Principle and Park51: Tariq Ramadan vs Leon Wieseltier

Here are two statements about the proposed Islamic Center in Manhattan — the so called ‘Ground Zero Mosque.’ One by The New Republic‘s literary editor and pro-Israel partisan Leon Wieseltier, the other by noted Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan. I leave it to the readers to guess which statement was made by whom.

  1. “The challenge for Muslims in America is to respect the fears of ordinary people while resisting the exploitation of those fears by political parties, lobbies and sectors of the media. To meet this challenge, Muslims must reassess their own involvement, behavior and contributions in American society…Life is not only about rights to be claimed but also about collective sensibilities to be felt. It is possible to protect one’s rights while at the same time acknowledging and understanding the concerns of others…No doubt, it is the legitimate right of Muslims to build a community center near Ground Zero. Yet, I believe it is not a wise decision, considering the collective sensitivities in American society. This is a moment to go beyond rights and reach for the common good: To build it elsewhere, if possible, would be a sensible and symbolic move.”
  2. “It is odd to see conservatives suddenly espouse the moral superiority of victimhood, as it is odd to see them suddenly find an exception to their expansive view of religious freedom. Everybody has their preferred insensitivities. In matters of principle, moreover, polling is beside the point, or an alibi for the tyranny of the majority, or an invitation to demagogues to make divisiveness into a strategy, so that their targets come to seem like they are the ones standing in the way of social peace, and the “decent” thing is for them to fold. Why doesn’t Rauf just move the mosque? That would bring the ugliness to an end. But why don’t Palin and Gingrich just shut up? That, too, would bring the ugliness to an end.”

Well?

Let me assist. The first statement, telling Muslims to ‘respect’ fear and ignorance, is Ramadan’s; the second, speaking of inviolable principles, is Wieseltier’s. Ramadan’s principles are evidently more flexible. Muslims must apparently learn to live in a manner which accommodates Pamela Geller‘s prejudices.

Cordoba House and Religious Freedom

by David Bromwich

When Nancy Pelosi said the power and money backing the anti-Muslim protests in New York and elsewhere should be investigated, she had in mind the simplest of political questions. Who benefits? In this case, who benefits from a spectacle of words and images that suggest that right-wing populism in America has now taken a definitively anti-Muslim tone? The message of these protests against more than one mosque is that the fight to defeat al Qaeda has become a war against Islam.

No American is helped by that change of view. It exposes us to an enlarged hostility from the Arab world, heated by suspicion and legitimate fear. The only people who stand to gain are those who have an interest in setting the United States against the Arab countries of the Middle East. Who would that be? Pelosi has sharper instincts than the other leaders of her party. Her distrust of the sudden prosperity of a “grassroots” movement has been borne out by Jane Mayer’s recent investigation of the funding of the Tea Party by the billionaire Koch brothers.

The worst damage of the crowd actions of the summer has come from the faintheartedness of those who knew better, but declined to denounce them. The crowd has been permitted to go on believing it is wrong for Muslims to do something the Constitution gives all Americans a right to do. How did this deformation of public feeling begin? The protests against Cordoba House shifted from a parochial to a national issue on the impetus of two statements. The first came from Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, on July 30. Foxman put the ADL on the record in sympathy with the protest against the planned community center and mosque. His statement conceded the right of the planners, but defended the prejudice, that is, the rooted feelings of the non-Muslims in this case, regardless of reason, right, or law.

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On why Liberal Defenders of the ‘Mosque’ Get it Wrong

This article below is also published in Religion Dispatches. A version of it can also be found on AlterNet – Aisha Ghani

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.

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