“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.

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