11 Sep, 2010 The Ground Zero Mosque Dividing America
I have hesitated to write about the Ground Zero Mosque, which has grabbed the attention of America in recent months. But today is the 11th of September, and it seems as good a time as any to bite the bullet.
For an insightful discussion of what can be learned from the unfolding dispute to date, I recommend Barry Rubin’s blog post: A Totally Different Approach on the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy.
Rubin makes two points:
- That ‘the government and media have done everything possible to support it and kill off any serious debate on the issues’, even though ‘In this context, with everything else remaining the same, no church or synagogue project would have been approved for this site, under these conditions, and with the group running the project.’ and
- ‘Radical Islamists [including Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan] constantly hide as moderates, depending in large part on the disinterest of government, media, or academia in investigating their background and credentials.’
America is in deep trouble. It seems impossible to have any substantive debate about Islam. Facts no longer matter, and genuine analysis has been replaced by prejudice and paralysing, fear-driven denial. A politically correct narrative has taken hold among the elites —that Islam has been hijacked by a few extremists — and a principle of censorship — that we must not offend the sensibilities of the other Muslims. The effect is that Islam is being given a higher place than that accorded to other religions.
This is causing a chasm to open up between the American people and the elites. The elites, led by President Obama, stifle debate by labeling people with legitimate concerns ‘bigots’. But the American public is smarter than the elites understand. The public understands there is something wrong with the religion of Islam, when Saudi Arabia forbids even a single church to exist within its borders (despite employing hundreds of thousands of Christian workers), and this on religious grounds, but at the same time the Saudis are free to fund mosques — perhaps even Imam Feisal’s project — and support radicalization across the United States. As Newt Gingrich put it:
“There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.”
In this conflicted environment, radically minded Muslim leaders like Imam Feisal keep playing the Islamophobia card, inflaming the conflict.
The reasons why the elites have such trouble reading Feisal and those like him correctly are complex.
One factor is the influence exerted by fellow-travelers in the political establishment, whose personal connections, such as marriage, family, business arrangements or friendships, dispose them to shield Islam from criticism. Included among these is President Obama himself, who famously said ‘I know, because I am one of them’. Another factor is the loss of intellectual freedom in the Academy, due in part to funding of Islamic Studies centers by donors from Islamic countries, but also to the contemporary intellectual fashion of Western self-hatred. Other contributing factors are certain worldview dispositions, such as the assumption that all religions are the same; or that one can just as easily support violence from any ‘holy book’; or that wars are fought over land, wealth or injustice, but not because of deeply held religious beliefs (according to this view, religion is just a pretext, and never a real cause for war). There is also the contribution being made by the Islamization of the West’s historical consciousness, including the promotion of the myth of an Islamic Golden Age, and the supposed indebtedness of the West to Islam. Another factor is fear: fear that if Islam is the problem, there could be no imaginable solution, or simply the fear that if we criticize Islam, we will be attacked.
Imam Feisal is not the only radical to have promoted himself as a moderate. The current Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, Samuel T. Lloyd III, presided at a memoral service immediately after the 9/11 atrocity, held at Trinity Episcopalian Church in Boston, as which Dr Walid Fitaihi spoke. Revd Lloyd had this to say about Dr Fitaihi’s contribution:
Many of us experienced a remarkable moment of hope at the service yesterday, when Dr. Wadid Fataihi (sic), a doctor at Harvard Medical School and member of the Islamic Society of Boston, spoke words of healing and support. His gentle, holy manner touched everyone in that church. And it seemed an enormously hopeful sign of a divided world looking for ways to draw closer together.
However, in letters written and published in Egypt and London, Fitaihi subsequently described this very same interfaith service at Trinity Church in a way which showed that he evaluated it in terms of its value for winning America to Islam. By this criterion, he judged the event a success. He reported the Christians’ acceptance of key points of Islamic theology, including that the Quran is the word of Allah, infidels are guilty, and the Umma [the worldwide Muslim community] is superior: Fitaihi reported the words of one of the Christians to him after the service: ‘You are just like us; no, you are better than us’. Also, using antisemitic rhetoric, Fitaihi celebrated 9/11 as helpful to the Islamic cause, because it was driving a wedge between Christians and Jews over Israel. He looked forward to a wave of conversions to Islam in the US, post 9/11.
Another example comes from Australia. In 2002 the Islamic Council of Victoria made a complaint of religious vilification against two Christians pastors in Melbourne Australia. The complaint was made about a seminar on Islamic jihad, presented in the months after 9/11. At the time, non-Muslim religious leaders in Victoria, including a bishop and a rabbi, went public to declare their support for the Muslims, and to criticize the two pastors.
What was striking about media coverage of the resulting tribunal case and subsequent successful appeal by the Christian side – in a legal process which went on for years — was how unwilling journalists were to inquire into the ideological background of the ICV. They did not access publicly available records which showed that during the 1990’s the Council had been running a mujahideen account, raising alms for jihad in Afghanistan. Nor did they mention the fact that in the weeks after 9/11 the Council was found to be selling Maududi’s Let us be Muslims to the public (The Real Words of Islam – Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun – 6/12/01). (I remember this because I was the one who bought the book – and the man who sold it to me later turned out to be a retired Australian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia!) Maududi’s influential radical text calls for the toppling of democracies by jihad, and replacing democracy with sharia law Even during the period when the tribunal found in favour of the ICV (subsequently overturned on appeal), the ICV’s website had a link to the site of the Federation of Australasian Muslim Students and Youth, on which FAMSY was advertising radical Islamic texts for sale through its bookshop. Including among these titles was Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones and Maududi’s Jihad in Islam. The latter text includes the paragraph:
Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a State on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which Nation assumes the role of the standard bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State. Jihad in Islam, p.9.
It seems that religious leaders in Melbourne were wooed by an effective long-term program of interfaith dialogue with the Islamic Council of Victoria, and as a result were supportive of the ICV’s complaint against the two pastors. The Christian and Jewish leaders were willing to make public statements in support of the ICV seemingly without investigating the ICV’s ideological profile for themselves.
While some have analyzed the evidence of ideological radicalism in past statements of Imam Feisal and his wife (see here and here) what is disturbing is the lack of interest — or willful incompetence — on the part of the mainstream US media to investigate such matters. I say ‘willful’ because the media has had years in which to correct its lack of understanding of radical Islam.
This lazy prejudice is inflaming divisions in American society. It continues to condemn people to ignorance, and amplifies the cognitive dissonance of the gap between the elites’ worldview and reality. This gap has become only too obvious to the American public, but when will the elites wake up? And when or if they do, will the damage have become irreversible?
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.