A Message to Conservatives: Is Islam Really our Enemy?
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