How liberal am I? For instance, on an ideological scale of one to 10, where do I stand? Not as liberal as I think I am, according to Dr James Rockey, lecturer in political economics at the University of Leicester, who has spent the past 20 years studying the responses of 136,000 people in 82 countries, in an attempt to find out just how liberal (in the sense of wise/kind/tolerant/humane, not membership of a political party) they really are.
The study looked at two questions. People were asked to rate themselves, with ‘one’ being far left and ‘10′ being far right. I guess a one means you’re okay with the Unite union running public transport and a 10 means you think Nick Griffin should have been allowed iced coffee at The Queen’s garden party. Anything between six and eight means you think the Coalition Govern-ment is a relief from the old tribal politics and you hope it works.
The second question asked people to rate their views about income distribution, with ‘one’ agreeing with the statement that ‘Incomes should be made more equal’ and ‘10′ representing the belief that ‘We need larger income differences as incentives’. The more educated people were, the more liberal they saw themselves, until they had to reach into their wallets. It seems that we all think we’re more liberal than we really are.
I’m not surprised. I rate myself as a four at the very most in reply to the first question, and yet when I read about Nicolas Sarkozy sending the illegal Romas back to Romania, insisting that people who come to France obey the laws of France, I agree with him. One trip in the Paris Métro, where Roma mothers sit with their drugged children, or three hours spent at the préfecture because you’ve lost your passport, Euros and credit cards to the skilful hands of Roma pickpockets, and you quickly change places on the liberal scale.
Just when I feel that I’m treading in hot ideological water, something usually brings me to my sensitive senses. Sarah Palin speaks or Fox News makes up something or Rupert Murdoch contributes $1 million to the Republicans. But now, there’s a rumbling issue on the landscape that makes my ratings jump all over again. That mosque.
Frankly, I don’t enjoy sitting next to vitriolic Islamophobes and right-wing politicians, many of whom have poisoned this debate. But in truth, I believe that Ground Zero is hallowed ground. I know all the arguments: the American Constitution guarantees religious freedom; Christians should turn the other cheek; Muslim Americans also died when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers. I also know that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Sufi Muslim cleric spearheading
the project, wants the Islamic centre to be a bridge, a healing gesture, a symbol of tolerance.
However, I think the real healing would come about if the Muslim community behind the building of the (now called) Cordoba House or Park51 accepted that this is the wrong place. That the reason the building they plan to replace has been vacant for nine years is because it was hit by a piece of the undercarriage from one of the hijacked airliners in the attacks on 9/11.
It may not have the physical resonance of the battlefield of Gettysburg, but Ground Zero and the blocks that surround it have an emotional resonance that transcends rights guaranteed by the Constitution. If he truly wants to build a bridge across the American divide, Mr Feisal should show that American Muslims understand and respect the ground rendered sacred by the 2,752 victims who died on 9/11. He should find another piece of Manhattan real estate to build his Islamic centre on. Then perhaps we could all register a little higher on the ideological scale that measures dignity, tolerance and understanding.