Commentary Magazine


Topic: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

A Voice of Moderation in the Fray

I second Peter Wehner’s point that Bill O’Reilly was in error to speak of “Muslims killing us on 9/11.” Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11. The ensuing protest walkout by two of The View’s co-hosts was unhelpful – surely the ladies understand that O’Reilly’s comment was a regrettable error of truncation, from which, if pressed, he would have properly retreated. Unfortunately, the ill-considered comment and the co-host walkout are emblematic of the escalatory mode of much public debate on the topics of Islam, Muslims in America, and the Park 51 mosque.

I’m convinced that neither disputant in this latest confrontation represents a monolithic opinion bloc. Simply restating O’Reilly’s proposition as “Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11” would have engaged the concurrence of the overwhelming majority of Americans. But the confrontational drama of the walkout, which cut off discussion and clarification, hardened attitudes and thus made reconciling the positions more unlikely.

The episode forms an irresistible counterpoint to this opinion piece on the Park 51 mosque, written in late September by a retired Saudi naval officer and translated this week by MEMRI. Published in Arabic in the Arab News, it was meant for Saudi consumption. Many Americans would be surprised by the simple friendliness of its sentiments. The retired commodore’s affection for America, where he underwent training and served as a liaison officer, comes through clearly. He speaks of his American friends from flight training and his tears on visiting the site of the World Trade Center in 2005. “The U.S.,” he says, “is the most tolerant country regarding building an Islamic center. But why [did] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf choose Ground Zero?”

He continues:

On Sept. 11, 2001, some terrorists not only hijacked four airplanes, but they hijacked Islam and the reputation of over one billion Muslims, and caused the total destruction of two Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq).

In terms of hortatory persuasiveness, this officer’s essay and the dust-up on The View land at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Saudi commodore’s views don’t surprise me; the experience of American officers with their Middle Eastern counterparts is usually more positive than the average American might think. There’s a level of liaison between militaries that is often more real, pragmatic, and fraternal than the contacts enjoyed by foreign-service diplomats or mainstream journalists. Warriors have the luxury of focusing on the practical requirements of their profession and leaving politics to the politicians. Their appreciation of each other’s individual personalities and cultures develops at what the U.S. Navy calls the “deck-plate level.”

And that is a level the ordinary American of any background is culturally predisposed to understand. Although people instinctively regard the little melodrama on The View as tiresome – and for good reason – I suspect that those who read the Saudi officer’s letter will find it striking a chord that resonates with them. Its direct simplicity does more good than a hundred stagy walkouts and a thousand elaborate exegeses.

I second Peter Wehner’s point that Bill O’Reilly was in error to speak of “Muslims killing us on 9/11.” Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11. The ensuing protest walkout by two of The View’s co-hosts was unhelpful – surely the ladies understand that O’Reilly’s comment was a regrettable error of truncation, from which, if pressed, he would have properly retreated. Unfortunately, the ill-considered comment and the co-host walkout are emblematic of the escalatory mode of much public debate on the topics of Islam, Muslims in America, and the Park 51 mosque.

I’m convinced that neither disputant in this latest confrontation represents a monolithic opinion bloc. Simply restating O’Reilly’s proposition as “Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11” would have engaged the concurrence of the overwhelming majority of Americans. But the confrontational drama of the walkout, which cut off discussion and clarification, hardened attitudes and thus made reconciling the positions more unlikely.

The episode forms an irresistible counterpoint to this opinion piece on the Park 51 mosque, written in late September by a retired Saudi naval officer and translated this week by MEMRI. Published in Arabic in the Arab News, it was meant for Saudi consumption. Many Americans would be surprised by the simple friendliness of its sentiments. The retired commodore’s affection for America, where he underwent training and served as a liaison officer, comes through clearly. He speaks of his American friends from flight training and his tears on visiting the site of the World Trade Center in 2005. “The U.S.,” he says, “is the most tolerant country regarding building an Islamic center. But why [did] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf choose Ground Zero?”

He continues:

On Sept. 11, 2001, some terrorists not only hijacked four airplanes, but they hijacked Islam and the reputation of over one billion Muslims, and caused the total destruction of two Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq).

In terms of hortatory persuasiveness, this officer’s essay and the dust-up on The View land at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Saudi commodore’s views don’t surprise me; the experience of American officers with their Middle Eastern counterparts is usually more positive than the average American might think. There’s a level of liaison between militaries that is often more real, pragmatic, and fraternal than the contacts enjoyed by foreign-service diplomats or mainstream journalists. Warriors have the luxury of focusing on the practical requirements of their profession and leaving politics to the politicians. Their appreciation of each other’s individual personalities and cultures develops at what the U.S. Navy calls the “deck-plate level.”

And that is a level the ordinary American of any background is culturally predisposed to understand. Although people instinctively regard the little melodrama on The View as tiresome – and for good reason – I suspect that those who read the Saudi officer’s letter will find it striking a chord that resonates with them. Its direct simplicity does more good than a hundred stagy walkouts and a thousand elaborate exegeses.

Read Less

A Class War or War?

The day before the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Obama was asked why there seemed to be a recent uptick in American distress about Islam. “At a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then, you know, fears can surface; suspicions, divisions can surface in a society,” he said. “We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other.”

What is not blamed on George W. Bush is blamed on us all. The Bible-clutching, gun-toting xenophobes Barack Obama referenced during his presidential campaign are now taking out their financial woes on innocent Muslims. Shame on them.

On the same day that the president gave his academic instruction on the roots of religious scapegoating among the American working class, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report titled “Assessing the Terrorist Threat,” which stated, “Last year was a watershed in terrorist attacks and plots in the United States, with a record total of 11 jihadist attacks, jihadist-inspired plots, or efforts by Americans to travel overseas to obtain terrorist training.” Most gruesome among them was the attack at Fort Hood, Texas, which killed 13 people.

The BPC report is an adult answer to the question that was posed to the president. Recently, Americans have witnessed a terrorism parade. For the first time since 9/11, multiple threats and attacks on the homeland came across our TV screens. For our anguish over the loss of American lives, we were told the system worked; admonished not to jump to conclusions about the perpetrators; and, while we absorbed the blows of Islamist terrorism, told there was no such thing.

The crowning surreality was Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s plan to build a community center and mosque blocks from Ground Zero. For our misgivings about that, Americans were labeled bigots.

But according to our president, the problem lies with Americans who, as he once put it, “get bitter [and] cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them,” not with those who get homicidal and fire their guns in the name of religion and hatred of people who are not like them.

The declarations of President Obama and of the Bipartisan Policy Center are the poles between which American national security now vacillates. We go from the real world, where gunmen scream “Allahu Akbar” and kill Americans, to the classroom, where Islamist terrorism does not exist and all conflict can be explained as a function of economic struggle.

The classroom explanation is an insult to public intelligence. So too is the concomitant disclaimer that “the majority of Muslims are peace-loving people.” Not because it is false (it is not), but because no sane person has ever asserted the counterclaim. As a people, this makes us dumber. It makes us dumber to write it and it makes us dumber to read it. It introduces illogic into our reasoning, and once illogic enters, it stays. In public debate, there is always a well-meaning justification for proceeding illogically.

As a country, it makes us vulnerable — never more so than today. The BPC report notes that more American citizens or residents associated with Islamist groups were charged or convicted of terrorism in 2009 than in any year since 9/11. “A key shift in the threat to the homeland since around the time President Barack Obama took office,” says the report, “is the increasing ‘Americanization’ of the leadership of al-Qaeda and aligned groups, and the larger numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups.”

The enemy is becoming an intimate part of the American landscape and less easily identifiable as a distinctly foreign phenomenon. This is precisely the time for our leaders to find an intelligent way of discussing the true nature of the fight. Officially denying that there are Muslim terrorists among us will not protect innocent Muslims; it will put them at greater risk, as a potentially traumatized citizenry becomes frustrated with leadership that refuses to take seriously the complicated threats arrayed against it. Yet at no time since 9/11 has our government been this willfully inarticulate — even insulting — about the challenges we face.

The day before the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Obama was asked why there seemed to be a recent uptick in American distress about Islam. “At a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then, you know, fears can surface; suspicions, divisions can surface in a society,” he said. “We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other.”

What is not blamed on George W. Bush is blamed on us all. The Bible-clutching, gun-toting xenophobes Barack Obama referenced during his presidential campaign are now taking out their financial woes on innocent Muslims. Shame on them.

On the same day that the president gave his academic instruction on the roots of religious scapegoating among the American working class, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report titled “Assessing the Terrorist Threat,” which stated, “Last year was a watershed in terrorist attacks and plots in the United States, with a record total of 11 jihadist attacks, jihadist-inspired plots, or efforts by Americans to travel overseas to obtain terrorist training.” Most gruesome among them was the attack at Fort Hood, Texas, which killed 13 people.

The BPC report is an adult answer to the question that was posed to the president. Recently, Americans have witnessed a terrorism parade. For the first time since 9/11, multiple threats and attacks on the homeland came across our TV screens. For our anguish over the loss of American lives, we were told the system worked; admonished not to jump to conclusions about the perpetrators; and, while we absorbed the blows of Islamist terrorism, told there was no such thing.

The crowning surreality was Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s plan to build a community center and mosque blocks from Ground Zero. For our misgivings about that, Americans were labeled bigots.

But according to our president, the problem lies with Americans who, as he once put it, “get bitter [and] cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them,” not with those who get homicidal and fire their guns in the name of religion and hatred of people who are not like them.

The declarations of President Obama and of the Bipartisan Policy Center are the poles between which American national security now vacillates. We go from the real world, where gunmen scream “Allahu Akbar” and kill Americans, to the classroom, where Islamist terrorism does not exist and all conflict can be explained as a function of economic struggle.

The classroom explanation is an insult to public intelligence. So too is the concomitant disclaimer that “the majority of Muslims are peace-loving people.” Not because it is false (it is not), but because no sane person has ever asserted the counterclaim. As a people, this makes us dumber. It makes us dumber to write it and it makes us dumber to read it. It introduces illogic into our reasoning, and once illogic enters, it stays. In public debate, there is always a well-meaning justification for proceeding illogically.

As a country, it makes us vulnerable — never more so than today. The BPC report notes that more American citizens or residents associated with Islamist groups were charged or convicted of terrorism in 2009 than in any year since 9/11. “A key shift in the threat to the homeland since around the time President Barack Obama took office,” says the report, “is the increasing ‘Americanization’ of the leadership of al-Qaeda and aligned groups, and the larger numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups.”

The enemy is becoming an intimate part of the American landscape and less easily identifiable as a distinctly foreign phenomenon. This is precisely the time for our leaders to find an intelligent way of discussing the true nature of the fight. Officially denying that there are Muslim terrorists among us will not protect innocent Muslims; it will put them at greater risk, as a potentially traumatized citizenry becomes frustrated with leadership that refuses to take seriously the complicated threats arrayed against it. Yet at no time since 9/11 has our government been this willfully inarticulate — even insulting — about the challenges we face.

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Without Standards, It’s Hard to Tell Who Is a ‘Moderate’ Muslim

Bill McGurn observes that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf didn’t exactly live up to his billing at the Council on Foreign Relations, whose president swooned over the imam’s “bridge building” credentials. Yeah, that is downright embarrassing when one considers the imam’s refusal to condemn Hamas, his incendiary plans to build on Ground Zero, and his past comments on 9/11. I suppose if you dummy down your standards enough, he can meet the chattering class’s definition of “moderate.” (The left is big on rewarding intentions, not so big on drawing lines or objectively assessing others on the results of their actions.)

McGurn doesn’t think that’s what we should be doing. Instead, he calls out Abdul Rauf (and by implication his spin squad) for mimicking liberals’ infatuation with moral relativism:

“The real battlefront, the real battle that we must wage together today,” he said, “is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is between moderates of all faith traditions against the extremists of all faith traditions.”

Now, the world has its share of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other religious extremists. Sometimes that extremism leads to violence. At least in America, however, to compare this to the sustained, organized international war crimes planned and carried out by Islamic extremists beggars belief.

No one walks the streets of Manhattan fearing a Methodist may blow up his office, hijack his flight, or kill his son fighting in Afghanistan. Unless you are Angelina Jolie or the dean of Yale Law School, this is not only true but obvious.

Or unless you occupy the White House. Or write for the New York Times or the Daily Beast.

McGurn rightly concludes: “So where the Council on Foreign Relations may see in Imam Rauf the model of moderation, Americans may wonder whether a leader who cannot see what is uniquely threatening about Islamic extremism is the most effective spokesman for Muslim moderation.” It seems the rubes have a more finely tuned moral radar than do the condescending elites who are convinced the country is rife with bigotry.

While the liberal intelligentsia may be confused about what is a legal right and what is simply right – and between what is moderate and what is thinly veiled anti-Americanism — others are not. The much ridiculed George W. Bush was far more adept than is his successor and the liberal punditocracy at figuring out how to fight a war against Islamic jihadists without starting a domestic war against loyal American Muslims (or selling out truly moderate Muslims battling radicalism in the Middle East):

How different their approach (not to mention their results) is from that of George W. Bush, who could visit a mosque while the ruins of the Twin Towers were still smoldering, remind us that Muslim-Americans are free and equal citizens, and talk about how ordinary Muslim moms and dads wanted for their children what we want for ours. Maybe it had something to do with his being clear about the fight.

Or course this moral clarity is denigrated by the left as lacking ”sophistication” or “nuance.” It is nothing of the sort. Unlike Obama and the 29 percent of New Yorkers who think the Ground Zero mosque is a dandy idea, Bush and the vast majority of Americans are not guilty of intellectual sloth. In one of the Bluest major cities in America, the citizenry has found it easy to spot a provocateur bent on heightening religious tensions rather than ameliorating them. Frankly, if CFR wanted a bridge builder, they should have invited Bush — or one of the 71 percent of New Yorkers who have figured out that Abdul Rauf is an exceedingly poor champion of reconciliation.

Bill McGurn observes that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf didn’t exactly live up to his billing at the Council on Foreign Relations, whose president swooned over the imam’s “bridge building” credentials. Yeah, that is downright embarrassing when one considers the imam’s refusal to condemn Hamas, his incendiary plans to build on Ground Zero, and his past comments on 9/11. I suppose if you dummy down your standards enough, he can meet the chattering class’s definition of “moderate.” (The left is big on rewarding intentions, not so big on drawing lines or objectively assessing others on the results of their actions.)

McGurn doesn’t think that’s what we should be doing. Instead, he calls out Abdul Rauf (and by implication his spin squad) for mimicking liberals’ infatuation with moral relativism:

“The real battlefront, the real battle that we must wage together today,” he said, “is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is between moderates of all faith traditions against the extremists of all faith traditions.”

Now, the world has its share of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other religious extremists. Sometimes that extremism leads to violence. At least in America, however, to compare this to the sustained, organized international war crimes planned and carried out by Islamic extremists beggars belief.

No one walks the streets of Manhattan fearing a Methodist may blow up his office, hijack his flight, or kill his son fighting in Afghanistan. Unless you are Angelina Jolie or the dean of Yale Law School, this is not only true but obvious.

Or unless you occupy the White House. Or write for the New York Times or the Daily Beast.

McGurn rightly concludes: “So where the Council on Foreign Relations may see in Imam Rauf the model of moderation, Americans may wonder whether a leader who cannot see what is uniquely threatening about Islamic extremism is the most effective spokesman for Muslim moderation.” It seems the rubes have a more finely tuned moral radar than do the condescending elites who are convinced the country is rife with bigotry.

While the liberal intelligentsia may be confused about what is a legal right and what is simply right – and between what is moderate and what is thinly veiled anti-Americanism — others are not. The much ridiculed George W. Bush was far more adept than is his successor and the liberal punditocracy at figuring out how to fight a war against Islamic jihadists without starting a domestic war against loyal American Muslims (or selling out truly moderate Muslims battling radicalism in the Middle East):

How different their approach (not to mention their results) is from that of George W. Bush, who could visit a mosque while the ruins of the Twin Towers were still smoldering, remind us that Muslim-Americans are free and equal citizens, and talk about how ordinary Muslim moms and dads wanted for their children what we want for ours. Maybe it had something to do with his being clear about the fight.

Or course this moral clarity is denigrated by the left as lacking ”sophistication” or “nuance.” It is nothing of the sort. Unlike Obama and the 29 percent of New Yorkers who think the Ground Zero mosque is a dandy idea, Bush and the vast majority of Americans are not guilty of intellectual sloth. In one of the Bluest major cities in America, the citizenry has found it easy to spot a provocateur bent on heightening religious tensions rather than ameliorating them. Frankly, if CFR wanted a bridge builder, they should have invited Bush — or one of the 71 percent of New Yorkers who have figured out that Abdul Rauf is an exceedingly poor champion of reconciliation.

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The Left vs. New Yorkers

If you buy into the left punditocracy’s framing of the Ground Zero issue, there are a ton of Islamophobes in New York:

Seven in ten New Yorkers say the proposed mosque/Islamic community center near Ground Zero should be relocated because of opposition from 9/11 families — and an equal number want state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to probe the group’s finances, a new statewide poll released today found.

“Overwhelmingly — across party and regional lines — New Yorkers say the sponsors ought to voluntarily move the proposed mosque to another location,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

And women are the worst “bigots”: “By a 56-34 margin, women said the mosque should not be allowed to build near Ground Zero despite the legal right to do so. Among the men, there was a narrower 50-45 split.”

Moreover, the mosque builders appear to be the sorts of villains the left usually excoriates. The New York Post op-ed page explains that the builders are tax dodgers with a rap sheet:

Indeed, Sharif El-Gamal, who owns the site — as The Post’s Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein reported Sunday — owes nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the city in back payments. His firm, 45 Park Place Partners, simply skipped its property-tax bills in January and July, according to the Finance Department. Gamal’s folks say he delayed payments while seeking a lower tax rate, The New York Times reported.

Gamal, 37, also reportedly pleaded guilty to at least six misdemeanors while in his teens and 20s. Charges included disorderly conduct, drunk driving and attempted shoplifting.

And he was arrested once for punching a man who owed his brother money and another time for soliciting a prostitute.

And what’s more, “tenants in New Jersey buildings owned by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who’s leading the mosque project, describe him as a veritable slumlord.” This is the “moderate” imam and role model who’s been sent overseas at taxpayers’ expense:

“All he likes is money,” one tenant, Vilma Then, says. “Nothing [in her building] ever gets fixed.”

Jamie Barillas, another tenant, agrees, adding that tenants are forced to call their city officials to seek action. Barillas complains, for example, that bedbugs plague her building and that managers claim they don’t have money for an exterminator.

Not only has the left punditocracy managed to get on the opposite side of 70 percent of one of the Bluest States in the country, but it has also championed a tax cheat and exploiter of “the little guy.” I’d be hard pressed to find a better example of the rotten judgment and political extremism of what passes for the liberal intelligentsia.

If you buy into the left punditocracy’s framing of the Ground Zero issue, there are a ton of Islamophobes in New York:

Seven in ten New Yorkers say the proposed mosque/Islamic community center near Ground Zero should be relocated because of opposition from 9/11 families — and an equal number want state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to probe the group’s finances, a new statewide poll released today found.

“Overwhelmingly — across party and regional lines — New Yorkers say the sponsors ought to voluntarily move the proposed mosque to another location,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

And women are the worst “bigots”: “By a 56-34 margin, women said the mosque should not be allowed to build near Ground Zero despite the legal right to do so. Among the men, there was a narrower 50-45 split.”

Moreover, the mosque builders appear to be the sorts of villains the left usually excoriates. The New York Post op-ed page explains that the builders are tax dodgers with a rap sheet:

Indeed, Sharif El-Gamal, who owns the site — as The Post’s Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein reported Sunday — owes nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the city in back payments. His firm, 45 Park Place Partners, simply skipped its property-tax bills in January and July, according to the Finance Department. Gamal’s folks say he delayed payments while seeking a lower tax rate, The New York Times reported.

Gamal, 37, also reportedly pleaded guilty to at least six misdemeanors while in his teens and 20s. Charges included disorderly conduct, drunk driving and attempted shoplifting.

And he was arrested once for punching a man who owed his brother money and another time for soliciting a prostitute.

And what’s more, “tenants in New Jersey buildings owned by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who’s leading the mosque project, describe him as a veritable slumlord.” This is the “moderate” imam and role model who’s been sent overseas at taxpayers’ expense:

“All he likes is money,” one tenant, Vilma Then, says. “Nothing [in her building] ever gets fixed.”

Jamie Barillas, another tenant, agrees, adding that tenants are forced to call their city officials to seek action. Barillas complains, for example, that bedbugs plague her building and that managers claim they don’t have money for an exterminator.

Not only has the left punditocracy managed to get on the opposite side of 70 percent of one of the Bluest States in the country, but it has also championed a tax cheat and exploiter of “the little guy.” I’d be hard pressed to find a better example of the rotten judgment and political extremism of what passes for the liberal intelligentsia.

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Western Culture and the Mosque II

At Atlas Shrugs, Pam Geller has the transcript of a lecture given by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in Australia in 2005. What strikes me most about it is how well its sentiments align with the canon of left-wing elitist thought in the West. Rauf’s 2005 address is a textbook example of playing on the heroic civilizational guilt perpetually assumed by the Western left.

There’s hardly a shibboleth left uninvoked by the time Rauf is done. It’s actually funny to tote them up:  there are the obligatory references to America having blood on its hands; to our bomber aircraft generating the pretext for terrorism; to “U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq” killing half a million children; to the N-word and our penchant for “creating ethnic conflicts”; to the British colonial authorities bringing division and strife to the Middle East.

Of Islam, Rauf says the following:

From the point of view of Islamic theology, Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic history, the vast majority of Islamic history, it has been shaped or defined by a notion of multiculturalism and multireligiosity, if you might use that term.

The point is not whether this is true or false; the point is that Rauf chooses to make his case in these button-pushing terms. He is also perfectly aligned with the Western left in his take on Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. In his view:

[A] resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict [is] number one on the list of things that need to be done because you address this problem and a whole host of problems will be addressed automatically.

But he frames the Israeli role with prejudice. “Israelis,” he says, “have moved beyond Zionism.”

It’s like ticking off a checklist. The U.S. media have comfortably framed the debate over the Park 51 mosque as a case of Middle America versus Islam, but in a very real sense, as others have noted, it’s a case of Middle America versus our leftist cultural elite. In that sense, it almost doesn’t matter what Imam Rauf “really” believes or intends.  What matters is that he tailors his appeals to a Western cultural elite from which Middle America is decisively alienated.

There are many reasons for this internecine alienation, only a small percentage of them related to radical Islamism. Regarding the Ground Zero mosque itself, arguments can be advanced about the dangerous opportunities it may give Islamists. But I suspect that one of the most egregious offenses perceived by average Americans is that our cultural elite is – once again – ridiculing and abusing the people for not hewing to a narrative of culpability and self-abnegation that has no constructive purpose.

At Atlas Shrugs, Pam Geller has the transcript of a lecture given by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in Australia in 2005. What strikes me most about it is how well its sentiments align with the canon of left-wing elitist thought in the West. Rauf’s 2005 address is a textbook example of playing on the heroic civilizational guilt perpetually assumed by the Western left.

There’s hardly a shibboleth left uninvoked by the time Rauf is done. It’s actually funny to tote them up:  there are the obligatory references to America having blood on its hands; to our bomber aircraft generating the pretext for terrorism; to “U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq” killing half a million children; to the N-word and our penchant for “creating ethnic conflicts”; to the British colonial authorities bringing division and strife to the Middle East.

Of Islam, Rauf says the following:

From the point of view of Islamic theology, Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic history, the vast majority of Islamic history, it has been shaped or defined by a notion of multiculturalism and multireligiosity, if you might use that term.

The point is not whether this is true or false; the point is that Rauf chooses to make his case in these button-pushing terms. He is also perfectly aligned with the Western left in his take on Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. In his view:

[A] resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict [is] number one on the list of things that need to be done because you address this problem and a whole host of problems will be addressed automatically.

But he frames the Israeli role with prejudice. “Israelis,” he says, “have moved beyond Zionism.”

It’s like ticking off a checklist. The U.S. media have comfortably framed the debate over the Park 51 mosque as a case of Middle America versus Islam, but in a very real sense, as others have noted, it’s a case of Middle America versus our leftist cultural elite. In that sense, it almost doesn’t matter what Imam Rauf “really” believes or intends.  What matters is that he tailors his appeals to a Western cultural elite from which Middle America is decisively alienated.

There are many reasons for this internecine alienation, only a small percentage of them related to radical Islamism. Regarding the Ground Zero mosque itself, arguments can be advanced about the dangerous opportunities it may give Islamists. But I suspect that one of the most egregious offenses perceived by average Americans is that our cultural elite is – once again – ridiculing and abusing the people for not hewing to a narrative of culpability and self-abnegation that has no constructive purpose.

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How Is the Ground Zero Mosque Playing in NYC?

It takes a perfect storm for the Republicans to win a congressional seat in Manhattan. But there is a storm brewing, so is it possible? Well, it’s not likely, but stranger things have happened.

The NY-14 (the East Side and part of Queens) is rated by Charlie Cook as “solidly Democratic.” Carolyn Maloney was elected in 1992 and really hasn’t faced serious opposition since. However, this year she has a primary challenge and, if she prevails, will face an energetic, likable Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. At least on one issue Maloney is badly out of step with her constituents. Unlike several other Democratic colleagues, she’s come out in support of the Ground Zero mosque. In fact, she’s being pushed by her primary challenger to be more vocal in her support. (What is she to do beyond cheerleading – donate money?)

For now, Maloney is trying to change the topic and talk about a bill for additional compensation for 9/11 responders. Brumberg is trying to keep the issue front and center and has been clear in his opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. In a brief e-mail exchange, Brumberg tells me: “I oppose the building of a mosque on ground zero because the Imam refuses to condemn Hamas as a terror organization, and claims that America was partially to blame in the September 11th attacks.”  He explains,”Just as the First Amendment grants Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf the right to build his mosque, it also gives us the right to protest its construction. Maloney’s actions are emblematic of a worrisome trend among hardcore liberals: that we need to go beyond granting those we disagree with the right to act, to actively supporting their endeavors and ideology.”

Well, his stance on the Ground Zero mosque is the same as that of Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and 60 percent of New Yorkers. Will it be a key issue in the race? Brumberg argues, “Yes, the September 11th attacks touched the lives of every citizen in this district, and yet Maloney’s support for this Imam shows how out of touch she is.”

On other foreign-policy issues, Brumberg cites the danger of “nuclear proliferation posed by Iran and North Korea” and also the threat posed by ”yawning trade deficits and the increasing American dependence on Chinese capital.” As for domestic policy, he dismisses the idea that we are in a recovery. “The reality of our country’s present economic situation is that as long as Washington continues to waste our precious resources, our economy will never truly recover. We need to unchain America’s economic potential — create jobs and pay down the debt.”

It is not clear that the district is winnable by a Republican. But if there is any year it might be done, this is it. And Brumberg certainly has an opening now that Maloney is providing fodder for the argument that she is out of touch, too liberal even for New York City.

It takes a perfect storm for the Republicans to win a congressional seat in Manhattan. But there is a storm brewing, so is it possible? Well, it’s not likely, but stranger things have happened.

The NY-14 (the East Side and part of Queens) is rated by Charlie Cook as “solidly Democratic.” Carolyn Maloney was elected in 1992 and really hasn’t faced serious opposition since. However, this year she has a primary challenge and, if she prevails, will face an energetic, likable Republican opponent, Ryan Brumberg. At least on one issue Maloney is badly out of step with her constituents. Unlike several other Democratic colleagues, she’s come out in support of the Ground Zero mosque. In fact, she’s being pushed by her primary challenger to be more vocal in her support. (What is she to do beyond cheerleading – donate money?)

For now, Maloney is trying to change the topic and talk about a bill for additional compensation for 9/11 responders. Brumberg is trying to keep the issue front and center and has been clear in his opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. In a brief e-mail exchange, Brumberg tells me: “I oppose the building of a mosque on ground zero because the Imam refuses to condemn Hamas as a terror organization, and claims that America was partially to blame in the September 11th attacks.”  He explains,”Just as the First Amendment grants Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf the right to build his mosque, it also gives us the right to protest its construction. Maloney’s actions are emblematic of a worrisome trend among hardcore liberals: that we need to go beyond granting those we disagree with the right to act, to actively supporting their endeavors and ideology.”

Well, his stance on the Ground Zero mosque is the same as that of Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and 60 percent of New Yorkers. Will it be a key issue in the race? Brumberg argues, “Yes, the September 11th attacks touched the lives of every citizen in this district, and yet Maloney’s support for this Imam shows how out of touch she is.”

On other foreign-policy issues, Brumberg cites the danger of “nuclear proliferation posed by Iran and North Korea” and also the threat posed by ”yawning trade deficits and the increasing American dependence on Chinese capital.” As for domestic policy, he dismisses the idea that we are in a recovery. “The reality of our country’s present economic situation is that as long as Washington continues to waste our precious resources, our economy will never truly recover. We need to unchain America’s economic potential — create jobs and pay down the debt.”

It is not clear that the district is winnable by a Republican. But if there is any year it might be done, this is it. And Brumberg certainly has an opening now that Maloney is providing fodder for the argument that she is out of touch, too liberal even for New York City.

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From a Fight over the Constitution to a Local Zoning Issue

It’s all getting so confusing now. The early narrative from the left was that if you didn’t support Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero, you were a bigot, racist, and an enemy of religious liberty. But then President Obama declared that he wouldn’t take a stand on where to build the mosque, thereby conceding that it was not a matter of high Constitutional principle. Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former DNC chairman Howard Dean said they actually favor moving the mosque. (Dean’s comments can be found here.) And then Nancy Pelosi, during her recent comments, complained that she was receiving so many questions about what was essentially a local zoning issue. It’s a local issue, she insisted.

So what, at the start of the week, was the ground for the Democrats and the left to wage a heroic battle in behalf of religious liberty has now fizzled into a difference over a local zoning issue, with leading Democrats opposing building the mosque near Ground Zero.

What a pathetic end to a terribly misguided and enormously harmful (for the Democrats) effort.

It’s all getting so confusing now. The early narrative from the left was that if you didn’t support Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero, you were a bigot, racist, and an enemy of religious liberty. But then President Obama declared that he wouldn’t take a stand on where to build the mosque, thereby conceding that it was not a matter of high Constitutional principle. Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former DNC chairman Howard Dean said they actually favor moving the mosque. (Dean’s comments can be found here.) And then Nancy Pelosi, during her recent comments, complained that she was receiving so many questions about what was essentially a local zoning issue. It’s a local issue, she insisted.

So what, at the start of the week, was the ground for the Democrats and the left to wage a heroic battle in behalf of religious liberty has now fizzled into a difference over a local zoning issue, with leading Democrats opposing building the mosque near Ground Zero.

What a pathetic end to a terribly misguided and enormously harmful (for the Democrats) effort.

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RE: Peter Beinart’s Lamentation

Pete, I was torn about whether to follow up on your very adept post concerning Peter Beinart’s frustration (as well as that of much of the left) with Obama, America, etc. But I think it is important to call out blatant religious bigotry, and so, at the risk of drawing more eyeballs to his noxious discourse, I decided that this portion of Beinart’s rant deserves further comment:

Until a month or so ago, I genuinely believed that the American right had become a religiously ecumenical place. Right-wing Baptists loved right-wing Catholics and they both loved right-wing Orthodox Jews. All you had to do to join the big tent was denounce feminists, Hollywood, and gays. But when push came to shove, Sarah Palin didn’t care about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s position on gay marriage. In today’s GOP, even bigotry doesn’t spare you from bigotry. I wonder what Mitt Romney was thinking, as he added his voice to the anti-Muslim chorus. He surely knows that absent the religious right’s hostility to Mormons, he’d likely have been the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee. I look forward to his paeans to religious freedom when anti-Mormonism rears its head again in 2012.

And oh yes, my fellow Jews, who are so thrilled to be locked arm in arm with the heirs of Pat Robertson and Father Coughlin against the Islamic threat. Evidently, it’s never crossed your mind that the religious hatred you have helped unleash could turn once again against us. Of course not, we’re insiders in this society now: Our synagogues grace the toniest of suburbs; our rabbis speak flawless English; we Jews are now effortlessly white. Barely anyone even remembers that folks in Lower Manhattan once considered us alien and dangerous, too.

This is as bizarre as it is inappropriate. Not to belabor the point, but Beinart knows as much about religious conservatives as he does about Israel — i.e., most of what he ”knows” is wrong. There is great commonality among people of faith, and it is not based on cartoonish prejudices. Needless to say, what brings together observant Baptists, Catholics, and Jews — as well as a great many others – are quaint notions like the centrality of the Bible in their lives, the objection to hyper-secularism (which seeks to crowd them out of the public square), and, yes, a deep faith that America is a blessed nation with certain responsibilities in the world.

Sarah Palin cares not one wit about Rauf’s views on anything but the issue at hand, because she, unlike Beinart, can stick to the point. That point, in case we’ve lost track, is whether we should cheer a provocateur who will bring (and already has) untold strife to the country, anguish to 9/11 survivors, and cheers from jihadists, who would see the Ground Zero mosque as a triumphant symbol of Islam. As for Romney, I don’t recall his advancing views all that different from a number of Muslims. Or Howard Dean (who seems to realize that the Ground Zero mosque is ”not about the rights of Muslims to have a worship center … it is a real affront to people who lost their lives”).

As for Beinart’s second paragraph, it is an unfortunate example of the bile that can be splattered on Jews by Jews, with nary an eyebrow raised by elite opinion makers. Had Pat Buchanan, to whom Beinart lately bears an uncanny resemblance, accused Jews of walking with Father Coughlin, or had Al Sharpton (before becoming part of polite liberal company) referred to Jews as “effortlessly white,” I imagine all sorts of elites would be throwing a fit. But now it is par for the course.

Beinart has either lost control of himself or is out to best the Beagle Blogger in playing to the angry, unreasoned left. There are, after all, lucrative books deals in doing that. Who knows what his motives are, but he might want to stop before Politico runs a forum on whether he, too, has gone around the bend.

Pete, I was torn about whether to follow up on your very adept post concerning Peter Beinart’s frustration (as well as that of much of the left) with Obama, America, etc. But I think it is important to call out blatant religious bigotry, and so, at the risk of drawing more eyeballs to his noxious discourse, I decided that this portion of Beinart’s rant deserves further comment:

Until a month or so ago, I genuinely believed that the American right had become a religiously ecumenical place. Right-wing Baptists loved right-wing Catholics and they both loved right-wing Orthodox Jews. All you had to do to join the big tent was denounce feminists, Hollywood, and gays. But when push came to shove, Sarah Palin didn’t care about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s position on gay marriage. In today’s GOP, even bigotry doesn’t spare you from bigotry. I wonder what Mitt Romney was thinking, as he added his voice to the anti-Muslim chorus. He surely knows that absent the religious right’s hostility to Mormons, he’d likely have been the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee. I look forward to his paeans to religious freedom when anti-Mormonism rears its head again in 2012.

And oh yes, my fellow Jews, who are so thrilled to be locked arm in arm with the heirs of Pat Robertson and Father Coughlin against the Islamic threat. Evidently, it’s never crossed your mind that the religious hatred you have helped unleash could turn once again against us. Of course not, we’re insiders in this society now: Our synagogues grace the toniest of suburbs; our rabbis speak flawless English; we Jews are now effortlessly white. Barely anyone even remembers that folks in Lower Manhattan once considered us alien and dangerous, too.

This is as bizarre as it is inappropriate. Not to belabor the point, but Beinart knows as much about religious conservatives as he does about Israel — i.e., most of what he ”knows” is wrong. There is great commonality among people of faith, and it is not based on cartoonish prejudices. Needless to say, what brings together observant Baptists, Catholics, and Jews — as well as a great many others – are quaint notions like the centrality of the Bible in their lives, the objection to hyper-secularism (which seeks to crowd them out of the public square), and, yes, a deep faith that America is a blessed nation with certain responsibilities in the world.

Sarah Palin cares not one wit about Rauf’s views on anything but the issue at hand, because she, unlike Beinart, can stick to the point. That point, in case we’ve lost track, is whether we should cheer a provocateur who will bring (and already has) untold strife to the country, anguish to 9/11 survivors, and cheers from jihadists, who would see the Ground Zero mosque as a triumphant symbol of Islam. As for Romney, I don’t recall his advancing views all that different from a number of Muslims. Or Howard Dean (who seems to realize that the Ground Zero mosque is ”not about the rights of Muslims to have a worship center … it is a real affront to people who lost their lives”).

As for Beinart’s second paragraph, it is an unfortunate example of the bile that can be splattered on Jews by Jews, with nary an eyebrow raised by elite opinion makers. Had Pat Buchanan, to whom Beinart lately bears an uncanny resemblance, accused Jews of walking with Father Coughlin, or had Al Sharpton (before becoming part of polite liberal company) referred to Jews as “effortlessly white,” I imagine all sorts of elites would be throwing a fit. But now it is par for the course.

Beinart has either lost control of himself or is out to best the Beagle Blogger in playing to the angry, unreasoned left. There are, after all, lucrative books deals in doing that. Who knows what his motives are, but he might want to stop before Politico runs a forum on whether he, too, has gone around the bend.

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Attacking American Muslims

Some of those who favor placing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero have used malicious rhetoric to characterize those who oppose them. They are said to be anti-Muslim, anti-Constitutional, and acting, in the words of MSNBC’s resident deep thinker Norah O’Donnell, “like the people who stole freedom from Americans, the people who attacked America and killed 3,000 people.”

This is ugly and unfortunate stuff.

At the same time, those who oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero have an obligation to be careful about the rhetoric they employ. For example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has said: “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.” He later added, by way of analogy, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

Let’s take these assertions in order. Regarding the first one, Saudi Arabia is not the standard Americans should use on the matter of religious freedom. As for the second argument: the analogy breaks down because Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.

It is true, of course, that far too many Muslims in the world embrace a form of militant Islam; to deny that would be to deny reality. Those who attacked us on September 11 did so in the name of Islam. And those are not, by any means, the only attacks the world (or America) has witnessed.

At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.

It was a tribute to America that, in the aftermath of 9/11, it showed impressive tolerance and respect toward Muslims in this nation. President Bush went out of his way, early and often, to strike just the right tone.

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” Bush said at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., just six days after the attacks. “Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

Those words apply now as they did then.

I have argued before that the effort to build the mosque near Ground Zero is terribly imprudent because it was sure to ignite a debate in this country that is divisive and dangerous. Many Americans, for completely understandable reasons, would rather have this particular mosque run by this particular imam built elsewhere in New York. To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious, and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction. “It’s about damn time that Muslims around the world and in the United States — I’m talking about this particular imam — be sensitive to American values,” is how one commentator put it.

Because the debate on the mosque near Ground Zero deals with extremely sensitive matters, it’s easy for things to spin out of control. So it’s particularly important that arguments be made with precision, with care, and even with some measure of grace and understanding.

As usual, it’s wise to look to Lincoln to guide our way. In the words of the historian William Lee Miller:

[Lincoln] led one side in a bloody war not by arousing the aggressive tribalism, the assertive collective will, that war leaders often summon and that war publics often display, but by rather reasoning and eloquence. He gave careful arguments for his position, implying that he and his followers and their adversaries – their “dissatisfied countrymen” – were all part of a universal community of human reason. … He did not demean or demonize the enemy … he did not deal in disdain or contempt for the adversary.

Neither should we.

Some of those who favor placing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero have used malicious rhetoric to characterize those who oppose them. They are said to be anti-Muslim, anti-Constitutional, and acting, in the words of MSNBC’s resident deep thinker Norah O’Donnell, “like the people who stole freedom from Americans, the people who attacked America and killed 3,000 people.”

This is ugly and unfortunate stuff.

At the same time, those who oppose building the mosque near Ground Zero have an obligation to be careful about the rhetoric they employ. For example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has said: “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.” He later added, by way of analogy, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

Let’s take these assertions in order. Regarding the first one, Saudi Arabia is not the standard Americans should use on the matter of religious freedom. As for the second argument: the analogy breaks down because Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.

It is true, of course, that far too many Muslims in the world embrace a form of militant Islam; to deny that would be to deny reality. Those who attacked us on September 11 did so in the name of Islam. And those are not, by any means, the only attacks the world (or America) has witnessed.

At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.

It was a tribute to America that, in the aftermath of 9/11, it showed impressive tolerance and respect toward Muslims in this nation. President Bush went out of his way, early and often, to strike just the right tone.

“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” Bush said at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., just six days after the attacks. “Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

Those words apply now as they did then.

I have argued before that the effort to build the mosque near Ground Zero is terribly imprudent because it was sure to ignite a debate in this country that is divisive and dangerous. Many Americans, for completely understandable reasons, would rather have this particular mosque run by this particular imam built elsewhere in New York. To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious, and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction. “It’s about damn time that Muslims around the world and in the United States — I’m talking about this particular imam — be sensitive to American values,” is how one commentator put it.

Because the debate on the mosque near Ground Zero deals with extremely sensitive matters, it’s easy for things to spin out of control. So it’s particularly important that arguments be made with precision, with care, and even with some measure of grace and understanding.

As usual, it’s wise to look to Lincoln to guide our way. In the words of the historian William Lee Miller:

[Lincoln] led one side in a bloody war not by arousing the aggressive tribalism, the assertive collective will, that war leaders often summon and that war publics often display, but by rather reasoning and eloquence. He gave careful arguments for his position, implying that he and his followers and their adversaries – their “dissatisfied countrymen” – were all part of a universal community of human reason. … He did not demean or demonize the enemy … he did not deal in disdain or contempt for the adversary.

Neither should we.

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Obama, the Mosque, and Ground Zero

At Friday’s iftar dinner at the White House, President Obama declared, “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” On Saturday he offered this clarification: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

A few thoughts on this:

1. This has never been about the right to worship or religious freedom; it is about the wisdom of placing a proposed 15-story mosque and Islamic Center near Ground Zero. By his comments the president has shown, inadvertently, that the two issues are entirely separable. After all, if building the mosque were a matter of our “unshakable” commitment to religious freedom, and if that is what the controversy over the mosque were really all about, then Obama would have declared, in emphatic terms, what his position is. The fact that he won’t indicates that even Obama knows this is not an issue of high Constitutional principle; it’s a matter of a prudential judgment about context and location.

2. Assume the leader of the mosque had celebrated the American deaths on 9/11 and said that the agony of the slain brought him utter delight. Would that matter to Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, and the supporters of building the mosque? If not, they should say so and allow the voters to render their verdict on that disposition.

If so — if it is considered inappropriate to allow a Ground Zero mosque run by an imam who, while stopping short of advocating violence, did hold “radical” as opposed to “moderate” views — then aren’t we getting into dangerous territory, with government officials saying yes to religious leaders who are sufficiently “moderate” but no to religious leaders who don’t meet the Obama and Bloomberg test for theological integrity?

3. It’s hard to understand what President Obama is trying to achieve by wading into these waters. If his purpose was to speak out in behalf of the importance of religious liberty in America, the point is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be made. No serious person is arguing against religious liberty. If the purpose of Obama speaking out was to advance inter-faith comity and ensure that tensions don’t rise in America, then he has damaged that cause.

The American people were extremely fair-minded toward Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. There was no backlash against Muslims — appropriately so — and our political leaders, including President Bush, went out of their way to praise Muslim Americans and to distinguish between Islam and al-Qaeda’s interpretation of Islam. But precisely because those who plotted and executed the attacks on 9/11 did so in the name of Islam — and because Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has said that the U.S. was “an accessory to the crime that happened” — there is resistance to allowing this particular mosque to be built in this particular place.

Many people believe that Imam Rauf is trying to co-opt a brutal attack against innocent Americans in order to make his own point. But even if you don’t agree with that assessment, forcing the public to accept the mosque may well (and unfortunately) deepen resentment against Muslims — and, as we have seen, for no high-minded, first-amendment reasons. The public will feel as if this were a stick in the eye — something unnecessary and even provocative.

Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues and one of the qualities that is most important for political leaders to have. It involves, among other things, the ability to anticipate the effects of one’s words and actions. What Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama have done is to undermine the very cause they say they are trying to defend. By implicitly and explicitly siding with Feisal Abdul Rauf’s effort and trying to turn this matter into a false debate about religious freedom, they are sharpening the divisions in our country in a way that is both unnecessary and harmful.

Well done, gentlemen.

At Friday’s iftar dinner at the White House, President Obama declared, “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” On Saturday he offered this clarification: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

A few thoughts on this:

1. This has never been about the right to worship or religious freedom; it is about the wisdom of placing a proposed 15-story mosque and Islamic Center near Ground Zero. By his comments the president has shown, inadvertently, that the two issues are entirely separable. After all, if building the mosque were a matter of our “unshakable” commitment to religious freedom, and if that is what the controversy over the mosque were really all about, then Obama would have declared, in emphatic terms, what his position is. The fact that he won’t indicates that even Obama knows this is not an issue of high Constitutional principle; it’s a matter of a prudential judgment about context and location.

2. Assume the leader of the mosque had celebrated the American deaths on 9/11 and said that the agony of the slain brought him utter delight. Would that matter to Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, and the supporters of building the mosque? If not, they should say so and allow the voters to render their verdict on that disposition.

If so — if it is considered inappropriate to allow a Ground Zero mosque run by an imam who, while stopping short of advocating violence, did hold “radical” as opposed to “moderate” views — then aren’t we getting into dangerous territory, with government officials saying yes to religious leaders who are sufficiently “moderate” but no to religious leaders who don’t meet the Obama and Bloomberg test for theological integrity?

3. It’s hard to understand what President Obama is trying to achieve by wading into these waters. If his purpose was to speak out in behalf of the importance of religious liberty in America, the point is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be made. No serious person is arguing against religious liberty. If the purpose of Obama speaking out was to advance inter-faith comity and ensure that tensions don’t rise in America, then he has damaged that cause.

The American people were extremely fair-minded toward Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. There was no backlash against Muslims — appropriately so — and our political leaders, including President Bush, went out of their way to praise Muslim Americans and to distinguish between Islam and al-Qaeda’s interpretation of Islam. But precisely because those who plotted and executed the attacks on 9/11 did so in the name of Islam — and because Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has said that the U.S. was “an accessory to the crime that happened” — there is resistance to allowing this particular mosque to be built in this particular place.

Many people believe that Imam Rauf is trying to co-opt a brutal attack against innocent Americans in order to make his own point. But even if you don’t agree with that assessment, forcing the public to accept the mosque may well (and unfortunately) deepen resentment against Muslims — and, as we have seen, for no high-minded, first-amendment reasons. The public will feel as if this were a stick in the eye — something unnecessary and even provocative.

Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues and one of the qualities that is most important for political leaders to have. It involves, among other things, the ability to anticipate the effects of one’s words and actions. What Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama have done is to undermine the very cause they say they are trying to defend. By implicitly and explicitly siding with Feisal Abdul Rauf’s effort and trying to turn this matter into a false debate about religious freedom, they are sharpening the divisions in our country in a way that is both unnecessary and harmful.

Well done, gentlemen.

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RE: Exporting the Imam’s Message

I was curious about the State Department’s invocation of Abe Foxman in defending its decision to send the imam of the planned Ground Zero mosque overseas. The spokesman declared, “I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views.” That seemed a bit odd, in part because the ADL — to the chagrin of the left — had released a statement urging the mosque be relocated and asserting:

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.  These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.

I contacted the ADL, which had this response:

P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman on FoxNews this morning mischaracterized what Abraham H. Foxman has said regarding Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, when he stated,

“…I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views…”

Mr. Foxman, who has known and had contact with the Imam on several occasions, has repeatedly said, “To the best of my knowledge he is a moderate and I have agreed to defend him against charges of his being a terrorist or extremist.”

Well, that is a helpful clarification, but frankly, it’s rather weak, given what we know about Rauf’s views on, for example, 9/11. In another era and with another ADL leader, I imagine a more robust response would have been forthcoming. An official of another Jewish organization remarked to me, “If the standard for ‘moderate’ includes embracing Hamas and implicating the United States in connection with 9/11, there is obviously a fundamental problem.” Indeed.

I was curious about the State Department’s invocation of Abe Foxman in defending its decision to send the imam of the planned Ground Zero mosque overseas. The spokesman declared, “I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views.” That seemed a bit odd, in part because the ADL — to the chagrin of the left — had released a statement urging the mosque be relocated and asserting:

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.  These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.

I contacted the ADL, which had this response:

P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman on FoxNews this morning mischaracterized what Abraham H. Foxman has said regarding Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, when he stated,

“…I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views…”

Mr. Foxman, who has known and had contact with the Imam on several occasions, has repeatedly said, “To the best of my knowledge he is a moderate and I have agreed to defend him against charges of his being a terrorist or extremist.”

Well, that is a helpful clarification, but frankly, it’s rather weak, given what we know about Rauf’s views on, for example, 9/11. In another era and with another ADL leader, I imagine a more robust response would have been forthcoming. An official of another Jewish organization remarked to me, “If the standard for ‘moderate’ includes embracing Hamas and implicating the United States in connection with 9/11, there is obviously a fundamental problem.” Indeed.

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Exporting the Imam’s Message

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

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RE: The Left Defends Ground Zero Mosque

I wanted to add to your post, Jen, that mentions Dan Senor’s thoughtful, measured, and quite powerful open letter to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is the driving force behind the plan to build a mosque and Muslim community center — the Cordoba House — at Ground Zero. Senor is an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a resident of lower Manhattan. As he puts it:

Our deeper concern is what effect Cordoba House would have on the families of 9/11 victims, survivors of and first responders to the attacks, New Yorkers in general, and all Americans. As you have seen in the public reaction to the Cordoba House, 9/11 remains a deep wound for Americans—especially those who experienced it directly in some way. They understandably see the area as sacred ground. Nearly all of them also reject the equation of Islam with terrorism and do not blame the attacks on Muslims generally or on the Muslim faith. But many believe that Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials to the event itself and to its victims. They do not understand why of all possible locations in the city, Cordoba House must be sited so near to there … the exact street address of your cultural center cannot matter to the performance of its mission—but it very much does matter to the perceptions of your fellow Americans. We urge you to reconsider.

Imam Rauf certainly should — but probably will need some convincing. That’s why it would be mighty helpful if President Obama added his voice to the arguments laid out by Mr. Senor. It’s an issue Obama shouldn’t be allowed to vote “present” on.

I wanted to add to your post, Jen, that mentions Dan Senor’s thoughtful, measured, and quite powerful open letter to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is the driving force behind the plan to build a mosque and Muslim community center — the Cordoba House — at Ground Zero. Senor is an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a resident of lower Manhattan. As he puts it:

Our deeper concern is what effect Cordoba House would have on the families of 9/11 victims, survivors of and first responders to the attacks, New Yorkers in general, and all Americans. As you have seen in the public reaction to the Cordoba House, 9/11 remains a deep wound for Americans—especially those who experienced it directly in some way. They understandably see the area as sacred ground. Nearly all of them also reject the equation of Islam with terrorism and do not blame the attacks on Muslims generally or on the Muslim faith. But many believe that Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials to the event itself and to its victims. They do not understand why of all possible locations in the city, Cordoba House must be sited so near to there … the exact street address of your cultural center cannot matter to the performance of its mission—but it very much does matter to the perceptions of your fellow Americans. We urge you to reconsider.

Imam Rauf certainly should — but probably will need some convincing. That’s why it would be mighty helpful if President Obama added his voice to the arguments laid out by Mr. Senor. It’s an issue Obama shouldn’t be allowed to vote “present” on.

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