In an interview on ABC News which aired yesterday, Imam Feisal Rauf, who leads the Cordoba initiative which plans to open an Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center, was asked why he does not want to relocate, in spite of strong opposition to the plan.
My major concern with moving it is that the headline in the Muslim world will be Islam is under attack in America, this will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment, this will put our people — our soldiers, our troops, our embassies, our citizens — under attack in the Muslim world and we have expanded and given and fueled terrorism.
Even if this genuinely represents the views of the imam, it is also the kind of argument one would expect to be proffered by a political consultant. Shift the debate away from religion towards national security. That’s the most easily defended political ground. Perhaps, but it also sounds lame and can be perceived as disingenuous. Moreover, if national opinion is being offended, potential damage to international opinion is the least persuasive basis on which to appeal to red-blooded Americans.
Whatever the repercussions might be outside the United States in the event that the backers of the Islamic center bow to pressure to relocate, the strongest argument for resisting such pressure should rest on the implications inside America.
Speaking with a surer, more passionate voice, Imam Rauf said:
[T]here’s growing Islamophobia in this country.
How else would you describe the fact that mosques around the country are now being attacked? We are Americans, too. As — we are — we are treated and talked about today as if — as if American Mus — and Muslims are not Americans.
We are Americans. We — we — we are — we are doctors. We are investment bankers. We are taxi drivers. We are store keepers. We are lawyers. We are — we are part of the fabric of America.
This points to the core issue which is not about Islam or Muslims per se — it’s about America’s commitment to advance as a pluralistic society.
In a discussion of the state of Islam in America, Eboo Patel, who serves as an interfaith adviser to President Obama, said: “This is a blip in the broader arc of inclusiveness that is America and the history books will read as they have read before that the forces of inclusiveness will defeat the forces of intolerance.”
Some may share Patel’s faith in America and many more will wish they had his confidence, but his interfaith evangelical fervor contrasts sharply with mounting evidence that America is actually heading in the opposite direction.
In an interview on the John Batchelor Show on Friday, Michael Vlahos, a professor at the US Naval War College, described the parallels between contemporary America and Germany in the 1930s during the period that laid the foundations for the rise of Hitler.
Our relationships with the world are taking on a depression era — and by that I mean a 1930s depression era — perspective of nativism… We look at the world as a threatening place and it’s a zero sum game. Everything that they gain, we lose. And therefore we are rejecting the very American universalism that made us great, and part of this is an objectification of threat as the other — as evil people who are trying to hurt and destroy us and hence you have this resonant image of both Muslims and Mexicans as a kind of infection of the American body. So that Americans feeling weak about their identity feel that their body is being infected by this bacterium.
On one hand you have Mexicans, who are penetrating and infecting us, and on the other hand you have Muslims — and the entire crisis over this mosque, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” is really all about this fear that the world is coming after us. And this is a very powerful point of departure in which you have a sense that American identity, if you have the body being infected — now I’m using these metaphors, because these are the exact metaphors that Hitler used in the 20s: the notion that the German body was being infected, and who was it being infected by?… Communists and Jews. And so you see the same kind of dual infection of Muslims and Mexicans. And the fact is, this speaks to an America that is intensely anxious about its future and that is hunkering down and that has essentially thrown off its relationship to the world and is now looking at the world as a source of threat…
[The Bush administration] in its creation of the Department of Homeland Security, in the elaboration of this whole notion that the homeland was the key and the homeland was what it was all about, and that the world was out there to threaten us — this is very much like the deglobalization of the 1930s where we are pulling back from the rest of the world…
This then points to the ultimate irony: that as opponents of the Cordoba initiative hold up signs warning about an Islamic take over and as a staggering 52% of members of the White party (otherwise known as the GOP) believe that President Obama wants to impose Islamic law in America, these very Americans are unwittingly laying the foundations for the advance of fascism.