Obama's Teachable Mosque Moment

Victor Davis Hanson sheds light on the old-community-organizer-now-president wading into the Ground Zero mosque contorversy.

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.

FP: Victor Davis Hanson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

I would like to talk to you today about the proposed mega-mosque next to Ground Zero and how Obama is handling it.

First, what do you make of the controversy surrounding the mosque in general?

Hanson: Thanks Jamie.

Almost everything about the controversy is disingenuous. Mr Rauf, the Kuwaiti born, Western educated physicist, and self-described Sufi cleric, heretofore has had a successful career contextualizing everything from gender apartheid in the Middle East to Sharia law and jihad, in the sense that the onus is always on Westerners not to take radical Islamists at their word or to believe what they see and hear in the Middle East.

The problem is that Mr. Rauf is more apt to fault Western perceptions of Islam when he resides in the U.S., but not so eager to discuss Islamic extremism when he visits his familiar turf in the gulf. He knows well that candid criticism of America earns accolades among the cultural elite here while candid criticism of radical Islam in the Middle East can earn something not so nice. By the way, that is called a sort of heroic “bridge-building.”

Take even the silly evocation of Cordoba: in toto it was not really a utopian medieval city of understanding, much less was it a city of tolerance during the Inquisition as the president alleged in Cairo (dates a little off, Mr. President). Mr. Rauf, the supposed Sufi version of Deepek Chopra, knew that, but he knew well also it was a rally cry of radical Islam to recapture al-Andalus. How wonderful—Cordoba sends a tingle up the legs of both Western liberals and radical Islamists, and for the opposite reasons!

If Mr. Rauf were intellectually honest and concerned with Islamic-Christian relations of the sort that surround 9/11, he would come up with something like the 'Riyadh initiative' where the problem is real and the stakes are high. But then in Saudi Arabia, he would have to drop the Sufi holy man character, and revert back to his other persona of contextualizing bin Laden and blaming the U.S. for, well, being the U.S.

One also does not build bridges by plopping down an Islamic center two blocks from ground zero, or raising the money from the autocratic Gulf sheikdoms. Mr Saif, again, knows all that—and that's why he threw his cherry bomb and then sped abroad with chaos in his wake—on a state-department mission, no less, to bridge build (all this is the stuff of a Tom Wolfe novel).

Maybe the Spanish could allow a mosque to be constructed at the train-station site of the Madrid bombing, or perhaps we could ask the Indonesians to put some minarets on something at the Bali sites, or the Saudis might build an Islamic center at Khobar Towers. I'm sure the Muslim community of Lebanon could build a Cordoba House near the Marine barracks site. The strange thing about all this is that Muslims abroad probably think their counterparts in the U.S. are a little crazy to do such a provocative thing.

Finally, note now what we are not talking about: everything from France banning the burqa and Germany shutting down mosques, and Russians leveling Grozny and Chinese at war with Islam and the occasional Islamic hunt-down in India, to the insane asymmetry of the way Christians are treated in most of the Middle East. Plopping down a 100-million dollar, 13-story, "Constantinople House", say, in Cairo, near a site of radical Christian-inspired violence by self-described Christian zealots  against Egyptians—funded from abroad by Christian evangelical groups—for the purpose of Christian contemplation and interfaith outreach would be of course beyond fiction.

FP: Obama recently entered the discussion about the proposed mosque. What do you make of his “contribution” to the controversy?

Hanson: His teachable moments—the beer summit, the inanities about the Arizona law, the Sherrod mess—account in part for his slide in the polls. The public now knows:

(1) that the old community organizer now president will wade into any local or state issue he can, usually extraneous to his job as commander-in-chief,

(2) and he will also do so in the deliberately misleading context that the majority or establishment (e.g., the Cambridge police, the state and voters of Arizona, the average New Yorker) is guilty of some illiberal sentiment, while there must be an innocent victim of some sort of -ism or -ology somewhere to be found (e.g., Professor Gates and all those innocent victims that the police stupidly stereotype, the poor illegal aliens that are snatched away while having ice cream, or poor misunderstood Mr. Rauf whom hoi polloi are denying a right of religious expression);

(3) in the ensuing firestorm, a now petulant Obama will backtrack, try to recast his vote as 'present', and either blame Bush, the media, or the public for putting himself in such an unnecessary dilemma.

The world is watching this Obama modus operandi as it plays out here, and very soon, and very tragically in places like North Korea, Iran, Lebanon, and the old hots spots from Taiwan to Cyprus some very bad people are taking very good notes.

FP: If the proposed mega-mosque next to Ground Zero becomes a reality, what do you think the consequences/fall-out will be?

Hanson: I think there will be some concrete consequences to this largely iconic act.

1) Mr. Rauf has seriously damaged the so-called interfaith dialogue, largely because 70% of Americans, among them the likes of Harry Reid and Howard Dean, see this location as needlessly polarizing and provocative. Is it not a very sophisticated way of gaining Mr. Rauf attention while trying to embarrass as intolerant the most tolerant nation in the world? Who wants to engage in something like that again with a so-called "moderate" bridge-building imam: if Mr. Rauf is to be the prototype of a new, liberal, tolerant imam, God help us all;

2) Soon we will see CDs and videos throughout the Middle East, among the radical Islamist communities, of a towering mosque juxtaposed with an empty Ground Zero, and triumphalist sloganeering to the effect that the looming tower fell and minarets arose due to the heroism of Atta & Co. How strange that the Left laughs at this imagery, while for years (in the "Before Obama" era) we were told that Guantanamo was a key symbolic recruiting tool for Al Qaeda;

3) Within five years of completion, well after the issue has receded, the so-called Cordoba House will be known for inside the United States for what it is, a subtle reminder for Muslims of their ascendancy (in the manner of the referent "Cordoba" itself) over an eroding and morally unsure and suspect West.

FP: Before we go, your thoughts on Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr? Israel, it seems, is on its own now (betrayed by Obama) and is going to have to act on one way or another.

Hanson: The so-called world community is falling all over itself to 'contextualize' the reactor, as in reminding us that it is a legitimate act, although perhaps, in Rhineland or Anschluss fashion, slightly worrisome.

In an eerie way, there is growing moral clarity on the issue: Russia is clearly encouraging proliferation on the theory that whatever is bad for us is good for them (so much for the new brilliant Obama foreign policy that "reset" relations with Russia, through outreach to the misunderstood and wrongly demonized Putin); America is now one with Europe on the issue, a sort of slight embarrassment that the Iranians know, not just that we will not stop it, but that we will not stop it because we see ourselves as weak and morally unsure whether we even should; Israel is on its own: the script isn't even suspenseful: within 2 years, Israel strikes, the world is aghast and furious, and finger-pointing that the missiles that will come into Tel Aviv in reaction are sort of "I warned you" warranted, while privately everyone sighs a bit in thanks.

Our best chance of stopping it was in spring 2009 when a million Iranians hit the streets. But now both dissidents and the mullocracy know that this administration not only won't say or do anything in support, but in a weird way may prefer dealing with Ahmadinejad as part of Obama's outreach to revolutionary, supposedly more "authentic" leaders of the Assad/Castro/Chavez stripe—whom a rare, post-national, non-traditional leftist like Laureate Obama alone can parlay with, given his singular credentials.

FP: Victor Davis Hanson, as always an honor and pleasure to hear your wisdom. Thank you.

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