Is there any doubt about Osama bin Laden’s position on the not-at-ground-zero mosque?
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Nicholas D. Kristof
Osama abhors the vision of interfaith harmony that the proposed Islamic center represents. He fears Muslim clerics who can cite the Koran to denounce terrorism.
It’s striking that many American Republicans share with Al Qaeda the view that the West and the Islamic world are caught inevitably in a “clash of civilizations.” Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who recruits jihadis from his lair in Yemen, tells the world’s English-speaking Muslims that America is at war against Islam. You can bet that Mr. Awlaki will use the opposition to the community center and mosque to try to recruit more terrorists.
In short, the proposed community center is not just an issue on which Sarah Palin and Osama bin Laden agree. It is also one in which opponents of the center are playing into the hands of Al Qaeda.
These opponents seem to be afflicted by two fundamental misconceptions.
The first is that a huge mosque would rise on hallowed land at ground zero. In fact, the building would be something like a YMCA, and two blocks away and apparently out of view from ground zero. This is a dense neighborhood packed with shops, bars, liquor stores — not to mention the New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club and the Pussycat Lounge (which says that it arranges lap dances in a private room, presumably to celebrate the sanctity of the neighborhood).
Why do so many Republicans find strip clubs appropriate for the ground zero neighborhood but object to a house of worship? Are lap dances more sanctified than an earnest effort to promote peace?
And this is an earnest effort. I know Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan — the figures behind the Islamic community center — and they are the real thing. Because I have written often about Arab atrocities in Darfur and about the abuse of women in Islamic countries, some Muslim leaders are wary of me. But Imam Feisal and Ms. Khan are open-minded and have been strong advocates for women within Islam.
The second misconception underlying this debate is that Islam is an inherently war-like religion that drives believers to terrorism. Sure, the Islamic world is disproportionately turbulent, and mullahs sometimes cite the Koran to incite murder. But don’t forget that the worst brutality in the Middle East has often been committed by more secular rulers, like Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad. And the mastermind of the 1970 Palestinian airline hijackings, George Habash, was a Christian.
Remember also that historically, some of the most shocking brutality in the region was justified by the Bible, not the Koran. Crusaders massacred so many men, women and children in parts of Jerusalem that a Christian chronicler, Fulcher of Chartres, described an area ankle-deep in blood. While burning Jews alive, the crusaders sang, “Christ, We Adore Thee.”
My hunch is that the violence in the Islamic world has less to do with the Koran or Islam than with culture, youth bulges in the population, and the marginalization of women. In Pakistan, I know a young woman whose brothers want to kill her for honor — but her family is Christian, not Muslim.
Precisely because Palestinian violence has roots outside of Islam, Israel originally supported the rise of Hamas in Gaza. Israeli officials thought that if Gazans became more religious, they would spend their time praying rather than firing guns.
President George W. Bush was statesmanlike after 9/11 in reaching out to Muslims and speaking of Islam as a religion of peace. Now many Republicans have abandoned that posture and are cynically turning the Islamic center into a nationwide issue in hopes of votes. It is mind-boggling that so many Republicans are prepared to bolster the Al Qaeda narrative, and undermine the brave forces within Islam pushing for moderation.
Some Republicans say that it is not a matter of religious tolerance but of sensitivity to the feelings of relatives to those killed at ground zero. Hmm. They’re just like the Saudi officials who ban churches, and even confiscate Bibles, out of sensitivity to local feelings.
On my last trip to Saudi Arabia, I brought in a Bible to see what would happen (alas, the customs officer searched only my laptop bag). Memo to Ms. Palin: Should we learn from the Saudis and protect ground zero by banning the Koran from Lower Manhattan?
For much of American history, demagogues have manipulated irrational fears toward people of minority religious beliefs, particularly Catholics and Jews. Many Americans once honestly thought that Catholics could not be true Americans because they bore supreme loyalty to the Vatican.
Today’s crusaders against the Islamic community center are promoting a similar paranoid intolerance, and one day we will be ashamed of it.