As everyone knows by now, President Barack Obama has come out squarely in favor of building a mosque and Islamic center two blocks from ground zero:
“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country,” Obama told an intently listening crowd gathered at the White House Friday evening to observe the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
“That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” he said. “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable…”
While insisting that the place where the twin towers once stood was indeed “hallowed ground,” Obama said that the proper way to honor it was to apply American values.
The logic of the case includes several strands. There are countervailing ‘commandments’ here. There is the constitutional principle that demands that we allow free exercise of religion, and there is the moral principle that it’s wrong to tear open the wounds of people mourning their dead.
There is the symbolic issue that this structure in this place is seen — by many observers on both sides of the conflict — as representing the victory of Islam over the United States.
There are practical consequences. Those Muslims who do favor violent jihad against the West — and even those who favor more peaceful conquest (but conquest nevertheless) — will be encouraged.
The argument from “religious freedom” is seriously weakened by the fact that opponents to the mosque do not object to the building of mosques in general, do not object to the building of mosques in New York City, and do not even object to the building of mosques in lower Manhattan. They object only to a mosque in this specific location.
Even supposing good intentions on the part of those behind the project, one could ask why they did not simply choose a site in Manhattan somewhat further away from Ground Zero. A suitable analogy would be as follows: how would Bosnian Muslims feel about proposing the construction of a Serbian Orthodox church at Srebrenica? Indeed, there are many parallels between the Srebrenica Massacre of 1995 and 9/11. The former was the killing of over 8000 Bosnian Muslims by Serb militias who justified their aggression on the pretext of defending their faith. In reality, however, the goal was to create a Greater Serbia by ethnically cleansing or exterminating Bosniaks and Croats from regions of the former Yugoslavia with mixed populations.
Similarly, the jihadists who perpetrate atrocities such as 9/11 purport to act in self-defense, but actually seek the eventual subjugation of the world under Shari’a. This is apparent from the declarations and writings of the leaders of jihadist groups. A case in point is Osama Bin Laden himself. When addressing Westerners, he normally justifies his actions by naming the usual grievances (e.g. the presence of Western troops in the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. support for Israel etc.), but when appealing to Muslims, he frequently invokes the idea of jihad, whether offensive or defensive, as a religious obligation.
In addition, there are reasons to worry about the intentions behind the project. Al-Tamimi continues,
Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that Imam Abdul Rauf, the chief proponent of the mosque project, would do nothing effective to counter the broad elements in classical fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) that justify the doctrines of jihad as explained by Osama Bin Laden and Faisal Shahzad above. Indeed, in a 2000 treatise on Shari’a, and a 2004 book entitled ‘What’s Right With Islam’, he has praise for figures such as the Sufi jurist Al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyyah and Al-Wahhab, all of whom formulated rationales for the notion of jihad as warfare to expand the realm of ‘Dar Al-Islam’.
He furthermore hails the implementation of Shari’a in society, including in America itself. Thus, he is no better than the evasive Tariq Ramadan, who is wrongly lionized as a genuine moderate. After all, praising uncritically thinkers who justified noxious doctrines of warfare and subjugation of non-Muslims in writings intended for Muslims is no way to counter Islamism in any form, as it is their works that have been made so readily available by Saudi petrodollars.
The principle of religious freedom, like any constitutional — or for that matter, moral — principle is not absolute. It is always necessary to consider countervailing principles, possible consequences and facts, that in any given case might mitigate the application of the principle.
The President, however, has chosen to present his decision in the most demagogic manner possible, as upholding the right of American Muslims to practice their religion, when clearly not one Muslim would have his rights limited if the mosque were built a mile away. This from the man who denies Jews the right to build homes in East Jerusalem!
He has elided the question of honoring the victims of 9/11, and did not even discuss the very legitimate issue of Imam Abdul Rauf’s ideology and connections, as well as the funding of the project.
He didn’t have to take this road. He could have continued to say that it was a local issue, to be decided in New York City. But apparently he did some polling and calculated that those who object to the mosque are primarily already in the opposition, and that his ‘courageous’ stand against ‘bigotry’ would help him with his base.
It will also get him the affection of Muslims around the world, perhaps even more so than his obnoxious Cairo speech did. They will understand the subtext of this issue far better than most Americans seem to, at least today. The AP item included this:
Entering the highly charged election-year debate, Obama surely knew that his words would not only make headlines in the U.S. but be heard by Muslims worldwide. The president has made it a point to reach out to the global Muslim community, and the over 100 guests at Friday’s dinner in the State Dining Room included ambassadors and officials from numerous nations where Islam is observed, including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.
It remains to be seen if the issue will grow political legs in the US, legs which will turn around and kick his butt out of office. I devoutly hope so.