The case of Japan in WWII tells us why building the mosque at Ground Zero will not just offend American sensibilities—more important is that it will cost many additional American lives. Islamist suicide bombers too need to have the idea firmly in their minds that Allah is with them and their cause. That means that the same leveraging effect is in play. Great victories enhance the conviction that Allah is with them, and that will produce even more suicide bombers. Great defeats (for example, the destruction of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan) will begin to undermine that conviction; for how could Allah desert his warriors so?
Who can doubt that potential and actual Islamic terrorists will take it as a sign from Allah when a huge mosque is built in the shadow of their greatest victory? Surely they will see it as Allah crowning their victory of 9/11 and making it even greater. And just as surely, they will see it as an invitation to even greater things than 9/11, because Allah has shown them again that he is with them. That is the psychology of terrorists with a sense of divine mission. And so we need to avoid at all costs anything that will be seen as a divine blessing for their efforts, and we should instead be looking for ways to hand them demoralizing defeats. If the divine wind blows in the other direction often enough, sooner or later believers will start to wonder whether it is in fact divine.
What this means is that Imam Rauf has things exactly backwards. He tells us that a defeat for his project at Ground Zero will encourage the terrorists to more violence. To the contrary, it is the success of his project that will encourage the terrorists to more violence. A man as well versed in Islamic matters as Rauf must know this perfectly well—which makes his specious, devious argument to the contrary just one more reason to question his good-will and sincerity.
John Ellis is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz
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