Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Why the Ground Zero Mosque
Should not be Built (1)

October, 2010

It is indisputable that as Muslim immigrants we, as a whole, have failed to put ourselves in the shoes of the host people. For the last few decades almost all that Americans have seen from those of us who take our religion literally is violence, conspiracy, intimidation, gender-discrimination and terrorism. Meanwhile, those of us who consider ourselves moderates have mostly stood silently by, watching open or stealth intolerance in the name of Islam from the sidelines…. The mosque at Ground Zero, if constructed, will become a permanent liability for AmeriIcans ? and for American Muslim even more. (“A Muslim Against the Ground Zero Mosque,” Hasan Mahmud, frontpagemag.com, September 10, 2010)

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At the time of this writing the debate about the now world-famous planned Cordoba mosque, (renamed 51 Park Place) near Ground Zero, two blocks away, is raging furiously.

On the one side are the supporters of imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who is the mastermind behind the plan to build a $100 million mosque and Islamic centre near the spot where nearly 3000 were murdered on 9/11.

Imam Rauf presents himself as a moderate who wants to build bridges to non-Muslims, and he reasons that building this mosque would serve as proof of the good faith of Muslims. A large majority of Americans is not persuaded, but others have spoken out in favour of the mosque.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg supported this project because he saw it as a Muslim effort to reach out to the broader non-Muslim community. He hoped that this would help bring the city closer together “and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam.”

Even president Barack Obama weighed in on the discussion by pointing out that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else, including building their mosque in Lower Manhattan. The next day he backed away a little by saying that he had not expressed himself about the wisdom of such a building.

Sending the Wrong Message

Many others, mostly on the political Left, insist that this issue is all about freedom of religion and tolerance. The mainstream press has denounced the critics as racists and hate-mongers. Here are two voices of the religious left.

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, wrote “Refracting America through 9/11 lens” where he accuses the critics of not respecting freedom of religion, treating Muslims as second class citizens, and holding all Muslims guilty of the crimes committed by all who claim “the mantle of Islam.” He summarized:

Things have gotten uglier as a right-wing media campaign is in full swing to smear my friends Imam Faisal Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan. It is sad to hear politicians and pundits fabricate things about both of them in an attempt to stoke fear and hatred and make political gain.

Joshua M.Z. Stanton, a future rabbi, wrote that the mosque will promote “positive Muslim-Western relations and interfaith dialogue.” He lamented that the protesters “aim to keep some Muslim Americans from practicing their faith in freedom and peace…. and are unwittingly furthering the agenda of the terrorists who attacked us so viciously on Sept. 11. The terrorist wanted us to be afraid. They wanted us to put our rights in jeopardy…. They wanted us to undo ourselves by debasing our own principles.” (“Choosing freedom over fear at 51 Park Place,” Common Ground News Service, August 3, 2010)

Imam Rauf’s wife Daisy Khan said: We are deeply concerned because this is like a metastasized anti-Semitism.” She declared: “It’s beyond Islamophobia. It’s hate of Muslims.”

Rauf has warned that if the opponents would win the day that would send a message to the Muslim world that America is becoming anti-Muslim and violating its own constitution. That in turn would further inflame the Anti-American attitude among Muslims.

Rauf wrote in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times (September 10) that president Obama’s and Mayor Bloomberg’s support for the mosque project had made a “tremendous impact” on the Muslim street and its leadership. He called this support “a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations.

The imam continued to marvel at the “wonderful outpouring of support” for this building project, which, he predicted, will seriously undermine the recruitment of anti-American radicals. On the other hand, he warned that if the protesters win, the radicals will have another tool to recruit more terrorists endangering national security and the security of Americans worldwide. He continued:

This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse, and essentially, our future to radicals on both sides. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. It is a paradigm we must shift.

Rauf apparently has no respect for the opinions of 70 percent of Americans who oppose this building project. They have at least two compelling reasons. One is out of respect for those who died a gruesome death on 9/11. Perhaps the most compelling objection is that mosques are places where many radicals, including the perpetrators, are indoctrinated into a violent strain of Islam. It is safe to assume that radical Islamists would view a Ground Zero mosque as a symbol of Islamic supremacy. Westerners have no idea how powerful such symbolism is in Islam.

The original name of this mosque, Cordoba House, was dropped because it was too obviously rubbing salt in the wound. The name, as every Islamist knows, harks back to the Muslim conquest of Spain in the 8th century and the transformation of a Christian church in Cordoba into one of the largest mosques then existing. Instead of representing interfaith cooperation, the reality is that this name is a symbol of Islamic supremacy

Who is Feisal Abdul Rauf?

Rauf is blind and deaf to the reasons why so many people have strong objections to the building of this mosque at this time and this place. He rudely dismisses their feelings as bigotry and intolerance. His calculated language, intended to convey that he himself does not favour terrorism, still gets this message across: If you do not allow us to go ahead with this project, Muslims will have just reasons to step up terrorist attacks on America.

What kind of threat is that? What are we missing in this most open and tolerant country where the authorities have gone out of their way to accommodate the demands of Muslim organizations. Where billions of dollars have been spent to prevent future terrorist attacks; where new plots continue to be uncovered; where honour killings still occur; where 13 soldiers were killed by a Muslim officer who betrayed his pledge of allegiance to the country he promised to serve; where some need full-time body guard protection against Islamist terrorists. Others are told by the FBI that it is helpless to protect them if they are targeted by a fatwa that gives Muslims the “right” to kill American citizens. This list goes on.

In my view what is missing in Rauf’s views is context. The real context here is the clash of civilizations that is poorly understood in the tolerant, now largely secular West. Many among the media, academic, and political elite do not take seriously the reality that all over the Muslim world, and now in many mosques and other places of learning in the West, radical imams spout an unrelenting message of hatred toward the infidels, especially the Great Satan. They ignore the impact of such preaching as described in the Freedom House Report of 2005:

Wahhabi and Islamic extremism today is the soil in which al Qaeda and its sister terrorist organizations are growing. We need to recognize the problem posed by the international spread of this Saudi Arabia sponsored [Wahhabi] hate ideology, including within the American homeland….This report is a first step in an effort to contain a destructive [Islamist] ideology being proliferated by the Wahhabis within American mosques, libraries, and Islamic centers.

How does a man like Rauf, a cleric born in Kuwait who has lived in the U.S. since his teens, fit into that picture. He has denounced terrorism and claims that Islam’s core teachings are compatible with American democracy. He told the French L’Express in 2003: “We have the chance to create here a new Muslim identity, to modernize the theology. America is an opportunity for Islam.”

What does this kind of verbiage really mean? To figure that out you need to understand this in the context of his many other statements.

Rauf has claimed that “America has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaeda.” Shortly after 9/11, he stated: “American policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” He also said that “Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.” “The U.S. and the West must acknowledge the harm they have done to Muslims before terrorism can end.” He refused to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization, explaining that terrorism is a “very complex” issue. (On September 8, 2010, he admitted on CNN that “Hamas has committed acts of terrorism.”)

In June 2009, Rauf wrote in support of the 1979 revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini, establishing a totalitarian theocracy that has ruthlessly suppressed all opposition. He has advised President Obama to say that his administration “respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution – to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government , based on the ideas of vilayet-i-faqih, that establishes the rule of law.

Vilayet-i-faqih means “the guardianship of the jurist,” meaning that the imams are acting in the name of Allah and serving as guardians of the people. This idea makes clear that Islam is not just a religion but also a political ideology. Wherever this unholy merger exists, there is certain to be no freedom, as in Iran.

Unravelling Orwellian Doublespeak

Although Rauf claims that Islam and American democracy are compatible, his endorsement of the totalitarian regime founded by Khomeini puts him squarely on the side of those who are determined to change America into a sharia-friendly country. In an article for the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad, entitled Sharing the Essence of our Beliefs” he explains why Islamic movements with political agendas carry religious names, such as Muslim Brotherhood.

“I answer them this—that the trends towards Islamic law and justice begins in religious movements, because secularism has failed to deliver what the Muslim wants, which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…. The only law that the Muslim needs exists already in the Koran and the Hadith.” Elsewhere Rauf acknowledges the all-inclusive character of Islam:

The Shari’ah thus covers every field of law – public and private, national and international – together with enormous amounts of material that Westerners would not regard as law at all, because the basis of the Shari’ah is the worship of, and obedience to,God through good works and moral behavior.

What is most disconcerting is that many leaders in the West are blind to the totalitarian nature of sharia. In a 2008 lecture, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, suggested that the application of sharia law in Britain seems unavoidable. Rauf commented, “The addition of Sharia law to ‘the law of the land,’ in this case British law, complements, rather than undermines, existing legal frameworks. The Archbishop was right. It is time for Britain to integrate aspects of Islamic Law.”

Rauf wants to have it both ways: claim that Islam is compatible with American law, and then argue that the Koran and the Hadith cover every field of law and are therefore superior to all man-made law. Logic and history tells us that these two positions are irreconcilable. This is not just some harmless academic debate, but at stake is the difference between a free and open society and one in which religious fanaticism sets the tone – with momentous implications for entire nations.

To make a totalitarian society look attractive, it needs to be presented as something it is not. This is what Rauf is doing in his tireless efforts to bridge the gap between the free West and one ruled by Islamic law. Those are not the actions of a bridge builder and a truth speaker, despite the New York Times’ claim that Rauf has spent a life time trying to “reconcile Islam with America and modernism.”

If Rauf would ask me for advice, I would give him this simple message: Quit confusing the people with your Orwellian doublespeak; begin appreciating and acknowledging the freedom and openness of America; then advocate in the Muslim world that they should replicate the freedom that all Muslims enjoy in the West.

I won’t hold my breath.

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