Originally published on August 24, 2010 on Open Salon. This is by most metrics the most successful post I ever published, an Editors' Pick, rated 44 times (exceeded only, I think, by my post that immediately followed my son's death) and viewed by over 50,000 people, which utterly dwarfs my usual numbers.
Times are tight, so I don't cut too many checks these days. However, if Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf were to solicit a donation from me to help him build his mosque near Ground Zero, I'd write that check.
Because to support that mosque is to strike a blow for American pluralism and moderate Islam while to oppose it is to strike a blow for American intolerance and radical Islam.
The Imam is as moderate as they come. He has a lifelong history of engaging people of other religions. He is anti-violence (particularly against civilians which he says is a violation of Sharia), he has said that he is "a supporter of Israel," he has written that some Western Democracies are actually more in line with Sharia than many nominally Islamic republics. He is currently overseas on a diplomatic tour of the Middle East sponsored by our own State Department.
From what I can see, some American pundits have two problems with him: 1. that his support for Sharia is somehow anti-American and 2. that he has refused to label Hamas as a terrorist organization. The second point can be answered more quickly: His stock in trade is his ability to talk to as many people and factions as possible; his use of the terrorist label on Hamas would close off too many lines of communication, lines that are not in his or our interests for him to lose.
The first point is more central. The contention is that because the Quran includes what might be construed as some extreme content, it is impossible to be a good Muslim and a good American. There is pretty barbaric content, such as the law stating that disrespectful children should be put to death, that those who work on the day of rest should be put to death, that slavery is acceptable, that...hold it, sorry, all of that content is from the Bible, not the Quran, so I guess we're too barbaric to be allowed to open a house of worship near Ground.....never mind.
We've been told that locating a mosque that close to Ground Zero would be Insensitive. Insensitive to whom? This argument isn't exactly sensitive to the families of American Muslims killed in the 911 attacks, nor is it sensitive to the families of Muslim American servicepeople killed in action while protecting the United States. How would the brass at the Pentagon feel about a mosque there? Actually, there have been Muslim services held inside the Pentagon for years in their nondenominational chapel - they get that when you're prepared to die for your country, it's past the time to question your patriotism.
The sensitivity issue is based on an assumption: That all of World Islam (with roughly a billion and a half adherents) is somehow responsible for 9/11 or, at the very least, approved of it. Given both the enormous diversity within Islam and the actual historical record regarding 9/11, this assumption amounts to slander. There isn't evidence to support it and there's plenty of evidence against it. Do you remember anti-American reactions among the Muslim populations of India or Indonesia? They're the two largest Muslim populations in the world. How about Turkey? Bosnia? Let's look at a more interesting example:
I assume you remember that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there were spontaneous pro-American sympathy demonstrations around the world, with Europeans carrying placards that said "Today we are all Americans." Perhaps the most interesting of these demonstrations took place in Tehran, in a Muslim theocracy with whom we had awful relations. In spite of the fact that the Muslim clerics had no love for the U.S., they found the 9/11 attacks so religiously offensive that they permitted public displays of support for us. If I say "moderate Islam," the Iranian mullahs aren't going to be the first picture that comes to mind for the average person. Frankly, it's not likely to be the first picture that comes to mind for the average Iranian. If those guys didn't approve, how much of World Islam can we assume did?
Of those who approved, why would anyone assume that said population includes, of all people, American Muslims???American Muslims were killed in those attacks. We're not seeing a whole lot of protests, let alone terrorism, coming from the American Muslim population of a couple of million. Have you heard of a lot of violence and protests emanating from Dearborn, Michigan, where America's largest Muslim population lives? Trust me, if it were happening, you would; it would be news. Why would there be? We integrate immigrants of all religions better than just about any other nation on Earth. For what it's worth, there have been at least two Muslims in Congress. You'll notice that the 9/11 terrorists were guys who'd spent years in Europe, where they don't do nearly as good a job at integrating immigrants and so do a far better job at fostering resentment. I know there are people in America who think "terrorism" and instantly link it to the word "Muslim." If you belong to this group, I think you need to have a few conversations with people who live in Oklahoma City.
Aside from the facts that resistance to the building of this mosque is both misguided and rude, it's also dangerous. We already know that this resistance is providing a great propaganda tool to anti-American Muslim organizations like Al Qaeda and that it could potentially lead to a lot of recruitment like Abu Graib did. That may not be the worst of our problems.
How would you feel if you were a seventeen-year-old American from a Muslim family? Perhaps an older sibling served in the military (or still is). You've been told all your life that you live in a country that exercises religious tolerance like no other. Suddenly, that tolerance seems to extend to everyone but you. It makes zero sense to you that you're being held responsible for the actions of crazy terrorists - your imam teaches you about charity, ethics, and justice, not this. If a radical Muslim comes to your community, you might suddenly be inclined to listen, because he can show you evidence of how Muslims are being treated like enemies in America from any major newspaper or news source of any kind in the country. How much evidence are (presumably impressionable) you prepared to argue against? There's an awful lot of it. Imam Abdul Rauf is being raked over the coals, and this is a guy who wrote a book about how American and Muslim values are mostly congruent - if a conciliatory guy like that is catching flack, what hope is there? How many horrible things are you hearing prominent people say about your religion? Do you feel safe? Do you feel you live in a country that supports justice?
Let's please not radicalize our own kids. They don't deserve it and we don't want the consequences. Moderate Islam should be supported, not undermined; too many Americans are undermining it too effectively.
Support the mosque. Support moderate Islam and undermine radical Islam. Undermining radical Islam is the best possible way to honor the dead.