MARC TRACY: Dan, this one’s for you. In your piece, you credit Christopher Caldwell with providing one of the “more sophisticated treatments” of the Islamicization of Europe. I want your reaction to something Caldwell wrote on Slate this week:
There is no Christian equivalent—either for sophistication or influence—to the body of revolutionary political thought that arose among the Sunni Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the middle of the last century, or in Iran in the Age of Khomeini. To say this is not to confuse Islam and Islamism, or to imply that Islam is always and everywhere a violent religion. Nor is it to deny that the scriptural barriers to Christian violence are notoriously easy to breach. But Islam is equipped, as Christianity is not, with explicit contemporary doctrines of political violence.
While you and David could both find things in that paragraph to buttress your respective cases, I’d like to challenge you: Isn’t Caldwell correct that Islamic fundamentalism has uniquely strong resonance today? And, if so, isn’t the comparison of Islamophobia to anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism facile, as Judaism and Catholicism are not associated with similarly powerful fundamentalisms? (Yes, the Stern Gang existed, but its ideology was never as widespread and potent and universally violent as jihadism.) Even if most Muslims aren’t Islamists, doesn’t the unique resonance of Islamic fundamentalism pose a problem to the building of an Islamic center so close to the site of Islamic fundamentalism’s most notorious atrocity?
DANIEL LUBAN: Unlike the crop of self-proclaimed “Islam analysts” that has sprung up since Sept. 11—most of whom seem to think that their ability to use words like “sharia” and “jihad” in a sentence makes them experts on the finer points of Islamic theology—I will not pretend to anything more than an interested layman’s knowledge of Islam as a religion. For that reason I won’t speculate on the extent to which violent Islamist groups are rooted in true, or false, or mainstream, or deviant interpretations of Islam. I do wish that those on the other side would similarly resist the urge to issue authoritative pronouncements on subjects they know nothing about. (Lee Smith, with whom I frequently disagree on these issues, recently had a good piece in Tablet Magazine picking apart the absurd interpretations of “sharia” put forth by mosque opponents.)
But on the question of whether the “unique resonance of Islamic fundamentalism” poses a problem for the building of the Islamic center: First, what “resonance” are we talking about? That the center would resonate with and embolden violent Muslim radicals? I would expect quite the opposite. It is likely that radicals would be disgusted both with the center’s conciliatory theology and with the overall message it sends—namely, that the Unites States is so welcoming to Muslims that it is willing to let them practice their faith anywhere they choose, even a few blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks. It is equally likely that these radicals are rejoicing at the current controversy, realizing that every Islamophobic speech or rally or ad simply bolsters their claim that the United States is at war with Islam itself. In fact, the only extremists that the project seems to have “resonated” with are the right-wingers who believe—or at least pretend to—that the building would be a “9/11 victory monument” intended as a beachhead for sharia law in the United States.
“Islamic fundamentalism” is also a troublesome term, since it often seems to be applied (along with similar terms like “radical Islam” and “Islamofascism”) to any Muslims whom the labeler doesn’t like, regardless of whether their politics are either violent or rooted in religion. Regardless, it is obvious that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan do not qualify under even the loosest definition of “Islamic fundamentalism,” despite the best efforts of their opponents to paint them as radicals. (Jeffrey Goldberg, another writer with whom I frequently disagree, has written persuasively on the ludicrousness of these charges.)
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that many of the mosque opponents themselves subscribe to a form of hardline Likudnik politics and therefore regard any view to the left of Norman Podhoretz as proof of radical anti-Semitism. We must also note the wild guilt-by-association tenor of the campaign against Rauf—as Robert Wright put it, a typical charge is that “Rauf’s wife has an uncle who used to be ‘a leader’ of a mosque that now has a Web site that links to the Web site of an allegedly radical organization.” It strikes me that similar chains of association could have been used to tie virtually any Jew in 1950s America to communism—you yourself may never have been a party member, but surely you had a cousin who had a wife who had a brother who was a member.
In any case, let’s accept that there are some significant, disturbing, and violent strains within Islam (regardless of what we call them and how extensive we think they are). Two points here. First, the fact that such radical elements do exist does not license us to descend into bigotry or conspiracy theories, just as the fact that many Jews in postwar America really were communists did not excuse the wild ravings that proliferated on the right about a “Judeo-Bolshevik” plot against America.
Second, the “anti-jihadi” extremists who have led the anti-mosque campaign present precisely the wrong way to respond to the existence of these radical elements. Their message is that Muslims should be regarded as threats simply for subscribing to religious precepts, even if they denounce violence and even if they adhere to the laws of the land. This, of course, removes much of the incentive to chart a moderate course—if nothing less than the full-blown atheism of an Ayaan Hirsi Ali will satisfy such critics, then why risk a partial assimilation that will only be rejected as proof of nefarious intentions? Imam Rauf was the guy who did everything right, who was conciliatory even to the point of alienating his constituents—if even he is now being tarred as a violent radical, I imagine many Muslims-Americans are asking themselves, then why even bother?
MARC TRACY: David, I’d urge you to consider: Are opponents of the center working to alienate American Muslims? And: Parse what exactly you think is different about the radical elements within Islam (as opposed to other religions/groups) that justifies special concern and vigilance.
DAVID HOROWITZ: The Ground Zero mosque is the project of an Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who in the age of Jimmy Carter supported the fundamentalist Islamic revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeni, replete with hangings of gays, oppression of women, sponsorship of Hezbollah, and the murder of Americans and Jews. In the age of Obama and Ahmadinejad and in the face of a revolt by the Iranian people against this medieval regime, Rauf counseled our president to support the “guiding principles” of the theocratic dictatorship whose leaders continue to hang gays, arm the world’s largest terrorist army, Hezbollah, and not incidentally threaten to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. (See Christopher Hitchens, “The Test of Tolerance.”)
Not surprisingly, the construction of the Ground Zero mosque is supported by the leader of Hamas and by the Muslim Brotherhood network, which includes the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Society of North America, CAIR, and other anti-American, anti-Israel, pro-jihadist groups with which Rauf is closely connected. Small wonder that he considers the United States an “accomplice to 9/11” (one of his associates, Sheik Muhammad Gemeaha, is actually on record saying that the Jews did it.)
Luban seems to think that it’s important to bend over backward to show Islamists that we are actually tolerant by allowing the construction of a $100 million dollar mosque adjacent to the site where Muslims killed 3,000 Americans in the worst attack on our soil in the history of the republic. Why aren’t they already impressed by the fact that there are mosques all over the Unites States but no churches or synagogues in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, or that America has sent its youth around the world to save the lives of millions of Muslims in Bosnia, in Somalia, and in Afghanistan? Why aren’t Israel’s Muslim enemies impressed by the fact that Israel grants more rights to the million-plus Muslims who are citizens of the Jewish state than are granted to the Muslim citizens of any Muslim country? Why do U.S. leftists and Jimmy Carter refer to the most tolerant country in the Middle East as an “apartheid state”?
Anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and sympathy for jihadists are not driven by rational considerations, as Luban seems to think, but by irrational hatreds and xenophobic religious creeds.
MARC TRACY: Dan, we can argue over Rauf’s intentions all day. It might be interesting to argue that it actually is important to bend over backward rather than to deny that that’s what we’re doing. But of course, it’s your argument, not mine, so we’ll give you the final word.
DANIEL LUBAN: The opponents of the Park51 project have now resorted to manufacturing an endless stream of out-of-context quotes and sensationalistic “revelations” about Rauf; the idea seems to be that even if no individual claim bears scrutiny, the succession of attacks will reinforce the impression that Rauf is a radical. Since I have limited space here, I won’t spend it answering David Horowitz’s latest attacks on the imam—suffice it to say that they are as cherry-picked and misleading the other charges that have been brought forth against him.
I am more interested in Horowitz’s claim that the controversy is about whether we will “bend over backward to show Islamists that we are actually tolerant by allowing” the construction of the center. How, exactly, does “allowing” Muslims to build what they like on property they own with their own money constitute “bend[ing] over backward” to them? On the contrary, it is simply allowing them the same freedom that we extend to all other religions. As I discussed in my piece, this is symptomatic of the way that Horowitz and his allies operate—they claim that they simply oppose any special advantage being granted to Islam over other religions, when in fact their prescriptions call for specific and intrusive forms of discrimination against Muslims in particular.
I would, however, like to thank Horowitz for the arguments he has not made. Much of this pointless controversy has been dominated by bad-faith arguments that opposition to the Park51 center has nothing to do with opposition to Islam. (It’s merely that the blocks surrounding the World Trade Center site are “sacred ground,” you see—notwithstanding the strip clubs and dive bars and fast food restaurants that fill them—and opponents of the center would quickly drop their objections if it were merely moved five blocks away rather than two.) Horowitz, with greater honesty, has focused in on the real issues at stake: the role of Islam in America, and whether we should assume until proven otherwise that the bulk of Muslim-Americans are enemies of the state.
Horowitz closes by attributing to me a position that I have never argued: namely, that anti-Semitism and violent Islamism are “driven by rational considerations.” My argument was a very different one: that whatever the roots of these tendencies and however repugnant they may be, we solve nothing—in fact, we make matters worse—by descending into the sort of paranoid Islamophobia that is currently ascendant on the right. Horowitz flirts with these conspiracy theories without giving any real evidence for the allegation that the bulk of Muslim-Americans are genocide-minded Muslim Brotherhood sleeper agents. (Hence his non-response to my first rebuttal, in which he merely reiterates the same flimsy “evidence” that he asserted the first time.) Whether he actually believes this stuff or whether he is cynically using it for political purposes is ultimately irrelevant; either way, he and his allies are treading on dangerous (and for a Jew, depressingly familiar) ground.
Daniel Luban is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Chicago. David Horowitz is the president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the author of Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left and A Cracking of the Heart, a memoir about his daughter. His new book is Reforming Our Universities.
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