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That sort of blind, fanatical devotion to a dogma so alien to western values and traditions should be feared, whether violence is involved or not. Whether the tactic of choice is coercion or subversion, the goals are the same and if Islam were to achieve its goals – by whatever means – western civilization would step back a millennia. So let us not recoil in horror and shame from the term “Islamophobia.” Islam is a force to reckoned with and many Muslims seem to like it that way. That does not mean that the west cannot peacefully co-exist with the Islamic world, but rather that co-existence must be on our terms. It must be clear that western traditions of freedom, liberty, equal rights and secular rule are not up for debate. In that context, the Ground Zero mosque is a battleground and it’s fitting that it should be. On the one side, a majority of Americans have expressed their opposition to the project – sometimes in less than polite, yet always ultimately peacefully expressed, terms – and on the other side a cadre of Islamic apologists have employed every tactic from indignation to victimization in order to force the insult down our throats. Few opponents of the mosque deny that Rauf has the legal right to build his structure in this land of the free, but virtually all of them believe that doing so represents a power-play designed to establish Muslim primacy at the site that Americans believe is sacred ground.
Unfortunately, apologists for the Ground Zero mosque who attribute all opposition to a supposedly irrational “Islamophobia” are not restricted to the Left. Libertarian gadfly Ron Paul used the issue to press forward with his uniquely naïve view of a world in which America bears responsibility for Islamic extremism, while the extremists themselves are little more than slightly deluded, but somewhat justified, victims of our evil, imperialist dreams. “This is all about hate and Islamaphobia,” Paul wrote this week. “This sentiment seems to confirm that Islam itself is to be made the issue, and radical religious Islamic views were the only reasons for 9/11. If it became known that 9/11 resulted in part from a desire to retaliate against what many Muslims saw as American aggression and occupation, the need to demonize Islam would be difficult if not impossible.”
Paul’s attempt to segregate “radical religious Islamic views” from Islam in general reveals his stupefying ignorance of the religion he is referring to. Mainstream Islamic views are, by definition, radical. Furthermore, while many nations and cultures have (mistakenly in my view) bemoaned American “aggression and occupation,” none has engaged in the kind of abhorrent, immoral, violent behavior that Muslim fanatics have embraced. In the western world, we settle our disputes honorably, with trained warriors fighting other trained warriors and everyone abides by the decision. In the Muslim world, women, children and the mentally disabled are sent off to battle while their masters hide in caves.
None of the above is to suggest that attempts to reform Islam do not exist, or that reformers should not be supported. Robert R. Reilly, author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind has named a number of prominent Muslims who are trying to reform their religion. Those names include Bassam Tibi, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Fatima Mernissi, Latif Lakhdar, the recently deceased Hamid Abu Zayd (driven out of Egypt as an apostate for having suggested that the Arabic language is a human artifact), Abdelwahab Meddeb, Tarek Heggy, Abdurrahman Wahid, the late president of Indonesia Fazlur Rahman and Abdulkarim Soroush. All of these brave Muslims, most of whom live in fear and exile, are trying hard to reconcile the supernatural aspects of Islam with a secular world that has long ago rejected blind faith.
If we truly hope to reform Islam and the efforts of Muslims who are trying to do so against all odds, then it is incumbent upon us to do battle upon those fields where our fundamentalist enemies choose to fight. Ground Zero is the most recent and most prominent of such battlefields, but there is little doubt that it will not be the last.
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