Comments continue to accumulate on both of my recent articles about the controversy surrounding the Cordoba House, the so-called “Ground Zero mosque.” (I say “so-called” because the term mischaracterizes the project twice over — the Cordoba House is not located at the former World Trade Center site, but over two blocks away; and its backers stress it will be a community center, not primarily a place of worship.)
Late last night I wrote a lengthy response to one of those comments. That comment can be viewed here, and my original response can be seen in two parts (I exceeded my length limit) here, and here. What follows is largely taken from my response to that comment, edited and expanded somewhat.
In the video I produced one week ago entitled “Ground Zero Mosque: A Thought Experiment,” I attempted (unsuccessfully, I now think) to illustrate the illegitimacy of the opposition to the Cordoba House by drawing an analogy to resistance to a black family moving into the same neighborhood where, ten years earlier, an entirely different group of African Americans had murdered a family and burned down their home. As several commenters both here and at the video’s YouTube page have pointed out, people aren’t troubled by the racial identity, but the religious ideology of those building the Cordoba House.
Fair enough. Allow me, then, to propose a slightly different thought experiment:
Imagine a moderate, relatively respectable Christian organization is proposing to build a church and community center on a given site. The location the group has chosen sits a few blocks over from the former site of an abortion clinic, which was destroyed ten years ago by a bomb, which also killed everyone inside the building at the time. The bomb was planted by a gang of radical Christian fundamentalists, who believed their faith compelled them to bomb the clinic. The leaders of this Christian organization have made it clear that they chose the location deliberately for its proximity to the scene of this horrific crime, and that they hope to bring the community together, and demonstrate that their Christian faith is not defined by the acts of those terrorists, but by the values of love, charity and compassion.
Would anyone have a problem with that? Would anyone reflexively question the motives of those Christians? Would bloggers and pundits be digging through the trash of the leaders of that organization, looking to exploit every questionable association, no matter how tenuous? What do you think?
“Ah,” perhaps you’re thinking, “but your analogy fails again. The Muslims behind the Cordoba Initiative are not moderates!”
Last night, after asking for evidence to justify the resistance to the Cordoba House for nearly a week, a commenter pointed me in the direction of an article on National Review Online titled “Not at Ground Zero.” The article, credited simply to The Editors, accuses Faisal Abdul Rauf, the imam leading the Cordoba Initiative, of being a terrorist sympathizer who believes the United States is at least partially responsible for the crimes committed on 9/11.
That article repeatedly references the work of Andrew C. McCarthy, a National Review contributor who is apparently quite the expert on Islam and its sinister plans for the United States. McCarthy has written on the Cordoba House twice in the last two weeks or so. I will also be referring to both of these articles — “Rauf’s Dawa from the World Trade Center Rubble” and “It’s About Sharia.”
Some things about these articles struck me as odd. For instance, Rauf is accused of being “an apologist for Hamas.” No examples of this are cited in any of these three articles. Yet, continually, Rauf is referred to as an apologist. His purported reluctance to label Hamas a terrorist organization is apparently all the evidence we ought to need.
Also, Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America, is mentioned several times. Much is made of the fact that the book was published in Malaysia under the title A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11. The presence of the word “dawa,” said to describe a particular mode of Islamic evangelism that has imposition of sharia law as its ultimate goal, is cited as evidence for Rauf’s radicalism. So is his association with Yusuf Qaradawi, an influential Muslim cleric who is banned from entering the United States, and has been accused of supporting and inciting terrorism.
But there is not a single citation from Rauf’s book in any of these articles. Not a quote, not a paraphrase. If it really is as radical as McCarthy is strongly suggesting it is, this seems a bit odd. I’m no great fan of Faisal Abdul Rauf. I consider myself an enemy of all religions, whatever they may be. I can’t avoid thinking how much easier this would be without the irrational convictions of religion clouding the minds of hundreds of millions of people. But Rauf is no radical. To read and listen to the Andrew McCarthys, Sarah Palins and Newt Gingriches, you’d think the man was Osama bin Laden. If they are unable or unwilling to draw any distinction between the Muslims who crashed commercial airliners into three buildings and a Pennsylvania field almost nine years ago, and men like Rauf who are at least making some effort to wrest their religion away from the fanatics and drag it into the 21st century, that is their problem. It need not be yours.
Rauf is also attacked for describing terrorism as “a very complex question.” Well . . . it’s a complex subject. Not all of it — of course I’d be grateful to Rauf, and other Muslim leaders, if they would come out strongly against terrorism, murder, suicide bombing, and kidnapping employed as strategies for advancing Islam. I consider that bare minimum. But to do so would not be to answer the terrorism question completely. Even Qaradawi, who at first glance seems like a prototypical radical jihadist, has pushed for dialogue and cooperation between the Islamic world and the West. Does that make him a good guy? No. But it does make him more complicated than a bad guy who must be roundly and utterly condemned by all right-thinking people.
Moderates like Rauf have no choice but to occasionally associate themselves with radicals that stand to either side of them. If he really wants a better relationship between Islam and the West, he can’t just take the side of the United States and wag his finger disapprovingly at his fellow Muslims. He has to promote engagement, and maintain friends on both sides.
There’s another thought that I have as I read these National Review articles, and listen to these other voices from the right, outraged at the thought of this center of Islam being built two blocks from Ground Zero. It’s so obvious, I wonder why it didn’t occur to me before:
Muslims are the new Communists.
When my parents were children, the Andrew McCarthys and Glenn Becks of their era were shouting to anyone who would listen about the dangers of communist infiltration. “They are among us,” it was whispered. “They mean to take us over, slowly and quietly, without anyone noticing, from the inside.”
They have substituted Islam for communism. In place of a Soviet-style government dictatorship, sharia is their new boogeyman.
How little faith these people have in the Constitution they claim to revere, and the American people toward whom they launch their ignorant and fearful and insulting appeals. For the last three hundred years, western culture has been evolving away from absolutism and intolerance, and toward democracy and liberty. More times than I can count these last few days I’ve encountered warnings from conservatives (many of whom, like the almost too aptly named McCarthy, have apparently become scholars of Islam) about the vile way women and minorities are treated under sharia, about the cruel and unbending governments that result. Do they really believe that such crude, barbaric traditions can be imposed on the people of the United States by allowing some moderate Muslims to erect a community center and mosque in New York City? Would they have us believe that the road from the greatest democracy the world has ever known (as they so often crow) to brutal fundamentalist dictatorship is really that short? The writers and editors at the National Review, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Dennis Miller — who spent much of his radio show the last two days on an uninformed, but no less righteously indignant, tirade against the Cordoba House — and all those who warn of the imminent imposition of a fascist Islamic dictatorship unless we isolate and marginalize our Muslim fellow Americans from our communities even more than they already are, are selling the same shit with almost the same pitch. It’s one of the most blatant displays of naked bigotry I can remember, and those who have spent the last few weeks encouraging it ought to be ashamed.
Those who saw closet communists behind every corner, and our Soviet occupation as inevitable sixty years ago were not patriots or prophets. They were paranoid, hysterical demagogues who tried to pass their conspiracy theories by wrapping them in patriotism and Judeo-Christian cheers.