A Bishop, a Rabbi and an Imam Walked Into a Room a Few Miles from Ground Zero…

I just came from the Episcopal Cathedral in Newark, where I helped the Web Goddess record for posterity an interfaith service marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.  There were solemn remembrances, of course, but also proclamations of faith and hope for the future.  There was even laughter, as there should be whenever human beings of whatever faith come together in community.

I was in the balcony videotaping the entire service.  In her role as Director of Communications and Technology for the Diocese of Newark, the Web Goddess will find a variety of uses for parts of the footage (pixelage?).  Her boss, the Right Reverend Mark Beckwith, Bishop of Newark, was one of three speakers, the others being a rabbi and an imam who serve with Bishop Beckwith on an interfaith coalition.

I was too busy fiddling with the video camera to take notes on the reflections of the three clerics, all of which were grounded in the knowledge that Christians, Jews and Muslims all worship the same God.  Newark Mayor Cory Booker attended and made brief remarks, and the Star-Ledger sent a reporter, a photographer and a videographer.  [The video by Nyier Abdou was particularly well done. For A.T.I.N. groupies, there's a quick glimpse of the Web Goddess at the left at 0:24, and of me with a video camera on a tripod in the balcony at 1:04, and at 2:47.]

To me, perhaps the most moving part of the service came near the very beginning. The muezzin from a major mosque in Irvington walked to the lectern in this Episcopal church and chanted the Muslim call to worship, a hauntingly beautiful recital I had never heard in person before.

The service bulletin thoughtfully provided an English translation of the call to prayer, which begins and ends with “Allahu Akbar.”  Tragically, that phrase is associated in my mind with the hatred and anger of too many terrorist attacks. It was a blessing on this day to hear in those words an affirmation of our common humanity.

(Mr. Sabir Salaam of Masjid Waarith ud Deen in Irvington chants the Muslim call to prayer at Trinity & St. Philips Cathedral in Newark.  Photo by the Web Goddess, of course.)

Karen Armstrong Preaches Compassion in Morristown

Karen Armstrong (Photo by the Web Goddess)

I tried to bait the famous author into a partisan screed, but she was having none of it.

“America is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now our Nobel Peace Prize winning president is taking us into war in Libya.  I’d be interested to hear your take on how some of the things you’ve talked about relate to the wider geopolitical scene,” I said to Karen Armstrong, author of more than two dozen books, most recently Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.

She spoke tonight before a crowd of 500 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown.  It was the initial offering in the John Shelby Spong Lectureship, named after the uber-liberal former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.  (The event was financially supported by the diocese, where the Web Goddess is Director of Communications and Technology, but she bears no responsibility for what I write here.)

“I’m sorry about these wars, is all I can say” Armstrong said. “After 9/11 there was such an outpouring of support for America, there were demonstrations in Tehran… Unfortunately, these wars have further radicalized people.”  All true enough.

Armstrong said all the world’s major religious traditions call for us to have compassion for others, although that does not mean that the religions are all the same.  The Golden Rule, which Christians know as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” was formulated independently many times, starting with Confucius, 500 years before Christ.

Armstrong struck a number of humorous notes, telling of repeated cab rides in London where the cabbie, upon hearing that she was a religion writer, declared that religion is responsible for all the wars in world history.  She described something as a “pie in the eye” notion, showing again that America and Britain are two nations separated by a common language.

I’ve not read any of her books, but I’m looking forward to her latest, 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life, with its deliberate overtones of Alcoholics Anonymous.  (The Web Goddess stood on line to get it autographed by the author.)  “We’re addicted to our prejudices,” Armstrong said.

In addition to her book, Armstrong is plugging the Charter for Compassion, ” which grew out of a $100,000 TED prize she won in 2008.  The charter is “a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national difference. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world.”

“I don’t have much hope of politicians,” she said.  I led a modest burst of applause when she described how the most fervent and effective backers of the Charter are businessmen.

If I can get the *#$*&$ voice recorder software to work, I’ll post more comments from Armstrong’s talk this weekend.  In the meantime, if you buy her books through my Amazon widget, I supposedly get a tiny piece of the action :)

There Are a Billion Muslims — We Better Make Friends With Some of Them

Father Butler (Montclair Times photo)

The Web Goddess is an Episcopal communicator, and posted last week on the Facebook page of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark about the grief a priest has been catching in Montclair, some 20 minutes north of our own beloved parish in Maplewood:

The Rev. Andrew Butler of Montclair’s progressive St. John’s Episcopal Church has been receiving hate mail, calling him a “damn fool” and saying that he has made a “mockery out of Christianity,” because he decided to hold an interfaith worship service for both Muslims and Christians. …

The service at the church, at 55 Montclair Ave., began with a call to prayer. Verses from the Quran and the Bible were read, led by the church’s rector, the Rev. Andrew Butler, and Abdul-Alim Mubarak-Rowe, assistant imam at Masjid Waritj ud Deen in Irvington, and journalist Anisa Mehdi.

“We have interfaith couples in our church, so the whole notion of being married to someone of a different faith is not new for a lot of folks here, so it really wasn’t that much of a stretch for our parish,” Butler said.

But some people don’t see it that way – including, apparently, some men of the cloth.

One of the emails came from a retired Orthodox priest who wrote: “To read selected bits from the Koran, in a so-called Christian Church service, is apostasy. What a fool you are to believe that Christianity and Islam worship the same God … You are the sort of priest that has made a mockery out of Christianity, one that is unable to stand up for the faith … Let me give you a bit of advice, son, the entire meaning and purpose of life is to attain heaven. If you believe that this sort of compromise is going to bring you or your congregation closer to heaven you’re a damn fool. Chip it in stone.”

Butler said many of the people who wrote to him called themselves “concerned Christians.”

Set aside the arrogance of presuming to know who is and is not going to heaven.  Set aside theological issues of all sorts.  The complainers have chosen a particularly short-sighted way of manifesting their religiousity and their revulsion of Islam.

America is at war with a global enemy motivated by Islam — but if Islam itself is the enemy, we’re all in trouble.  Father Butler should be commended, not attacked, for working to build bridges between Muslims and Christians.

Avid readers of All That Is Necessary — if such people exist outside my family — may at this point be saying “Wait a minute, Petersen: how do you square this post with your repeated objections to the Ground Zero mosque?”

The Ground Zero mosque — which is two blocks from Ground Zero and is much more than just a mosque — thankfully seems to be stalled for financial reasons.  If you look at some of the links in the previous paragraph, you’ll see I’ve argued that the site proposed for a $100 million, 13-story Islamic trophy building is a deliberate provocation.  My go-to guy for Muslim moderation, M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, has my back.

Father Butler’s interfaith service is exactly the opposite — a deliberate effort to find common ground between the world’s two largest religions, or at least to increase their comfort level with each other.  I wish I had been there.

In Any Language, the Ground Zero Mosque is a Bad Idea

Yasser Arafat, the Father of Modern Terrorism, whose 1994 receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize tarnished that award for all time, pioneered the art of condemning violence in English while encouraging it in Arabic.  He largely got away with it, because of a shortage of Arabic-language speakers in America and Europe.

Enter MEMRI, the indispensable Middle East Media Research Institute, founded in 1998.  MEMRI has played a role in virtually every news article you’ve ever seen about radical Muslims preaching death and destruction in Arabic, not to mention Farsi, Urdu, Pashtu, Dari, Hindi, and Turkish.

(Hm… the premise of this post was that it’s refreshing to see MEMRI with a translation of a Muslim with a moderate message.  So I get a couple of nice setup paragraphs written… and I realize the article in question was actually written in English.  Whatever.  Onward!)

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is a former Commodore in the Saudi Arabian Navy, who spent several years in the U.S. as a liaison officer at the Pensacola Naval Air Station (where my favorite sailor did his A School training last year), after spending several years in the late 1970s studying at the State University of New York’s Maritime College.  While in New York he visited the “breathtaking” World Trade Center more times than he could count.

During his years in the U.S. … well, let him tell it:

I drove on every highway and used every airport you can think of. During all that time I never had any problem praying and practicing Islam. As a matter of fact, the American people are the most admired for their respect of the Islamic religion. We prayed everywhere – in the classroom, the office, airports and in any highway exit. So Islam can be practiced anywhere without any fanfare or prestigious mosque. The U.S. is the most tolerant country regarding building an Islamic center. But why [did] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf choose Ground Zero?”…

When I watched the collapse of the World Trade Center and the rescue efforts done by the people of New York, I knew for sure that someone I know was a victim or a rescue member. Two weeks later I received an e-mail from the Maritime College Alumni Association announcing the death of two of the school graduates. One is from the class of 1963 and the other from the class of 1986 (I will not mention their names). Another very close friend of mine and from the same class (1979) left one of the burning towers 15 minutes before it collapsed. Now I am emotionally more hurt than before. …

This is why I think that we Muslims have to carefully consider the place where the mosque will be built. There are a lot of mosques in Manhattan and having the mosque near Ground Zero may bring more harm to the Muslims than good. There is freedom of religion, but there is a common sense too.

Well said, Commodore Al-Mulhim.

Should French Women Wear Burqas at the Ground Zero Mosque?

Which outfit do you find offensive?

Sometimes I blog to share what I think.  Other times I blog to try to decide what I think.

I don’t know what to think about the French Parliament’s vote last week to ban the wearing of the burqa and niqab.  More precisely:

The legislation adopted Tuesday by the Senate, the upper house of the French Parliament, forbids people from concealing their faces in public. It makes no reference to Islam, and includes exceptions for people who need to cover up for work reasons, such as riot police and surgeons.

Despite the “inclusive” language, nobody disputes the obvious fact that the target of the law is the practice among a small minority of French Muslim women of wearing garments that conceal them from head to toe.

I come to this topic via an online debate published today on The Wall Street Journal‘s website.  In an exchange of emails, Journal Editorial Board members Matthew Kaminsky and Bret Stephens stake out opposing positions on whether the French ban is appropriate.  Stephens offers 10 numbered points in support.  They start to become persuasive in the second half:

6) At the core of liberalism is the concept of the individual. Individual choice is important, but ultimately not as important as the individual who makes it. In the public sphere, the individual is defined first by her face; it is the principal way we can recognize her as such. The purpose of the burqa/niqab is not to protect “female modesty,” which in Islam (and, indeed, Judaism) can be practiced by covering one’s hair. Instead, the purpose is to erase the individual. So to allow the burqa/niqab violates the most basic precept of liberal society.

7) Also violated by the burqa/niqab is the fundamental liberal concept of equality. Only female identity is erased here; only the female half of the population effectively disappears from public view. To suggest that women can be separate but equal…. well, I don’t need to spell the rest out.

8 ) Who are we kidding? You can suppose that some of the women wearing the burqa/niqab genuinely want to do so. But you can be sure many of them do so only out of fear of abusive, sometimes murderous, husbands/brothers/fathers. The incidence of honor killings or of husbands mutilating their wives is on the rise throughout Europe, in part because Europe allows Muslim immigrants to get away with enforcing medieval social norms in their urban ghettos. This ought to be discouraged.

Kaminsky counters with religious freedom:

But the real issue here is one of principle. A state—a majority Christian state, to boot—is mandating how members of a minority religion should go about practicing theirs. I am troubled by the headscarf ban, but at least that applied only in public schools. Here the police will have the right to pull a piece of clothing off you in the middle of the street. Islam is the target: they’re not saying the Krishnas should stop wearing those “revealing” outfits or Orthodox Jewish women can’t wear wigs that, to some eyes, conceal their identity. What next, laws on mandating skirts be this long or this short?

Can't tell the oppressive headgear without a program

You’ll say it’s different. That the full Islamofemme getup is a tool of oppression. Sure, maybe on cultural grounds, as seen by your eyes. But to some of them it is about free speech and their religion and their right to honor their culture, however distasteful to our eyes. Who are you to say what it is and isn’t?

Still I am no less a feminist than Bret is. By all means, let’s do all we can to liberate Muslim women. In Europe’s Muslim communities that comes down to schooling, jobs and law enforcement. Leave the fashion police to Saudi Arabia. We get into serious trouble if we say, “oh the headscarf is ok, but the burqa ain’t”. Imagine if such a proposal even came up in the US (inshallah, it won’t): it would — for now — be laughed off the public square.

Yes, on this topic at least, America is more progressive than France.

The discussion brings to mind the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque.  It’s not immediately clear whether the similarities or the differences are more compelling.

Similarities: Both controversies involve religious freedom — although a case can be made that burqas are a cultural invention, not a religious one, as the burqa apparently has no basis in the Qu’ran.  Both involve some degree of mistrust and anxiety about Muslims.  Both involve lopsided majorities — 70% opposition to the Ground Zero mosque in America, a vote of 246-1 in favor of the burqa ban in the French Parliament.

But there’s one huge difference.  In France, the state itself is imposing the burqa ban.  In America, the Ground Zero mosque is opposed not by the government, but by citizens exercising their freedom of speech.

As has happened in the past, the process of researching and writing a blog post is helping me decide what I think.

Neither issue is a slam dunk. Both arguments require careful parsing.  In Lower Manhattan, I oppose the building of a $100 million Islamic trophy on the site of a building damaged by falling debris on 9/11.  But I applaud the fact that Muslims are welcome to gather in prayer in a Pentagon chapel less than 100 feet from where that plane crashed.  There’s some tension between these positions, but I’m comfortable with both.

I sympathize with the French opposition to the burqa.  As a lifelong proponent of equal rights and opportunities for women, I find the very concept of the burqa repugnant, and I will never believe that women wear it as a matter of “choice” in any meaningful sense of the term.

But I think France goes a step too far in imposing a governmental ban.  That 246-1 vote reflects the fact that most of the opposition Socialists abstained in the vote.  The Journal reports: “Many Socialist Party lawmakers have said that they oppose the full-body veils, but that they would prefer to do so through dialogue and other means, not through legislation.”

I never thought I would say this, but here goes:  I’m with the French Socialists on this one.

Park51 Would Be the Most Expensive Islamic Center in North America

Artist rendering of Park51

One of the first thoughts that occurred to me when I began writing about the planned 13-story, 100,000 square foot, $100 million Islamic center near Ground Zero is, “surely this would be the biggest Islamic facility in the country?” To me, the trophy-building scale of the project is what makes it objectionable at that site.

But despite the zillions of words that have been written about the controversy, and despite the time-honored journalistic tendency to identify the biggest this and the tallest that, I’ve looked in vain for anything providing that bit of context.

It turns out that such comparisons are not easily made.  But after surveying the competition, I believe that if it is built, Park51 arguably will be the largest and tallest, and certainly will be the most expensive, Islamic center in North America.

Islamic Center of America, Dearborn, Michigan

If you Google “largest mosque in America,” the first result is the Islamic Center of America, which according to its website is a 70,000-square-foot complex in Dearborn, Michigan.  It includes a mosque that will accommodate 1,000 worshipers at a time (700 men downstairs, 300 women upstairs, just to remind you who is considered important), as well as a full-service banquet facility and a school.  This represents the first two of four planned phases of construction, with an auditorium and more educational facilities still to come.  “When all four phases are complete, the Islamic Center of America will be the largest in North America,” the website says.

The website gives the cost of the mosque as $14 million.  It’s not clear whether that is the final cost or just the phases built so far, but in either event it clearly won’t approach the $100 million pricetag of Park 51.  The dome in Dearborn is listed as 150 feet high, and the two minarets are said to be “10 stories tall”.  I’ve not been able to find a height for Park51 expressed in feet, but 13 stories implies about 150-160 feet.

Islamic Center of Washington

The Islamic Center of Washington, where George Bush removed his shoes on September 17, 2001, and declared that “Islam is peace,” was opened in 1957, and I could not find any estimates of its cost or square footage.   A Washington Post article refers to the “distinctive 160-foot minaret,” but the main building is only 2 or 3 stories tall.

Islamic Cultural Center of New York

The current largest Islamic facility in New York is the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, at 3rd Avenue and 97th Street in Manhattan, eight miles uptown from Ground Zero.  The Imam there on 9/11, Muhammad Gemeaha, opined that “only the Jews” were capable of destroying the World Trade Center and added that ”if it became known to the American people, they would have done to Jews what Hitler did.”  Charming.  To be fair, the current imam, Mohammad Shamsi Ali, apparently is working hard to build stronger ties with the city’s Jewish community.

The center boasts a 130-foot minaret, and was opened in 1991 at a cost of $17 million.  Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, that cost translates to about $27 million in today’s dollars.  In light of the concerns about foreign funding of Park51, it’s interesting to note that the Islamic Cultural Center of New York “depended on support from 46 Islamic countries,” primarily Kuwait.

Masjid al-Haram, Mecca

The biggest mosque in the world, of course, is the one toward which Muslims face for their daily prayers:  Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque of Mecca, which dates from 638.  No info on cost, but the Saudis have clearly sunk some bucks in it over the years.  It will accommodate up to 4 million worshipers during the annual hajj.

No infidels allowed.

(All photos from Wikipedia)

A Symposium on Moderate Islam — and Why the Ground Zero Imam Doesn’t Qualify

Feisal Abdul Rauf

Two useful features today in the Wall Street Journal.  First, a symposium titled “What is Moderate Islam?“, in which six scholars and thought leaders explore the topic that represents the world’s best hope for peaceful coexistence between Islam and the West.

Second, “Letters from the Imam,” in which the man behind a controversial proposed Islamic center in Lower Manhattan pointedly refuses an opportunity to portray himself as a moderate in the nation’s largest newspaper.

You really should read the whole thing, but I know you won’t (I can tell from my traffic software when someone clicks a link in one of my posts), so here are highlights from the symposium.

Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s opposition leader:

Yet Muslims must do more than just talk about their great intellectual and cultural heritage. We must be at the forefront of those who reject violence and terrorism. And our activism must not end there. The tyrants and oppressive regimes that have been the real impediment to peace and progress in the Muslim world must hear our unanimous condemnation. The ball is in our court.

Former Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis:

For the moment, there does not seem to be much prospect of a moderate Islam in the Muslim world. This is partly because in the prevailing atmosphere the expression of moderate ideas can be dangerous—even life-threatening. Radical groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, the likes of which in earlier times were at most minor and marginal, have acquired a powerful and even a dominant position.

But for Muslims who seek it, the roots are there, both in the theory and practice of their faith and in their early sacred history.

The Islamist author Ed Husain:

The Prophet Muhammad warned us against ghuluw, or extremism, in religion. The Quran reinforces the need for qist, or balance. For me, Islam at its essence is the middle way in all matters. This is normative Islam, adhered to by a billion normal Muslims across the globe.

Normative Islam is inherently pluralist. It is supported by 1,000 years of Muslim history in which religious freedom was cherished. The claim, made today by the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia, that they represent God’s will expressed through their version of oppressive Shariah law is a modern innovation.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, senior fellow at the indispensable Foundation for Defense of Democracies:

That is the essence of moderation in any faith: the willingness to exist peacefully, if not exuberantly, alongside nonbelievers who hold repellent views on many sacred subjects.

It is a dispensation that comes fairly easily to ordinary Muslims who have left their homelands to live among nonbelievers in Western democracies. It is harder for Muslims surrounded by their own kind, unaccustomed by politics and culture to giving up too much ground.

Tawfik Hamid, former member of the Islamic radical group Jamma Islamiya:

Moderate Islam must not be passive. It needs to actively reinterpret the violent parts of the religious text rather than simply cherry-picking the peaceful ones. Ignoring, rather than confronting or contextualizing, the violent texts leaves young Muslims vulnerable to such teachings at a later stage in their lives. …

Moderate Islam must be honest enough to admit that Islam has been used in a violent manner at several stages in history to seek domination over others. Insisting that all acts in Islamic history and all current Shariah teachings are peaceful is a form of deception that makes things worse by failing to acknowledge the existence of the problem.

And Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University:

Clearly, the use of the term moderate here is meant as a compliment. But the application of the term creates more problems than it solves. The term is heavy with value judgment, smacking of “good guy” versus “bad guy” categories. And it implies that while a minority of Muslims are moderate, the rest are not. …

[He proposes other categories.] The modernist is proud of Islam and yet able to live comfortably in, and contribute to, Western society. … The literalists believe that Muslim behavior must approximate that of the Prophet in seventh-century Arabia. Their belief that Islam is under attack forces many of them to adopt a defensive posture. And while not all literalists advocate violence, many do. Movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Taliban belong to this category.

I must say I have mixed feelings about the first paragraph I quoted from Professor Ahmed, immediately above.  (I am, however, confident he and I could discuss it without anybody’s throat getting cut.)  I’m OK with the fact that the term moderate “is heavy with value judgment, smacking of ‘good guy’ versus ‘bad guy’ categories.”  There are good guys and bad guys, and differentiating between them is an essential first step toward achieving peaceful coexistence between Islam and the West.

I accept the professor’s point, however, that the term can imply that moderate Muslims are a minority — which they most certainly are not (or else we’re all hosed).  But here the laws of large numbers come into play.  There are more than a billion Muslims on the planet.  Let’s say Ahmed’s “literalists” are confined to .01% (one hundredth of one percent) of all Muslims.  That implies more than 100,000 dangerous jihadis around the world.

Which brings us to Feisel Abdul Rauf, the man behind the “Ground Zero mosque.” (Yes, I know it’s not just a mosque, and I know it’s not “at” Ground Zero.  It’s at a site chosen for its proximity to Ground Zero.)  The Journal found a couple of letters to the editor from Rauf in the New York Times from the late 1970s, in which:

Imam Rauf seems to be saying that Muslims should understand Sadat’s olive branch … as a short-term respite leading to ultimate conquest.  To drive that point home, he added in the same letter that “In a true peace it is impossible that a purely Jewish state of Palestine can endure. . . . In a true peace, Israel will, in our lifetimes, become one more Arab country, with a Jewish minority.”

Two years later, the imam weighed in on the Iranian revolution. In a February 27, 1979 letter, in which he scores Americans for failing to apologize to Iran for past misdeeds, he wrote, “The revolution in Iran was inspired by the very principles of individual rights and freedom that Americans ardently believe in.”

At the time, Iran’s revolution hadn’t revealed all of its violent, messianic character. Thirty years later it has, yet Mr. Rauf’s views seem little changed. Following Iran’s sham presidential election last year and the crackdown that followed, the imam urged President Obama to “say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly said lots of stupid things in the late 1970s. (I was in college.)  But the Journal offered the imam a golden opportunity to clarify his views and paint himself as a moderate:

We asked Imam Rauf if his views had changed since the 1970s. His complete response: “It is amusing that journalists are combing through letters-to-the-editor that I wrote more than 30 years ago, when I was a young man, for clues to my evolution. As I re-read those letters now, I see that they express the same concerns—a desire for peaceful solutions in Israel, and for a humane understanding of Iran—that I have maintained, and worked hard on, in the years since those letters were published.”

Contrast this dismissive brushoff with the thoughtful, conciliatory comments of Messrs. Ibrahim, Husain, Hamid and Ahmed above.  For a man who claims to want to build bridges between the faiths, Imam Rauf sure does seem contemptuous of the misgivings shared by 70 percent of Americans.  He also sounds like an apologist for Iran, the world’s foremost state instigator of terrorism.

Stumbling Toward a Middle Ground on the So-Called “Ground Zero Mosque”

From Urban Infidel

The controversy over the bigger-than-a-mosque Islamic center proposed on a site chosen for its proximity to Ground Zero bears an unappealing resemblance to the abortion issue.

Lots of principled and meritorious arguments advanced on both sides.  A high ratio of heat to light. Fierce disagreements over terminology:  pro-choice or pro-abortion, mosque or community center, at Ground Zero or near it. A debate dominated by absolutist rhetoric, drowning out anybody seeking a middle ground. (My own position on abortion can be summed up by a headline on my blog: “Abortion Should Be Safe and Legal — But It Stops a Beating Heart.”)

Thinking of the current debate in the context of abortion gives me some sympathy for President Obama’s ham-handed attempt to have it both ways: He supports the mosque.  No, he just means it’s legal.  (In the category of things that feel like other things, Obama’s handling of the GZ mosque resembles the even more problematic Obama approach to Afghanistan: We’re surging… but only for a year.)

A friend and former ink-stained co-worker launched a new blog this week, focused thus far on the mosque controversy.  He and I come down on different sides of the argument, but I liked this passage:

The important thing is not one viewpoint triumphing over another. It’s restoring reasoned and reasonable conversations about stuff that really matters, and making sure that discourse douses the flamers who seek only to divide and exploit.

So in the interests of reasoned discourse, I want to acknowledge that religious freedom is one of the core, foundational values of this country, and Americans rightly have a visceral reaction to anything that smacks of religious intolerance.

But religious freedom is not the only thing at stake here. The analogy of the Pope asking the Carmelite nuns to move their convent out of Auschwitz is a good one — however good the sisters’ intentions were, their presence there was offensive to people who had survived a monstrous atrocity.

The controversy threatens to obscure the crucial distinction between Islam and Islamofascism.  In a lengthy essay at Pajamas Media titled “A Message to Conservatives: Is Islam Really our Enemy?”, Ron Radosh strongly makes the case that it is not:

Unlike those in the conservative movement who believe Islam is the enemy, I argue that there are real moderate Muslims, who need to be encouraged and supported in waging the fight within Islam against the uses of the Quran for radical purposes. These Muslims exist. We must support them, and not fall into the trap of backing imposters and charlatans who claim they are moderates, and who use our gullibility to pull the wool over our eyes, and who gain our monetary and political backing for what in reality are nefarious purposes dangerous to our national security.

But to view all Muslims as per se extremists is to give up this fight in advance, and to push real moderates into the hands of the extremists. If all Muslims are our enemy, we give credibility to the radical Islamofascists,  who claim that their view of the Quran is the only true one, and if one is a real Muslim, they must join Bin Laden and the other radicals in their holy Jihad against the West.

This could be read as a strong argument in favor of welcoming the GZ Mosque, but Radosh doesn’t take it there.  He does provide an excellent overview of the spectrum of conservative thinking on the matter — worthy and otherwise.  (Why oh why does Pamela Geller have to be one of the most prominent voices against the mosque?)

Both sides of the controversy cite the First Amendment — freedom of religion vs. freedom of speech — but appealing to the Constitution is missing the point.  Nobody — no serious person — is suggesting the government should forbid the project.  What I and millions of other Americans (including many moderate Muslims) want is for the developers to find a new site.

And that’s exactly what the developers will do, if they are truly serious about wanting to build bridges.  As James Taranto pointed out, “If the intent of the Ground Zero mosque is ‘to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together,’ it is already a failure on its own terms.”  Reasonable people can disagree about who to blame for that failure, but the fact that the project is divisive is indisputable.

A Message to Conservatives: Is Islam Really our Enemy?

Muslims Against the Ground Zero Mosque

When I first started hearing about it, the controversy over a proposed mosque near the gaping hole where the twin towers once stood seemed like an annoying distraction.  I wished the whole discussion would just go away.   I sympathized with the visceral opposition to a monument to Islam near where fanatical Muslims killed so many Americans.  But it’s too easy to caricature that opposition as religious intolerance.

Fortunately, moderate Muslims have come to the rescue, and have branded the plan as the provocation it is. Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah, writing in the Ottowa Citizen (hat tip to Andy McCarthy):

So what gives Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the “Cordoba Initiative” and his cohorts the misplaced idea that they will increase tolerance for Muslims by brazenly displaying their own intolerance in this case?

Do they not understand that building a mosque at Ground Zero is equivalent to permitting a Serbian Orthodox church near the killing fields of Srebrenica where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered? …

As Muslims we are dismayed that our co-religionists have such little consideration for their fellow citizens and wish to rub salt in their wounds and pretend they are applying a balm to sooth the pain.

Neda Bolourchi, a secular Muslim whose mother was on the plane that hit the North Tower, writing in the Washington Post (hat tip for my headline and the following item to John McCormack) :

Though I have nothing but contempt for the fanaticism that propelled the terrorists to carry out their murderous attacks on Sept. 11, I still have great respect for the faith. Yet, I worry that the construction of the Cordoba House Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site would not promote tolerance or understanding; I fear it would become a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.

And my go-to guy for Muslim moderation, M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, who way back in May had a column in the New York Post that I missed at the time (hat tip to my research assistant, Mr. Google):

My first concern is whether the financing truly represents the local American Muslim community or comes with strings from foreign Islamists. But that is far from my last concern.

I am an American Muslim dedicated to defeating the ideology that fuels global Islamist terror — political Islam. And I don’t see such a “center” actually fighting terrorism or being a very “positive” addition near Ground Zero, no matter how well intentioned.

To put it bluntly, Ground Zero is the one place in America where Muslims should think less about teaching Islam and “our good side” and more about being American and fulfilling our responsibilities to confront the ideology of our enemies.

On reflection, I think it’s a good thing that this controversy is taking place.  It provides a forum for discussion of the delicate but essential task of distinguishing Islam from Islamic fascism.  Three cheers for all of the brave Muslims and former Muslims who are willing to risk participating in that discussion.

A Tireless Muslim Advocate for Islamic Reform

M. Zuhdi Jasser

It’s a shame that conservative arsonist Andrew Breitbart has torched his own credibility so thoroughly at the time one of his websites was preparing to publish an important message from my favorite Muslim-American patriot.

As a public service to anyone who doesn’t want to give Breitbart’s site any traffic, I’m posting an extensive excerpt here from M. Zuhdi Jasser, a devout Muslim and former officer in the United States Navy.  Jasser says of failed Time Square bomber Faisal Shahzad (emphasis added):

The Shahzads of the world do not go to sleep one night a normal citizen in corporate America working for the Affinion Group and wake up the next morning a traitorous jihadist adhering to a radical ideology. There is a process of indoctrination and the pathway is political Islam. …

The core of our American citizenship pledge and my officer’s pledge I took when I was in the U.S. Navy is to defend the U.S. against enemies foreign and domestic. Muslim leadership need to reform the ideas which feed into the development of traitors like Hasan and Shahzad and others who slide down the slippery slope of political Islam to become agents of the “Islamic state” over their allegiance to the U.S., the nation that gave them freedom. Simply placing road blocks along that slope as many who prefer political correctness over debate would do is not enough. The whole slope of political Islam needs to be ideologically defeated in real debate within the House of Islam.

The obligations of jihad in the 7th century Arabian Peninsula under the Prophet Muhammad’s leadership are gone for all Muslims I know. We now only have a national obligation of citizenship to our nation – the United States– and there is and can be no other competing obligations. Muslim teachers need to make that repeatedly clear, with no qualifications about Muslims being in a majority or minority, or future Shahzads of the world will keep returning.

If Muslims apply the true meaning of jihad today that I know and learned from my family, they would start a ‘jihad against jihad’ and work to end the concept with regards to armed conflict, nation states, and the ummah. The real jihad in 2010 is within the House of Islam against the Islamists and those advocates of political Islam and its radical manifestations that have hijacked the spiritual path of Islam.

I was not aware of Jasser and his organization, the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy, in late 2008 when I posted the following words:

There are some reprehensible passages in the Bible, but over the centuries most Christians have come to reject them. Christians stopped sanctioning the killing of non-believers because Christianity as a culture came to know that it was wrong, despite whatever Biblical support might be found. Christians in America cited Biblical support for slavery, and other Christians led the way in renouncing it, first through the abolition movement and later through the civil rights movement.

In the same way, Muslims bear the primary responsibility (not “blame”) for purging Islam of the evil done in its name. Perhaps Islam has been hijacked, as President Bush would have it. But if there is any broad-based, organized effort by moderate Muslims to overpower the “hijackers,” it has escaped my notice.

Shame on me — AIFD has been fighting the good fight since 2003, as I would have known if I had looked a little harder.  In my defense I’ll cite the unfortunate fact that Jasser and AIFD are not nearly as well known as they deserve to be — Wikipedia has a self-described “stub” of an entry for AIFD, and no entry for Jasser himself.

But Jasser is a Muslim Hero, and I’ll continue to look for opportunities to highlight his views.