Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Are we losing our minds over Cordoba House?

Good grief! What is happening to this country? Howard Dean, of all people, says that Cordoba House should be built somewhere else. First Harry Reid and now Howard Dean. Have they lost their minds? This is nothing but the rankest political cynicism on their part. It seems that we have to rely on Republicans like Michael Bloomberg and Ted Olson to uphold any honor for this country. (And remember - Ted Olson lost his wife on the plane that hit the Pentagon on 9/11/01).

For a concurring opinion, see Peter Beinart, America has disgraced itself.

See also Michael Kinsley, Cordoba House, Charles Krauthammer, and the First Amendment.

He writes:
Muslim American citizens have a constitutional right to build a religious and cultural center anywhere in this country that Christians or Jews may build one. This is so clear and obvious that opponents of the planned Muslim center near Ground Zero usually concede or avoid the point. Then they say that the center should not be built at this location anyway. I guess they mean that these Muslims should give up their right voluntarily--or under duress.

And why do they say this? Well, the two obvious possibilities are bigotry and political opportunism. Maybe they associate this Muslim center with the perpetrators of 9/11. That would be bigotry, since the only real connection is that both are Islamic. Or maybe, in the case of Republican politicians and right-wing commentators, it is simply a matter of taking advantage of a political opportunity that has fallen into their laps.

Both of these reasons are fairly unattractive. Is there any reason to oppose the mosque that isn't bigoted, or demagogic, or unconstitutional? None that I've heard or read.

I also heard a good interview today with Irwin Kula at Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! (I am generally not a fan of Amy Goodman, but she sometimes has really good interviews with people the mainstream press doesn't pay attention to). He's a rabbi who is the head of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, also known as Clal. Here are some of his words:
RABBI IRWIN KULA: ....But I actually think the distinction between the right to build and the wisdom to build is a very, very, very dangerous distinction. It actually is pernicious, in a way. And I would have liked the President to say something like this: "I reject the premises of the question, because I know where that question is coming from. That question is coming from already a premise that there are these terrorists and these American Muslims, and they’re equivalent. And therefore, you’re asking me about the wisdom of American Muslims, who have been in New York for a long time in a mosque that was twenty—that was within twelve blocks for the last twenty-seven years. And the very fact of the question of the wisdom is actually to presume suspicion. And so, I reject the question. There’s only two—there’s only one wisdom I care about: the wisdom of the Constitution, I care about, and the wisdom of distinguishing between our genuine enemies and American citizens."

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Rabbi Kula, let me ask you about the statement of the Anti-Defamation League. It published a statement opposing the Park51 project, saying, quote, "Ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment," they said, "building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right." The ADL national director Abraham Foxman later defended this position on CNN.

    ABRAHAM FOXMAN: Our position basically was an appeal to the imam and his supporters. If you want to heal, if you want to reconcile, is this the best place to do it? Should you do it in face—in the face of those who are saying to you, most of the victims, families of the victims, the responders, are saying, "Please don’t do it here. Please don’t do it in our cemetery." I believe, on this issue, the voices, the feelings, the emotions of the families of the victims of the responders, I think take precedent maybe over even the Mayor’s.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League. Rabbi Kula, your response?

RABBI IRWIN KULA: I mean, I’m just deeply disappointed, and I was, you know, quoted as saying I think the ADL should be ashamed of itself. I think the sad thing here is that Abe Foxman, since 9/11, has been one of the most important advocates to ensure that there was not defamation and not prejudice for Muslims, and the shame here is that he actually knows Daisy and knows Imam Feisal for a long time. And so, what I think what we really have here is tremendous political pressure.

AMY GOODMAN: And Daisy is Daisy Khan, the wife of Imam Feisal—

RABBI IRWIN KULA: And Daisy Khan, I’m sorry, yeah, the wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. And what we have here is tremendous political pressure. And I’m sure the stories are going to come out in the next months of the kinds of pressures that were put on somebody like Abe. And you can see the torturous kinds of statement that he had to make about the feelings, I mean, which—anguish, and I think we need to say something, that the anguish of people does not automatically translate into public policy. And sometimes anguish and really, really personal suffering needs to be disconnected from public policy, because anguish doesn’t allow us to abandon rationality. Anguish doesn’t allow us to abandon kind of first principles about what our country stands for.

And I had two friends who died in the World Trade Center. I was very involved in this for a long time. And to be able to use the sensitivities of people to really—to really stoke fear, there’s something very cynical about that. And there isn’t such a thing as the sensitivities of 9/11 families. There are a lot of different 9/11 families, and there are not only 9/11 families who lost directly people, but there are 9/11 families who were forced out of their homes for years in the neighborhood. So, what do we mean by the "the feelings of 9/11 families"? These are abstractions used to actually stoke fear in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Imam Rauf, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is headed, by the way, on a State Department mission for two weeks to the Middle East.... How do you know him?

RABBI IRWIN KULA: Well, kind of in the interfaith work that we’ve been doing over the last decade. I was one of the readers of his book, What’s Right with Islam: A New Vision of Muslims in America. We were in Australia recently, at the World Parliament of World Religions. You know, in the interfaith world, there aren’t that many people working at the cutting edge of interfaith. That is what’s so crazy about this story. Imam Feisal has been at the cutting edge of whatever we mean by "moderate Islam." I mean, those words weren’t even used until very, very recently. This is a guy who, well before 9/11, he had two books that are very, very important—Islam: A Search for Meaning and Islam: A Sacred Law. These are things that people need to read. And it’s so easy to take one comment out of context. Any of us who have been in the media, any one of us who have been interviewed, you can take a statement and turn someone into a radical and turn someone into a terrorist. This guy has been at the highest echelons—State Department, FBI. He has spoken in the Aspen Institute. He’s spoken in Washington Cathedral. This is—I mean, it’s really crazy.

And that’s another part of the story that’s very scary. I mean, the community board, before anything, voted this 15-0. There was an amazing conversation. In fact, there was a request from—of Daisy Khan: Could you put a 9/11 memorial inside of the—of what is now Park51? And he said, "Of course. We’re planning on doing that." And it was—this got stoked by a very small group of people, and then—what I would say is an irresponsible national leadership, whether it’s Gingrich and Palin, and then a certain element of the media. And what’s very scary is, what was a local issue that was—that was a non-issue. This is a group of people, led by Imam Feisal, that has been ten blocks from there for the last twenty-seven years. This is a complete non-issue. And so, what it really says is, what’s going on in America?


  1. Rebecca,

    The dear Rabbi says, "But I actually think the distinction between the right to build and the wisdom to build is a very, very, very dangerous distinction."

    Has he lost his mind, forgetting that a Constitutional right to do something state what the government may not forbid, however noxious it may be - like the march through Skokie or the American Nazi Party?

    What he ought to say is that publicly objecting to the Cordoba House, even if the objectors are correct, will stir up a hornet's nest, which will be worse than allowing what its opponents believe to be an offensive symbol could ever actually be.

    While I find, as I noted elsewhere, the proposed Cordoba House appalling, I have a lot of sympathy for the view that the protests will stir up an unfortunate hornet's nest that will harm the country. Which is one reason why I have consistently stated - ignored by my solipsistic "friend" David S. and you - that, absent proof of Islamist involvement, the Constitutional right to build the Cordoba House should prevail.

    Of course, I really would be surprised if Islamist connections of real substance are not found. I might also note that the investigative reporter Steven Emerson claims that he has uncovered a tape - which he said he will make public - showing that Rauf is, beyond doubt, not what he claims to be but, instead, is dedicated to destroying the US. Maybe so; maybe not. We shall have to see what he publishes. In any event, I found the reference on historian Ron Radosh's website, where he has written a fascinating article directed towards calming Conservatives down from the more hysterical among them who oppose the Cordoba House. I suspect you will find it interesting.

    I have posted a response, directing his attention to what Ibn Warraq notes - which I reproduce below:



    IBN WARRAQ: I often think that this is a way of skirting the question. I prefer to bring in the nuances of history. I like to make a distinction that I actually owe to Bernard Lewis; oddly enough, Lewis, to my knowledge, has never made use of it. It’s a very useful distinction that he made between Islam One, Two, and Three. Islam One is what’s in the Koran, what the Prophet Mohammed did and enjoyed. Islam Two is the sharia and the theological construct that we call Islam, as developed by the theologians over the centuries. Islam Three is Islamic civilization, which is what Muslims actually did do as opposed to what they should have done, what actually happened in Islamic history. Often Islam Three—that is, Islamic civilization—was far more tolerant than what Islam One and Two demanded. For example, until very recently, Islamic society (Islam Three) was far more tolerant about homosexuality than the West was, whereas Islam One and Islam Two more firmly condemned it. There are several ambiguous passages in the Koran, but certainly Islam Two, the sharia, condemns homosexuality.

    Islamic history has never been a relentless series of theocratic governments; it has varied from century to century, ruler to ruler. Sometimes it has been very intolerant, and sometimes it has been very tolerant. Just look at some of the poets who were given free rein—for example, al-Mahawi, an Iraqi who was certainly an agnostic and very probably an atheist, but he was very critical. He was left alone; no one bothered him, so this is witness to the period of tolerance. This is, for me, the best way to approach the situation. For example, some of the terrorists are taking literally what is in the Koran. There are all sorts of intolerant passages in the Koran about killing infidels and not taking Jews and Christians as friends. It’s undeniably there, and you can’t get away from it. Chapter four in the Koran: you can’t get away from the fact that it gives men the power to beat women. It’s no good pretending that somehow the real Islam is tolerant, the real Islam is feminist, and so on. There is a great deal of confusion because people do not want to tarnish with the same brush a billion believers. We don’t want to be too crude in our defamation. We don’t want to call all Muslims terrorists, so the best way is this distinction between Islam One, Two, Three.

    Among the articles noted in Radosh's piece is an article by Bret Stephens, which took aim at those, like David S., who take seriously newspaper reports about the moderation of all too many imams who, later, turn out to be no such thing. Given what Mr. Emerson claims to have found and given how far the press goes to find moderation, I think you should also read his article and why he doubts Rauf's bona fides.

    It is not prejudice, Rebecca. Just, a different take on things.

  3. I like what Ibn Warraq says, and I can't figure out what it has to do with your argument.

  4. Rebecca,

    It had nothing directly to do with my above argument and everything to do with Professor Radosh's argument. I merely thought you would find what Ibn Warraq says interesting.

  5. It seems to me that your default position is that you WILL find Islamist connections for Imam Rauf. You assume that he has Islamist connections. Everything that I have read about him (in the New York Times, and from Jeffrey Goldberg and Irwin Kula) indicates that he is not an Islamist, he is not connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, and his intention in building Cordoba House/Park51 is not to create a triumphalist mosque gloating in all of the deaths at the World Trade Center.

    Imam Rauf was sent by the Bush administration to present a moderate, pro-American Islamic voice to various Muslim countries. Do you think the Bush administration would involve itself with an Islamist? Don't you think that the Bush State Department would have investigated Imam Rauf and his political connections before sending him out to speak on behalf of the United States? Of course, the Obama administration is doing the same thing, but I brought in the example of the Bush administration because I don't think anyone can question its bonafides in fighting against Islamic fundamentalism.

  6. Rebecca,

    No. My default position is that he and his organization are within their rights to build the Cordoba Center.

    However, I do not see how a man who has made apologia for suicide bombers is a moderate. That is an opinion that a man can have and it does not support banning his proposed Cordoba Center.

    At the same time, how will he heal wounds by making apologia, which he has done, for suicide bombers? It is inconsistent, which is why I say his project cannot and will not heal wounds. And, it makes me suspect that he is a fake.

    That the government may use him does not mean he is a moderate. In the Godfather - and I am making an analogy, for shock effect, not to suggest the imam is in any way akin -, Michael Corleone said, I believe, that one keeps one's friends near but one's enemies even nearer. The government may well be doing that here, using him for whatever reason, akin to what the UK government use to do, supporting Islamists in the hope of controlling them.

    I might add - given that you are, according to you, a friend of Israel -, he is pretty resolutely opposed to Israel's existence, favoring the one state solution. While that is a legal thing to advocate, one thing the Islamic world really needs to do, if it wants to heal wounds, especially in NYC, is to accept Israel's existence. The fact is that he does not. That is not the opinion, in any event, of a moderate. And, why, as a person who thinks Israel's ongoing existence is important, should I stand up for people who oppose Israel? I shall not do that.

    The number of times that people believed to be moderate turn out not to be is not a small number. And, the NY Times, in particular but hardly alone, has made its share of mistakes on this matter. Which is to say, there is good reason not to trust that paper's judgment on this issue, given its track record.

    As for Mr. Goldberg, I like him. I respect him. However, he met the imam once or twice and does not know him well. He heard moderate words comes from his mouth and asserted, I think incorrectly, that such was brave. I am reminded, in this regard, of Ian Buruma - and I like him as well - and others who claim that Tariq Ramadan (i.e. Tariq who favors only a moratorium on, not the banning of, stoning adulterers to death) is a moderate and enlightened. I do not believe that the imam is remotely as moderate you think, if he is really a moderate at all. I think he fits the pattern of someone who couches words carefully or, as with Ramadan, seeming to say one thing to one audience but something quite different to another audience - hence, there is no real way to know the real man.

    So, there is legality and there is what I think. Legally, he is free to do what he wants. Morally, he holds offensive views that make healing impossible.

  7. NF - you do not seem to be a person who is ready to accept any evidence that I (or other people) can bring to oppose any position that you take.

    I've read the text of a speech that Imam Rauf gave to Bnai Jeshurun in New York affirming his closeness to Jews and Christians. Islamists do not say such things. Why aren't you willing to accept this evidence?

    And what you say about the Bush administration using Imam Rauf "to keep its enemies close" strikes me as ridiculously conspiratorial. Again, what evidence do you have for that? None.

    Your statement that I am a friend of Israel "according to myself" is insulting. I am a friend of Israel, full stop. I support Israel's right to exist, and I believe that it should remain a Jewish state. How else would you describe me?

  8. Rebecca,

    Here are his words on Israel:

    The differences, perhaps, may lie on whether the solution lies in the two-state solution or in a one-state solution. I believe that you had someone here recently who spoke about having a one land and two people's solution to Israel. And I personally - my own personal analysis tells me that a one-state solution is a more coherent one than a two-state solution. So if we address the underlying issue, if we figure out a way to create condominiums, to condominiamise Israel and Palestine so you have two peoples co-existing on one state, then we have a different paradigm which will allow us to move forward.

    Moderates do not hold that view.

    There are a couple of explanations for his different statements to different audiences. 1. The imam says what he needs to say to gullible Westerners or, 2. he says different things to different groups (and we have no idea of his real opinion) or 3. He likes Jews but hates Israel. Take your choice.

  9. Rebecca,

    Here is a fuller version of his remarks on the topic:

    We now have post-Zionism movements in Israel. We have a very broad spectrum of people in Israel who regard Israel as a nation state, as a secular state, as a multicultural state. The very fabric and demographic, and I would say even identity, of Israel has shifted enormously in the last 60 years since its founding. There's always a danger. It only takes one individual to kill someone like Rabin. Rabin was assassinated by a fundamentalist, and there's no doubt that there are those who are against Sharon. But my sense, again from what I've learned, is that those who are supporting the withdrawal from the territories are in the minority - I am sorry, those who support the withdrawal are in the majority. If not, I don't think Sharon would have had the broadbase to do that.

    The differences, perhaps, may lie on whether the solution lies in the two-state solution or in a one-state solution. I believe that you had someone here recently who spoke about having a one land and two people's solution to Israel. And I personally - my own personal analysis tells me that a one-state solution is a more coherent one than a two-state solution. But anyway it goes, there is no doubt in my mind that once there is peace, and there will have to be a peace in the region, the fallout of that will be enormously positive.

    We have rather radical ideas couched in soft words. However, this view is simply not the view of a moderate.

    Similarly, Radosh has pointed me to Christopher Hitchens and Michael Ledeen who have dug up more not so moderate views of the "moderate" imam. According to Ledeen, the imam seems to have a very glowing view of the Iranian version of government. As Hitchens writes - and I am quoting Radosh quoting him:

    Vilayet-i-faquih is the special term promulgated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to describe the idea that all of Iranian society is under the permanent stewardship (sometimes rendered as guardianship) of the mullahs. Under this dispensation, “the will of the people” is a meaningless expression, because “the people” are the wards and children of the clergy. It is the justification for a clerical supreme leader, whose rule is impervious to elections and who can pick and choose the candidates and, if it comes to that, the results. It is extremely controversial within Shiite Islam. (Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq, for example, does not endorse it.) As for those numerous Iranians who are not Shiites, it reminds them yet again that they are not considered to be real citizens of the Islamic Republic.

    Again, these are legal things to espouse. However, the man is not a moderate and, on top of that, is unlikely to help heal any wounds.

  10. Just to be clear. The second quote consists of what Hitchens writes.

  11. NF - give it a rest. You're not going to convince me, and I'm not going to convince you.

  12. Rebecca,

    I am not looking to convince you of anything. Clearly, you believe in your ideology and are immune from evidence and ideas that do not fit it.

    You confident assurances about the imam fail to consider that that such assurances about supposed moderates have been given before and have proven to be wrong, on multiple occasions - assurances provided by major newspapers and television networks. Where is your sense of scholarly hesitation or humility or even slight doubt about the assurances on the imam?

    What I see is an elite group of people who believe they know better that the rest of us and provide sophisticated lectures to the rest of us, the unwashed mob, I worry. Have you no memory of past errors by the major papers on supposed moderate imams? Do you really expect us non-elite, great unwashed to have no memory either?

    This is the exact same paradigm of intellectual behavior (or, to be more exact, wishful thinking) that appeared from similarly placed people previously, concerning the USSR and, before that, concerning Nazi Germany. You might read - and it is a good book - The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses, by Stephen Norwood.

    No. I would not try to convince you. I know where you come from and I realize that evidence matters not one iota in this matter. Otherwise, you could not hold the view you hold.

    Again: I do not oppose the Cordoba Center because I believe that even unworthy projects are protected by the Constitution. But, that does not mean I have to say kind words about people who hold immoderate views but pretend otherwise. And, it does not mean that, if it turns out that major Islamist money is behind the project, the project should not, in that case, be banned.

  13. NF - now you've proceeded to lump me together with the "elite" who refuses to listen to the "unwashed mob." Come on - you're a lawyer and I'm a college professor. We both belong to the same professional class.

    Why don't you browse among my blog posts over the several years since I first started this blog and see what my real views on Islamic fundamentalism are. I supported both the invasion of Afghanistan and of Iraq. I oppose Islamic fundamentalism.

    You have unjustly put me in the same category as the people with illusions about the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. I do not appreciate the company you are incorrectly putting me in. It appears to me that you can't stand it if someone disagrees with you, and rather leaving it at that, you have to insult your interlocutor.

    This argument is over. I will not permit you to post additional posts on this topic.

    I suggest you start your own blog in support of your ideas.

  14. On a different topic, which you may perhaps delete, I opposed the invasion of Iraq and, at this point, I think that staying in Afghanistan is a waste of blood and money.

    My apology for lumping you into a group to which you do not belong.