Friday, July 23, 2010

Muslims in NYC: Then and Now

The controversy over the building of a mosque near ground zero has a great deal more heat than light-with some opponents making aspersions before all of the facts are in; while defenders shriek about tolerance and bigotry, tarnishing all of the opponents with a nasty broad brush. What's missing, in our view, is a comprehensive examination of just who are the folks behind the building of this particular mosque-and recent history dictates that this is simply appropriate caution.

But the rather nasty recent turn of events in the Islamic universe-let's say from about the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979-is being ignored by some folks who love to castigate presumed bigotry while wearing a smug and patronizing crown of tolerance. Such is the case of one Edward Curtis who, writing in today's NY Daily News, gives us an extensive history lesson about the place of Muslims in NYC's past: "Rick Lazio, the gubernatorial candidate from Suffolk County, doesn't like it. Sarah Palin, though not exactly a New Yorker, has resoundingly "refudiated" it. More importantly, plenty of ordinary citizens vocally oppose the establishment of a Muslim community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site.But no matter how offensive their presence may be to some people, Muslims have always been a part of lower Manhattan's past. In fact, Islam in New York began near Ground Zero. From an historical perspective, there could hardly be a better place for a mosque."

Curtis, after affording the former Alaska governor an elocution lesson, goes on to try to make the case that a certain history trumps current events: "For most of American history, Muslims have come to New York seeking freedom and opportunity - like every other group of immigrants. In 1847, for example, sailor and slave Mahommah Baquaqua escaped from the Brazilian ship Lembranca, docked in Manhattan. He went on to co-write one of most important African-American memoirs of the 1800s. "The Biography of Mahommah G. Baquaqua" poignantly describes the moment when, confined to a cell in the bow of his ship, Baquaqua broke down the door, bowed to his master's wife, and ran away. Once on the docks, he managed to utter the only English word he knew: "free." What could be more quintessentially American than that?"

But Cutris' forces of reaction are blind to this poignant story of immigrants and religious freedom: "Of course, this history of Islam in lower Manhattan means little to the families of 9/11 victims who are protesting the proposed center. Far more troubling than their protest is how readily some political groups have used this issue to advance their own anti-Muslim agendas. Comments by Lazio and Palin are mere drops in an ocean of right-wing vitriol."

No doubt there are some that do have, what Curtis terms, "ant-Muslim bigotry"-but opposition to the building of the mosque is not by any means an ipso facto case of blatant intolerance. And, of course, what Curtis purposefully elides is the fact that, whatever the history, a current-and some would say dominant-strain of Islam is a good distance from the anodyne Muslim immigrants of the past. Why ignore this reality in the name of some foolish political correctness?

The contrary view is well expressed in a NY Post Op-ed by Andrew Bostom-an expert on jihadism  and someone who examined the man behind the Ground Zero mosque: "Imam Feisal Rauf, the central figure in the coterie planning a huge mosque just off Ground Zero, is a full-throated champion of the very same Muslim theologians and jurists identified in a landmark NYPD report as central to promoting the Islamic religious bigotry that fuels modern jihad terrorism. This fact alone should compel Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg to withdraw their support for the proposed mosque."

Imagine that-and we're not talking about some Muslim version of Fred Rogers; someone who, if Bostom is correct, you'd probably not like to see in any neighborhood, let alone one where such sacrilege took place. The fact is that, owing to the hijacking of Islam by fascist elements, there is a compelling need to labor diligently before automatically genuflecting to religious tolerance when an issue like the mosque surfaces. And, as Paul Berman has written-here and here-radical Islam has a number of faces, but the most dangerous of these is  the one with the kindly tolerant mask that hides a sharia supporting reformism that, while less immediately threatening than the most extreme variant of Islamism, seeks to achieve the same result.

Bostom makes the case in regards to Rauf: "At least two of Imam Rauf's books, a 2000 treatise on Islamic law and his 2004 "What's Right with Islam," laud the implementation of sharia -- including within America -- and the "rejuvenating" Islamic religious spirit of Ibn Taymiyyah and al-Wahhab. He also lionizes as two ostensible "modernists" Jamal al-Dinal-Afghani (d. 1897), and his student Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905). In fact, both defended the Wahhabis, praised the salutary influence of Ibn Taymiyyah and promoted the pretense that sha ria -- despite its permanent advocacy of jihad and dehumanizing injunctions on non-Muslims and women -- was somehow compatible with Western concepts of human rights, as in our own Bill of Rights."

So, in spite of the historiography of Curtis-and the smarmy dhimmi spoutings of Mike Bloomberg-there should be a real concern with who Rauf is and what is ultimate goals are. The concern should devolve from the understanding that Islamism is a political ideology that incorporates-or co-opts-Islam for radically anti-democratic goals.

If Bostom's investigatory reporting is accurate, the decision of Rauf to build "his" mosque this close to Islamism's greatest triumph is, as the Marxist say, no accident. It is also a blasphemy against the martyrdom of-not the 12 fanatic terrorists-but the over 3,000 New Yorkers who gave their life to this evil cause.