Questions to which the answer is “No,” #89,083

It’s from Miral Satar, via a Daily Dish post called “Muslim Activity at Ground Zero”:

The mosque debate rages on: should a mosque be built so close to Ground Zero?

However, Muslims have been using the proposed site (Park 51) for Ramadan and Friday prayers for almost two years. Check out TIME’s exclusive video of  prayer services at Park51 where attendees discuss the mosque and the media frenzy surrounding it.

So the question remains: if the “Ground Zero” mosque already exists, does it nullify the debate?

Answer: No.

It does suggest that many people who oppose the mosque may not know that people are already using it to pray … and/or many people who oppose the mosque may object to possibilities of symbolism more than the fact of Muslim prayer itself.

Doesn’t absolve them of bigotry, but does make the question of their various motives more complicated than, say, Peter Beinart’s moral revulsion and Miral Sattar’s question.

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Quote of the day

Eamann McDonagh makes a point everyone is avoiding:

It’s worth reminding those who glibly support the idea that Israel’s nuclear arsenal will deter a nuclear  Iran that they are supported the killing of hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of ordinary Iranians if deterrence fails and Israel retaliates. If you don’t support this you are not supporting deterrence. There are no clean hands for anyone in this debate.

When Hillary Clinton threatened Iran with an attack in retaliation for a nuclear strike on Israel, I wondered whether the United States would have the stomach for such an attack after the fate of Israel was already determined. Would we kill 200,000 more people for the purpose of making a point? Hell, I don’t know if I’d have the stomach for it.

What positive humanitarian effect would a retaliatory strike have? Prevent Iran from expanding its influence over the peoples of the Middle East? Prevent other Middle Eastern nations from rushing to get the Bomb? Convince nations everywhere that it would not be in their interest to nuke another country?

The price of such positive humanitarian effects might be violating UN genocide laws, given that the U.S. would be targeting a huge amount of a national group based on their national affiliation.

With all the pro-containment arguments the Daily Dish has been making, we should hear effusive confidence that bombing Iran in retaliation would be the right thing to do and should be done without hesitation. Andrew should be arguing against Just War Theory or attempting to construct an annex to it. He should stipulate that he is determined not to change his mind if the tragic situation arises when the United States must decide whether to fulfill its terrible promise.

If I were an Israeli, I would not trust the United States to do the wrong thing, wrong as in “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Can’t find “Al Qaeda” in Imam Rauf’s book

I’m in the process of writing a post about Imam Feisal Rauf, who I think is an authentic Islamic moderate but probably not an effective global emissary for the cause of moderation. In preparation, a couple days ago, I went through one of his books, What’s Right with Islam: Is What’s Right with America, and photocopied some sections.

My post-in-progress focuses on passages in Rauf’s book, although this afternoon, it occurred to me that there was a phrase I didn’t recall seeing, a phrase that I would have expected to have turned up at least once: “Al-Qaeda.”

I read about Osama Bin Laden in there, but not his organization.

Here is the Amazon page for the book, where you can search the full text for the appearance of words or phrases. Can anyone find al-Qaeda even once under any spelling?

One of the quotes of Rauf being bandied around by the Mosque opponents is his refusal, in his radio interview with Aaron Klein, to condemn Hamas. Personally, I wasn’t taking that refusal to signify that he secretly condoned Hamas in any way; I only took it as acute bad judgment. It would have been smarter to condemn Hamas’ targeting of civilians and abuse of the Palestinian people’s civic and human rights, while voicing hope that Hamas would do better in their representation of the people of Gaza.

Robert Wright didn’t even think Rauf was using bad judgment. Wright, in his NYT online op-ed space, seemed to throw a fit about anti-mosque demagogues citing Rauf’s remark, saying that the Imam would become totally unpersuasive as a spokesman for moderate Islam and a good relationship between America and Islam, if Rauf spoke out against Hamas and made himself appear like an Uncle Tom to the majority of Muslims in the world.

In any event, part of the interview they’re arguing about is (emphasis mine)

I define my work as a bridge builder. I do not want to be placed, nor do I accept to be placed in a position of being put in a position where I am the target of one side or another […]

[After the interviewer points out that Hamas has targeted civilians]

The targeting of civilians is wrong. It is a sin in our religion. Whoever does it, targeting civilians is wrong. I am a supporter of the state of Israel […] I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary.

I was aware that, for Rauf, this means not saying that the Muslim Brotherhood is an extremist organization, a designation he declines to make in the same interview. But I didn’t know Rauf’s trepidation at being labeled by coreligionists might go so far that he would not even mention the party calling themselves “al Qaeda” in the book he wrote about post-9/11 rapprochement between Islam and America.

Can anyone find a reference to the group through the Amazon search or in their print copy? I guess this is my first bleg.

“If He Could, Bin Laden Would Bomb the Cordoba Initiative”

That’s the title of Jeffrey Goldberg’s post. He begins, “This seems like such an obvious point …” I’m sorry that he takes this conclusion for obvious.

The reason I’m disappointed is the argument Goldberg uses, which is analogous to one pointed at him for alleging Al-Qaeda’s willingness to forge alliances with the secular Baathism of the Hussein regime. Goldberg has not backed off from those claims, which require enough open-mindedness to see below the surface of a simple syllogism.

Here is Goldberg’s argument, in paraphrase: The Cordoba Initiative will represent moderate, pluralist Islam; Osama Bin Laden hates moderate, pluralist Islam, thinks it jahili; therefore Osama Bin Laden would be against the Cordoba Initiative and wary of it as a powerful symbol in America for Moderate Islam; therefore, he might bomb it if the opportunity presented itself. Goldberg continues:

Bin Laden would sooner dispatch a truck bomb to destroy the Cordoba Initiative’s proposed community center than he would attack the ADL, for the simple reason that Osama’s most dire enemies are Muslims. This is quantitatively true, of course — al Qaeda and its ideological affiliates have murdered thousands of Muslims — but it is ideologically true as well: al Qaeda’s goal is the purification of Islam (that is to say, its extreme understanding of Islam) and apostates pose more of a threat to Bin Laden’s understanding of Islam than do infidels.

Well, the thing is, most Muslim sects and institutions are jahili, in Bin Laden’s view and in the Wahabbi view. They see Shiism as one of the biggest heretical sects, and Al-Quaeda in Iraq almost certainly killed hundreds of people outside one of Shiism’s holies shrines, in a successful bid to ignite sectarian strife … Yet they did not bomb the shrine itself. And after the attack this statement was issued:

We say to all Muslims: we had nothing to do with this act.

A point they wanted to make to all Muslims, not just Iraqi Shia who they couldn’t single out without making the United States look like better advocates of the majority of the Iraqis than Al Quaeda. But regardless of its virulent hatred for the Shia, Al-Quaeda has its own outreach agenda and flexible timetable for changes in the Muslim world.

In fact, I see a much easier narrative than “the Cordoba mosque is jahili; it’s not even a mosque” to sell to most Muslims in the world, who do not adhere to al Qaeda’s view but share in the view that, with the exception of a few setbacks, the progression of history reveals the divinely ordained success of Islam against competing ideologies, religious and secular. What makes Goldberg so sure that Bin Laden would not simply refer to the appearance of the Cordoba community center+prayer space — with its majestic 13 floors — at the site of the fallen false idols of the Twin Towers as proof that word of Islam is gaining preeminence even in the evil West and Islam is triumphing in a cosmic war with non-believers?

Whether or not Feisal Rauf directly speaks out against Al Qaeda or Bin Laden, he is creating a prayer space that can be used by all Muslims, who could coordinate their services in various ways, meet other Muslims, and try to persuade each other (in the Cultural Center, or elsewhere in NYC on some other day) about the best Muslim practice and belief. The use by any Muslims who are not jahila, according to the Wahhabi view, could perhaps momentarily sanctify the prayer space, which is only a big ballroom-like hall, as useful for prayers as any such large room — whether it’s owned by moderate Muslims or Christian landlords.

If we’ve learned anything, we know, along with Goldberg, that radical Islam is an ideology, and as such, its leaders and true believers are adept at adapting the narrative in any way to serve their purposes, much as how the meaning  of “Communism” has been changed in China. Al Qaedists have had no problem working with jahiliyyah in Iran or secular tyrants (Hussein). It’s an easy talking point to use that the mosque (scheduled to be inaugurated on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11) would not exist there if the WTC had not been destroyed.

To many Muslims, the Cordoba Initiative might indicate that although al Quaeda’s religious belief system may not be the best version of Islam ever, they directly assisted in God’s plan by knocking down idols to capitalism and clearing the ground for spirituality and a seed of Islam’s truth. Why shouldn’t Americans regret their country’s behavior to Muslims, since that is why they were bombed? Why shouldn’t they learn about the Good that is Islam instead of perpetrating great crimes in ignorance of the Good? The Imam in charge of the Cordoba Initiative seems to echo some of the thought process above in an interview shortly after 9/11 attacks:

I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States’  policies were an accessory to the crime that happened […] Because we have been an accessory to a lot of — of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.

Bin Laden was pretty incensed about the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, at the Saudi’s request, so I think Rauf’s explanation requires more than a few modifications. But anyway, the ideology of Rauf himself is the other pillar of Jeffrey Goldberg’s argument. Here’s Goldberg:

I know Feisal Abdul Rauf; I’ve spoken with him at a public discussion at the 96th street mosque in New York about interfaith cooperation. He represents what Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country.

Well that’s what he represents to Jeffrey Goldberg. But to everyone? I agree that Rauf is not a crypto-radical, so I won’t make the claims of Republican demagogues. In one of my next few posts on this blog, I’ll deal with the significance of Rauf, who is a moderate but not always helpful to the cause of moderation. Regardless of Cordoba’s intentions, radicals elsewhere in the world will read that as a sign of victory, an epilogue to an act of heroism. And this puts in a jam, since putting the kaibosh (is that a Zionist word?) on the plans for this Islamic Cultural Center is going to be used by al Qaedists to show that Muslims aren’t getting a fair shake from the U.S. This is something Goldberg understands:

Bin Laden wants a clash of civilizations; the opponents of the mosque project are giving him what he wants.

This statement is, ironically, operating on the assumption that Bin Laden will not be focusing on this Cultural Center as an impure manifestation of Islam (one that he would have to eradicate), but rather as a manifestation of a world yearning for the power of Islam, deliberately fought by the West. In this way, Goldberg is aware of radical ideologies’ flexibility with grand narrative, a knowledge that Goldberg had to suppress in the first place to believe his syllogism. So, Goldberg has got himself into a paradox, but the paradox is not of his making, it’s the kind of paradox that radical ideologies live in.

Obama’s a bigot too, I guess …

… according to the nebulous Beinart/Zakaria/Dish standard. The AP:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama says Muslims have the right to build a mosque near ground zero in New York, but he’s not saying whether he thinks it’s a good idea to do so.
Obama’s comment Saturday during a trip to Florida expanded on a statement he made at a White House dinner on Friday. At that event, he said Muslims have the same right to freedom of religion as everyone else in America.
Obama said Saturday that he didn’t comment on “the wisdom” of putting a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center— but rather was commenting on “the right” to build a mosque there.

So the ADL, for example, becomes “a force in our society for the promotion of bigotry” for giving in to whatever dark forces are inside Obama and responsible for his reticence?

The quote I’m alluding to is from Andrew Sullivan:

The ADL is becoming a force in our society for the promotion of bigotry. It should be renamed the Muslim Defamation League.

Wait, but isn’t the ADL’s raison d’etre to fight antisemitism? Hmm … That doesn’t make antisemitism seem like a very serious problem, does it? Either that or he believes the ADL is terrible at fighting antisemitism, since he claims

But my own diligence against anti-Semitism, in all its forms, in my own church in particular, is well-documented and has gone back decades.

I guess Sullivan thinks the ADL shouldn’t be credited with any diligence on that front anymore. But wait …

we should all be careful before we write for fear of unintended consequences. I understand the point, and will try to be more vigilant about hyperbole (blogs are real-time thoughts and not the place for truly considered writing), but I have to say this is not my view of what writers should do in general, regardless of the form we are using […]

I think our core responsibility is to tell the truth, as best we can, to our readers. Sometimes, that means saying things that might not have the best consequences in real life, or can give comfort to those who should be given none, or foment hatred, or complacency, or any number of bad things.

So, translation: “I won’t be more vigilant about hyperbole ( — ‘do I contradict myself? … I contain multitudes!’)”

Or maybe, the Dish is not using hyperbole that deprecates the seriousness of antisemitism. Maybe he really thinks that the ADL does less against antisemitism than it does against Muslims for being Muslim and it should just be disbanded … Is there anything above his pay grade?

How a Ground Zero “prayer space” comes with different cultural controversies than a mosque

Over at the Cordoba Initiative’s blog, I had a comment underneath a post that tried to differentiate the prayer space, now AKA “a meditation room,” at their proposed Islamic Cultural Center from a mosque, as suggested by the phrase “the Ground Zero mosque.” The Cordoba people wrote:

Prayer space does not signify a mosque.  Certain aspects of Cordoba House disqualifies it as a mosque, including space for musical performance or a restaurant, which are not allowed to be in a mosque.  However, additional prayer is necessary as the existing nearby mosques are no longer able to tend to the need for prayer space.

Furthermore, Cordoba House’s vision is bigger than being a mosque.  It is about creating a community center that serves all New Yorkers.  A prime example of this fact is the planned meditation room, where people of any faith can pray or meditate.  For all these reasons we believe it is imperative to have prayer space in the Cordoba House.

My comment was approved, I think, and then deleted. It was only a few questions actually, that I did not ask in bad faith. I figured a Cordoba representative might have good answers for them. Here was the comment verbatim:

Is there more than one meditation room?

What if one group of men and women want to pray/meditate separately? Will there be one room with a divider and one room without one?

What if one group wants to pray to what Islam would recognize as an idol, in the same room as Muslims? Will there be one room for Muslims and one room for others?

These questions became looming issues, and still are, for my former university — particularly since women were prompted to pray behind the men whenever the Muslim Student Association signed out use of ballroom for afternoon prayers.

If Americans want to support moderation in Islam, would some of us, Muslims and non-Muslims, refuse to patronize an Islamic Cultural Center that segregated men and women, maybe going so far as to designate an inferior placement for women? (Peter Beinart might have to, since his recent support for the Woman of the Wall and their tactics are part of his critique of mainstream Zionism … )

Who are we supposed to support if a self-declared group of “progressive Muslims” demands the right of a women to sit with the men or a woman to lead the prayers of men and women? If an individual woman tries to pray with the men, do we support her act of civil disobedience? Do we, in this battle for a more moderate Islam, support the Islamic status quo on this issue in order not to inflame the majority of moderates using Cordoba?

I don’t know the answer to the above questions. I know that without two prayer spaces, there is going to be some stressful “interfaith dialogue,” since Muslims will not be able to pray alongside most other faiths. Would Muslims feel more accepted in America when such conflicts arise?

If the segregation of women became a public issue, would jihadist publicity point to Park51 as an example of Western disrespect for Islam and Western attempts to pollute the faith? Yes, I think so, but this is not part of an argument against building the mosque. It’s an argument against defining down “moderation” and devaluing liberalism based on our fearful sense of the amount of extremism that’s out there and its powers of persuasion.

Mayor Bloomberg fights for Cordoba against Muslim extremists

I’m going to write about Jeffrey Goldberg’s analysis, too simple for my taste, of “what would Osama want” regarding the Cordoba Initiative. But now I have the feeling that my post on Goldberg’s take on Park51 will also suffer from simplicity, since this news punctures our reductionist thinking with real pizazz. From Memri, emphasis mine:

Several clerics from Al-Azhar have rejected the construction of a mosque near New York’s Ground Zero.

A member of the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Center, Dr. Abd Al-Muwati Biyumi, said that the mosque’s construction could connect Islam and 9/11, while Islam is innocent of the deed.

He also called the plan a “Zionist plot.”

Source: Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Egypt, August 5, 2010

Well, yes, now that Jeffrey Goldberg is involved, it’s official.