Ground Zero mosque, local democracy and common sense

There’s an almighty hullabaloo brewing on the other side of the Atlantic over the Ground Zero mosque. It’s tempting to conclude that this is one of those issues that will always prove contentious. But that’s not quite the case. It’s only since national politicians waded into the debate that things turned ugly. As The Economist reported back in June, local representatives took a much more level-headed approach to the development. The local community board voted 29-1 in support of the plan and Mayor Bloomberg gave it his backing. This contrast between local pragmatism, and national hysteria, is interesting. We’ve become accustomed to the assumption that tough decisions about sensitive issues need to be taken out of the hands of communities because they’re inclined to provincial small-mindedness. But does the row over the mosque show that local democracy is in fact the best forum for tricky issues like this?