Thursday, August 19, 2010

You Go Mo'

Our Mosque Madness

April 19, 2010//NYT

Maybe, for Barack Obama, it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing.

“I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” he said the morning after he commented on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.”

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack. What is so frightening about Fox News?

Some critics have said the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers would be to allow a mosque to be built near ground zero.

Actually, the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers is the moral timidity that would ban a mosque from that neighborhood.

Our enemies struck at our heart, but did they also warp our identity?

The war against the terrorists is not a war against Islam. In fact, you can’t have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam.

George W. Bush understood this. And it is odd to see Barack Obama less clear about this matter than his predecessor. It’s time for W. to weigh in.

This — along with immigration reform and AIDS in Africa — was one of his points of light. As the man who twice went to war in the Muslim world, he has something of an obligation to add his anti-Islamophobia to this mosque madness. W. needs to get his bullhorn back out.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are both hyper-articulate former law professors. But Clinton never presented himself as a moral guide to the country. So when he weaseled around, or triangulated on some issues, it was part of his ultra-fallible persona — and consistent with his identity as a New Democrat looking for a Third Way.

But Obama presents himself as a paragon of high principle. So when he flops around on things like “don’t ask, don’t tell” or shrinks back from one of his deepest beliefs about the freedom of religion anywhere and everywhere in America, it’s not pretty. Even worse, this is the man who staked his historical reputation on a new and friendlier engagement with the Muslim world. The man who extended his hand to Tehran has withdrawn his hand from Park Place.

Paranoid about looking weak, Obama allowed himself to be weakened by perfectly predictable Republican hysteria. Which brings us to Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich fancies himself an intellectual, a historian, a deep thinker — the opposite number, you might say, of Sarah Palin.

Yet here is Gingrich attempting to out-Palin Palin on Fox News: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.” There is no more demagogic analogy than that.

Have any of the screaming critics noticed that there already are two mosques in the same neighborhood — one four blocks away and one 12 blocks away.

Should they be dismantled? And what about the louche liquor stores and strip clubs in the periphery of the sacred ground?

By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.

So look where we are. The progressive Democrat in the White House, the first president of the United States with Muslim roots, has been morally trumped by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, two moderate Republicans who have spoken bravely and lucidly about not demonizing and defaming an entire religion in the name of fighting its radicals.

Criticizing his fellow Republicans, Governor Christie said that while he understood the pain and sorrow of family members who lost loved ones on 9/11, “we cannot paint all of Islam with that brush.”

He charged the president with trying to turn the issue into a political football. But that is not quite right. It already was a political football and the president fumbled it.


  1. Cultural sensitivity is or should be a two-way street, as at least some Muslims recognize: "Goodwill, compassion and empathy demand that (Imam Rauf) withdraw his plans to construct an Islamic centre near Ground Zero.” So says Farzana Hassan, on the board of the Canadian Muslim Congress.

    My take here.

  2. I agree that entitlement forms no issue here.

    I don't agree that the forces behind the Community Centre/Mosque should be pressured as much as is civilly possible to desist from the project. I think that Foxman speaking for the ADF was wrong, for example, to enter the fray.

    After all Muslims were killed on 9/11, were part of the first responders and fight and die as American soldiers.

    I agree that a real problem is maintsream Muslim passivity in the face of Islamism and the Islamically unacceptable is a big problem and voices like Manji's or Hirsi Ali's, albeit coming from different premises, need to be encouraged and facilitated. A generous reception of the Community Centre/Mosque would be a small step along that way, though not the strongest reason for rejecting the pressuring opposition.

    I liked this said by Micahel Gerson:

    ...An inclusive rhetoric toward Islam is sometimes dismissed as mere political correctness. Having spent some time crafting such rhetoric for a president, I can attest that it is actually a matter of national interest. It is appropriate -- in my view, required -- for a president to draw a clear line between "us" and "them" in the global conflict with Muslim militants. I wish Obama would do it with more vigor. But it matters greatly where that line is drawn. The militants hope, above all else, to provoke conflict between the West and Islam -- to graft their totalitarian political manias onto a broader movement of Muslim solidarity. America hopes to draw a line that isolates the politically violent and those who tolerate political violence -- creating solidarity with Muslim opponents and victims of radicalism.

    How precisely is our cause served by treating the construction of a non-radical mosque in Lower Manhattan as the functional equivalent of defiling a grave? It assumes a civilizational conflict instead of defusing it. Symbolism is indeed important in the war against terrorism. But a mosque that rejects radicalism is not a symbol of the enemy's victory; it is a prerequisite for our own...

  3. itzik: Muslim passivity in the face of Islamism and the Islamically unacceptable is a big problem and voices like Manji's or Hirsi Ali's, albeit coming from different premises, need to be encouraged and facilitated. A generous reception of the Community Centre/Mosque would be a small step along that way,...

    This is the question -- would it, in fact, be a step along that way, or would it undermine those in the Muslim community who have tried to be sensitive themselves to the feelings of those who were attacked in the name of their faith (however perversely interpreted)? And would it simply be further evidence to some in that community that Western "tolerance" is mere decadence and weakness, which can be exploited for their own ends? And would that then strengthen these no doubt minority voices, who unquestionably intimidate the moderates already -- as they certainly manage to intimidate significant numbers outside the Muslim community?

    At least in framing the issue in this way, we manage to move beyond the jejune posturing as champions of "open-mindedness" that we see in the likes of MoDo's column. On the other hand, I liked the first paragraph of the Gerson quote, and would add only that we can do both -- indicate that we're more than willing to be allies with those who stand against Islamist terror, but that we would like to see the same sort of respect for our sensibilities that we extend to others.

  4. itzik basman said...

    Here's where you and I may hit a wall.

    I don't understand the sensitivity that needs to be accommodated by the project.

    I can distinguish between those who--like me--think this project is appropriate and the opposition to it not and (too often caricatured) liberals who stay supine in the face of Islamism out of political correctness, "post colonial guilt" and what all not.

    If I had to bet betweeen the benefits of receptivity--a la Bloomberg and the first statement by Obama--as against undermining sensitive Muslims + evincing weakness, I'm putting my money on horse #1.

    ...but that we would like to see the same sort of respect for our sensibilities that we extend to others...

    I agree with this but speculate that in the instance of the Community Centre/Mosque, 43 would come the same as Gerson. Which goes, *in this case*, to the accurate nature of those sensibilities

  5. Metamorf said...

    I can distinguish between those who--like me--think this project is appropriate and the opposition to it not and (too often caricatured) liberals who stay supine in the face of Islamism out of political correctness, "post colonial guilt" and what all not.

    So can I (and it looks like J can too). But I first just want to extend the list of bad faith motivations that lie behind a prominent part (not caricatured often enough, to my mind) of the liberal opposition -- to political correctness and post-colonial guilt, I'd add a reflex to flash one's multi-culti credentials at any opportunity, and, sadly, a desire to appease a movement that really does frighten them.

    That said, I'll admit that "sensitivity" is often not the most rational of emotions. But then we're not robots or Vulcans either. So let me do the usual reverse thought-experiment: suppose a bunch of radical Christian killers, backed by an international anti-Muslim Christian terrorist outfit, had hijacked a number of airliners filled with Muslims and crashed them into the most prominent Islamic symbols they could find; and then, some years later, a group of Christians proposed to build a huge Christian cathedral a few blocks from the still-gaping scar left by that atrocity. I think many Muslims would be outraged at that, regardless of the "moderation" of the people behind the proposal, and I think such outrage would be entirely understandable. And I would hope that most Christians would find such a proposal inappropriate at best, and in fact would be appalled at the insensitivity of the group behind the proposal.

    If that's at all understandable -- as I would venture it is to most people -- then so is the sensitivity that needs to be accommodated here.

  6. itzik basman said...

    Meta: Not ducking yours exactly, but I’d like to suggest a different thought experiment, which may get us closer to (my conception of?) the issues, even though no Muslims or Mosques participate. Say Quebec separatism flared up again with F.L.Q. like groups, or say Canadian Indians radicals all gigged up for First Nations status, causing a terrible McVeigh like explosion in some federal building In Ottawa or some major Canadian City, with horrendous loss of Canadian life of all stripes. The animus against the perps, their organization and even their larger group—French Canadians, Indians—is massive, intense and lingering, understandably so, entirely understandably so. The animus feeds opportunistic politics. And, then, say some 10 or 9 years after, a mega French or Indian-Canadian cultural institution is municipally approved about two city blocks from the explosion. There is no legal impediment. But there is a huge public outcry by many of the victims’ families, many—even the majority--of the city’s residents and by many Canadians generally, and with mixed feelings amongst French Canadians or Canadian Indians; and that outcry is manifest in political opposition, some genuine and some opportunistically hysterical.

    What say you?

  7. Well, I'd say much the same -- I'd find the opposition understandable because of the symbolism, and I'd wonder at the motives of those proposing to place the structure so near the scene of the crime. If its backers didn't understand the bad symbolism initially, then they certainly should once the uproar became apparent.

    I'm not sure why you think this would be different. I can see some concern about political opportunism, but that's always going to be there, and it overlooks what makes such opportunism possible: the real feelings of anger and suspicion that have been stoked by the proposal in the first place.

  8. Meta, my man:

    The opposition may be understandable but it would be, respectfully, just as misconceived. I gave the example I gave to drive home the point, say with French Canadians, how invidious it would be to tar them, and a stipulated benign project all with some F.L.Q.—type terrorist brush. It may be telling that you frame the issue by reference to “symbolism.” More important I think than the symbolism, which means different things to different people is not to feed stereotypical meanings which impugn a vast and complex whole by the terrible actions of a terrible but miniscule part of it. That symbolism ranges from being for some an understandable reaction to being exploited by others from opportunistic advantage at the risk of stirring up enmity amongst groups, which is wrong in principle and wrong pragmatically.

    One final comment: once the outraged demand that the Community Centre be moved got increasingly heatedly asserted, it’s hard to imagine the project’s movers and the community support behind them backing off.