The debate over the "Ground Zero Mosque" presents two separate questions:
(1) Whether the mosque is wrong and should be stopped.
(2) Whether some arm of the government should be the ones to stop it.
Tellingly, liberal defenders of the project have talked almost exclusively about the second point, and avoided the first.
While I joined wholeheartedly in the RedState editorial last week condemning the project and calling for a halt to it, I've been a bit agnostic on the second point myself. There are constitutional and statutory restrictions on what the government can or should do to interfere with the building of houses of worship, and those restrictions exist for good reasons, even when in a particular case the house of worship represents a deliberate provocation. Even without the government's involvement, the mosque project itself is indefensible on its merits, and can and should be subject to public criticism and shame and any other lawful private sanction that can be brought to bear against outrageous conduct (a point Ed Morrissey makes here).
But as we are now seeing, the government itself - including the Obama Administration - is more involved with the Cordoba Initiative behind the mosque than we had been led to believe, and its proponents are even more selective in their view of tolerance and dialogue. And one thing is very clear: this is not a strictly local issue in any sense. It is part of a crucial national debate.
It really should not be necessary to explain to anyone with the slightest bit of common decency why a mosque within sight of the World Trade Center site is appallingly offensive, especially a mosque that - as we detailed in our editorial - deliberately chose the site for its proximity to Ground Zero and touted that connection. The principal argument made for why nobody should be offended is that Islam, per se, had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks. Left-bloggers in particular have engaged in a battery of ludicrous efforts to delink the September 11 attacks from the Islamic roots of the ideology of the attackers, with Adam Serwer arguing that "Republicans should protest engineering instead of Islamic studies programs" because some of the attackers were engineers, and Steve Benen declaring, "[e]very 9/11 terrorist was a man. If a men's club were proposed for southern Manhattan, would it be 'insensitive'? Anti-'healing'?" (The Washington Post's Greg Sargent makes a more sophisticated version of these arguments here).
This is idiocy on stilts. Nobody in their right minds thinks the September 11 attacks were motivated or organized along gender or professional lines, or that the attackers crashed the planes into the towers yelling "engineers are great!" The attacks were carried out in Islam's name, and victims of the attack have every right not to want Islam's name celebrated at the site of the worst atrocity committed in the Western Hemisphere in that name. There's a whole rest of New York City in which Muslims can worship freely; a little humility in leaving the space between Chambers, Broadway, and Rector Streets without a mosque is the least bit of respect we can ask for those killed under the banner of "Allahu Akbar."
(1) The Nature of the War
Before going further, let me back up here and make a few observations that too easily get lost in debates over the War on Terror. That somewhat misnamed war is, in fact, an ideological, civilizational struggle, but the nature of the struggle is not defined, and was not begun, by America. Just because we first entered the war in September 2001 due to a terrorist attack doesn't mean it began then or is just about terrorism, any more than World War I began in the spring of 1917 and was just about submarine warfare, or any more than World War II began in December 1941 and was just about aerial bombardment of naval bases.
What we are at war with is a set of political ideas, ideas about how power, government and law should operate in this life - including the idea of sharia law, the idea of a privileged position for Islam and its adherents in society, the idea of the legitimacy of suicide bombing, the idea that violence may legitimately be visited on those who offend or 'blaspheme' Islam or Muhammad, the idea that places and people claimed by Islam can never be retaken, indeed the entire idea of the community of Islamic believers as a political entity (the "Islamic world" or ummah) rather than simply a faith community whose common faith may be reflected in civic institutions. These Islamist or jihadist ideas are, as I say, political ideas - but they are also grounded and justified in a particular theological reading of Islam. Not solely in Islam - much of the propaganda, history and worldview of the Islamist/jihadist enemy is recycled Nazi or KGB propaganda, which is why the Islamists' criticisms of America, Israel and the rest of the West often sound so much like those raised by the Chomskyite Left here at home, drawing on the same sources - but their reading of Islam is the core justification for the political ideology that fuels terrorism, tyranny and the bloody borders of Islam from Palestine to Kashmir to Nigeria. The fact that a religiously based ideology sees itself irredeemably at war with us is why the 'enemy' can consist of regimes and groups that are otherwise political rivals, but share fundamental ideas in common; the fact that the ideology is political in nature is why that ideology reaches across strictly religious boundaries, from Sunni Wahabbists to Iranian Shi'ites.
There is much debate over whether the Islamists/jihadists' reading of Islamic theology and scripture is the proper reading, inasmuch as there are many Islamic scholars and schools of thought that argue against this toxic collection of political ideas as a perversion of Islam. If you happen to be a member of the Muslim faith, this is a hugely important question. I personally have no opinion on the matter; as a Christian, by definition I deny that there is any such thing as a theologically correct interpretation of Islam. The more pressing question from the perspective of an America seeking victory in an ideological war is not whether the enemy is actually misreading Islam, but rather how we go about convincing the world's Muslims of that, or at a minimum that rejecting the Islamist political ideas is in their best interests in this life.
(2) The Mosque and the War
We should welcome efforts to cooperate with moderate Muslims who wish to advance the cause of an Islam that rejects the various elements of the Islamist political ideology. In theory, that's what the Cordoba mosque is about. It's why there's no concern raised by having Muslim chaplains pray at the Pentagon, where they and their congregants operate within the chain of command of the U.S. military and are subordinate to it politically. But of course, hard experience has shown us endless examples of imams who talk the talk of moderation to Western audiences, while preaching fire and sword in Arabic behind closed doors. There are, as we detailed previously, several reasons to doubt that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the proposed mosque, is any sort of moderate, regardless of what he may have said to sympathetic journalists and diplomats. But the decision to site and tout the Ground Zero location of the mosque is the most telling fact of all. As George Jonas observes:
The question to ask is: Can any group genuinely believe that building a mosque two blocks from where jihadists pulverized 3,000 New Yorkers nine years ago will promote cross-cultural understanding between Islam and the West?
If the answer is yes (God knows, some people believe anything) the next question is: Having observed their New York neighbours' actual reaction to their plan, do they believe it still?
The answer to this question can no longer be yes for anyone non-delusional with a measurable IQ. This leaves Cordoba Initiative with two choices. It can withdraw voluntarily, thereby demonstrating good faith, or continue building, thereby demonstrating that whatever it's doing it for, it isn't to promote understanding.
What is it for? Search me. Mischief? Subversion? Pushing the envelope? To rub salt into wounds, assert dominance, boost militant spirits?
Although human naivete is boundless, the likelihood of an organization hoping to promote understanding through what others view as desecration is remote. Cordoba Initiative's organizers may not themselves think of building an Islamic centre and mosque near Ground Zero as desecration, but it can’t escape their notice that many Americans do. This being so, the builders cannot be motivated by what they claim to be. On the contrary, their Cordoba Initiative must be a $100-million exercise in exacerbating tensions.
Who would want to spend $100-million to increase tensions between the Islamic world and the West? Those who intend to do so, presumably. It’s logical to assume that people intend the natural consequences of their acts. The law certainly makes this assumption.
Muslim writers Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah, undoubtedly cognizant of the history in Islam of efforts to use the location of mosques to assert dominance over conquered peoples, come to the same conclusion:
New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it's not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as "Fitna," meaning "mischief-making" that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.
The Koran commands Muslims to, "Be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book" -- i.e., Jews and Christians. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of "fitna"
So what gives Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the "Cordoba Initiative" and his cohorts the misplaced idea that they will increase tolerance for Muslims by brazenly displaying their own intolerance in this case?
Do they not understand that building a mosque at Ground Zero is equivalent to permitting a Serbian Orthodox church near the killing fields of Srebrenica where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered?
...If Rauf is serious about building bridges, then he could have dedicated space in this so-called community centre to a church and synagogue, but he did not. We passed on this message to him through a mutual Saudi friend, but received no answer. He could have proposed a memorial to the 9/11 dead with a denouncement of the doctrine of armed jihad, but he chose not to.
FOX commenter and humorist Greg Gutfeld, seeking to test whether the proponents of the Cordoba mosque would extend the same tolerance to others, proposed to open a gay bar catering to Muslims next to the mosque. Cordoba's response to Gutfeld is beyond parody:
You're free to open whatever you like. If you won't consider the sensibilities of Muslims, you're not going to build dialog
Sensibilities, you see, are a one-way street here; only Cordoba's matter. That's far more consistent with the political ideology of Islamism than it is with any effort to combat that ideology. I wasn't personally a supporter of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for the reasons given by Beldar: deliberately provoking others by assaulting their religious sensibilities is never a good thing. But the point of that particular provocation, as with Gutfeld's and as with (to pick another example from a decision made here in New York) Comedy Central's unwillingness to show images of Muhammad in its otherwise offend-everybody show South Park, is that they illustrate intolerance and asymmetry in how provocations are handled. Offending Muslims is different from offending anybody else.
It's certainly a higher priority than St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which used to be right across the street from the WTC until it was crushed when Tower 2 and its incinerated inhabitants came crashing down on it.
Plans to rebuild St. Nicholas two blocks from its original location fell apart when Port Authority officials objected to its 24,000-square-foot footprint with a traditional grand dome that they said could not rise higher than the planned WTC memorial. Yet no objection was raised to a 13-story mosque on which no height restrictions were placed.
Religious freedom is indeed a core American value. But it can be sustained only when Americans demand the minimal mutual respect that is the heart of a religiously pluralistic society. If religious freedom is to retain its meaning in America, people like those behind the Cordoba mosque must be made to accept that they do not get a superior or privileged position from criticism by virtue of being Muslim.
(3) This Is Not Just A Local Issue
Defenders of the mosque project also contend that it's a local issue that should not be of concern to anyone outside Manhattan. Now, personally, I was there on September 11, I still work in Manhattan, and I'm in good company with local leaders like Rudy Giuliani, Pete King and Rick Lazio in opposing the mosque, so I'm not much interested in hearing non-New Yorkers lecture me about what's local. And as discussed above, the global struggle we're involved in, which brought 19 foreigners (mainly Saudis, trained in Afghanistan and drawn to plot together in Hamburg) to our shores to stage attacks originating in Massachusetts and ending in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, is hardly a purely local issue.
Besides that, the mosque itself is far from a local grassroots creation. From the Cordoba Institute's own website:
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that works with state and non-state actors to improve Muslim-West relations.
Rauf is Kuwaiti-born and apparently lives in Malaysia, and appears to be traveling on the dime of the State Department:
[H]e's about to embark on a nearly month-long swing through the Middle East, with plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar....
[A] member of Rauf's New York Cordoba Initiative foundation e-mailed me Friday, saying that Rauf's trip to the Middle East, "in the near future," will be hosted by the U.S. government as part of an outreach program to "bring the message of moderation, peace and understanding."
Claudia Rossett's Forbes article that first revealed the State Department connection also notes that Rauf's wife will "make a similar State-sponsored outreach trip later this month to Abu Dhabi and Dubai"; although both claim that they will not be doing fundraising for the mosque while traveling on State-sponsored business, the sources of funding, especially foreign funding, for the mosque remain murky. (More here). None of that sounds very local - or purely private - to me. And the State Department has confirmed Rossett's reporting:
The imam behind controversial plans for a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks is being sent by the State Department on a religious outreach trip to the Middle East, officials said Tuesday.
The department is sponsoring Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's visit to Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, where he will discuss Muslim life in America and promote religious tolerance, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. He said the imam had been on two similar trips and that plans for the upcoming tour predated the mosque controversy.
"We have a long-term relationship with him," Crowley told reporters, noting that Rauf had visited Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in 2007 and went to Egypt last January as part of an exchange program run by the department's Office of International Information Programs.
This absolutely makes the mosque issue one that needs to be addressed by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. Rauf is galavanting about the globe on the taxpayer's dime; the Administration can't be neutral about his plans to aggravate tensions here at home.
The local politics of the issue aren't settled yet, either. As it turns out, Cordoba actually owns only 50% of the land, and is still trying to buy the rest from Con Edison, the local power utility, and has not been forthcoming about this. As Pete King explains, that means the sale will need approval from state power company regulators. And Governor Paterson is trying to intervene by offering land at a less offensive location, a favor that few other struggling lower Manhattan developers are allowed (indeed, David Frum thinks the whole thing is just Rauf swindling the owners of the property, and this would bail them out bigtime).
The mosque issue isn't going away. The proponents of the mosque have drawn a one-way line regarding tolerance; their rights and sensibilities must be respected, but no one else's, all the while they draw taxpayer dollars and government favor.
This is wrong. It must stop.