Ground Zero Mosque Controversy and American Muslims
The very idea of building a mosque there is a dangerous sign of Muslim demands on Western societies, says British authority Douglas Murray—and it shows that the U.S. must make a stand.
“Islam is a religion of peace.” That is what every Western leader says every time a Muslim sets something off.
They never tell us which ones they think are the violent religions. But for Islam it’s a win-win. Knock down a tower and everyone in government says how terrific Islam is. Build a tower and everyone in government says how terrific Islam is. Either way it’s a gain for Islam.
My country, Britain, has led the way in this. But it is fascinating watching Mayor Bloomberg and Co. following the British curve.
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Subway bombs? “Peace.” Airline plots? “Peace.” Car bombs? “Peace.” It must be hard these days being a violent jihadi. No one in power believes what you say. It’s just impossible to get your message across.
• Asra Q. Nomani: A Muslim Questions the Mosque• Sam Harris: Obama Is Wrong in Supporting the MosqueThe U.S. authorities are making the same mistakes, and in exactly the same order, as those that the British government has made. Violent Islam is the problem and therefore some other form of yet to be decided upon peaceful Islam is the solution. Either way, win for Islam. Whatever the question, the answer is “Islam.”
In my experience this is a terrible mistake. The answer to violent Islam is not Islam. And contra every liberal pundit practicing their religion of peace and acceptance speech, building a mosque by ground zero is not a counter-argument to violent Islam. It is an apology, and an offering, to it.
If the people who are building the ground zero mosque cared about improving Islam’s image they would have taken their mosque elsewhere.
Sharif El-Gamal, developer of the Ground Zero mosque, defends it in an interview with NY1.
The answer to radical Islam is liberal, pluralistic, democracy. There’s a reason for that. Islam itself is screwed. No major Islamic leader in the world today preaches a message even remotely close to what most of the new American “let’s build the mosque” crew would find even barely tolerable.
Let me do this the short way. Al-Azhar is the world’s leading center of Islamic scholarship. I was mooching around there the other month myself. One of the faculty there, for want of a better term, has just given an interview in which he mentions the ground zero mosque. As it happens he is one of those “Islamophobes” who is opposed to the building. But not for the obvious reasons. Dr. Abd Al-Mu'ti Bayumi, a member of Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Academy, said that the mosque's construction was a mistake because it could link Islam to 9/11. The good doctor says it's a mistake to make that link, and suggests that even the building of the mosque is yet another extension of an ingenious plot organized by—come on, you can guess it—the Jews.
I could go on. He isn’t alone. He’s not an embarrassing one-off. He’s not a fringe figure. The story is repeated around the globe, the story of Muslim denial, self-pity, and demands for extraordinary sensitivity from others even whilst trampling on every sensitivity of absolutely everyone else.
And it is repeated at ground zero. But even if the imam of that mosque didn’t have questionable affiliations. Even if he’d never addressed an event organized by the revolutionary empire-building far-right bigots of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Even if the imam behind the ground zero mosque was the nicest, most peaceable, most out-on-a-limb progressive Muslim anyone had ever heard of, the building would still be wrong and it should still be possible to oppose it without being branded—nonsense-term of the hour—an “Islamophobe.”
When the pope comes to London next month, he is going to be greeted by substantial numbers of protests organized by people calling for his arrest and accusing him of the wildest hatreds. Yet we do not hear that critics of the pope are bigoted, “Christianophobic.” Nor even if they were should it cause any alarm. But Islam is different.
Why? It goes back to the “phobia” business. Arachnophobia is an irrational fear of spiders and claustrophobia is an irrational fear of small places. They are irrational because most small spiders and most small spaces do not kill you. There are, however, very sensible reasons to be fearful of many forms of Islam. Commuters in London and Madrid know why. As do Dutch filmmakers. And so do the numerous Muslim-born writers, artists, and musicians who spend their lives in hiding for fear of murder from their erstwhile co-religionists for “crimes” like “apostasy” and literary criticism.
But the cowardice in identifying this and cringing stupidity of what passes for intellectuals and commentators in America, like the U.K., today is staggering.
I regard myself as pretty much color blind and religion blind. And I expect the favor to be returned. When I go into a mosque, I take my shoes off. When I go to Muslim countries, I behave in the manner they expect. But religious toleration is a two-way street. America is not a Muslim country.
Islam however has never been historically very good at understanding this. For all leading Islamic scholars the whole world belongs to Islam. Non-Muslims don’t have a say in it.
Except we do.
It is not illegal, and nor should it be illegal, to pray in a building of your choice to whatever god you pick. But, as with the claims for minaret building in Switzerland, more is being demanded by Muslims. In point of fact, Muslims do not have to pray in a building with a tall tower that spoils the surrounding landscape. Nor do they have to pray in a large purpose-built multiplex in a place that treads very painfully across many peoples’ raw grief.
If the people who are building the ground zero mosque cared about improving Islam’s image, they would have taken their mosque elsewhere. If they cared about cultural sensitivities, reciprocity or freedom of religion, then they wouldn’t be trying to provoke people by building a mega-mosque at ground zero.
The very idea is stupid and offensive. Needlessly provocative, needlessly offensive or, at the very best, entirely needlessly thoughtless.
For Muslims, the answer to radical Islam may well be some nice official version of Islam that hasn’t yet been discovered. But for free and open societies, the answer to radical Islam is not Islam. It is free and open societies. It doesn’t matter what Muslims believe, anymore than anybody else. But it matters how they behave. If the New York mosque is anything to go by, that test at least is being failed by some American Muslims very conspicuously indeed.
Douglas Murray is the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, a nonpartisan think tank founded to promote human rights, tolerance and greater cohesion among the U.K.'s ethnic and religious communities. A bestselling author, political commentator ,and columnist for Standpoint magazine, Murray writes for many other publications including the Spectator and appears regularly across the British and foreign broadcast media.