Commentary Magazine


Religious Provocateurs and the Liberal Elite

A crackpot pastor with a “flock” of 50 threatens to burn Korans. The entire political establishment, including the president and the defense secretary, Republican officials and 2012 contenders, and Christian and Jewish leaders implore him to stop. So much for the notion that America is a hotbed of Islamophobia. (The elite media — ever eager to show Americans’ “intolerance” – is the entity most responsible for fanning the flames on this one.)

We saw, of course, no similar outpouring of condemnation and pleading from the chattering class or from Muslim officials when Imam Rauf announced that he would build a mosque on the site where 3,000 Americans were incinerated in the name of Islam.You see, empathy runs only one way for the Muslim outreachers. Under no circumstances must we expect or request a modicum of respect for non-Muslims from the mosque builders. What is revealing in the Koran incident is not what it tells us about the pastor, but what it tells us about the left.

We’ve known for sometime, of course, that the left really doesn’t much mind it when the religious insults are hurled against Christians. The Piss Christ exhibit, you see, was an act of “artistic expression.” And as Daniel Gordis detailed, virulent anti-Semitism is not only acceptable but increasingly de rigueur in the liberal media. It’s only when Muslim sensibilities are involved that the left rushes forth in a tizzy about religious sensibilities. Contrast the insistence that the Koran-burning minister call off his stunt to the support the left gives to Imam Rauf’s incendiary act. The latter is construed as an “act of reconciliation”; only the former is recognized as divisive and hateful.

Charles Lane pegged it correctly:

The president seemed oblivious to the contradiction between his pressure on Jones and his view, repeated at Friday’s press conference, that the U.S. must strictly follow the Constitution when prosecuting terrorism suspects — lest the terrorists win by getting us to curtail liberty. “We can’t be frightened by a handful of people who are trying to do us harm,” he said. Yet to the extent Obama opposed [Rev. Terry] Jones’s exercise of free speech — including mere “threats of action” — because it might trigger a violent reaction, he was expressing, and yielding to, fear of those very “people.”…

Instead, the president of the United States broadcast his fear that a U.S. citizen’s exercise of his liberty will provoke Muslim violence — without even calling upon Muslims to refrain from such attacks, much less declaring that they would be completely unjustified, and correspondingly resisted.

Remember the Obama rule: tolerance is what Muslims should expect from non-Muslims, never the reverse.

Meanwhile, Rauf pronounces: “You know, had I known this would happen, we certainly would never have done this. … We would not have done something that would have created more divisiveness.” If he admits his effort at reconciliation was a debacle and has proved counterproductive, why not call if off? But to hear Mayor Bloomberg, the president, and the rest of the left, to urge him to do just that is to “betray our values” and engage in bigotry.

It is this sort of moral and intellectual incoherence that contributes to the disdain many citizens feel toward the liberal intelligentsia. The average American can figure out that we should use moral persuasion and public criticism to prevent gratuitous insults by misguided or intentionally provocative religious figures (and to ignore the truly marginal figures like the Koran burner, whose bonanza of publicity is sure to attract copycats). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the chattering class or this administration. It’s a wonder that confidence in elite institutions isn’t lower than it already is.