The Bad Taste of Collective Guilt
If Nazi sympathizers and members of the Ku Klux Klan are guilty of anything, they are at the very least guilty of bad taste.
Many Americans apparently believe that building a mosque at Ground 2.0 would be in poor taste. This belief is itself in poor taste. To disapprove of Muslims building a mosque within an arbitrary, undefined distance from Ground Zero, simply on the grounds that they are Muslim, entails the implicit assumption that all Muslims should feel personally guilty and responsible for all of the actions of all other Muslims, even Muslims they may strongly disagree with. The bad taste here is the concept of collective guilt, a concept at the very core of intolerance and bigotry.
Much Christian anti-Semitism over the last two millennia arose from the belief that Jews killed Christ, or were at the very least indirectly responsible for his death at the hands of the Romans. Many Orthodox Jews believe this, as do some branches of Christianity, including Mel Gibson's denomination, for which his film The Passion of the Christ was wrongfully criticized as anti-Semitic.
It is not anti-Semitic to believe that Jews killed Christ. To the extent that I believe that Jesus Christ existed, I believe that Jewish people killed him, either directly or indirectly. It is, however, anti-Semitic to hold Jews collectively responsible for his death, just as it is intolerant and bigoted for Jews to hold Germans collectively responsible for the Holocaust. Not all Jews killed Christ. I certainly didn't, if only for lack of opportunity. Not all Germans are responsible for the Holocaust, and certainly no German born after the Holocaust happened could be held responsible for a crime committed prior to that same German's birth. So too, not all Muslims flew airliners into the World Trade Center, nor do all Muslims support the flying of airliners into buildings.
And it is in bad taste to claim otherwise.
I have no problem concluding that this means 70% of Americans and 63% of New Yorkers are intolerant bigots. So they are. Intolerance and bigotry are common intellectual and moral mistakes. The concept of collective guilt - though riddled with bigotry, intolerance, and incoherence - satisfies a natural human impulse, for we evolved as tribal creatures, and treating people as individuals worthy of respect in their own right and not merely as members of collectives - the outgroup, the other - is counterintuitive.
Can you think of any other time in history when 70% or more of Americans were intolerant bigots? I sure can. Is there any good reason to think that this collectivist impulse was just a passing phase in human history? Or is it more likely that we still have many of the same impulses our human ancestors had before us, including the intellectual ease with which we (including myself) fall into us-versus-them tribal thinking?
This is not an issue of free speech. Intolerant bigots have the right to protest the building of a mosque anywhere they like, just as intolerant bigots have the right to declare - seemingly at random - that God Hates Fags, just as intolerant bigots have the right dress up in Nazi regalia and march through Skokie, Illinois, a largely Jewish community with many Holocaust survivors. But all of these activities are in bad taste.