Apologists for the proposed Ground Zero mosque in New York City initially adopted a defensive posture. They assured us that all Muslims wanted to do by building the fifteen story, multimillion Park51 cultural center and mosque was to promote healing between different cultures and religions. That story didn’t sell very well among most Americans and the longer that the project’s supporters stuck with that story, the less credible the message became. If you want to promote healing, why in the world would you knowingly insult the people with whom you want to reach an understanding? Befuddled, defenders of the project have abandoned that defense and charged forward with a new offensive, designed to play on all of the guilt and self-doubt that are such a large part of the modern American psyche. In short, it’s all about “Islamophobia.”
Daisy Khan, who together with her husband Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been pushing the project forward despite the fervent opposition, tried to turn the tables on critics of the mosque. “We are deeply concerned, because this is like a metastasized anti-Semitism,” she said this week. “It’s beyond Islamophobia. It’s hate of Muslims.” Similarly, writer Bobby Ghosh answered the question posed by a recent Time magazine headline “Does America have a Muslim problem?” decidedly in the affirmative, saying that “…it is plain that many of Park51’s opponents are motivated by deep-seated Islamophobia.” Obediently following the new marching orders, the ultra-liberals over at Media Matters for America worked themselves into lather over the issue over the last few days, declaring ad naseum that conservatives and the “right wing media” are stoking the flames of Islamophobia in America for no discernable reason.
There’s no denying that many Americans, and that surely includes many who oppose the construction of the mosque, are afraid of Islam. Indeed, Americans have good reasons to fear Islam and a large, tender focal point for those fears lies near the southern tip of Manhattan. That message has been delivered loud and clear to Daisy Khan and Feisal Abdul Rauf, yet they choose to ignore it, a reaction that serves merely to increase America’s trepidation. But, even if we put 9-11 to the side for a moment, there are still so many things about the “religion of peace” that can and should make Americans fearful.
Apologists for Islam spend a great deal of time and energy asserting that violence committed in the religion’s name are an aberration; the sordid actions of a small, fanatical and deluded minority within the Muslim world. Let us assume for a moment that every single Muslim prone to violence could be rooted out and rendered harmless. What would remain?
The world would be left with a religion that boasts hundreds of millions of adherents, the vast majority of whom live in places where the standard of living is far below that of the west. That religion would still demand that its followers accept its holy book as the absolute, unalterable word of God and would allow no deviation. Islam would still forbid any melding of secular values and faith. Women would still not possess anything approaching equal rights. Islam would still define all other religions, and those who believe in them, as inferior. All of the troubling aspects of the Quran – such the belief that it’s acceptable to lie to infidels in order to further Islam; the acceptance of polygamy, marriage between grown men and child brides; the idea that rape cannot be proven unless it happens in front of four witnesses; and God’s promise that Islam will one day be the universal religion on the face of the Earth – all of these deeply disturbing ideas would still be devoutly believed by hundreds of millions of people. As a condition of this thought experiment, none of those hundreds of millions of people would choose a violent path to achieve their goals, but they would still cherish and pursue such goals, not just in their own communities, but throughout the world.
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.