Commentary Magazine


What’s Wrong with Obama’s Muslim Outreach

Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations has, of late, shown what those on the left like to say of conservative justices shifting their way — “growth.” He has come out squarely in favor of regime change in Iran. And he has criticized Obama for his ill-advised fixation on the “peace process.” But the Ground Zero mosque controversy is not his finest hour. In a symposium on the topic, he writes of his concern about opinion abroad:

What I have in mind is anti-Americanism, a possible response to increasingly strident statements by Americans that appear to be anti-Muslim. And such anti-Americanism has unfortunate potential: It can breed tolerance of or, worse yet, support for radicalism and terrorism, and it can stimulate opposition to American policies as well as to local leaders in Arab and Muslim-majority countries who associate themselves with the United States. This has the potential to take a toll on prospects for U.S. policies throughout the greater Middle East, including U.S. efforts designed to promote peace, stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, and isolate Iran.

What statements, exactly, appear to be anti-Muslim? Has any elected official disputed that there is a constitutional right for the mosque to be built? Perhaps if he identified which mosque opponents are appearing to be anti- Muslim (Howard Dean? Abe Foxman? Harry Reid?), he might have a stronger argument. But the rest of those comments are the type of pablum one usually hears from the White House: we shouldn’t do things (e.g., leave open Guantanamo, criticize a mosque on the ashes of Americans killed in the name of Islam) that will make Muslims mad at us.

Listen, radical jihadists need no excuses. They attacked us on 9/11 and before that and will continue to do so because their radical vision of Islamic domination compels them to.  And as for allegation that we “breed intolerance” by defending our values or taking robust action in the war against Islamic radicals, well, there is no evidence it is true. And, moreover, so what? Should we cease support of Israel as well? That gets even “moderate” Muslims very upset.  The premise, which infects the entire Muslim-outreach gambit, is that we must walk on egg shells, defer to Muslim sensibilities, and show deference to those who object to our legitimate concerns. It is a formula likely to be interpreted as abject weakness and unlikely to garner many new friends. Haass ends by pleading for the entire episode to go away; it is, I think, a difficult subject for him.

However, in the same symposium, Dan Senor has no problem setting forth the anti-mosque position:

Supporters of the Ground Zero Mosque typically cite religious freedom. I do not object to the mosque because it is a mosque, nor do I have any wish to curtail Islamic freedom of worship. Where a particular facility is sited is not a matter of religious liberty. My concern is that two blocks from Ground Zero is an inappropriate and insensitive location for this center.

In the minds of those who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the “Ground Zero Mosque” will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a monument erected on the site of a great “military” victory. This reality is clear enough after studying the recruitment propaganda used by terrorist groups that exists on the web and elsewhere. Progressive Muslim leaders who reject the link between Islam and the radicalism espoused by al-Qaeda must be wary of helping to further this rhetoric, even inadvertently.

In short, he doesn’t buy into the idea that capitulating to a provocative act will inure to our benefit in the “Muslim World” (and he cites evidence to support his argument). And he adds: “My deeper concern is what effect the Ground Zero Mosque would have on the families of 9/11 victims, survivors of and first responders to the attacks, and New Yorkers in general.” (Haass doesn’t mention any of them, by the way.)

This, in essence lays out the two sides in the debate as to how we should approach the “Muslim World.” Obama has tried Muslim outreach, and he’s hamstrung us on interrogation of jihadist suspects. He has figuratively and literally genuflected before Muslim leaders. It’s not working. Here’s an idea, a different sort of approach: he once told American Jewish leaders to go self-reflect about Israel (a strange admonition for a community that does little else), so how about calling in American Muslim leaders to do the same. Reflect on their reluctance to label Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups, reflect on their lack of empathy for fellow citizens and survivors of those killed on 9/11, and reflect on their failure to repudiate statements that America is responsible for 9/11.

No, it’s never going to happen, and we should ask why that is. It may lead us to the central fallacy that underlies Obama and much of the left’s strategy in cultivating favorable Muslim public opinion: they believe subservience breeds respect.

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