08.14.10

Why the Mosque Scares the Right

There's a cynical reason that people like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin don't want a mosque built near ground zero, writes M.J. Akbar—it will prove that there's nothing scary about Islam.

Can there be any rational reason for such subliminal fear of a house without a door? A mosque has no door; it is always open to anyone. Submission is the guiding force of its spirit and simplicity is its objective. There is equality in the lines of prayer. Servant stands beside master to bow, and at the same moment, before the Lord. Divisions and pretensions dissipate. The whole world, as the great Indian theologian and mass leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad used to say, is God’s mosque. Nations may claim to act in the name of God, but God does not need nations. A mosque is neither factory nor fortress: Why should it arouse either envy or fear?

The opposition of some sections of the American right, led by politicians like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, to a mosque at the site of the 9/11 tragedy is bewildering, at the very least.

A war memorial is not built to perpetuate war. Its relevance lies in the promise of peace. It honors heroes who have given their lives, but this sacrifice, in the words of a famous testament, is ennobled by the promise that they gave their today so the living might have a better tomorrow. A war memorial is a symbol of conflict resolution, not conflict enhancement. A mosque near the World Trade Center will epitomize the partnership necessary for a common struggle against the horror of terrorism and its evil masterminds, wherever they might live.

A mosque at ground zero will interfere with their politics, in which the Muslim must be etched as an irredeemable zealot with manic eyes and foaming mouth.

Is ignorance a reason for the right-wing campaign against the mosque? I was at the East-West Center in Hawaii a few years ago for a faith-media seminar. On Friday, our very considerate hosts offered Muslim participants a chance to join a local congregation for noon prayers in a small room where the minute local community gathered regularly for namaaz and fraternity. Some non-Muslim colleagues came along because they had never seen a Friday prayer. We were all convivial, but I daresay at least one or two of them were relieved that the imam had not declared war on the West and we had not unsheathed scimitars as part of ritual.

Ignorance is too generous an alibi for Gingrich and Palin. They have been candidates for the most powerful job in the world. It is foolish to dismiss them as fools.

A mosque at ground zero will interfere with their politics, in which the Muslim must be etched as an irredeemable zealot with manic eyes and foaming mouth; the mosque must be distorted into a fountainhead of hatred, and every Muslim be blamed for the sins of the few bigots and terrorists who perpetrated 9/11. A range of political forces has a vested interest in the myth of the mad Muslim as the last evil standing between civilization and chaos.

The irony is that Palin and Gingrich do not represent the idealism and philosophy of America, a nation that is liberal, open, democratic, and secular. Gingrich is a false American; Palin is a falsetto American.

Sam Harris: Obama Is Wrong about the Mosque

Asra Q. Nomani: A Muslim Questions the Mosque

America’s Muslim Capitals: A Daily Beast Ranking
The true American patriot is Michael Rubens Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, who has supported the idea of a mosque. I use his full name deliberately: He is of the Jewish faith, from a family of Russian émigrés. Bloomberg reflects the idealism of America as well as the anguish and wisdom of his own heritage, of a people who have suffered the trauma of bigotry and threat of extinction for two millennia. He knows prejudice when he sees it, he understands the poison it injects into the human psyche, and he is willing to set aside the prospect of political advantage from hysteria in order to stand on the side of justice. Those who gave Barack Obama a Nobel Peace Prize without much reason might want to consider Bloomberg for much better reasons. He has, in the process, also exposed organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, who seem to have sold their principles for politics. Fareed Zakaria deserves our respect for returning the honorarium and First Amendment award given by the League.

Bigotry is not the exclusive property of any denomination; Muslims offer their share in the long list of self-appointed leaders who spawn the culture that leads to terrorism from pulpits which desecrate the meaning of a mosque. But it is utterly self-defeating to blame Islam, or the vast majority of peaceful Muslims, for the sins of a few. Terms like “Islamo-fascism,” George W. Bush’s intellectual contribution to this debate, are meaningless gibberish. Islam is 1,400 years old; fascism entered the dialectic only with Benito Mussolini. So whatever else Islam might be, it cannot be fascist. True, there are some Muslims who are fascist, but why blame Islam for the tyranny of despots? No one blames the Roman Catholic Church for Mussolini.

Terrorists conspire. A conspiracy is hatched behind closed doors. A mosque has no door.

Indian journalist M.J. Akbar is the editor of Covert, a fortnightly magazine of current affairs, a blogger and the author of many books, most recently Blood Brothers.