Mark Steel: If anyone is fanatic it's Sarah Palin

How far away is it permissible to be a Muslim? Maybe there should be special guidelines - for example, three blocks before you can whistle anything by Cat Stevens

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To give yourself a stressful and futile day, try telling people there are no plans to build a mosque at Ground Zero. You'll get nowhere, although the truth is there are plans to build an Islamic centre, with a swimming pool open to everyone, two blocks away from Ground Zero. So if this is a continuation of the terrorist agenda as claimed, it's been a peculiar plan, and Bin Laden must have started by telling his followers "First we will destroy their buildings – and then, oo it's so deliciously evil, we will get people to swim near to where the buildings were... mwaHAHAHAHAHA."

The centre will include a memorial to victims of the attack on the towers, but even so Sarah Palin has called upon "peaceful Muslims" to reject the building. So, as she's asking Muslims to oppose a centre open to everyone, and that commemorates the victims of 9/11, it seems likely she's a militant Jihadist who thinks the building will be a betrayal of true radical Islam. She's certainly got experience of being filmed with rifles so she's probably sat by one while making a video up a mountain right now, leaning into the camera and booming "The front crawl is the agenda of the infidel, my friends."

The centre will also include a basketball court, but that doesn't convince these people because it won't be proper basketball, it will be Muslim basketball, and there's bound to have been some senator on Fox News howling "We've got to ask ourselves why these guys want to learn an American sport like this. Now, you imagine you've got the tallest Muslims learning to jump up high, next time you want to bring down a tower you don't have to fly planes to do it, you just get these guys to jump up with whatever bomb they've smuggled in through Mexico and whack, you've got five million dead."

And it's two blocks away, which in Manhattan is another district. So how far away is it permissible to be Muslim? Maybe there needs to be specific guidelines, for example three blocks before you can whistle anything by Cat Stevens, five blocks away before you can stop eating during Ramadan and so on, so as not to offend the families of the victims.

One persistent argument of those who oppose the mosque that isn't a mosque on Ground Zero that won't be on Ground Zero is that Ground Zero should remain a special place of sombre tranquillity.

So instead of this centre there should be more buildings such as The Pussycat Club, which is next door to where the towers were, and boasts of being the area's premier strip joint. But that must be in keeping with the sombreness, presumably because the girls start their slide down the pole in a fireman's uniform in honour of the heroic firefighters of that fateful day.

Then there are the salesmen who hover round Ground Zero. As you contemplate the poignancy of the site, someone from this franchise stands soulfully by you, taps your shoulder and opens a leather-bound collection of photos of the Twin Towers on fire.

"Hi, I'm offering souvenirs of 9/11," I was told when I was there. What are you supposed to say to that? Are you meant to go "Oo yes, you've caught the contrast between the fire and the clouds on that one, what a delightful shade of crimson?" So wait until Fox News and the Tea Party hear about that level of dishonouring the victims. Oo they'll be cross.

A philosophical argument against the new building came from Mark Williams, chairman and spokesman for the Tea Party, who said "The mosque would be for the worship of the terrorists' monkey god." To start with he appears to have mixed up Islam with Hinduism, so it may be when he finds that out he'll change his mind, and say "Oh it's Hindus with the monkey god. Silly me, well in that case go ahead with the mosque, it's Hindus I have a problem with, it's all to do with being squeamish about monkeys."

Similarly, Newt Gingrich, who hopes to be Republican candidate for President, said "The folks who want to build this mosque are radical Islamists."

And this is where they're more honest, because they seem to believe all Muslims are terrorists. In which case they don't really care where a mosque or Islamic centre is built, just as if the Continuity IRA applied for planning permission to build an explosives-testing plant, you wouldn't say "Well alright but not if it's less than half a mile from Canterbury Cathedral as that would be insensitive."

So there have been protests across America against mosques, in places such as Tennessee and Wisconsin. Presumably the argument there is "Imagine if someone who was in the Twin Towers on 9/11 was still so traumatised that they sleepwalked, and by chance one night they dreamily ambled into Grand Central station and got a train to Wisconsin and got out and wandered through the state and woke up just as they were by the new mosque, well it could be quite a shock."

More likely is there's a section of America that hates Muslims, and those like Palin and Gingrich are delighted to lead them. According to the latest survey, 24 per cent of America believes that Barack Obama is Muslim, and the Tea Party politicians promote that nonsense.

Obama seems willing to try and placate characters such as Palin, but he might be better off saying "Alright then – nothing Islamic near Ground Zero, but that principle applies to everything. So every Catholic Church within two blocks of a school is being shut down, as it would be grossly insensitive to allow an institution with such a record of child abuse to worship near its victims.

"We're withdrawing every branch of Macdonalds and Starbucks from Vietnam, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama or anywhere else we've ever bombed, and we're telling Wall Street that it has to move to New Jersey, as the Twin Towers were called the World Trade Center and the bankers were the ones that stopped the global economy in it's tracks."

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