Mosque Fever, American Intolerance, and the need for Critical Conflict Theory
By: Richard E. Rubenstein September 1, 2010
After months of heated controversy, the debate over plans to build an Islamic cultural center two blocks from New York’s City’s Ground Zero has finally provoked some commentators to recall the long story of American intolerance. But, having evoked that sad and revealing history, the commentators do not know what to do with it other than use it as a club with which to beat opponents of the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Does opposition to the proposed center spring from an anti-Islamic groundswell similar to the xenophobic, anti-immigrant movements of earlier eras? Perhaps; there are some important similarities between earlier nativist movements and the current Islamophobia. I want to argue here, however, that without a critical theory of social conflict, historical arguments of this sort do little but furnish one conflicting party or the other with debating points. By presenting the popular tendency to demonize minorities as a fault of national character, they obscure the structural aspects of this behavior and close the road to a deeper understanding of the conflict and the possible ways of resolving it.