Public protests against three planned mosques have made news in the past week: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin joined others in opposing the building of a mosque a few blocks from the World Trade Center site. Hundreds demonstrated against a proposed mosque in a small town in Tennessee (pictured above). And some residents of Temecula, California, are opposing the local Muslim community's plan to build a bigger mosque, saying it could become a hotbed of radical Islam.And something like two-thirds of Americans polled oppose the building of the Cordoba House.
After 09/11/2001 I remember there was a great fear that there would be some dreadful backlash against Muslim-Americans and, at least to my recollection, it just didn't materialize. What's going on now seems like some nine year delayed reaction. One big difference that springs to mind about our relatively enlightened reaction to a terrorist attack (at least in terms of our behavior to Muslims within our borders, if not our foreign policy or surveillance apparatus) nine years ago compared to our current reaction to a building explicitly devoted to interfaith dialogue is the normal state of low unemployment and economic growth then and our high unemployment and stagnant growth now.
Our less-than-generous attitude to immigrants now, in a time of decreased immigration rates, compared to just a few years ago, when prominent politicians from both parties could be found to advocate immigration reform, is another example of the same phenomenon. In times of economic expansion, we appear to be more gracious with one another. In times of stagnation, we're less so. This is the argument Benjamin Friedman apparently makes in his book, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth (which I would know if I'd read it, but it's reviewed here by Brad DeLong).
It's striking to me how all these issues are related. High unemployment is not just an issue narrowly for the sake of creating employment for those unemployed; it's an issue broadly for the sake of the rest us. We will become better people again when the economy resumes more robust growth and employment returns to normal. And for those of us concerned about the plight of immigrants, about the religious freedoms and property rights of Muslims, and about our moral growth generally, perhaps the surest way to return to sensibility is to return to prosperity.