Introduction and Note to Readers:
Warning: This blog is very lengthy, and has taken me a few days to write and to compile the material discussed herein. You may want to print it. I originally planned to run the different parts on consecutive days. But much of the material is time-bound and events may occur in these coming days that answer some of the tentative questions I raise.
My intention is to set off an honest and real debate about the issues I raise. I am frankly distressed about the growing volatile and rancorous choruses on the Right that seem to insist that there is only one position to take on the nature of Islam. By giving full links to the various sides, you can read through all of them and reach your own conclusions.
But the subject is too serious to act on partial and misleading information, or on the blogs coming particularly from one strident side. So please- read and think!
Part I: Who is Our Enemy?
An important issue is now emerging in the conservative constituency. It boils down to the following: Is Islam itself our enemy, and should Americans work to oppose Islam throughout the world; or, is it only radical Islam, what Christopher Hitchens calls Islamofascism and others call Islamism, the enemy we must oppose?
The issue has been raised as well by Peter Beinart in his column I commented on the other day, and by columnist Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. Like Beinart, Dowd also pretended to miss the approach taken by George W. Bush, whom she says understood that “the war against terrorists is not a war against Islam.” Dowd writes: “George W. Bush understood this. And it is odd to see Barack Obama less clear about this matter than his predecessor. It’s time for W. to weigh in.”
Actually, W’s big mistake was to not go onto to say that we were not simply fighting a war against terror, but a war against radical Islam. Instead, he seemed to suggest by omitting ever mentioning the ideology of our enemy that there was no such thing as Islamofascism, (although he once used the term and then later abandoned it) thereby making it appear that those who named the enemy were opposing Islam itself as a religion that many in the world believe in.
Dowd was more than furious at Newt Gingrich, who speaking on Fox News, said “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.” Dowd commented: “There is no more demagogic analogy than that.” Others have noted that legally, since the U.S. Government owns the Holocaust Museum, it has the legal right to refuse such a sign were one to seek to put one up. Writing at Slate.com, Briam Palmer says that in general, “putting up a sign should be value-neutral.” But as to a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum, Palmer writes:
While the law can’t discriminate against private speakers based on their views, the government has its own free speech rights. Uncle Sam can say almost anything he wants on public property and may adopt the views of some people and reject those of others. So, on a very technical level, Gingrich is right that we’ll never see a permanent Nazi sign erected next to the Holocaust museum, since the government would be unlikely to allow it. (None of this applies to the proposed mosque in New York, which is to be built on private land.)
But, he notes correctly, in Chicago in 1978, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that Nazis had a right to march in Skokie, Illinois, despite how deeply offensive it would be to the largely Jewish population who then inhabited that city. This became, he says, “a landmark free speech decision.”
But what about Gingrich’sargument, which has been to equate Nazism and its racialist ideology with Islam? And here is where it gets sticky. Writing at Contentions, Peter Wehner, a former Bush speechwriter, argued that Gingrich and others should be “careful about the rhetoric they employ,” he first argued that critics should not invoke the Saudis and their rules about other religions as a standard for comparison. Moreover, he adds that “Nazism was intrinsically malevolent, whereas mosques are not.”
But his main point is the following:
At the same time, we have to be very careful not to conflate American Muslims with al-Qaeda and Wahhabism or argue, explicitly or implicitly, that mosques qua mosques are comparable to Nazism. Some mosques do fan the flames of hatred and violence; but of course many more do not.
Wehner argues, as I did also, that the decision to build this particular mosque next to Ground Zero “is terribly imprudent” and was certain to create a “divisive and dangerous debate,” and that for good reason, most Americans want that mosque built elsewhere. But, he says, “To characterize that opposition as bigoted, malicious and un-American has evoked a perfectly predictable counterreaction.” He ends by citing historian William Lee Miller, who writing about Abraham Lincoln at the time of the Civil War, notes that Lincoln had said that all those who fought, including the Confederate Army, “were all part of a universal community of human reason,” and Miller wrote, “He did not demean or demonize the enemy.”
On this point, and on the general issue of whether Islam itself is our enemy, I received the following e-mail from conservative writer and activist David Horowitz, who has generously allowed me to use it. Horowitz writes:
Wehner misses the entire point of Gingrich’s remarks. The mosque builders are the bigoted, racist, misogynist, anti-American, anti-religious, devious, lying, Jew-hating murderous and repulsive wing of Islam. If the Mosque sponsors want to promote interfaith tolerance they can start with their own backyard. The Saudis — who ban all other religions from their turf — are the funders of 80% of the mosques in America. The other force behind this Islamist project is the Muslim Brotherhood and its baby Hamas. Gingrich should be applauded for stepping out from the crowd of credulous appeasers and deniers not only in the Democratic Party but evidently among Republicans as well.
And writing at PJM, my blogging colleague Roger Kimball, a brilliant and insightful writer, makes his own strong case that Islam- not just so-called radical Islam- is the real enemy. He writes: “My own view, which I’ve stated in this space before, is that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with “foundational Western values like free speech, the separation of church and state, and equality under the law. Such things are not simply missing from Islam: they are positively repudiated by Islam.” While Roger says that Muslims have a right to build a mosque anywhere else in America, he does think- it’s the bottom line- that “Islam is a proselytizing, intolerant religion. Its aim is to institute Sharia as the ‘sole reference point for . . . ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community . . . and state.’ That is the end. The means are multifarious. Steering commercial aircraft into American skyscrapers is only one tactic. Using and abusing liberal democratic freedoms in order to promulgate an ideology that is neither liberal nor democratic is less ostentatious but may in the end be more effective precisely because it is less dramatic. This is the lasting significance of the case of the Ground Zero mosque. It represents another step on the march to Islamize the West.”
David Horowitz, Andrew McCarthy and Roger Kimball are all smart, shrewd and articulate observers of our culture and our world. But are they correct when they shift the argument from opposing those who seek a radical Islamist agenda- imposition of Sharia law in the West- from most American Muslims who practice their faith and belief and consider themselves law-abiding patriotic Americans, and who have a strong commitment to this country?
If they are, I fear it means supporting an unwinnable proposition, that in effect, says that the interpretation of the Quran by Bin Laden and others is correct- that they truly represent the only real Islam, and those claiming to be moderates are heretics who also must be destroyed. It means writing off potential allies in the Muslim community who could become the spearhead of an Islamist reformation to the ranks of the Islamist radicals. It would give them no choice but then to support radical Islamists since our leaders have already condemned them as believing in a faith that is incompatible with the rules of American citizenship.
I wish to point out two recent articles in Tablet Magazine that further address this question. The first is by Lee Smith, who writing recently, offers a lengthy and important discussion of the nuances of Sharia law. He argues that “The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people. Even though Islam is very simple in its basics, including conversion—you are a Muslim if you testify there is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God—the faith comes with a fabulously esoteric scholarly tradition.” I urge you to download and read his entire article.
The second article appeared a few days ago and is by Daniel Luban. He provocatively calls anti-Islamist phobia “the new anti-Semitism.” His key paragraph follows:
Many of the tropes of classic anti-Semitism have been revived and given new force on the American right. Once again jingoistic politicians and commentators posit a religious conspiracy breeding within Western society, pledging allegiance to an alien power, conspiring with allies at the highest levels of government to overturn the existing order. Because the propagators of these conspiracy theories are not anti-Semitic but militantly pro-Israel, and because their targets are not Jews but Muslims, the ADL and other Jewish groups have had little to say about them. But since the election of President Barack Obama, this Islamophobic discourse has rapidly intensified.
He then adds the following:
Most of the tropes of the American “anti-jihadists,” as they call themselves, are taken from European models: a “creeping” imposition of sharia, Muslim allegiance to the ummah rather than to the nation-state, the coming demographic crisis as Muslims outbreed their Judeo-Christian counterparts. In recent years the call-to-arms about the impending Islamicization of Europe has become a well-worn genre, ranging from more sophisticated treatments like Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe to cruder polemics like Mark Steyn’s America Alone and Bat Ye’or’s Eurabia.
I take exception particularly to Luban’s characterization of Mark Styen’s book as a crude polemic. I have not read Bat Ye’or’s book, but I suspect many will rightfully take exception to that characterization as well. And it is telling that he does not mention Bruce Bawer’s books, clearly because he is a gay conservative who makes a strong case about the dangers posed by Islamists in Europe. But I agree with him that the view that America is in danger facing the same impact large Muslim communities are having in smaller European states like Denmark, France or Britain are unlikely to be recapitulated here. Many of our Muslim immigrants have taken roots here, and have become middle class and assimilated.
There is no equivalent demographic threat to the United States as that posed by Muslims in Western Europe. It is also true, of course, that a real danger exists that has to be addressed. Many of the Saudi financed Wahhabi mosques, as Stephen Schwartz and others have endlessly pointed out, preach radical Islam and have in fact led some of its members to adopt their dangerous interpretation of Islam, and some of them, as we well know, have become terrorists. This point has been made effectively by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. He writes that our pundits have a long history of claiming that many Imams were true moderates, when within a short time after they were heralded as such, they turned out to be the worst of Islamist extremists and supporters of terrorists. Stephens says there is but one ground on which to judge:
Which brings me to the fundamental problem with too many self-described moderate Muslims. A few years ago, my friend Irshad Manji made the point to me that “moderate Muslims denounce terror that’s committed in the name of Islam but they deny that religion has anything to do with it.” By contrast, she noted, “reform-minded Muslims denounce terror that’s committed in the name of Islam and acknowledge that our religion is used to inspire it.”
Luban goes on to attack many of the figures on the Right whom he condemns as proponents of Islamophobia, including Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Paul Sperry and P. David Gaubatz, all of whom have written books and articles propagating their position. He then writes:
Radical Muslims who engage in violence are only the tip of the iceberg, goes the argument; the more insidious threat comes from the far larger group of religious Muslims (most, perhaps all) who aim to subjugate the United States under sharia law through ostensibly peaceful and legal means. In this they are aided and abetted by the leftist elites controlling the government, media, and academy—above all, the ambiguously Muslim Obama himself—and a cast of villains that includes some mix of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jeremiah Wright, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Obama adviser Dalia Mogahed, ACORN, and George Soros. Some of the authors of these works have ties to the European far right themselves; Geller and Spencer, for instance, have alienated former political allies by championing Geert Wilders and the Vlaams Belang.
Here, he is clearly over the top and descending into foolish ridicule. Only a few fringe commentators have accused George Soros and ACORN, for example, as being part of the Islamic threat in America. And some of those he names, are in fact advocates of or apologists for radical Islam, such as CAIR. Luban shows his own bias of left-liberalism by going on a foolish comparison of opposition to radical Islam with 19th Century anti-Semitism and the Red Scare or McCarthyism of the 1950’s. (He warns that we now possibly face “a new McCarthyism.”) But the anti-Semitism of our past was indeed paranoia, while in the 1950’s, there were real Communists- and many of them were recruited for espionage right out of the ranks of their movement. Today, there are real Islamofascists, and Luban clearly minimizes their danger. And like some of the old Communists who became KGB agents and spies, many American Muslims are recruited in Wahhabi mosques to become part of terrorist cells.
Most of his critique is directed at the former Justice Department prosecutor of Islamic terrorists, National Review contributor Andrew McCarthy, author of the book The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. In the past, McCarthy has written potent on target criticism about how the real threat of Islamism has been long ignored and downplayed in our society. I have read with profit much of what he has written. And the country owes him a debt of gratitude for his role in bringing terrorists to justice. As Luban acknowledges, “he came to prominence by winning convictions against Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and others linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.”
But sadly, Luban I think correctly criticizes McCarthy’s most recent arguments when he writes that “his book helps illustrate both the potency of the Muslim-conspiracy myth and the extent to which it has taken hold of mainstream right-wing discourse.” He sums up McCarthy’s position in these words:
The bulk of the Muslim population, then, aims to impose sharia over every aspect of American life. How will they do this? Through violence, if need be—but McCarthy is keen to note that Islamists are above all master dissimulators who will seek to impose sharia through legal means if they can (“grand-jihad-by-sabotage,” he calls it). This means that even peaceful attempts to follow Islam through strictly private means (for instance, through sharia-compliant finance) are simply precursors to a takeover of the overall system. Muslims who live within religious or ethnic enclaves are not merely trying to remain within a familiar community or preserve shared values; rather, they are presented as deviously following the “voluntary apartheid” strategy of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood—the group whose “global tentacles” extend into nearly every Muslim-American civil society organization.
Some will argue he exaggerates and distorts McCarthy’s argument. But his summary is similar to what Roger Kimball has argued at PJM when discussing McCarthy. He quotes McCarthy directly as writing “foreign Muslims should not be permitted to reside in America unless they can demonstrate their acceptance of American constitutional principles.” And he rightfully asks how are they supposed to do that? If they agreed to take loyalty oaths, McCarthy would undoubtedly say as does Robert Spencer, that this is a tactic of “stealth Jihad” and their words cannot be trusted.
Luban is on firm ground when he writes bout Pamela Geller, a grand conspiracy theorist whose absurdities and crazy arguments demean those conservatives who pay her any credence. If you doubt me, simply read around on her own blog, Atlas Shrugged. Here is one grand example. Download and read it for yourself. I will not reprint any of it here. It is so convoluted, so clearly nutty, that it is amazing that now she is not only part of the discourse, and even appeared on CNN as a leader of the movement to stop the mosque near Ground Zero. As Michelle Boorstein points out in The Washington Post, “Through her blog, Atlas Shrugs, television interviews and appearances at political rallies, Geller has become one of the chief organizers of opposition to the so-called Ground Zero mosque as well as efforts to build other Muslim prayer centers across the country.” In that regard, Geller’s rise to prominence in the national debate vindicates Luban’s concern about “the potency of the Muslim-conspiracy myth and the extent to which it has taken hold of mainstream right-wing discourse.”
2. Are There Really Any “Moderate” Muslims?
So is there such a thing as a moderate Muslim, and are they trying to influence their own community? Let us turn to the review put on line by Stephen Schwartz, an American who converted a few years ago to the Sufi brand of Islam. Writing on the website of The Middle East Forum and in their journal Middle East Quarterly, Schwartz offers his take in a review of a book by Bassam Tibi, Political Islam,World Politics, and Europe. Schwartz is himself author of two books on the issue, the influential The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism (2003) and the more recent The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony (2008). In his review of Tibi’s book, he stresses that as a man dealing with the role of Islamist ideology in Europe, “Tibi is committed to a moderate and pluralistic form of Islam, which supports democratic principles, for a Europe in which Muslims could live on equal, non-confrontational terms with their non-Muslim and non-religious neighbors.”
He adds, in what might be the understatement of this era- given the views of conservatives with solid credentials like Roger Kimball, David Horowitz and Andrew McCarthy, -that “His approach will doubtless be especially provocative to those who deny that a moderate Islam is possible, much less can flourish, or who see the new presence of Islam in Western Europe as a threat to a major component of Judeo-Christian civilization.”
In his book, Tibi writes the following: “”It matters whether a political jihadist Islam or a civil Euro-Islam will prevail among Muslims living in Europe.” He further declares, “I want to warn against any indiscriminate criticism of the Islamic diaspora in Europe and propose my concept of Euro-Islam as an alternative to jihadism.”
Having not as yet read Tibi’s book, I offer the following point. Before deciding who is right, doesn’t it behoove those who say the enemy is Islam to read the arguments of those who, like Tibi, are moderate Muslims fighting the good fight within their own community? Isn’t his entrance into the fray evidence in and of itself that there are those who consider themselves true Muslims who are opposing the radical Islamists?
Tibi agrees that Muslims do have a higher birth rate, and hence in the following decades will play a stronger role in Europe. That is why he is fighting for what he calls a need for “Europeanizing Islam” instead of accepting “the Islamization of Europe.” Seeking acceptance of Enlightenment values, Tibi supports “the idea of Europe endorsed by a liberal and reformed Islam.” Tibi, like Paul Berman in this country, is evidently a strong critic of the misleading views propagated abroad and in the U.S. by Tariq Ramadan, the man so wrongly offered by many liberals and leftists here as an example of a “moderate Muslim.” He accuses Ramadan of favoring a “religious imperialism” which he calls “an offense to the idea of Europe.” Similarly, Tibi favors “cultural pluralism” over the excuse offered by Western leftists for acceptance of radical Islam—that we have to obey the need for a “multicultural” approach.
It is the latter that led Joan Wallach Scott of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ., at a forum in New York City with Ramadan, to rationalize and support Ramadan’s refusal to condemn the stoning of women, but only to support a temporary moratorium. As she said at the widely reported forum, as reported by another panelist, George Packer of The New Yorker, “Scott, a feminist scholar, was asked by the moderator, Jacob Weisberg of Slate, about the treatment of Muslim women and Ramadan’s views on the subject, including his call for a ‘moratorium’ in Muslim countries on the Islamic criminal code, including stoning of adulteresses. Her answer came in two parts: first, she said, the whole question is just a distraction from the plight of unemployed Muslims in Europe. Second, who are we to criticize? Let them work things out according to their religion.” As Marc Tracy observed in Tablet Magazine, “For this Western non-Muslim observer, who really wants to be ecumenical and tolerant about a wide range of issues, but who simply can’t abide even a single crack in the door between stoning women being okay and stoning women being not okay, this is the night’s most distressing moment.”
These are the really critical issues that divide a true moderate Muslim from an apologist for Islamism. Andrew McCarthy, for one, would not be surprised. For what he argues is that in the West, as Scott’s comments show, there is a large part of the Western left-wing that stands with the radical Islamists, whom they see as comrades in the war against the “evil” and “imperialist” United States. Hence, in Britain and elsewhere, we have seen the prominence of Trotskyist communists in open alignment with Islamic radicals, joining them in their marches, and working with them to isolate and condemn Israel.
I agree with Cathy Young, another wise libertarian and conservative columnist. She writes that the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque have some valid points, but the problem is “the opposition is so tainted with intolerance and irrationality that to hand it a victory would be far worse.” Young gives us a very shrewd analogy. She asks what would have happened had a group of Christian anti-abortion foes bombed Planned Parenthood’s New York offices, if ten years later, a conservative Christian group that said it opposed violence, sought to build a 13 story community center and church next to the old PP headquarters. She writes:
Most likely, the roles in this debate would be reversed. Quite a few liberals would denounce the planned construction of the center as a slap in the face to the victims and their families; the likes of Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin would decry anti-Christian bias and voice outrage that the actions of a handful of extremists would be used to denigrate all Christians or all abortion opponents.
So Cathy Young understands the issues and what divides us. But, she writes, the problem is that “Anti-Muslim zealots have been in the forefront of protests against the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’- people such as writer and blogger Robert Spencer, who openly declares that the Islamic faith itself is a terrorist ideology and that ‘moderate Islam’ is a deceptive myth.” The conclusion if one believes Spencer and company is that, as Young writes, “that every peaceful Muslim is a potential jihadist. She quotes one protester of mosques built in California as saying that we are too concerned about religious freedom. This protester, Diane Serafin, said : “I know it’s there in the Constitution and everything, but everything I read says Islam is a political movement,” she told a reporter, adding that “there’s a movement going on in the United States to take over our country.” One Congressional candidate in Tennessee, Lou Ann Zelinik, Young reports, says the US is not obligated to allow Muslims to practice their religion at all. Unless they prove they are fighting our enemies, the Zelinik stated, “we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.” How they are supposed to prove that before being allowed to build a mosque or pray in one is something that the hopeful candidate does not pause to explain.
That is why Roger Kimball’s assurances that “no one disputes the right” of Muslims to practice their religion and build a mosque or community center is not good enough . In fact, these people- having read Robert Spencer in particular- and perhaps Andrew McCarthy- are reaching just such a conclusion. Yes we all understand that Roger Kimball is correct when he writes that you can’t build a church, a temple or sell a Bible in Saud Arabia. Very true. But we are not Saudis. Do we have to emulate their standards for ourselves? Will that really contribute anything to the fight against Islamism?
That is why I agree with Cathy Young when she writes: “It is unfortunately true that, for whatever reason, militant and violent fundamentalism in Islam today occupies a much more prominent place, and is much closer to the mainstream, than in other major religions. But surely the answer to that is to promote modernization and moderation in Islam, not to demonize the entire faith.”
One must also heed what Daniel Pipes wrote some years back, that the real problem is identifying correctly who is and who is not a moderate Muslim. Imam Rauf may not turn out to be one—but that does not mean that moderate Muslims who actively seek influence are not real moderates. “With time,” Pipes wrote, individual Muslims are finding their voice to condemn Islamist connections to terrorism.” He presents many examples which must not be overlooked; yet he too warns that “There are lots of fake-moderates parading about, and they can be difficult to identify, even for someone like me who devotes much attention to this to this topic.” If it is difficult for Pipes, imagine how difficult it is for those of us attempting to make sense of all this from the outside.
Pipes shrewdly concludes: “The task of identifying true moderates cannot be done through guesswork and intuition; for proof, note the American government’s persistent record of supporting Islamists by providing them with legitimacy, education, and (perhaps even) money. I too have made my share of mistakes. What’s needed is serious, sustained research.”
3. Who is Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, and what Does he Believe?
This is the key question we know must decide. Clearly it is one the mainstream media has been avoiding. Last week, the former CIA covert operative and now distinguished writer, Reuel Marc Gerecht, wrote about how one should identify moderate Muslims. He began by immediately putting his finger on the difficulty of knowing what to make of Iman Rauf. “Some of his short essays and interviews in English suggest that he is a preacher of moderate disposition and views. But some of his more tentative, if not deceptive commentary about terrorism against Israelis, America’s culpability for 9/11, and the nobility and value of the Holy Law for Muslims living in the West suggest something different.” But Gerecht thinks, quite wisely, that he has a “sneaking suspicion” that those pledging their guarantees that the imam is a moderate and who go on to attack his critics, may very well not have done their homework.
Moreover, Gerecht notes that building this particular mosque raises another question. If it was a mosque built anywhere else, he writes, we may well “frown on monies flowing to it from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi establishment, given Wahhabism’s virulently anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and just all-around anti-fun traditions, but we certainly would not try to shut it down.” But in the case of this mosque, “If Mr. Rauf has collected monies from individuals or Muslim organizations overseas that preach contempt for infidels, have financially supported religiously militant organizations, or, worse, provided aide to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, then his project, which has been approved by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ought to be cancelled.”
So it comes down for Gerecht to whether or not Rauf is or is not a moderate Muslim. A moderate Muslim in our country, moreover, is different from one considered moderate in the Persian Gulf. Thus he presents standards for reaching a judgment; they include rejection of terrorism against anyone and renouncing the applicability of Sharia law in American society. A moderate American Muslim, he concludes, would see Sharia law “in much the same way that a faithful ‘moderate Jewish American’ views the Old Testament and the Talmud: documents of a certain time that contain considerable ‘divine’ wisdom (as well as much looniness) and many imperatives for a good, healthy life.”
The argument about what Imam Rauf stands for was first raised a while back by Stephen Schwartz, a moderate Muslim who contrary to Kimball, McCarthy, Geller and Spencer, believes that moderate Muslims do exist. But writing in The Weekly Standard, Schwartz cautioned about “Rauf’s refusal to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization; Rauf’s leading role in the Perdana Global Peace Organization, ‘a principal partner,’ in its own words, of the Turkish-launched flotilla that tried to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza; and the project’s questionable sources of funding.” And more recently, he wrote that moderate American Muslims should reject the Ground Zero mosque, and that Rauf “has maintained links with Muslim radicals, including enablers of terror, whom he declines to disavow. These include the Malaysian politician Mahathir Mohamad, who supports Hamas’ Gaza dictatorship.” He also notes that “Nor, for that matter, can Muslim leaders allow any accommodation with the clerical tyranny in Iran or with such extremists as the Saudi Wahhabis, Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a branch) or Pakistani jihadism.”
Writing today, Lee Smith makes a slightly different point. He acknowledges Rauf’s now well known refusal to condemn Hamas. He writes that “Rauf is just an imam—and more importantly, in this context, he is an entrepreneur. Among those from whom he seeks funding are Muslim elites throughout the Middle East, a caste that often supports the anti-Israel ‘resistance’ financially as well as morally. While there are some such elites who may detest Hamas for any number of reasons, few are apt to criticize the outfit publicly, especially in front of outsiders like the Americans. Were Rauf to disown Hamas to gain favor with the Americans, the doors now open to him throughout the Muslim world would be shut, forfeiting both his immediate access to money as well as the much more lucrative long-term opportunities afforded him as bridge between the United States and the Muslim world.”
Smith is suggesting that Rauf’s actions are taken in order to not give Muslim audiences abroad an excuse not to listen to what he has to say about the United States. In other words, if he condemned Hamas in the US, that’s all his audience would ask him about. They would not listen to what the State Department- which is now sponsoring his tour of Muslim countries- is bringing Rauf to their domain for- to hear him attempt to build bridges. Rauf has, Smith says, “the ear of American policymakers.” He adds that “the Bush State Department was similarly supportive of his travels.” I would add that now that Obama is in office, this tour is offered as further evidence by the hard Right of Obama’s Muslim sympathies, while when Bush was in office, little was said in the way of attacks on the President for giving credibility to Rauf and for having him accompany Karen Hughes on a government tour.
Smith notes that “Rauf, said State Dept spokesman P.J. Crowley, is a distinguished Muslim cleric who ‘brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States.’” But Smith corrects Crowley, noting that after Iran’s June elections, “Obama, Rauf wrote on his website, should say that, ‘his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 [Iranian] revolution—to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, that establishes the rule of law.’ Leaving aside the apologetics on behalf of a terror-sponsoring regime that tortures, rapes, and murders its own people, this is a curious statement coming from a Sunni like Rauf.”
Smith therefore suggests that “Rauf the self-described Sufi is [not] the avant-garde of an Islamic ecumenism. More likely, he is just the iteration of a type, familiar both in the Arabic-speaking Middle East and New York real estate circles—he’s an operator. To be all things to all people is to avoid alienating potential donors—like the Arab elite that supports Hamas, and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s business sectors.” Or, to make it simple, just another opportunist.
Most important, however, is the claim made today on Bill Bennett’s radio program by the distinguished anti-terrorist investigator, Steven Emerson. You will hear Emerson say, early in his interview, that he has uncovered new tapes of Rauf he has not as yet released, but which prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Imam is not what he claims to be- but is instead a radical pledged to destruction of the United States. In particular, Emerson says that Rauf defends the Saudi brand Wahhabi view of Islam; calls for Israel’s destruction, and defends Osama Bin Laden. We must wait for Emerson to release the tapes and to write about their contents on his organization’s website. If they prove to be true, the debate over Rauf’s role will be over, and the Obama administration, and its attempt to build bridges to would-be moderates who really are cooperators with terrorists, will be in shambles.
On the other side of the spectrum, Middle East expert Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the top journalists of our time, swears that Imam Rauf is a true moderate. Writing on his own Atlantic Monthly blog, Goldberg says that in 2003, Rauf spoke at a memorial for Daniel Pearl, the martyred journalist, and was invited by none other than Pearl’s father. Identifying himself with the Judaic tradition, Rauf said: “I am a Jew.” Goldberg stresses that “any Muslim imam who stands before a Jewish congregation and says, ‘I am a Jew, is placing his life in danger.” To radical Islamists, that would automatically make Rauf an apostate. Not only is Rauf not a terrorist, but to the contrary, Goldberg asserts, Rauf “placed himself in mortal peril in order to identify himself with Christians and Jews, and specifically with the most famous Jewish victim of Islamism.” His words cannot simply be taken as words chosen to appease a suspicious Jewish audience. He quotes Rauf as saying he stands by the “Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths.”
Either Rauf has pulled the wool over the eyes of Daniel Pearl’s father and Jeffrey Goldberg, and is the biggest Muslim liar on the planet, or the contrary view of what Rauf believes asserted by the Right and by Steve Emerson is based on simple paranoia and false evidence. I suspect that quite soon, evidence alone- not polemics- will settle this issue.
4: Where Does This Leave Us?
I suggest first we must separate two issues. Unlike those in the conservative movement who believe Islam is the enemy, I argue that there are real moderate Muslims, who need to be encouraged and supported in waging the fight within Islam against the uses of the Quran for radical purposes. These Muslims exist. We must support them, and not fall into the trap of backing imposters and charlatans who claim they are moderates, and who use our gullibility to pull the wool over our eyes, and who gain our monetary and political backing for what in reality are nefarious purposes dangerous to our national security.
But to view all Muslims as per se extremists is to give up this fight in advance, and to push real moderates into the hands of the extremists. If all Muslims are our enemy, we give credibility to the radical Islamofascists, who claim that their view of the Quran is the only true one, and if one is a real Muslim, they must join Bin Laden and the other radicals in their holy Jihad against the West.
The best statement to date on this, I think, is by John Guardiano at FrumForum.com. Called “Drop ‘the war with Islam’ talk,” Guardiano answers an argument he found at Frontpagemag.com and NewsRealblog.com written by a young editor at David Horowitz’s websites, David Swindle. Like Horowitz, whom I quoted at the start of this article, Swindle believes that Islam is “a Jew-hating creed” that has to be “eradicated.” Swindle had in fact e-mailed me a few days ago, and told me that he once thought Islam could be just another religion one respected, but he came to the conclusion that in effect it was incapable of reform.
Drawing a parallel with the Left, he argues that just as there can be no Left without a belief in socialism there cannot be an Islam without Sharia law. If followers of Islam go back to the doctrine of its founder, Swindle says, they end up with Hamas. As for those who say they are Sufi and that they are genuine believers in Islam, Swindle argues that Sufism is no more Islam than Madonna’s version of Kabbalah is Judaism. To all this, Guardiano answers:
I am sorry that Swindle feels this way: because if he is right, then it seems to me that he is consigning America to a state of permanent war with the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. And I’m not sure that the United States can win this war, given the overwhelming demographic and geographic challenges inherent in such a conflict. There are, after all, some 50 countries with a majority Muslim population.
But more to the point, I’m not sure that such a war is right, wise or necessary. There are, after all, practical and prudential reasons to oppose the type of harsh and virulent rhetoric that Swindle typically employs against all of Islam.
He adds that “demonizing all of Islam will seriously undermine our efforts to win over the vast majority of Muslims who are both moderate-minded and religiously devout.” Noting that this is not a minor matter of debate, the very success of our counter-insurgency in Afghanistan that these same hard liners claim to support, is based on winning over the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, most of whom are believing Muslims. If we demonize them, and say their religion is irredeemable and incapable of being reformed, we have lost the war before we have begun to completely win it. We may as well pack up and go home, and face the coming war with a good part of the earth inhabited by believers in the faith of Islam.
He adds that the view of Islam believed by David Horowitz, David Swindle, and the likes of smart men like Roger Kimball, Andrew McCarthy and others, “seems entirely textually based and devoid of any historical context.” Daniel Pipes notes (in the article I cited earlier) that in fact Islam has changed through the ages, as has the very concept of Jihad. Even in the 1800’s, when Sharia law was intact, to get around its strictures, Pipes notes that “pre-modern Muslims (that is, Muslims before 1800) developed legalistic fig leaves that allowed for the relaxation of Islamic positions without directly violating them.” Thus they were able to “stick to the letter of the law while negating its spirit.”
Guardiano’s conclusion is one I wholeheartedly endorse: To insist there is only one Islam- and it is radical and must be crushed- “helps no one but the Islamists and other radicals who are at war with America and the West.”
Is that the goal conservatives, and other patriotic Americans, really want for our country?
On RealClearPolitics.com, Cathy Young has just posted an article that is complimentary to mine.
Called “Reality Check in the Ground Zero Mosque Debate,” she raises points similar to those I have just raised, with some new examples. She too notes that “claims by Cordoba Center supporters that Rauf is the very model of a modern Muslim moderate are overly optimistic. Much of Rauf’s work is admirable. In his writings on sharia, he has consistently argued that Islam should preserve what he believes is the true spirit of Koranic law — justice, equality and tolerance — while discarding tenets that promote the subjugation of women or hostility to non-Muslims. In his 2004 book ‘What’s Right With Islam,’ he suggests that the U.S. system of government may be ‘the form of governance that best expresses Islam’s original values and principles.’ Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, a program run by the American Society for Muslim Advancement co-founded by Rauf and Khan, has included such dissident voices as Irshad Manji, a lesbian feminist strongly critical of traditional Islam.”
But, she continues,” some of Rauf’s comments over the years are legitimate cause for concern. He has made statements that seem to minimize radical Islamist terror — by pointing to the Christian West’s killing of civilians in Hiroshima and Dresden, or asserting that the West must apologize for its wrongs toward Muslims before terrorism can end. (Rauf may be rightly critical of Western support for repressive regimes in the Muslim world, but any call for an end to terror should be unconditional.) He has refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist organization — which is not an encouraging approach to promoting moderation, even if his motive is a misguided inclusiveness rather than sympathy.”
Finally, Young also ends by asking whether or not self-proclaimed moderate Muslims are what they say they are? Her wise final conclusion:
There can be no real discussion of Islam in America without an honest admission that Islamic extremism is not limited to a few fringe groups of crazies, and a willingness to confront this extremism. But at the moment, there is an equally urgent need to confront a pervasive extremism in the anti-jihadist movement that seeks to demonize Islam itself and tar virtually all Muslims with the terrorist brush.
Addendum: 8/21/2010 3 pm EST
I find that I agree with Andrew McCarthy’s latest piece on this issue. You can read it here. He makes good distinctions, and is a nuanced artile