By Bruce Bawer, HRS
Pretty much everyone, I assume, knows the basic facts by now. An Islamic organization called the Cordoba Initiative plans to build a structure – originally called Cordoba House and now called Park51 – only a stone’s throw from Ground Zero in Manhattan. It will rise fifteen stories high, will cost $100 million, will be run by an imam named Feisal Abdul Rauf, and will open its doors on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Most Americans are opposed to the idea of this building, known colloquially as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” being located so close to the place where the Twin Towers were brought down by Muslim jihadists. The very name of the Cordoba Initiative, as Pat Condell points out, is plainly meant to bring to mind the mosque established in Cordoba, Spain, between the eighth and tenth centuries as a glorious symbol of the Muslim conquest of that country. Similarly, Park51, if its sponsors succeed in getting it built, will serve for generations of Muslims as an emblem of the earthshaking event that millions of Muslim around the world hailed as a historic step in the centuries-long effort to bring under Islamic control the entire “House of War” – Islam’s name for the parts of the world that have yet to come under the sway of sharia law.
Yet while most Americans oppose Park51, the political, cultural, and media elite – with very few exceptions – support it fervently. I have been reading articles by many of these supporters, and I have just one question: is it that the truth about Islam is too vulgar for them, too frightening for them, or both?
The principal argument made by these defenders of Park51 is that Imam Rauf is a moderate and a “bridge-builder.” In Time magazine, Bobby Ghosh describes Rauf and his wife, Daisy, as “the kind of Muslim leaders right-wing commentators fantasize about: modernists and moderates who openly condemn the death cult of al-Qaeda and its adherents.” But anyone who has followed the spread of Islam in Europe over the last decade or so has repeatedly seen imams identified as “moderate” and as “bridge-builders” only to learn that they are anything but. We have been told a thousand times, for example, notably by former London mayor Ken Livingstone, that Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a moderate bridge-builder, when in fact he supports the death penalty prescribed by sharia law for apostates, rape victims, and gays. Western intellectuals and journalists have applied the term “bridge-builder” countless times to Tariq Ramadan, who purports to represent a liberal, reformed “Euro-Islam” but who, as Paul Berman, Caroline Fourest, and others have conclusively demonstrated, shares the extremely illiberal views of his theological mentor, Qaradawi, and of his illustrious grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founder of the terrifying Muslim Brotherhood.
Over the years we have been told that this or that mosque is “moderate” only to see videotapes of sermons, filmed with hidden cameras, in which gays, Jews, and infidels are compared to pigs and dogs and described as deserving of death. We have been told that this or that mosque is “moderate” only to have undercover reporters discover that it has connections to terrorist groups and that its library is full of books advocating violent jihad.
“Moderate”? As Douglas Murray notes, “No major Islamic leader in the world today preaches a message even remotely close to what most of the new American ‘let’s build the mosque’ crew would find even barely tolerable.” So it was that when the mosque controversy began, my years-long experience with claims about “moderate imams” led me to view the statements about Rauf’s moderation with great suspicion. And indeed, as the days and weeks have gone by, more and more information has surfaced that, to put it as mildly as possible, raises serious questions about Rauf’s theology. For example, it turns out that he has refused to condemn Hamas (Ghosh refers to this, absurdly, as a “perceived reluctance to condemn Hamas”), that in comments he made in the wake of the Madrid and London bombings he seemed primarily concerned with dodging the uncomfortable truth about the perpetrators, that he is an admirer of Qaradawi, and that he strongly supports the tyrannical religious government of Iran. Any of these facts alone should be enough to silence the claptrap about Rauf’s moderation and love of American liberty. Though Christopher Hitchens supports allowing the mosque, even he has written about Rauf that “the more one reads through his statements, the more alarming it gets.”
Still, virtually the entire media establishment in the United States has rushed to stand shoulder to shoulder with this dubious figure – and to slander as bigots those who have dared to question his motives or criticize his religion.
Take Hendrik Hertzberg, who in The New Yorker strove to reassure readers that there’s nothing to fear about Rauf. After all, he’s “a Columbia grad,” he wrote a book called What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America, he’s conducted “sensitivity training” under the auspices of the FBI, and he co-founded with his wife, Daisy, something called the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which allegedly “promotes ‘cultural and religious harmony through interfaith collaboration, youth and women’s empowerment, and arts and cultural exchange.’” As for Park51 itself, Hertzberg underscores that it will contain not only a mosque but also “classrooms, an auditorium, galleries, a restaurant, a memorial to the victims of September 11, 2001, and a swimming pool and gym.” Hertzberg’s sarcastic comment: “Pretty scary.” And indeed he calls those who disapprove of Park51 “scaredy-cats.” What Hertzberg either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know is that all these moderate-sounding credentials and specifications are simply par for the course. Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf al-Qaradawi could produce résumés packed with far more harmless- and even uplifting-sounding items than those which appear on Rauf’s CV – none of which mitigates the fact that Ramadan has refused to condemn the stoning of adulteresses and that Qaradawi supports the execution of homosexuals.
Ghosh complains that by “browbeating…a moderate Muslim,” Park51’s critics are “empower[ing] the narrative promoted by al-Qaeda: that the West loathes everything about Islam and will stop at nothing to destroy it.” Jim Harper of the Cato Institute proffers essentially the same argument: he supports the Park51 project because allowing it to proceed, he says, would “communicate to worldwide audiences that we are still the pluralistic, welcoming, confident society we have been in the past” and would “undercut…support” for al-Qaeda in the Muslim world. Such thinking perfectly exemplifies Western elites’ misunderstanding of – or refusal to acknowledge – the nature of the mentality that dominates the Muslim world when it comes to such matters. Make no mistake: Muslim leaders around the world would interpret American authorities’ approval of a huge Muslim center near Ground Zero not as a sign of tolerance and openness but as an admission of weakness, an acknowledgment of Muslim power, an attempt at appeasement – and an invitation to push even harder for even more concessions. As Douglas Murray puts it, “The answer to violent Islam is not Islam”; to build a mosque near Ground Zero “is not a counter-argument to violent Islam” but “an apology, and an offering, to it.” Pat Condell makes the same point: the building of Park51, he stresses, would confirm the suspicions of Muslims around the world “that America is a soft country, a decadent country, crippled by political correctness, confused and guilt ridden with no backbone and no pride.”
Murray and Condell knows whereof they speak. The recent history of Europe has shown that this is exactly how these things work. This why the French, for all their liberalism, have chosen to draw a line in the sand in regard to headscarves and the Swiss have done the same in regard to minarets. This is why left-wing Dutch gays, over the last decade, have increasingly supported the supposedly right-wing parties that have taken a stand on their behalf in the face of escalating Muslim brutality against gays. The Dutch gays who vote for Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party have not suddenly become “racists,” as many commentators would have it; they have simply seen their rights and freedoms erode in the face of sharia-driven aggression, and refuse to stand by while cowardly elites refuse to do anything about it.
“To believe that the tiny band of thugs who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks speak for an entire religion, culture, or creed,” Harper asserts, “is simple collectivism.” Ghosh makes the same argument, dismissing Park51 critics as “ill-informed” victims of “ignorance” and “bigotry” who “mistakenly view Islam as the malevolent force that brought down the towers.” Never mind, apparently, that on 9/11 Muslims around the world cheered the destruction of the World Trade Center, in many cases pouring out into the streets en masse to celebrate. To deny that the 9/11 perpetrators – not to mention the jihadists who attacked London, Madrid, Bali, and Mumbai, who killed Theo van Gogh, and who responded to the Danish cartoons by destroying embassies and murdering innocent people – do indeed reflect something very real and malevolent at the heart of Islam is sheer dishonesty or self-delusion.
Yet the uneasy truth about the religion of Muhammed means little to those who are determined to defend not only Park51 but Islam tout court. “I pine for George W. Bush,” claims Peter Beinart, because Bush “respected religion, all religion.” Beinart recalls with admiration Bush’s claim in his Second Inaugural Address that “America’s ideal of freedom” is “sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran.” (Beinart’s emphasis.) Well, sorry, but this gay man does not understand why he should be expected to “respect” a religion which condemns gays to death; and this reader of the Koran refuses to pretend that the central and abiding message of that book – namely the need to bring the entire world under the submission of Allah and his laws – is anything but diametrically opposed to “America’s ideal of freedom.”
Beinart sneers that “the GOP’s new heroes are former Muslims like Nonie Darwish and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That’s one way to escape the new Republican bigotry. Maybe the folks the GOP wants to harass in Arizona should try becoming former Hispanics.” This passage, in addition to being a disgraceful calumny against two very brave women (who left Muslim not to escape Republican bigotry but to escape a religion which, in accordance with the dictates of the Koran and hadith, brutally abuses and oppresses women), is a typical example of the conflation of ethnicity with ideology. Being an adherent of Islam – which, of course, means proclaiming one’s fealty to a raft of ugly and intolerant faith statements, is in no way the same as being born into a certain ethnic group. And leaving Islam, as Darwish and Hirsi Ali have done so publicly, is, in the eyes of that religion, a sin punishable by death – a raw and hideous fact that Beinart, for one, does not care to address.
Then there’s blogger Chris Bodenner, who responded to the statement by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) that Imam Rauf “is a jihadist…just not a violent jihadist” by calling it “ugly rhetoric.” No, what we’re dealing with here are ugly facts. I have no respect whatsoever for Santorum, but he got this one right. To call Rauf a jihadist is hardly outrageous: jihad is a core doctrine of Islam. This may, and should, make one uncomfortable, but it’s no excuse to pretend that Islam is anything other than what it is.
As if to underscore his own cluelessness, Bodenner also posted, without response, an e-mail from an Iranian woman who, disgustingly, accused Ayaan Hirsi Ali of “capitalizing on” her apostasy and insisting that Hirsi Ali’s negative portrayal of Islam “is NOTHING like [the Islam] I know and that is practiced in Iran.” Though Bodenner later ran a rebuttal by another reader who pointed out that – ahem – Iran’s “religious-based government uses the Koran to justify everything from dress codes and censorship to hanging gays and stoning adulterous women,” it’s nothing less than stupefying that Bodenner found it appropriate in the first place to post without comment the Iranian woman’s bizarre misrepresentation of Islam in Iran and her revolting attack on Hirsi Ali’s integrity.
Bodenner also posted another reader’s comment calling concerns about Park51’s mysterious sources of funding “Fox News drivel” and suggesting that such concerns indicate that “we are truly entering a dark phase of our history.” In the same vein, Jonathan Chait has sneered at “the constant, suspicious demands” by Park51 opponents “to find out where the money behind the putatively innocent project is coming from.” Defenders of Park51 consider it inappropriate to ask about the source of all that money – even though experience in Europe has shown that countless mosques (not to mention Muslim schools, community centers, and other institutions) are in fact lavishly financed by the Saudis, who are bankrolling them in order to spread the brutally orthodox beliefs that undergird their own grotesquely illiberal society.
Chait suggests that Muslims “should be afforded the same general presumption of innocence enjoyed by other religions.” But Islam is far more than a religion – it’s an all-encompassing, violence-filled, and inherently illiberal ideology that tells its adherents how to live every aspect of their lives and commands them to tyrannize women, Jews, and Christians. Chait is, of course, far from alone in his refusal to recognize, or at least acknowledge, that religions do differ significantly from one another; that not every religion is, on balance, a force for good; and that for truly religious people, theology and doctrine do matter – that for them, in fact, theology and doctrine are everything.
Case in point: Conor Friedersdorf, who chides Park51 opponents for “cherry-picking passages from the Koran” and for “citing Koranic verse” – as if the contents of the Koran were not at the very heart of all this! Friedersdorf acknowledges that “non-Muslims are barred from entering the cities of Mecca and Medina” but absurdly compares this to the banning of non-Mormons from Mormon temples and the denial of the Eucharist in Roman Catholic churches to non-Catholics. Friedersdorf also brings up Leviticus (a familiar ploy), as if the severe prohibitions and punishments set down in that book – which, in these post-Enlightenment times, not even the most fanatical Jew or Christian actually lives by – can be compared remotely to the Koran, every sentence of which every Muslim is still obliged to take, and obey, as a sacred edict dictated by Allah himself. Friedersdorf chides Andy McCarthy of the National Review for “wax[ing] darkly about the intolerance of Islam” – as if the intolerance of Islam (which, among much else, calls for the execution of homosexuals, rape victims, and apostates) were not an objective fact. Friedersdorf is ready to condemn Park51 opponents for their “ignorance,” but, in a posting about Rauf’s presence at a conference also attended by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, admits that he’s never heard of that prominent jihadist group. Which leads one to ask: why is Friedersdorf writing so much about something he knows so little about? Instead of churning out such cocksure commentary, why doesn’t he spend the time educating himself about Islam?
Radley Balko’s contribution to the controversy is an article entitled “The American Muslim Success Story,” in which he celebrates the fact that “just 5 percent of American Muslims express any level of support for Al Qaeda, and strong majorities condemn suicide attacks for any reason (80+ percent)” – as if it were reassuring to learn that one out of 20 U.S. Muslims are willing to openly express support for al-Qaeda and that almost one out of five will admit to a pollster that they actually approve of suicide bombers. What other religion would be considered a “success story” if so many of its American adherents held such views?
The New York Times, for its part, has editorialized vigorously in favor of Park51, accusing opponents of bigotry and stating that “the attacks of Sept. 11 were not a religious event.” In response to anti-Park51 comments by Rick Lazio, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, the Times editors write: “We’re curious where in the Constitution he finds the power for the government to deny anyone the right to build a ‘particular’ mosque or church or synagogue or any other house of worship.” This is rich coming from the Times, whose owners, a couple of years back, persuaded the city fathers to use their power of eminent domain to confiscate valuable private property so that the Times could then take over the land and build its new headquarters there. To my mind, that action was far more hostile to the spirit of the Constitution than, say, using zoning laws to prevent the construction of any building (religious or otherwise) at a given location – which is something that local governments do every day. Yes, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion. But nobody is talking about denying even the most fanatical Muslim the right to stand at the site of the Twin Towers and send up a prayer to Allah thanking him for the magnificent act of jihad that brought those towers down. This is not about freedom of religion but about a building, about zoning.
One writer after another has defended Park51 by pointing out that Islam is, in the words of Patrick Appel, “a faith with over a billion adherents,” and thus cannot possibly be a “monolith.” Jihadists, they insist, are a tiny, radical minority who have, in the popular phrase, “hijacked” Islam, a religion most of whose adherents are “peaceful.” Yes, it’s true that hundreds of millions of Muslims are “peaceful,” insofar as they would never, say, commit an honor killing or beat up a Jew or execute a rape victim, apostate, or homosexual. But by the same token, exceedingly few of them would lift a hand to stop an imam or other Muslim authority from carrying out such actions in the name of Islam. For they know that their religion does in fact dictate such punishments. With few exceptions, in other words, the “moderate” Muslim is, at best, supremely passive in the face of such atrocities. To imagine that the great majority of Muslims, in America or anywhere else, represent an active or potentially active counterforce against their coreligionists who actively seek to enforce sharia law is a pipe dream.
Did the 9/11 terrorists “hijack” Islam? No, they most assuredly did not. Read the Koran. Read the hadith. These are brutal, hate-filled documents that preach violence and conquest in the name of Allah. The “peaceful” Muslims are those who choose not to act upon its dictates. (One wonders: exactly how many of “peaceful” Muslims are, in fact, no longer Muslims in their hearts but have chosen to stay silent about their spiritual defection in order to keep from being executed as apostates?)
Folks, defend the building of Park51 if you will. But don’t defend it by repeating absurd claims about Islam that have been discredited again and again. Don’t close your eyes to the basic facts about Islam – and don’t label as “racists” or “Islamophobes” those who have chosen to keep their eyes open.