In their spirited assault on Islam, conservatives have seized upon one notion with particular delight: the Abrahamic faith embraced by a quarter of humanity is a “cult.”
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey popularized the claim in July when a constituent asked about the “threat that’s invading our country from Muslims”; Ramsey wondered aloud whether Islam “is actually a religion or is it a nationality, way of life or cult” and later asserted that “far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion.” Soon after, some of Ramsey’s constituents set ablaze a planned mosque site near Nashville and fired shots when parishioners tried to inspect the damage.
Farther south, in Florida, Pastor Terry Jones proclaimed that Islam is not just a cult but a Satanic creation — hence his planned bonfire of Qur’ans. He is not alone among Floridians. Congressional candidate and retired Army officer Allen West announced earlier this year that Islam is “not a religion” but a “vicious enemy” intent on “infiltrating” America. Another candidate in the sunshine state, Ron McNeil, described Islam as a malicious plot to “destroy our way of life.”
And in upstate New York this August, teenagers who viewed the local mosque as a “cult house” terrorized mosque-goers by blasting a shotgun and sideswiping a parishioner.
What accounts for this renewed alacrity in attacking Islam?
You are not terrorists. Your religion is not evil. Your project is not a monument to murder. But since some believe otherwise, I propose a compromise:
That is the message adopted by some liberals and their allies in the wake of smoldering conservative rage over the Cordoba proposal.
Nevada Senator Harry Reid, New York Governor David Patterson, former DNC chair Howard Dean, and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan all echo the same theme: Muslims have the right to build a Muslim facility two blocks from Ground Zero—but they would be wrong to do so.
If the argument sounds familiar, that’s because it is. “No one is disputing that America stands for—and should stand for—religious tolerance,” Sarah Palin averred before assailing the proposal through her Facebook megaphone a month ago.
Of course, the official conservative position—“we are tolerant, just not here”—was always a transparent lie.
About halfway through Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the DC mall, I realized that I was starting to like Glenn Beck.
Before any friends of mine initiate involuntary commitment proceedings, let me explain. It’s not that I really liked Beck, but more that I experienced his likeability. Whether or not he’s sincere, I came to admire his ability to project sincerity and to create coherence out of his incoherent rambling about religion, race, and redemption.
As a result, I’m more afraid for our political future than ever.
First, to be clear: Beck is the embodiment of everything I dislike about the U.S. politics and contemporary culture. As a left/feminist with anti-capitalist and anti-empire politics, I disagree with most every policy position he takes. As a journalist and professor who values intellectual standards for political discourse, I find his willful ignorance and skillful deceit to be unconscionable.
So, I’m not looking for a charismatic leader to follow and I haven’t been seduced by Beck’s televisual charm, nor have I given up on radical politics. Instead, I’m trying to understand what happened when I sat down at my computer on Saturday morning and plugged into the live stream of the event. Expecting to see just another right-wing base-building extravaganza that would speak to a narrow audience, I planned to watch for a few minutes before getting onto other projects. I stayed glued to my chair for the three-hour event.
Let me begin by stating what this article will not be doing: it will not be addressing the racist – but also vapid and unimaginative – bigotry coming from far right circles in the ‘mosque’ debate. Rather than attempting to deconstruct that ultimately banal rhetoric, I will focus on an issue that remains largely unaddressed: the troublesome terms and conditions upon which “Park51” has emerged a ‘defensible’ endeavor within — not conservative — but ‘liberal’ discourse.
In the past weeks, we have seen how liberal defenders have responded to the ‘fear and trembling’ that the mere idea of a mosque induces, through a series of disavowals. Instead of challenging the racist assumptions that buttress such rhetoric, many liberals have decided to offer ‘clarifications’. Time and again, the public is being reminded of the fact that Park51 is not a mosque but an Islamic community center that promotes ‘inter-faith’ dialogue.
Daisy Khan and Imam Rauf, the leading figures behind the Park51 initiative, have not only repeated this mantra, but have in fact produced it. When liberal defenders have wittingly or unwittingly referred to Park51 as a mosque, the response from folks at the Cordoba Initiative has been gratitude in the form of this corrective: thank you for your support, but Park51 is not a mosque.
American leaders are always trying to assess Osama bin Laden’s level of influence over Muslims.
They should look at his influence over their own countrymen.
The aversion to a proposed Muslim center near Ground Zero shows that it is Americans, not Muslims, whose thinking the terrorist leader has most successfully recast to his advantage.
The detractors strengthen and draw strength from bin Laden; their hot prejudice bolsters his assertion that America despises Islam and betrays an acceptance of his claim that he embodies the faith.
At first, the proposal to build the 12-story facility two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center aroused scant disapproval. It was even welcomed as an opportunity to reaffirm America as a land of tolerance and reclaim Islam as a religion of moderation.
The group behind the project, Cordoba House, pitched the facility (which would include restaurants, bookstores, art exhibits, a pool, an auditorium, and a prayer space) as a means of bridging divides between faiths. Its board of directors draws from various faiths, and its mission statement promotes intercivilizational understanding.
June 2009, Palais de Versailles: French president Nicolas Sarkozy declares in a major policy speech that the “burqa is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic.” Sarkozy does this while ignoring the fact that the women wearing this garment are as French as he is. In this fiercely republican discourse taking place in a monarchist palace he also declares that the burqa “is not the idea that the French republic has about a women’s dignity” while missing another point — this “idea” about women’s dignity did not allow French women to vote until 1944. French women earned their right to vote after Turkish women, whose access to European citizenship is now denied by Sarkozy.
By extension, the ideas the French republic has about its Muslim community can be understood through the 750 euro joke of Minister Brice Hortefeux: “We always need one [Arab, Muslim]. When there’s one, that’s alright. It’s when there are a lot of them that there are problems.” With these words, he echoed the presidential “inflammatory language” against minorities and the poor: Sarkozy once referred to people living in impoverished areas “scum.” But Nadine Morano (Secretary of State for Family Affairs) asked Muslims (not the President) to speak properly by saying: “I want them to love France when they live here, to find work and not to speak in slang. They shouldn’t put their caps on back to front,” as if all Muslims in France live in suburbs, wear either a cap or a burqa, and need to be reminded that France can never be their real home.
Karen Armstrong is the author of the classic The History of God.
UCtelevision — 17 June 2010 — One of the world’s leading commentators on religious affairs, Karen Armstrong discusses the intersection of religion and secularism in contemporary life. She explores the ideas that Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common and their effect on world events. Series: Walter H. Capps Center Series
On Thursday, June 10, 2010, Jerome Taylor, the Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Independent posted an article headlined, “First Woman to Lead Friday Prayers in UK.” Two-thirds of the way down this article, we find that:
“Ms Raza’s appearance in Oxford is a repeat of a similar prayer session in 2008 which was led by Amina Wadud, an American-born convert and Muslim feminist. But this is the first time a Muslim-born woman will lead a mixed prayer service in Britain.”
The police, in the northern Italian town of Novara, fined a 26-year-old Tunisian woman for wearing a black niqab; she was going to a mosque for the Friday prayers. According to the New York Times she was fined about $650 under a regulation introduced in January 2010. Apparently, Novara — a bastion of the xenophobic Northern League — “bans clothing in public that prevents identification by the police.”