More on Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor

More on Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor

I have been ruminating further about Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor’s 9/11 address.  In my previous blog I questioned his presupposition that those who oppose the Park51 Project (the ‘Ground Zero Mosque) must be bigots, as well as his assumption that ignorance is the cause of bigotry, and the inference that the rejecters whom he regards as bigots must therefore be ignorant, and what they most need is to be educated about Islam in the new Islamic Center.  I suggested that he made some contributions to ignorance of his own.

Polarized rhetoric is one of the lamentable features in the bitter debates over Imam Faisal’s divisive project.  However Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor did make some valid points.  I agree that the analogy of the Carmelite Convent controversy is invalid, even offensive.  I also agree that it is a bad idea to base a decision about the Park51 proposal on the principle that we must respect the right of survivors of a tragedy to hold ‘irrational’ or ‘bigoted’ positions (see the report on Abraham Foxman’s statements).

On the other hand, I don’t agree that 9/11 can reasonably be described as ‘an attack on the liberties and pluralism of the US by Wahabist terrorists’.

For one thing, it seems strange to call Al Qaida “Wahhabist”, as Wahhabism is the religious ideology of the Saudi State, and Al Qaida wants to destroy this state.  Despite some commonalities, Al Qaida’s religious beliefs diverge from Wahhabism at key points.  (And keep an eye on the Investigative Project, for Steven Emerson’s anticipated report on Imam Feisal’s defense of Wahhabism).

But more importantly, it is misleading to call 9/11 an “attack on liberties and pluralism”, and to base one’s support for the Park51 project on this idea.  According to Bin Ladin himself, the 9/11 raid was an attack on America and its infidel people, whom he regarded as criminal oppressors.  Al Qaida was not purporting to attack ‘pluralism’ or ‘liberty’, but an actual country, and actual people in that country, who, it claimed, were killing Muslims and fighting Islam. Al Qaida’s objective, Bin Ladin said, was to make Islam victorious in the world. It therefore seems a strange rhetorical trick for Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor to claim that the Islamic Centre must be built near Ground Zero,  so that America can prove it has not been beaten by Al Qaida.

Of course it is open to anyone to claim that Bin Ladin misrepresented or misunderstood his own strategic goals when he made these statements after 9/11. But it is also open for survivors, relatives of victims, and Americans in general, who, understanding what he said, and judging correctly that the victims were killed by men claiming to act in the name of Islam, are now asking that no monument to this faith be constructed close to the site of their personal tragedy.

This should be regarded as reasonable, and not bigotry, quite irrespective of whether one believes that Al Qaida’s ideology bears any relation at all to ‘real Islam’.

The question of what is real Islam is a complex and hotly disputed one. It seems heartless to demand that 9/11 survivors and their supporters must be forced to subscribe to a politically correct answer to this question, or else be denigrated as ‘bigots’.

In my view the Park51 Center is a bad idea, because its construction will not bring the harmony which Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor is seeking. However, whether the project should be deemed unlawful is another question altogether.  It is not good to limit religious freedoms merely on the grounds that others might be offended. This kind of argument is often used in sharia societies to restrict the religious practices of Christians and other non-Muslim groups:  it is claimed that such and such a church must not be built, or such and such a temple must be torn down, just so that Muslims will not be offended. If the planning authorities do permit Park51 to be built – and religious freedom principles could be invoked in support of this  – what seems absolutely clear is that those who oppose the project deserve a fair hearing, without being vilified as ‘bigots’.

Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.

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