Archive for August, 2010

Who’s a bigot?

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I recently had a conversation with a friend, who happens to be a lawyer. It went something like this:

Me: [argues that the Ground Zero mosque should not be built].

Friend: You are a bigot.

Me: Objection! Counsel can’t answer my arguments, so she resorts to ad hominem abuse!

Friend: I don’t have to listen to your arguments. You have no credibility because you are a bigot.

Yesterday, Eugene Robinson began his syndicated column by calling opposition to the mosque “Lies, distortions, jingoism, xenophobia…”. Then he conjured up the demons of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. End of story — it’s all a bunch of Republican political opportunism.

So this is the level of discourse we’ve reached on this subject!

It may be a waste of time in today’s overheated atmosphere, but I’m going to try to explain exactly how I’m ‘bigoted’. You can decide whether I’m more or less the same as the guys who burn crosses and desecrate graves.

Although I find the principles of Sharia which hold that there is an essential difference in the rights due to men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, repugnant — I do not therefore hate Muslims.

Although many of the suras in the Quran apparently call for Muslims to be violent and hateful, I do not judge Muslims on the basis of this. The book dates from the Seventh Century, and there is plenty of unpleasant stuff in the Bible, too.

Here’s the problem: Islam’s holy writings lend themselves to an interpretation which includes an ideology and an expansionist political program, a program which calls upon Muslims to expand the lands under Islamic control by violence, subversion or both. While not all Muslims subscribe to this interpretation, it is by no means marginal. There is a struggle today in the Islamic world between this kind of radical Islamism — represented by the Iranian regime on the Shia side and the Muslim Brotherhood among Sunnis — and more conservative forms of Islam.

Barry Rubin and others explain that radical Islamism is no less a legitimate interpretation than less aggressive ones. It does not represent a ‘hijacking’ of some ‘real’ version of Islam, which is warm and fuzzy (this appears to be President Obama’s point of view). It is a competing interpretation, and one which has made major gains in the Muslim world in the past sixty years or so. There is reason to worry that it is rapidly becoming the dominant, normative form of Islam today.

This is the version of Islam which holds that an infidel has three options: conversion, submission or death. This is the version of Islam which inspired the Hamas Covenant. And its ideological component has no counterpart in any other major religion today. It pretty much corners the market on intolerance and bigotry.

Note that radical Islamists believe that it is honorable to deceive infidels in time of war (and they believe that they are at war with the West). So one can be excused for some degree of suspicion directed at someone like the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has refused to condemn Hamas. That’s sort of a litmus test, in my opinion — one which organizations like CAIR, ISNA, etc. regularly fail, by the way.

So there you are. I am opposed  to an ideological and political program that is considered the true interpretation of Islam by many Muslims, including some who claim to be ‘moderate’. I am concerned that this program is promoted by violent terrorism, by subversion and a combination of both. I see it as a real and present threat — to Israel, to Europe and to America.

Anyone who can explain how this makes me a ‘bigot’ is invited to do so.

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Short takes: Hamas likes mosque, AP distorts, Harvard doesn’t divest

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Hamas supports Ground Zero mosque

One of the objections to the proposed Ground Zero mosque has been that radical Islamists around the world will understand it as a triumphalist symbol of America’s defeat at the hands of Islam. Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar didn’t exactly say that, but he came close:

Two days after President Obama came out in support of a plan to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero, the controversial project has received yet another high-profile endorsement – this one from the chief of the terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“We have to build the mosque, as you are allowed to build the church and Israelis are building their holy places,” stated Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas who is regarded as the chief of the group in Gaza.

Zahar said that as Muslims, “We have to build everywhere.”

It can’t be helpful to Barack Obama to find himself on the same side as Hamas!


AP blames Israel for Palestinian intransigence

Here’s what I read this morning in the Fresno Bee:

By Karin Laub, Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel will not accept conditions for resuming direct negotiations with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Cabinet ministers affirmed in a meeting late Sunday, reflecting a hard line just as invitations to the talks appeared to be near.

“Hard line?” Are you nuts, Karin Laub? Netanyahu has been agreeing to direct talks without preconditions for months. What could be less hard line than that? Isn’t the function of negotiations to, er, negotiate?

The Palestinian Authority (PA), on the other hand, has refused to talk unless their demands are met in advance. In Laub’s words,

Abbas wants Israel to accept the principle of Palestinian statehood in the lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast war with minor modifications, and wants all Jewish settlement building to stop during negotiations.

I’ll note yet again the deliberately misleading formulation “Jewish settlement building” to mean “any construction activity outside 1949 lines,” suggesting that Israel is building new settlements or even expanding the boundaries of existing ones, which has not happened for years.

The PA wants negotiations to pick up where they left off when various generous offers — the Clinton-Barak ideas of 2000-1, and Olmert’s 2008 proposal — were made. Of course, these were presented by Israel as absolute final offers, which were rejected by the PA as inadequate. It’s ludicrous for them to become starting points for new talks, in which the PA will demand even more — not to mention that the response to the Clinton-Barak offer was to start a war.

The AP’s original headline, “Israel: No conditions for talks with Palestinians” is not so  bad. My friends at the Bee changed it to this: “Israel refuses conditions on talks”, to make sure that everyone gets the message that it’s Israel’s fault.

What are my neighbors in Fresno likely to think when they read this propaganda disguised as news?


Harvard does not divest

Some blogs and even mainstream media sources have been saying that Harvard University’s endowment fund has ‘divested’ from Israel. Actually, what happened is that Israel’s economy is so good that its stocks have been shifted from an ’emerging country’ index to a ‘developed country’ one. Harvard rebalanced its portfolio by selling some stocks in Israeli companies and buying some from ’emerging’ countries.

And they probably had a nice capital gain, too.

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Obama takes a stand for Islam

Saturday, August 14th, 2010
Iftar dinner hosted by President Obama at the White House last night, at which he voiced support for Ground Zero mosque.

Iftar dinner hosted by President Obama at the White House last night, at which he voiced support for Ground Zero mosque.

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.

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi compared the project to building a Serbian Orthodox church at Srebrenica:

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.

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Four simple questions for Palestinian advocates

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Here are four simple questions that demand answers in the ongoing discussion about Palestinian Arab rights, wants and needs:

There’s lots of criticism  of Israel for being an ethnically-based nation state. But the proposed ‘Palestine’ is defined as an Arab state, and if you ask Hamas, a Muslim Arab state. Why isn’t this also a problem for the critics of Israel?

Over and over again, it’s made clear that every last Jewish settlement must be evacuated from land that will become part of ‘Palestine’. Palestinian Arabs also vehemently reject any population exchange proposal, insisting that they will never give up their right to live anywhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. In fact, such proposals are not taken seriously by most Israelis, who believe that they would violate the rights of Israeli Arabs. So isn’t the Palestinian demand for a Jew-free state a racist or antisemitic one?

Arab supporters claim that Israel ethnically cleansed its territory of Arabs in 1948.  In reality, almost of the Arabs that left did so voluntarily, as a result of the war which can reasonably be blamed on the Nazi Mufti, al-Husseini, and the territorial ambitions of Egypt and especially Jordan (see Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed). Some Arabs, particularly those in the villages along the Tel-Aviv – Jerusalem road, were forcibly removed from their homes. But every last Jew that lived in the area conquered by Jordan, including East Jerusalem, was expelled at gunpoint. Here’s a contemporary photo:

Jewish families being evacuated from the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948. Photo by John Phillips, LIFE.

Jewish families being evacuated from the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948. Photo by John Phillips, LIFE.

Palestinians and their supporters continually complain about ‘settlers’ in ‘Arab East Jerusalem’. But given the above, we have to ask: what makes East Jerusalem ‘Arab’?

Palestinian Arabs claim that they are a ‘people’ with a long history who were dispossessed from their land by the Zionists and now are fighting to get their rights back. But there was never a Palestinian state and wasn’t even a geographical entity corresponding to ‘Palestine’ until the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. True Palestinian nationalism — as opposed to more general Arab nationalism — didn’t develop at all until the first part of the 20th century by the earliest estimates (Segev), and didn’t become a force among the Arabs living in the region until 1967. So isn’t it a reaction to the Jewish state?

These and similar questions make Palestinian advocates furious, since by (their) definition Zionists are evil colonialist, racist oppressors and the Arabs are morally superior oppressed third-world victims. We are not allowed to make comparisons like this. But if one believes in human rights, self-determination, etc., then they should be answered.

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New York City is our Jerusalem

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Clifford May comments about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, builder of the Ground Zero mosque, winning the Quote of the Week award hands down:

A thought experiment: I am grieved by Saudi policies — for example, Saudi religious discrimination, oppression of women, and persecution of homosexuals. If I were to express these grievances by blowing up a Saudi kindergarten, do you think Imam Feisal would say (1) the Saudi Royal family must share responsibility for the carnage, and (2) whether or not I had committed an act of terrorism is a “very complex question”?

…because, as readers of this blog know well, this is what Rauf said about 9/11.

As this issue develops, I ask myself several questions:

  • How is it possible that Rauf and friends are getting away with this?
  • What is wrong with so many otherwise rational people, like Mayor Bloomberg, that they are helping them get away with it?
  • Is there hope for the West in what really seems to be a clash of cultures?

This shouldn’t be a Right vs. Left issue, or a pro- vs. anti-Obama issue, although both sides are trying to make political capital of it.  The issue is this: should we allow a beacon to worldwide radical Islamists be built overlooking what has become a holy place in America (and ‘holy’ not only for religious people)?

Actually, it has nothing to do with ‘religion’ as we understand it. The symbolism is about victory and defeat, superiority and inferiority, dominance and submission.

And symbols count. Why do you think Jerusalem is so important? New York City is America’s Jerusalem.

World Trade Center facade

World Trade Center facade

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