What could motivate an Episcopal Cathedral to host Islamic prayers while also miffing the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center?
The answer is an anti-“Islamophobia” conference, co-sponsored by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and featuring former Ground Zero Mosque Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Titled “I Am My Brother’s Keeper: Confronting Islamophobia,” the recent event was at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, with support from the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, CAIR, Sabeel North America, Episcopal Bishop Greg Rickel, United Methodist Pacific Northwest Bishop Grant Hagiya, and Bishop Chris Boerger of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
St. Mark’s Cathedral has earned attention before for its Islam-friendly stance. In 2007, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, the cathedral’s director of faith formation, announced she was both an Episcopal priest and a Muslim. Redding was defrocked in 2009 by her New England bishop, who was skeptical of an “Islamopalian” clergy.
For the recent Islamophobia event, a few demonstrators appeared outside the cathedral. But otherwise there seems to have been little open objection to the Episcopal-hosted campaign against an America supposedly rife with Islamophobia. Predictably, the chief named culprits were Tea Partiers, Republicans, evangelical Christians, and the “Israel lobby.”
For onsite reporting, I am indebted to my associate Jeff Walton, whose account can be found here.
Emblematic of the Islamophobia fest was Imam Rauf’s declining, when questioned, to criticize a fatwa against Seattle Weekly cartoonist Molly Norris, who was guilty of depicting Muhammad. At the FBI’s urging, Norris is hiding under a new identity. Acknowledging the underside of Islamic law might distract the spotlight from the evils of Islamophobia, Imam Rauf no doubt understood.
Rauf innocuously described Muslims as “Unitarians with an Arabic liturgy,” while shari’a merely echoes the Declaration of Independence in seeking “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He complained that controversy over the Ground Zero mosque was a political “wedge issue.” And he regretted that “Islamist” was an unfair term that tries “to link Islam and terrorism,” though he did not suggest an alternative name for radical Muslims who kill in the name of their faith. At sunset, Imam led his co-religionists in kneeling on the cathedral’s floor to pray while facing toward Mecca.
The cathedral’s Muslim speakers were verbally restrained compared to the non-Muslim critics of Islamophobia. Freelance journalist Richard Silverstein condemned the “cowardice” of the Southern Poverty Law Center for backing away as an event co-sponsor, supposedly for fear of alienating Jewish donors. “Even liberal Jews get spooked by charges about CAIR,” Silverstein chirped.
Targeting conservatives, Silverstein charged: “After 9-11, the Republican Party discovered there was gold in them there hills in Islamophobia.” He explained: “Hatred of Islam was wrapped up in devotion to a far-right brand of nationalism.”
Former CIA analyst Kathleen Christison, in her “Islamophobia in U.S. Middle East Policy” workshop, emphasized the “Israel lobby” angle. “The discourse in this country at the moment is very Islamophobic,” she alleged, faulting “pressure from the pro-Israel lobby and Islamophobia lobby.” After all, “politicians are all afraid of opposing Israel publicly for fear of losing campaign funds.” She also faulted “neo-conservative fanatics” as “initiators of Islamophobia,” while slamming the Tea Party, “pro-Israeli zealots,” and “Christian fundamentalist extremists.” Apparently they all together work to “advance Israeli regional hegemony.” Admitting it’s “hard to trace a direct line, but I think we can all see elements of Islamophobia” among all these constituencies, she surmised.
“All of the major groups who are involved in promoting Islamophobia are interlinked in many cases,” Christison discerned. “They are the same people in one group or another.” In case anyone missed the point, she again named the chief villains: “They are Christian fundamentalists, Christian Zionists, Tea Partiers, Israeli supporters, and a lot of this Islamophobia comes from Israel, but it also comes from Israeli supporters.”
“The Israel lobby is very important in policymaking,” Christison carefully explained. Darkly, she rhetorically asked: “Who do you think it is who writes legislation having to do with Israel in Congress? Who is it who makes campaign contributions that prevent congressmen and senators from criticizing Israel?” She easily admitted that conservative Christians are “awful,” while adding: “But the Israel lobby has been around longer than the Christian right.”
So maybe the not so veiled strategy of anti-Islamophobia crusaders is to replace supposed hostility to Islam with a conspiratorial obsession with the purportedly omnipotent “Israel lobby.” The Religious Left comfortably demonizes America, traditional Christianity, and pro-Israel Jews. But for leftist church prelates, criticizing even radical Islam is simply a bridge too far.