Posts Tagged ‘Not-at-Ground Zero Mosque’

Meacham: Let Islamic Reformation Begin at Ground Zero

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

I know that the Ground Zero Mosque is so two weeks ago, but wanted to pass this on from Jon Meacham’s last Newsweek Note From the Editor.  

Central to his point is that Islam is a religion that is in real need of a reformation. As Meacham notes,

The attacks of September 11—and subsequent bombings in London, Madrid, and elsewhere—embody the most repulsive of human instincts, the will to power at the price of the lives of others. Elements of Islam were responsible for these deaths of innocents, and extreme interpretations of the Quran have provided—and, inevitably, will provide again—inspiration and justification for terrorist violence.

But he cautions against “indict(ing) a faith for the sins of a few.”  As Meacham notes, “large parts of the Christian universe have managed to adapt to modernity in ways that have at least discouraged the worst excesses of religiously motivated believers” and Islam needs to make similar strides.

It doesn’t mater how many bombs we build, how many fighter jets we have or how much we spend on Homeland Security, the real decrease in our vulnerability will come with sea changes in the way many Muslims view their religion. For non-Muslim Americans we have to face the fact that we have little control over the future of the Muslim faith. The most important thing that we can do is to encourage this dialogue to take place and elevate moderates within the Muslim community to begin this dialogue. 

To me this is the best argument for the Community Center in Lower Manhattan. Despite the smear attempts by Republican politicians and media personalities, all indications are that Feisal Abdul Rauf is someone who has dedicated to his life to an inclusive, tolerant and accepting interpretation of Islam. Islam needs people like him and we need more people like him if we want a more tolerant and less violent strains of Islam to flourish. As Meacham concludes:

In the end, the right thing to do, in my opinion, is to build the center on the site its organizers and the mayor favor, and hope that those who go there to worship (and to swim, for that matter) do their part to reform their religion. There is little more important in the war on terror.

Newt’s Cynical Calculation

Monday, September 20th, 2010

A few years ago, my conservative uncle signed me up to receive newsletters from the conservative website, Human Events. I used to read them for entertainment and to know what the enemy was thinking, but this got old fast, so I requested that they not send me any more e-mails. I guess they still have my info because last week they sent me this Newt Gingrich plug for his new movie.

I don’t want to dismiss the entire article since I think he makes some valid points about the need to be clearer about the danger of violent Islamic extremism, but the whole “stealth, Radical Islamist” thing is obviously another way to increase paranoia among people who are already paranoid. Apparently Newt is trying to win the 2010 award for the politician who most uses 9-11 as a way to gain political advantage (which I’m pretty sure Rudy Giuliani has won every year for the last 9–with the exception of 2002-3 when Bush & Cheney made it seem like Saddam & Bin Laden were in a coalition government together). To this end, Newt debuted his 9-11 exploitation movie on September 11th this year. The movie is intended to scare the shit out of you and make it look like Obama is in league with the terrorists. As discussed before, Newt has also been the leading Republican voice in the campaign to distort the truth and rile everyone up about the  Not at Ground Zero Mosque.

Lisa Miller had a good piece in Newsweek about the “stealth jihad” construction and the way that Newt and his allies have used it to distort the truth and generally try to gin up the Islamophobia for political gain.

Just to put a cherry on top of his disgraceful demagoguery around 9-11 and the Not at Ground Zero Mosque,  Newt followed up by commenting (at his movie premiere) that he agreed with right wing pseudo-intellectual Dinesh De Souza’s idea that Obama was channeling the ambitions of his absentee father that he never knew:

What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]…. That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.

This a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.

Instead of an extended comment, I’ll just point out the obvious. As Robert Gibbs noted a few days after Newt’s comments, this is just a see through attempt to take advantage of the ignorance of Birther Republicans who think the President of the United States is a secret foreign agent. Maureen Dowd had a great piece on this,  and I’m also glad to see the White House finally pushing back (start at around the 7 minute mark of the clip). Colin Powell also took on Newt and all of the Birther BS point-by-point on Meet the Press yesterday.

The bottom line is that this guy is a cretin: an extremely intelligent man who is preying on a small segment of Americans’ fears and paranoia in order to advance his own political career. Hopefully his recent comments about Obama’s “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior” will show Republicans what a huckster he is and how he will spare no opportunity to use the same cynical, opportunistic arguments for his own political gain. 

If Newt rides to the Republican nomination with this fear, ignorance and paranoia based strategy, then the country and the Republican party are in worse shape than I thought they were (and that’s sayin something).

Gingrich & Co Follow a Well Worn Path

Monday, August 30th, 2010

When I was a graduate student in Poli Sci at UC San Diego, I worked for a quarter as a Teaching Assistant for an Intro to Comparative Politics class. We taught a unit on ethic conflict and the main takeaway we wanted students to get from this section was that ethnic conflict is not indigenous (or primordial, as older political scientists used to argue), but that it is usually a result of political leaders who bring latent ethnic tensions to the fore as a way to gain or increase their political power. 

For instance, as in any multi-ethnic society, there were always some latent prejudice in the Balkans between the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, but for 45 years of after World War II (and indeed during the World War II period when multi-ethnic groups fought against the Nazi’s), Tito’s Communist Party was able to keep Yugoslavia together and tamp down any ethnic strife by stressing the commonalities between the different ethnicities and not tolerating ethnic conflict. After the fall of Communism, politicians like Slobodon Milosevich and others filled the political vacuum and began to sew the seeds of conflict with divisive appeals to Serbian nationalism and political speech and action that exacerbated already existing tensions between ethnic groups. The rest, as they say, is history. 

As I watched the national freakout over the planned Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan,  I thought back to this theory as I heard Newt Gingrich rail against the “Ground Zero Mosque.”  Among the would-be- president’s  greatest hits we heard over the last few weeks were the following: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” …and…allowing the Islamic community center to be built near Ground Zero “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.” In addition to these outrageous statements, Gingrich has proposed a Federal Law which would ban any court from using Sharia law as a replacement for American law (since this is such a burning issue in America).

I won’t spend the time deconstructing these statements because they are outrageous on their face. What I will point out is that Gingrich is engaging in a cynical ploy to gain favor in an increasingly small, insular and  Nativist Republican party in an attempt to blaze a path to the 2012 presidential elections. Similarly, perennial loser Rick Lazio, facing an impossible race for the Governorship of New York against Andrew Cuomo has made opposition to the community center his number one issue in the campaign, regularly appearing on national media to smear the imam and demand that there be an “investigation of the funding” for the development.

There is increasing evidence that the Republican party as a whole are taking advantage of  latent American Islamophobia to gain political advantage. While people like  former Congressman Joe Scarborough and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have been notable voices of tolerance, many other Republicans have eschewed George Bush-like rhetoric about Islam and joined the chorus of religion baiting. Unfortunately,  Obama’s initial statement in favor of the mosque has played right into the Republican’s hands, handing them yet another cultural issue to use against the Democrats.  

Whatever you thought of George W. Bush (and I thought he was a terrible president), he did get one thing right. Even as his Administration went to war with two Islamic countries and took advantage of American ignorance about the Muslim world to conflate Bin Laden with Saddam Hussein, he consistently made it clear that we weren’t at war with Islam and that Islam was a religion of peace. Whether you believe that last statment or not, that kind of national leadership was a critical component in tamping down ethnic tensions in the wake of 9-11 when many Americans were looking for revenge and ready to strike back at the people who perpetrated the attack on America. To a large degree, this effort worked. Although there was a big spike in anti-muslim hate crimes just after September 11th,  in the following years, these incidents subsided.   

Conservatives such as Charles Krauthamer and Jonah Goldberg have pointed to the liberal outrage about Islamophobia as yet another example of the liberals crying racism when their positions are not supported by Americans. According to these conservatives, the “Ground Zero” conflict is really just a debate about the location of the Lower Manhattan mosque, not whether Muslims can build places of worship. Certainly that’s true for some, but that argument loses some credibility when often vicious protests break out from Tennessee to Florida to Southern California over mosques that are being built within local communities.

Is the United States on the verge of some new Nazism or a Bosnian type ethnic cleansing with Newt Gingrich playing the role of Slobodan Milosevic?

Of course not. Despite the increase in incidents and protest against Muslims practicing their religion, most Americans are a generally tolerant and good people, and I’m hopeful that our better angels will prevail.  But when politicians pander to our worst prejudices and intolerances in an attempt to gain and keep political power, it tears at the fabric of American society, divides good Americans against each other and generally takes us further away from the ideals of tolerance and religious freedom that have made America great. This issue might help Newt win a few Republican primaries, but what he and others are doing is bad for the country.

Fox News: Evil or Just Stupid?

Sunday, August 29th, 2010
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Jon Stewart’s been on fire with the his “coverage” of the Park 51 center in Lower Manhattan. Check here, here, here and here.

This one’s on Fox’s attempts to tie the Islamic Cultural Center and mosque to “dangerous Saudi financier” Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who has supported Imam Rauf’s causes in the past. You may have heard of this Saudi financier since he is a prominent investor in many American companies, as well as the largest shareholder in Fox News Corp–a fact that Fox News was either trying to conceal or was just clueless about.

You decide.  Fox News: Evil or Just Stupid?

Shameful Spectacle Over the Not-at-Ground Zero Mosque

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

I have to say that the hysteria over the (grossly misnamed) “Ground Zero Mosque” made me sick this week.

I actually wanted to write something before today because I had a suspicion that Frank Rich’s column would, once again, capture the national zeitgeist as no one else could. He did not disappoint.

Rich’s column covers a lot of ground in an inclusive way and Nicholas Kristof provides some added commentary on the stakes. I added my comments below.

Part of the frustration that Americans feel about the struggle against Islamic extremism is that we can only do so much. At the heart of the problem of Islamic extremism is a struggle of ideals: a struggle between Western ideals and radical Islamic ideals, but also a struggle within Islam between a peaceful, modern and moderate faction and a reactionary, fundamentalist and violent faction.

This is a frustrating reality for us in the Western world because all of the tanks, missiles and security checkpoints that we have at our disposal aren’t particularly useful for fighting a war of ideals. And the words spoken by Americans–whether they are George Bush or Barack Obama–don’t matter very much if they don’t stimulate discussion or debate within Muslim communities. Given this reality, it is clear that supporting moderate voices in the Muslim world is key to our ultimate safety and success in this war of ideas. 

The imam of the Park51 mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is just such a voice. As Frank notes, this is the man who was hired by the Bush State Department to travel around the world and explain to Muslim audiences the value of religious pluralism, discuss how American values are compatible with Islam and generally promote his brand of moderate Islam.   He gave a eulogy for Jewish  journalist Daniel Pearl, who was gruesomely murdered by Islamist extremists, where he condemned his execution and proclaimed “I am Jew,” an extraordinary statement for a Muslim imam. The board of his Park51 organization includes Jewish and Christian members as well as Muslims and his center is modeled on the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

To be sure, Rauf’s views of American foreign policy are not one’s that would help him win the nomination of the Republican party, but neither are they radical. In fact, as was detailed in a New York Times article today, his life history and faith make him someone uniquely qualified to build support for a moderate interpretation of Islam in the 21st Century. 

George Bush made many mistakes as president, and his administration wasn’t afraid of exploiting American  ignorance and fear of Muslims to conflate Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, but one thing he did do well was to always stress that we weren’t at war with Islam, we were at war with a group of people that used Islam to justify their murderous ideology.

To now not allow a moderate imam to build a community center  that includes a prayer space in Lower Manhattan is effectively saying to all Muslims: we do not distinguish between you and we blame all of you for the attacks committed by a few. That is not what America is about nor is it what we should stand for. That’s not living up to American ideals. It’s giving into intolerance and fear.

Of all the politicians jockeying for political gain by preying on the worst tendencies in Americans, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich distinguished himself as the most hateful and politically opportunist when he posted on his webpage “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”


This man who would like to replace Barack Obama as president’s believes that we should base the constitutional freedoms that we grant our own citizens on what the Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia does? And these are the people who say that Barack Obama doesn’t understand American values?

As Rich points out, the proposed community center and mosque is two blocks away from Ground Zero  “at the ‘hallowed ground’ of a shuttered Burlington Coat Factory store one block from the New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club.” It is not visible from Ground Zero, nor will you be able to see it from the site. There will be no “call to prayer”  that can be heard from Ground Zero as some conservatives have suggested.

The opposition to the community center basically amounts to a First Amendment Free Zone that applies only to Muslims within a certain radius of Ground Zero. Opponents of the development need to explain just how far this First Amendment Free Zone for Muslims extends.  If it’s not okay for Muslims to worship two blocks away from Ground Zero, is it okay three blocks away?  What about the mosque four blocks away that has been in existence since before the World Trade Center was built? Does that need to be shut down because the “9-11 families” (some of whom actually support the mosque) might be offended? Surely these people have a right to be heard and we should consider their advice, but they don’t have a right to dictate all development in the Lower Manhattan area.  

If the owner of the building and the imam decide to relocate of their own free will, I’m fine with that. But they should not be cowed into that decision by a group of politicians taking advantage of fear and intolerance in order to advance their own careers. 

It’s time for America to take a look in the mirror and see how we are behaving and the message it sends around the world. America is best when we celebrate diversity and have an honest dialogue about the issues we face in common. We won’t defeat the terrorists by compromising our values and becoming as intolerant as they are.  We need to get over the Islamophobia and live up to the ideas of religious tolerance and individual rights that the country has stood for since its founding.

Daisy Khan Talks to Christiane Amanpour

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Christiane Amanpour interviews Daisy Khan, the wife of imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and Joy Levvit, the Rabbi from the Jewish Community Center that the development is modeled after.

This is not the face of radical Islam.