I wanted to write about something else today — really, I did. Then two things happened. First, this morning I heard on the radio comments made five years ago by Feisal Abdul Rauf, the chief imam behind the Cordoba Initiative, the group sponsoring the Muslim community center in lower Manhattan that is currently named Park51, was formerly named the Cordoba House, and is most frequently and most inaccurately referred to as the “Ground Zero mosque.”
Rauf made the comments in response to a question during an appearance at the University of South Australia’s Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre in 2005. A full transcript of the appearance is viewable here, and the relevant question and response are quoted in their entirety below:
SPEAKER: The question I have, being Christian, and brought up a Christian but having a great tolerance of other religions, having been privileged to visit middle eastern countries and Africa and having been into mosques and understood Muslim people sharing with me their beliefs, all of that sits really well.
The issue that I don’t know the answer to is that where in Islam there are fanatical people who teach their young people to do atrocities, like they have done, like our near neighbours and Jamia Islamia have done, and they do that in the name of Islam, they do it because they regard people like ourselves as infidels, etcetera, and they poison the minds of these young boys and girls to commit these atrocities in the name of Islam with a view to gaining eternal reward.
Why is it that the broader Muslim community, who we can co-exist very peacefully with great acceptance of one another’s beliefs, why can’t the broader community see that that sort of thing doesn’t happen and control it and teach their young people that what those people are doing is really poisoning their minds and it is against their Islamic beliefs which you have alluded to earlier?
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF: Thank you. That’s a very important and excellent question. The answer is it is being done. The broader community is in fact criticising and condemning actions of terrorism that are being done in the name of Islam. I just came from a conference in Jordan, Amman where there were over 170 leading Muslim scholars from almost every part of the Muslim world, including some of the most important names like Sheikh Tantawi of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, who is the Chief Mufti of Egypt, the Chief Mufti of Jordan, the Sheikh Al-Qaradawi, who is a very very well known Islamic jurist, highly regarded all over the Muslim world. They included fatwas obtained from people like ..... Istani who could not attend but also issued a fatwa condemning acts of terrorism and stating that the attribution of infidel to others is not something that should be done and is outside of the ethics of Islam.
Islamic law, the text of Islam, the Koran is quite explicit on describing Christians and Jews as people of the book, and throughout Islamic history even Islamic scholars in India have actually included Hindus as being people of the book because Hindus were not yet involved - were not part of the society, of Arabic society, at the time of the prophet.
The complexity arises, sir, from the fact that - from political problems and the history of the politics between the West and the Muslim world. We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non Muslims. You may remember that the US lead sanction against Iraq lead to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations. And when Madeleine Albright, who has become a friend of mine over the last couple of years, when she was Secretary of State and was asked whether this was worth it, said it was worth it.
What complicates the discussion, intra-Islamically, is the fact that the West has not been cognisant and has not addressed the issues of its own contribution to much injustice in the Arab and Muslim world. It is a difficult subject to discuss with Western audiences but it is one that must be pointed out and must be raised.
How many of you have seen the documentary: Fahrenheit 911? The vast majority - at least half here. Do you remember the scene of the Iraqi woman whose house was bombed and she was just screaming, "What have they done." Now, I don’t know, you don’t know Arabic but in Arabic it was extremely powerful. Her house was gone. Her husband, I think, was killed. What wrong did he do? I found myself weeping when I watched that scene and I imagined myself if I were a 15-year old nephew of this deceased man, what would I have felt?
Collateral damage is a nice thing to put on a paper but when the collateral damage is your own uncle or cousin, what passions do these arouse? How do you negotiate? How do you tell people whose homes have been destroyed, whose lives have been destroyed, that this does not justify your actions of terrorism. It’s hard. Yes, it is true that it does not justify the acts of bombing innocent civilians, that does not solve the problem, but after 50 years of, in many cases, oppression, of US support of authoritarian regimes that have violated human rights in the most heinous of ways, how else do people get attention?
So I’m not - I’m just providing you with the arguments that are happening intra Islamically by those who feel the emotion of pain. Half a million Iraqi - there’s a sense in the Arab and Muslim world that the European world and Western world is just - does not care about our lives or human lives. There’s a perception in much of the Arab world and the Muslim world that the issue is about race. That the Palestinian Israeli issue is less about religion than it is about race because about 25 per cent or more of the Palestinians or the Arabs are Christian. Many people in the West are unaware that Palestinians are not uniformally Muslim.
There is a large number of Arab Christians but they are not regarded as being equal. These issues have to be looked at, have to be recognised, have to be addressed and have to be solved. And this is why in our initiative we have urged a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict as being number one on the list of things that need to be done because you address this problem and a whole host of problems will be addressed automatically.
How many of you have read the book: The Tipping Point? Are you familiar with that book? It is a fascinating book. I strongly recommend it. It talks about, and a very lovely example, there are many examples that I don’t remember, about crime in New York City and how just the removal of graffiti on the subways, New York City subways, reduced crime in New York City. Now, how would you argue the link between graffiti on the walls of the subway and crime? It’s hard to determine but in fact it was proven to be so.
It is much more evident to many people what the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict will do, and as Tony Blair is urging, urging, the resolution of this crisis and the lethargy with which the Bush administration has been actually engaged in trying to resolve this crisis amplifies the perception, in the Arab and Muslim world, that our pain is not heard. Our anguish is not heard. And simple things like when President Bush went to Iraq on Thanksgiving to address the United States troops based in Iraq, he did not speak at all to the Iraqi people.
He could have left a taped message addressing the Iraqi street congratulating them on removing a tyrant that they all wanted to have removed, and saying, you know: I have asked Congress to allot 70 billion dollars of which I’m hoping to have so much for education. Speak to the people. He does this every year in the United States. Imagine if he came to this country and there were US troops stationed here, spoke to them, didn’t speak to the Australian people. How would you feel?
How many of you have seen the documentary: The Fog of War? It is an important documentary in which Robert McNamara was interviewed and it’s a documentary which is supported by 11 or 12 - I think 11 lessons, if I’m not mistaken - and the first lesson he points out is empathise with the other side. The number one thing that we need on the part of the West is to empathise. To see yourselves from the eyes of the other.
If it’s a man who wants to have a wonderful relationship with a woman, you have to see how you look from the eyes of a woman. If you are a white man seeking to deal in Australia with the Aborigines, you have to learn to look at yourself from the eyes of the Aborigines, and you will see things that you cannot see otherwise. The West needs to begin to see themselves through the eyes of the Arab and Muslim world, and when you do you will see the predicament that exists within the Muslim community.
I’m not saying this to condone. Acts like the London bombing are completely against Islamic law. Suicide bombing, completely against Islamic law, completely, 100 per cent. But the facts of the matter is that people, I have discovered, are more motivated by emotion than by logic. If their emotions are in one place and their logic is behind, their emotions will drive their decisions more often than not, and therefore we need to address the emotional state of people and the extent to which those emotions are shaped by things that we can control and we can shape, this is how we will shape a better future. Is that hand still up there? It’s a long response, but given how often the “United States has more blood on its hands than al Qaeda” bit has been quoted today, often twisted to justify headlines like “Ground Zero Imam: America Worse Than Al-Qaeda”, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to just run the whole thing.
Rauf is correct, purely on the numbers — American military action in the Middle East has killed far more civilian Muslims (and non-Muslims living in Muslim lands) than al-Qaeda, or even Saddam Hussein. We didn’t mean to — those deaths are chalked up as collateral damage — but that’s of little comfort to parents weeping over the corpses of their children.
There’s a reflexive hyper-patriotism that has been flaring up during this “Ground Zero mosque” debate. It troubles me, as it did when it caught fire in the months following the 9/11 attacks. It’s a mindset that insists the United States is and always has been purely innocent and purely heroic in its intentions and its actions. When someone like Rauf points out that many in the Muslim world feel a very deep, very personal enmity toward the United States, they are attacked as America-haters, as inciters of terrorism
Middle Eastern Muslims don’t hate America because American bombs have flattened their towns and stray bullets from the muzzles of American guns have cut down their friends and families in their homes, or because American administrations have given aid to totalitarian regimes that have brutally oppressed their people. No, they hate us because of our freedom, our decadent culture, and our Christianity.
Observing that the United States is responsible (albeit unintentionally) for the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians is not the same as arguing that we deserved 9/11, or that al-Qaeda and other terrorist gangs are only launching suicide attacks because we have given them no other choice. It is a necessary first step toward seeing a complex and daunting reality for what it is.
Second, I noticed two voices of reason on this issue coming from the right. The first belongs to John Guardiano, who wrote about “The Right’s Anti-Islam Extremists” yesterday for FrumForum. After wagging his finger at the “legacy media” for painting conservatives as bigots and extremists, Guardiano admits that too many prominent right-wingers have conformed to the stereotype during the Park51 controversy:
Consider, for example, the Washington Examiner’s recent headline, “Muslims, not Americans, are religious bigots.” Substitute any other minority group for Muslims and consider the sensibility that the headline then conveys.
“Blacks, not Americans, are religious bigots.” Or: “Jews, not Americans, are religious bigots.” How about: “Hispanics, not Americans, are religious bigots”?
That doesn’t sound right, fair or just, does it? The clear and unmistakable implication is that blacks, Jews, and Hispanics are not authentically American. They stand apart from their fellow countrymen and are not part and parcel of the American experience. But Muslims, apparently, are fair game. They can be written off as the alien “other,” and no one seems to care.
Or consider Newt Gingrich’s depiction of ordinary Muslims as Nazis. “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington,” Gingrich said.
In other words, according to Gingrich, the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City is the same as, or analogous to, a Nazi center near the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C.
Well, if ordinary Muslims are Nazis, then the U.S. government is facilitating Nazi political conquests. Our strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, after all, depends upon working with moderate-minded Muslims to whom we expect to cede control of their country.
But if moderate-minded Muslims don’t really exist, and if moderate Islam is a fiction or a fantasy, then all of our efforts in those two countries are for naught: our soldiers and Marines are dying for a mistake, a rather big and dramatic mistake.
I don’t believe this, of course, but some on the Right apparently do — or at least they talk as if they do.
The second reasonable conservative voice is that of Ron Paul. I’m going to remember this, because who knows when I’ll next be able to apply that particular adjective to Congressman Paul.
In a statement released through his website on Friday, Paul writes
The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.
Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding that the need to be “sensitive” requires an all-out assault on the building of a mosque, several blocks from “ground zero.”
Here he goes off on a bit of a Ron-Paulian tangent against neo-conservatives and the war in Iraq, but he gets the train back on the tracks a few paragraphs later:
This sentiment seems to confirm that Islam itself is to be made the issue, and radical religious Islamic views were the only reasons for 9/11. If it became known that 9/11 resulted in part from a desire to retaliate against what many Muslims saw as American aggression and occupation, the need to demonize Islam would be difficult if not impossible.
There is no doubt that a small portion of radical, angry Islamists do want to kill us but the question remains, what exactly motivates this hatred?
[. . .]
The justification to ban the mosque is no more rational than banning a soccer field in the same place because all the suicide bombers loved to play soccer.
Conservatives are once again, unfortunately, failing to defend private property rights, a policy we claim to cherish. In addition conservatives missed a chance to challenge the hypocrisy of the left which now claims they defend property rights of Muslims, yet rarely if ever, the property rights of American private businesses.
Defending the controversial use of property should be no more difficult than defending the 1st Amendment principle of defending controversial speech. . . .
It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society—protecting liberty.
The outcry over the building of the mosque, near ground zero, implies that Islam alone was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. According to those who are condemning the building of the mosque, the nineteen suicide terrorists on 9/11 spoke for all Muslims. This is like blaming all Christians for the wars of aggression and occupation because some Christians supported the neo-conservatives’ aggressive wars.
The House Speaker is now treading on a slippery slope by demanding a Congressional investigation to find out just who is funding the mosque — a bold rejection of property rights, 1st Amendment rights, and the Rule of Law — in order to look tough against Islam.
This is all about hate and Islamaphobia.
We now have an epidemic of “sunshine patriots” on both the right and the left who are all for freedom, as long as there’s no controversy and nobody is offended.
Political demagoguery rules when truth and liberty are ignored.
Gather in real close, because you might never read these words from me again:
Ron Paul is right.