The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mosque and Quran

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

One of these things is not like the other,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the other
By the time I finish my song?

I am willing to believe Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s motives were good when he decided to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. However, fact remains that the vast majority of non-Muslim Americans to whom he intended outreach saw it instead as an act of (unintentional) offense and provocation. Naturally, they expressed their disapproval. Some of their reactions were also (unintentionally) offensive and provocative.

Enter the Reverend Terry Jones. I am even willing to believe that when he organized a Quran book burning – I consider any book burning vile by its very nature – he meant well, no matter how misdirected his motives. Once again, the vast majority of Americans he intended to champion objected to his gesture as offensive provocation.

Some conservatives who opposed the so-called Ground Zero mosque, such as Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour, and Pat Robertson, managed to condemn Jones without a need to draw parallels between him and Rauf. Others could not resist the temptation.

FOX News commentator Glenn Beck proclaimed, “It’s just like the Ground Zero mosque plan. Does this church have the right? Yes. Should they? No. And not because of the potential backlash or violence. Simply because it is wrong.”

Author and commentator Ann Coulter concurs, “The reason not to burn Qurans is that it's unkind – not to jihadists, but to Muslims who mean us no harm. The same goes for building a mosque at ground zero – in both cases, it's not a question of anyone's ‘rights,’ it's just a nasty thing to do.”

I do not have a problem with people objecting to Rauf or Jones or both. There are some obvious parallels between the two beyond their unpopularity. Rauf began by reaching out to Christians in a bid for peaceful coexistence. Jones began by taking a stand against what he saw as an inherently violent religion. Overwhelming criticism has reduced both to defiant positions of self-defense. Even if they prevail, the diminution of their aspirations cannot render their results as anything other than abject failures.

Likewise, both men have conceded they could be wrong. Rauf admitted in an interview with CNN that he might have chosen a different location if he had anticipated the backlash it would create. “If I knew this would happen, if it would cause this kind of pain, I wouldn't have done it,” he said. Jones told reporters he continues to pray over whether he is interpreting God’s will correctly. He now says the burning is on hold but not canceled.

Nevertheless, I draw the line at arguments of equivalence between the two situations. Rauf’s project is essentially constructive in nature, while Jones’s bonfire is nothing but destructive. Rauf never set out to offend anyone. Jones intended to offend Muslims – his whole point was to shake them up in some way. Rauf claims no objections to Christianity as a religion, whereas Jones most certainly has problems with Islam.

Granted, all this proceeds from my assumption that both men sincerely meant to do good by their actions. Many of Rauf’s critics have suggested the Imam’s true motives are far more nefarious than he claims. They suggest the Ground Zero mosque’s developers intend it as a kind of war memorial, celebrating a great Islamic victory over the West on September 11.

If Rauf does build, I am sure extremist Islamic agitators will present it in this manner and some in the Arab/Islamic world will celebrate it as such. On the other hand, if Rauf decides not to build, I am equally sure those same agitators will spin that outcome as proof of widespread bigotry and hostility against Islam in the United States – such is the nature of propagandists. Our choice, therefore, comes down to whether we want handfuls of Muslims dancing in the street over a false victory or hordes of Muslims rioting in the streets, storming our embassies, and attacking our troops over a perceived insult.

President Obama has called the Quran burning a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida.” I think the same is true for forcing the mosque elsewhere. Stories about an Islamic September 11 war memorial may cause some Muslim hearts to swell with jingoistic pride but terrorists will not convince many poor, disillusioned young people to strap explosives to themselves and detonate in a crowd for a cause already won. That kind of sacrifice comes most readily when the enemy appears overwhelmingly strong, unreasoningly hateful, and continued survival of the bomber’s family, nation, and faith is on the line.

In this sense, terrorists hope Jones burns Qurans more than they hope he repents or caves into pressure. Likewise, they hope Rauf repents or caves into pressure more than they hope he builds. Supporting Rauf and opposing Jones goes the longest way toward thwarting the terrorists and keeping Americans safe.

Others, including Jones, argue that safety in this situation is not acumen but appeasement. “When do we stop? How much do we back down? How many times do we back down?” Jones asks. “Instead of us backing down, maybe it’s time to stand up. Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior.”

I agree that radical Islam is dangerous and we sometimes have to take stands to contain its aggressions. I further agree that mainstream Islam could and should be doing more than it is today to police its extremist elements. However, forbidding Muslims to build mosques in places “too sacred” to us and, certainly, burning Qurans strikes me as foolishly reckless – the equivalent of sticking one’s nose up in the face of an unrestrained Hannibal Lecter and daring him to “Bite me!”

Actually, Jones drew another distinction yesterday. He temporarily claimed he was calling off burning Qurans because Islamic leaders had promised him they would cancel the Ground Zero mosque or move it to an alternate site. Jones reversed himself when the Muslims he met with subsequently denied they made any such promise. However, if Rauf really gave up his mosque, Jones said he would interpret it as a “sign from God” not to proceed.

Now I see why Jones and some other Christian fundamentalists insist the Allah of Islam is not the same deity as the Judeo-Christian God. The fundies say Allah is nothing but a murderer. Jones, on the other hand, explains that God is something more along the lines of an extortionist.

If any conservative is correct about what we ought to be doing with Qurans, it is columnist Michelle Malkin. “Instead of burning the Quran, Americans need to be reading it, understanding it, and educating themselves about the Quran passages, Islamic history, and jihadi context,” she writes.

Granted, Malkin thinks that, by doing this, Americans will come to realize that Jones is right and Islam is an intrinsically violent religion. I certainly concede that, much like the Judeo-Christian Bible, the Quran is full of confusing, seemingly contradictory, and even disturbing passages. However, whether they love or loathe what they read, at least Americans will make a slightly more informed decision regarding Islam than based on propagandist rubbish from both sides of the debate.

Attempting to guess which thing is not like the other is a pretty easy game with only two things involved. Let’s just consider this “Sesame Street for Dummies.” The trick lies in correctly determining which thing doesn’t belong.

Those drawing equivalence between Rauf’s mosque and Jones’s Quran burning are mostly off the mark. Even if a majority of Americans oppose its construction today, a chance still exists that the Ground Zero mosque could someday become the place of goodwill and healing that some envision. The aftermath of Jones’s bonfire will never be anything but lingering pain, resentment, and retribution. The hardest place to build anything is atop an ash pit – something anyone who has visited or just looked at pictures of Ground Zero should understand very well.

Did you guess which thing was not like the other?
Did you guess which thing just doesn't belong?
If you guessed this one is not like the other,
Then you're absolutely . . . right!


Isonomist said...

Bravo, home boy.

TheBell said...

Hi, Iso. Glad you liked it. I very much enjoyed your September 11 post in BOTF today. Very passionate -- as was the subsequent exchange with Gatewood. Keep fighting the good fight.