Bearing False Witness

Are the Ground Zero mosque opponents really like European anti-Semites -- as evangelical Left theorist David Gushee claims?

Is American unease with building the Ground Zero mosque the moral equivalent of anti-Semitism in France’s notorious Dreyfuss Affair over a century ago?   Evangelical Left theorist David Gushee, writing for Huffington Post, thinks so.

“As a scholar whose first book was on the Holocaust, I hear echoes of the Dreyfus Affair,” Gushee ominously observed of the mosque controversy.

Gushee chairs the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, which seems to have the patronage of George Soros.  (The Partnership was recently founded by former National Association of Evangelicals lobbyist Richard Cizik while he was a senior fellow at Soros’s Open Society Institute.)  Gushee penned the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a Global Warming scare manifesto, in 2006 and the Evangelical Declaration Against Torture, which attacked U.S. “torture” policies, in 2007.

The Evangelical and Religious Left now hail the Ground Zero mosque as a holy totem opposed only by the unrighteous. For Gushee, mosque skeptics resemble the notorious French anti-Semites who slandered and nearly destroyed a Jewish, French Army officer in the 1890’s.  Major Alfred Dreyfuss’s false conviction and imprisonment as a German spy, defying the actual evidence, unpleasantly illustrated anti-Jewish attitudes by many French elites prior to World War I.  The irony is obvious.  Ground Zero mosque organizer Imam Rauf has refused to admit that Hamas wages terrorism and has sympathized with Iran’s theocracy. Given his stance towards these aspiring destroyers of the Jewish nation, the imam’s own views might merit further exploration.  Instead, Gushee compared only the imam’s critics to the anti-Dreyfuss anti-Semites.

Gushee accurately recalled that Dreyfuss was framed by senior French military officers who forged spy documents to implicate Dreyfus before he could be acquitted.  Dreyfuss was sentenced to life imprisonment on France’s notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island off the West African coast.  Crowds before whom Dreyfuss was paraded shouted “Death to the Jews.”  When exculpatory evidence emerged, many French elites still insisted on Dreyfuss’ s guilt, lest French institutions of state and culture be discredited.   Better that one Jewish man suffer imprisonment unjustly than the French nation suffer a crisis of moral identity, they shamefully reasoned.

As Gushee wrote, French “demagogic media leaders stoked the fears and prejudices of the French Christian (primarily Catholic) majority throughout the conflict” over Dreyfuss at the turn of  the century.  Slanders about Jewish untrustworthiness were bandied about by Dreyfuss’s accusers.  But eventually the evidence prevailed.  Dreyfuss was released in 1899 after 4 years in prison.  He eventually regained his previous French Army rank and, though Gushee does not mention it, maybe because of his own pacifist leanings, Dreyfuss served heroically in World War I.  Age and ill health, partly due to his heinous imprisonment, did not impair his resolve to fight for France.  He survived until 1935, mercifully dying before Germany’s occupation of France and widespread French collaboration with the Holocaust, which the Dreyfuss Affair in some ways presaged.  One of Dreyfuss’s granddaughters died at Auschwitz.

Somehow, Gushee imagined the Dreyfuss story parallels the plight of Imam Rauf and his proposed $100 million mega-mosque at Ground Zero.  “The limits of my comparison between the Dreyfus case and the mosque controversy are obvious,” Gushee sheepishly admitted, without specifying what the “obvious” differences are.  But the “similarities” are the supposed “identification of an entire religious minority as a threat to the nation, the harmlessness of both Captain Alfred Dreyfus and Imam Abdul Rauf, the role of major media voices in whipping up frenzied national fears, and the questionable capacity of the nation to honor its own legal and moral principles.”

The other ostensible “parallel” that Gushee discerned between Dreyfuss and Imam Rauf is the “role of the Christian majority and some of its most vocal and visible leaders in turning the religious ‘Other’ into an object of infamy.”  Gushee recalled that “Catholic demagogues” assailed Dreyfuss.  Today, American “Protestant evangelicals” are doing likewise to Imam Rauf.   Honorable Frenchmen finally resisted “demagoguery” to vindicated Dreyfuss. Today, Gushee enthused, pro Ground Zero Mozque Mayor Bloomberg shows similar courage.

Gushee helpfully explained that President Obama has not been more forceful for the Ground Zero mosque only because he risks being “Dreyfused” and targeted by “extremists” who crave to “’other’ him right out of American public life” in a “a truly shameful display.”  Since the President has been politically neutralized, “It is up to the rest of us to resolve our own budding Dreyfus case before it goes any further,” Gushee somberly concluded.

Skeptics of the Ground Zero Mosque include more than the purportedly mindless Protestant evangelicals who especially distress Gushee.  They also include the Anti-Defamation League, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, a majority of New Yorkers and a majority of Americans.  Perhaps all have been seized by Dreyfuss era levels of bigotry and fear.  But no one is proposing to imprison Imam Rauf or disputes his freedom to build a mosque.  At issue are the particular site for that mosque and its potent symbolism, with geopolitical consequences.

Also debated are the imam’s views about Hamas, Iran and Islamic law.  While potentially hateful views do not mitigate First Amendment rights, free speech also includes the right of skeptics to challenge Imam Rauf about his seemingly disturbing views, some of which may align with forces that parallel the anti-Semitism that stigmatized French Jews during the Dreyfuss Affair.  Why are Ground Zero Mosque enthusiasts like Gushee so uninterested in those stances and likening most Americans to Dreyfuss level anti-Semitism?  Unlike Dreyfuss, Imam Rauf has the support of most American cultural and governing elites. Unlike Dreyfuss, whom the French Army railroaded, Imam Rauf is dispatched by the U.S. State Department on a global speaking tour.

Major Dreyfuss and his supporters made no demands on France except the right to serve their nation unmolested.  Imam Rauf and his supporters, despite their ostensible appeals to interfaith harmony, want to construct a mosque where it will excite further distrust, and inflame Islamist extremists with triumphalist symbolism.  French anti-Semitism irrationally targeted a peaceful, small religious minority who supported France’s secular state.  Concerns about the Ground Zero Mosque center on global political Islam, with millions who support violent jihad, and hundreds of millions who matter of factly support Islamist theocracy.

Among other ironies, the Dreyfuss Affair persuaded many Jews and their supporters to become Zionists.  The creation of modern Israel was one inadvertent result of the French anti-Semitism that persecuted Dreyfuss.  Imam Rauf’s ambivalence about Hamas and Iran’s theocracy, which are dedicated to Israel’s eradication, is a potential historical connection to Dreyfuss that Gushee is unlikely to examine.