowadays, everything is an emotional issue, and it doesn't matter if you're intellectually right, because you're about to get steamrolled by the screaming, crying masses.

Any thinking American should do everything in his or her power to support the construction of the Cordoba House, which, if and when it's established, will serve as a welcome reminder of the triumph of the intellectual over the hysterical. Because though I mourn the victims of Sept. 11 as much as anyone who didn't lose a loved one can, I'm now far more concerned with the freedoms and rights of my living fellow Americans.

Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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