At this point, it’s not even clear whether Jones will go ahead with his pyrotechnics, but the lesson still stands.
Animosity toward Islam has reached such extremes in America that officialdom only rallies against anti-Muslim invective if it interferes with its warring on Muslim countries.
Perhaps it’s just the skeptic and former journalist in me, but that’s my impression as I review the recent blow-up about the planned September 11th Qur’an bonfire.
Terry Jones, the pastor of the tiny Florida church that may conduct the book-burning, has garnered endless—and doubtless desired—attention from media outlets as military commanders and administration officials fret over the fallout of his obscene reimagination of Farenheit 451.
General Petreaus, who is rightly concerned for the welfare of the women and men under his command, warned that Jones’s actions “would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan—and around the world—to inflame public opinion and incite violence.”
Petreaus’s pronouncements were followed by an equally onerous message from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who averred that any behavior “that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.”
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.
A prominent Israeli rabbi whose party shares power in the Netanyahu government called for the extermination of Arabs in a recent sermon.
The 89-year-old Ovadia Yosef urged God to strike “these Ishmaelites and Palestinians with a plague; these evil haters of Israel.” He then singled out the Palestinian leader of Fatah, exclaiming that “Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this earth.” Yosef is the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, an ultra-Orthodox right-wing outfit that governs in concert with other parties, including Likud.
In religious terminology, the Ishmaelites are the descendants of Ishmael, who was Abraham’s elder son. As the rabbi doubtless knows, the Arabs are considered the descendants of the Ishmaelites in Islamic tradition.
In response to the genocidal exhortation, Netanyahu issued a mild non-rebuke; his office meekly offered that the rabbi’s ravings “do not reflect” the views of the prime minister or the government. The lukewarm criticism is not surprising, since Netanyahu may harbor genocidal views of his own.
Almost 50 years ago, Frantz Fanon raced against death to finish his famous indictment of colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth. In that book, he wrote:
“Western bourgeois racial prejudice as regards the nigger and the Arab is a racism of contempt; it is a racism which minimizes what it hates.”
But there was a twist.
The ideology of Western prejudice, Fanon observed, “manages to appear logical in its own eyes by inviting the sub-men to become human, and to take as their prototype Western humanity…”
Today this ideology is once again attracting robust defenders, as conservatives and some liberals arrogate the right to judge which Muslims are worthy of their good graces.
Christopher Hitchens, for one, has recently declaimed that Imam Feisal Rauf of the embattled Cordoba House fails to make the grade. Hitchens mutters that as far as Muslims go, Rauf is “no great bargain.” The more Hitchens learns about him, the more “alarmed” he becomes.
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.