Quote Of The Day

>> Saturday, August 07, 2010

The debate over whether an Islamic center should be built a few blocks from the World Trade Center has ignored a fundamental point. If there is going to be a reformist movement in Islam, it is going to emerge from places like the proposed institute. We should be encouraging groups like the one behind this project, not demonizing them. Were this mosque being built in a foreign city, chances are that the U.S. government would be funding it.

-Fareed Zakaria, "Build the Ground Zero Mosque",
Newsweek, August 6th 2010


As you may have heard, Zakaria has also put his money where his mouth is by returning an award to the Anti-Defamation League in the wake of their bizarre and unconscionable decision to oppose the so-called "Ground Zero mosque."

Zakaria of course raises an excellent point about this whole business in the above quote: one of the things that most-rankles about the furor is that it takes oxygen away from moderate Muslims while feeding the agenda of those like Osama Bin Laden who want a holy war with the "Christian" West. Indeed, earlier this week, William Saletan at Slate had an excellent piece up demonstrating how Newt Gingrich and others opposed to the Islamic cultural center are essentially allying themselves with al-Qaida by giving Bin Laden and his cronies the religious war they want.

I have to say: I have as much use for Islamic cultural centers as I do for Christian ones, and if all such businesses vanished from the landscape I don't think I'd notice much. But given that I don't live in a secularized society where people keep their religious beliefs at home, I suppose I end up having more of a stake in debates like the one over the New York cultural center, ironically enough: being neither Christian nor Muslim, I have exactly zero interest in being collateral damage in a pissing contest or (for the grandiose and psychotic) a "War Of Civilizations" or whatever. I'm okay with tolerating all religions or none, but this whole business of expressing preferences is right out.

And let's go back to Zakaria's point again, too: I think you can make an argument that there is no better place for a moderate, enlightened, liberal Islamic cultural center and/or mosque than within a short distance of a place radical religious nuts committed a travesty, for much the same reason that it makes sense to put a peace center in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, say: here is a place where an Imam can point out the window and say, "That is what happens when you listen to fools who follow a perversion of the Quran," and from all accounts Imam Rauf, the man behind the New York cultural center proposal, is exactly the kind of religious leader who would do something like that.

Anyway, read the Zakaria post and his letter to the ADL; both are excellent.




POSTSCRIPT 2010-08-09: I made note of this in a comment that Blogger has possibly eaten; in case it doesn't reappear:

Over at Storybones, Steve Buchheit provides a link to this excellent must-read post at Got Medieval that directly responds to something Sisi says in the comments, namely a repetition of Newt Gingrich's claim that calling the cultural center/mosque "Cordoba House" is somehow an insult.

I was, frankly, ignorant on the history or significance; as it happens, Cordoba was noted in its day as Muslim city where Muslims, Jews and Christians mostly got along for several centuries. There was a Catholic church in Cordoba that was eventually replaced by a mosque, but that was hardly the most significant thing about Cordoba as a cultural reference point.

Carl Pyrdum writes at Got Medieval:


So what should modern Christians think when they hear a Muslim use the word "Cordoba"? Well, I know that Newt hasn't been a Catholic for very long now, but maybe his priest ought to direct him to read a little thing called "The Catholic Encyclopedia". Allow me to quote from the 1917 edition (which has the virtue of being in the public domain and easily searchable) and its entry on Cordoba:

In 786 the Arab caliph, Abd-er Rahman I, began the construction of the great mosque of Cordova, now the cathedral, and compelled many Christians to take part in the preparation of the site and foundations. Though they suffered many vexations, the Christians continued to enjoy freedom of worship, and this tolerant attitude of the ameers seduced not a few Christians from their original allegiance. Both Christians and Arabs co-operated at this time to make Cordova a flourishing city, the elegant refinement of which was unequalled in Europe.


The article then discusses the persecution of the Christians under Abd-ar-Ramman II, which included the martyrdom of St. Eulogius. Then it continues with the rule of those rulers who expanded the Mosque:

In 962 Abd-er Rahman III was succeeded by his son Al-Hakim. Owing to the peace which the Christians of Cordova then enjoyed [...] the citizens of Cordova, Arabs, Christians, and Jews, enjoyed so high a degree of literary culture that the city was known as the New Athens. From all quarters came students eager to drink at its founts of knowledge. Among the men afterwards famous who studied at Cordova were the scholarly monk Gerbert, destined to sit on the Chair of Peter as Sylvester II (999-1003), the Jewish rabbis Moses and Maimonides, and the famous Spanish-Arabian commentator on Aristotle, Averroes.


So it's easy to see why a group of Muslims creating a community center in the heart of a majority Christian country in a city known for its large Jewish population might name it "The Cordoba House" They're not, as Gingrich hopes we would believe, discreetly laughing at us because "Cordoba" is some double-secret Islamist code for "conquest"; rather, they're hoping to associate themselves with a particular time in medieval history when the largest library in Western Europe was to be found in Cordoba, a city in which scholars of all three major Abrahamic religions were free to study side-by-side.


Go take a look.


15 comments:

Janiece Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 5:46:00 PM EDT  

You know, I've been thinking about this issue for days. My initial, knee-jerk, emotional reaction was that the Muslims should show a little sensitivity and withdraw their proposal.

But I'm distrustful of my initial, knee-jerk, emotional reactions on issues where I haven't given things much thought. No good usually comes of my going off half-cocked, so I stayed silent and let things percolate.

They're still percolating, but I have to say that my attitude is more closely aligned with Mr. Zakaria's than it was before. He makes a good point (unsurprising - he's an incredibly bright, well-educated journalist), but I still have concerns about the families of the dead.

Eric Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 6:34:00 PM EDT  

The thing is, Janiece, and at the risk of sounding unempathic, I have a hard time getting my head and heart around the reasons the families of the dead have to be offended. I realize that feelings aren't always logical, but to me there is a very clear and obvious divide between the 9/11 criminals and people who also happen to be Muslims, much as the fact that the majority of American criminals profess to be Christians doesn't have me thinking Christians are criminals.

I mean, as a f'r'instance: the fact that Scott Roeder, who murdered George Tiller, did so because Roeder subscribes to a fucked-up version of Christianity has nothing at all to do with whatever issues I have with Christianity, and atheist/agnostics who held it up as being some kind of further indictment of Christianity were being total dicks. Being angry at Roeder in particular and in the specific extremists who inspired him, totally fair; extending those issues to the whole generic class of Christians, asinine.

If Rauf were a radical cleric with terrorist sympathies and/or a supporter of the 9/11 hijackers, I'd be on board with the idea that any project of his near Ground Zero was nothing but insult. But getting angry at him just because he's a Muslim wanting to build a mosque and the 9/11 hijackers just happened to be self-professed Muslims, too--it's not dissimilar to blaming all Catholics for the Inquisition or all Lutherans for the Holocaust. And that's still true even if one suffered a horrible loss, I'm sorry, it just is.

I realize that this comment might be bordering on insensitive and apologize to anyone who feels it's gone beyond "bordering" and crossed the line. The thing is, grief and anger have a way of blinding us to what is right and wrong; I hate to bring up work on a Saturday, but I see this in courtrooms where the emotions of participants (and not just victims or their families) shut out rationality. I respect emotion and I feel it has to inform our logical choices; but when emotion becomes ruler instead of the trusted advisor, unseating reason--we become fools.

Eric Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 6:36:00 PM EDT  

Oh, and as a postscript: letting things percolate and not trusting the knee-jerk reaction is exactly what reasonable people do, Janiece. I wish a lot more people had done that, too. Unfortunately, a lot of them have been goaded by cynics like Gingrich and idiots like Palin.

Nathan Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 9:48:00 PM EDT  

I've seen lots of "if this...then that". It's all bullshit.

If it wasn't so close to Ground Zero:
Bensonhurst isn't far enough either.
Staten Island is too close. Murfreesboro Tennessee is too close.

It' been picked up as a merely political issue by lots of people who have "no dog in this hunt". I wish they'd just shut the fuck up and stay home. Our homegrown bigots are doing fine on their own.

And, you know what? I don't mean to be insensitive either, but, at some point, even the victims' families need to admit that they don't own lower Mnahattan in perpetuity.


I'm sure I could have said that better, but the whole thing really depresses me.

Warner (aka ntsc) Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 6:39:00 PM EDT  

From: http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/9-11-families-speak-out-on-ground-zero-muslim-center/19581141?sms_ss=facebook 'Charles Wolf of New York City lost his wife, Katherine, in the attacks. "She was a wonderful girl," said Wolf, 56.

He said he supports the Muslim community center "100 percent." '

I've known Charles for decades, I did not know his wife as long or as well, but she was a wonderful girl.

I admire him for this.

sisi,  Monday, August 9, 2010 at 2:20:00 AM EDT  

Fareed Zakaria is usually one who tries to give an objective view on issues. But he is also a utopian. Someone that just does not see the reality of certain outcomes. This Mosque is to be called Cordoba. In Spain it was a Church conquered by Muslims. No real humility here folks. The reality is Zakaria should be compassionate enough to understand the pain of those opposing this Mosque at Ground Zero. It has nothing to do with lack of freedom of religion. The fundamental point here is by not allowing the Mosque at Ground Zero, New Yorkers are sending a message to all moderate Muslims to fight harder against radical Islam. In the words of Pope John Paul II, "Be not afraid."

Eric Monday, August 9, 2010 at 9:33:00 AM EDT  

Sisi, thank you for your post.

Unfortunately, I think you have several non sequiturs there. It's hard to say that somebody who tries to give an objective view is also a Utopian who "does not see the reality of certain outcomes"; more importantly, the fact that somebody is either "objective" or a "Utopian" really doesn't go to whether that person is right or wrong in a particular case. Furthermore, your statement tends to beg the question: what are the "certain outcomes" you mention? You don't say, so I can't say whether you're right or wrong about what Zakaria sees or doesn't.

You then move on to criticize the choice of the cultural center's name: "Cordoba House" after one of the great medieval mosques. Aside from not being sure I follow why Imam Rauf ought to be more humble (and about what?), I also have to wonder if this is all really about the name. If the project had a generic name like "New York Islamic Cultural Center" would opposition really wither away? Is that really the source of the concerns? If so, I heartily encourage Imam Rauf to throw his critics a bone so they go away and we can all move on to something more important. If not, I suspect it's only being raised disingenuously.

Finally, the comment:

The fundamental point here is by not allowing the Mosque at Ground Zero, New Yorkers are sending a message to all moderate Muslims to fight harder against radical Islam.

I believe that it looks like New Yorkers are going to allow the mosque unless there's some news I'm missing. That aside, this may be the ultimate non sequitur. How would denying a location to moderate Muslims send a message to them to fight harder? How does that follow at all? Of all the messages it might send, that seems like the least-plausible one anybody could conceive of. It seems to me a bit like spanking your kid after he cleans his room because he didn't clean it sooner--"Well, kid, clean it faster and better and you won't be punished." I can think of lots of lessons a kid might draw from that, but "work harder" is not on that list.

I appreciate your comment, Sisi, but I think you can do better.

Anonymous,  Monday, August 9, 2010 at 10:15:00 AM EDT  

I'm all for religious freedom but why of all the spots to build in NYC, did they choose to build near Ground Zero? Not to mention the guy is a radical. Have any of you heard what he believes?

He will not recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization.

He believes America itself was an accessory to the 9/11 attacks (i.e. we had it coming)

He wants America to be more Sharia compliant (you'd feel more comfortable with women's rights being trampled on, wouldn't you?)

He has no compassion or discretion building the mosque near where Muslim extremists murdered 3,000 civilians in an unprovoked attack.

Instead of wanting to cut the chains of divisiveness between the west and Muslims as he so whole-heartedly claims, he's just strengthening them by giving not just New York, but all of America the big middle finger. I saw right through his mask of bullcrap. He isn't fooling me.

If he opens the mosque on 9/11, then the gloves come off. He would have single handedly set himself up to hatred and vandalism of the mosque, then use THAT as a tool to condemn alleged "racism and xenophobes".

Eric Monday, August 9, 2010 at 11:23:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous, point by point:

I'm all for religious freedom but why of all the spots to build in NYC, did they choose to build near Ground Zero? Not to mention the guy is a radical. Have any of you heard what he believes?

He will not recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization.


Neither do Norway and Russia, and other nations distinguish between Hamas' military and non-military branches. I'm inclined to agree with Germany's assessment that Hamas' humanitarian aspects can't be separated from its military agenda, but I'm also not prepared to be overly-irate on this point.


He believes America itself was an accessory to the 9/11 attacks (i.e. we had it coming)

As others have noted, on this score Imam Rauf isn't that far apart from quite a lot of Huffington Post bloggers. My own view is that this situation is far more complicated than the right wants to make it and quite a lot less morally ambiguous than some of my brothers and sisters on the left would like it to be. The bottom line is that there is no justification for military retaliation against non-combatant civilians and terrorism is inherently reprehensible for this and other reasons. However, that having been said, our conduct and history in the Middle East have not always been laudable or exemplary. We spent much of the Cold War era propping up totalitarian dictatorships as proxies against Soviet proxies and much of the Cold War and post-Cold War era more worried about oil than humanitarian or moral issues. Furthermore, while much of our historical policy towards Israel has been justifiable or necessary, it has to be acknowledged that by choosing sides we have created enemies whose grievances may be understandable even if we can or should do nothing to redress them; on top of that, it also has to be conceded that while our support of Israel may have been an obligation, the situation becomes even more complex with regard to indefensible Israeli actions, like the colonization of the West Bank; in such matters we may be obligated to a state that is dragging us into an untenable situation.

He wants America to be more Sharia compliant (you'd feel more comfortable with women's rights being trampled on, wouldn't you?)

If you're asking me how I feel about religion, I don't like it. I don't want America to be more Christian compliant, either, but I notice that many of the most-vocal opponents of Cordoba House, such as Sarah Palin, take that position. I am a proponent of a secular society, and on a personal level have about the same use for Islam that I do for Christianity or Hinduism or any other metaphysical belief system.

That said, I don't begrudge a Muslim from expressing his opinion that laws should comport with his faith anymore than I begrudge a Christian from stating the same. They are both wrong and should be repudiated and (if possible) educated, but we happily live in a country where they can say what they want even if reasonable people decide to ignore them.

(cont.)

Eric Monday, August 9, 2010 at 11:24:00 AM EDT  

(cont.)

He has no compassion or discretion building the mosque near where Muslim extremists murdered 3,000 civilians in an unprovoked attack.

Well, now, this is the sticking point, isn't it? Is the building of a mosque disrespectful or lacking in compassion. Among other things, I'd direct you to Nathan's earlier comment, which can be summed up, perhaps, as "life moves on." I personally don't see that the building of a religious building anywhere ought to particularly offend anybody's sensibilities, and I say that as an atheist whose preference, as if it mattered, would be that effort spent on building a church or mosque be devoted to feeding hungry kids or curing cancer or somesuch;however, since we live in a diverse world where people ought to be able to believe whatever they want as long as they aren't hurting anybody, I guess it's not really my place to criticize, and if a church or mosque or synagogue or temple makes you happy, well, hey, power to you.

Instead of wanting to cut the chains of divisiveness between the west and Muslims as he so whole-heartedly claims, he's just strengthening them by giving not just New York, but all of America the big middle finger. I saw right through his mask of bullcrap. He isn't fooling me.

If he opens the mosque on 9/11, then the gloves come off. He would have single handedly set himself up to hatred and vandalism of the mosque, then use THAT as a tool to condemn alleged "racism and xenophobes".


Just as terrorism is reprehensible even if there is merit to the terrorists' grievances, vandalism and hatred as a response to perceived bad behavior is asinine or worse. I think your last two paragraphs say a lot about where you're really coming from, Anonymous, and maybe you need to take another look at what you're saying about yourself.

Leanright,  Monday, August 9, 2010 at 1:18:00 PM EDT  

(Delete my other post please)

I see where you are coming from Eric, and I'll try to be less "trollish" than I've been accused of being.

Although the Imam has a legal right to build the mosque near Ground Zero, and he has the blessing of the mayor, it doesn't appear to be in very good taste. At least not right now. I believe it would be akin to a Japanese Cultural Center being built in Pearl Harbor only 9 years after 12/7/1941. I think Imam Rauf hasn't made his case for "Cordoba House" palatable enough to most New Yorkers yet. The wounds are still very fresh for people, including me, as I lost three friends from when I worked at Morgan Stanley; largest tenant of the South Tower.

I agree wholeheartedly with you on the vandalism point, although "Anonymous" seems to be making his/her point based upon what will probably happen, like it or not, and I don't. Now, opening a Hooters, Strip Club, or restaurant specializing in Pork delicacies RIGHT NEXT DOOR OR ACROSS THE STREET might be a better response ;-) (tongue in cheek)

Eric Monday, August 9, 2010 at 1:55:00 PM EDT  

I'm not sure the Pearl Harbor analogy works given that Pearl Harbor is a naval base and not private property. It may seem like a quibble, but it's not: I'm not sure there would be an issue with a Japanese cultural center built in Hawaii in 1954 (note, too, that I'm picking a date nine years after the end of WWII because I think this is another problem with the analogy: that we aren't, notwithstanding what people like Newt Gingrich want to claim, at war with Islam).

Your tongue-in-cheek point is actually perfectly fair in terms of property usage: if the property across the street is zoned for restaurants, opening a hot dog palace across the street shouldn't be problematic. Those who run Cordoba House have no more claim to the entirety of downtown Manhattan than those who lost family member on 9/11 do. This is where I'm perfectly fine with capitalism: if the folks running Cordoba House have an issue with adjoining or visible property being used for a properly-zoned purpose that is incompatible with their religious preferences, they have the same rights as anyone else: buy the property for themselves or suck it up.

Leanright,  Monday, August 9, 2010 at 2:57:00 PM EDT  

Great Eric!

(Perhaps I should start looking for investors. Can I count you in?)

Eric Monday, August 9, 2010 at 6:00:00 PM EDT  

Because Blogger may be eating comments (even the Lord Of The Blog isn't immune!), I'd point out a postscript to this post and thank Steve yet again!

Janiece Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 12:01:00 PM EDT  

I missed some of this (stupid work, insisting I actually spend time earning a living), but I'll weigh in late.

Eric, as I mentioned, I try hard not to go off half-cocked. If I lose it, it's because I went off fully cocked, and with a defensible point of view. Or at least I try and tell myself that.

Within the context of this discussion, I have to bring something up that Nathan allluded to - many of those blathering on about what an insult it is don't even live or work in Manhattan - unlike Imam Rauf himself. The man is a long-term member of this community, and provided religious guidance to the Muslim community in this neighborhood for years before he proposed this center.

I'd say he has more skin in the game than pretty much everyone else who's crying about this.

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