Monday, August 9, 2010

Thoughts on Park51/Cordoba House

My views on the construction of Park51/Cordoba House have changed quite a bit over time. The issue is, I admit, difficult for me to get clarity on. So, naturally, I will blog about it and seek feedback.

While I do not think the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero is a provocation in and of itself, I would consider it a provocation if it were intended as such. If those responsible for Park51/Cordoba House intend it as a symbol of Islamic conquest, then the project is an abomination, and should be viewed no differently than an al-Qaeda training center. If, however, the people responsible for the project do not intend it as such, then it is not a provocation, even if it hurts the feelings of those who equate September 11 with Islam across the board.

So, the question that exercises me is whether I can discern the intent of the project managers. Here are the items I have seen offered as evidence that the center is intended as a provocation, and what I think about them:

1. Initial reports said that Cordoba House, as it was named at the time of the reports, was slated to open on September 11, 2011. Later reports say this is not true. I do not what to believe, here. If it does turn out that any of the project managers so much as suggested that it be opened on September 11, that would, of course, be virtually a smoking gun to me. I can think of one or two reasons why a perfectly loyal American Muslim might want to open an Islamic center near Ground Zero on September 11, but I would need to see proof that these reasons were their real motivation—the burden of proof would swing firmly to their side, as far as I am concerned.

2. Some have argued that the name Cordoba House, by referencing Cordoba, is itself a symbol of Islamic conquest. Carl Pyrdum, however, has written a response to this claim which shows selection of the name to be consistent with the wish to promote a message of interfaith harmony. The initial naming of the center is, therefore, ambiguous, and intent cannot be inferred from it.

3. Some people declare Abdul Rauf a militant, on the basis of statements he made after September 11, which connected the root causes of Islamic terror to United States foreign policy, and pointed out that the United States has participated in avoidable massacres of civilians during wartime. I can do no better than quote Fareed Zakaria, here:
He has said one or two things about American foreign policy that strike me as overly critical—but it’s stuff you could read on The Huffington Post any day. On Islam, his main subject, Rauf’s views are clear: he routinely denounces all terrorism—as he did again last week, publicly. He speaks of the need for Muslims to live peacefully with all other religions. He emphasizes the commonalities among all faiths. He advocates equal rights for women, and argues against laws that in any way punish non-Muslims. His last book, What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America, argues that the United States is actually the ideal Islamic society because it encourages diversity and promotes freedom for individuals and for all religions. His vision of Islam is bin Laden’s nightmare.
This is the part where critics begin to shout "Taqiyya!" And, truthfully, they may well be right. However, they must prove the charge, not take it for granted. The assumption of taqiyya on the part of any Muslim cleric who seems moderate reminds me of the reasoning of the door gunner in Full Metal Jacket, while mowing down droves of Vietnamese villagers from above: "Anyone who runs, is a VC. Anyone who stands still, is a well-disciplined VC!" Great caution must be taken, or this kind of thing can become Kafka-esque.

My conclusion at this time is that, notwithstanding concerns about the initial building date reports, I do not, personally, have enough evidence to impute the intention of provocation to the people behind Park51/Cordoba House, and, as such, I am unwilling to oppose it. Maybe readers can clue me in to more evidence I have overlooked, or considerations other than the ones I am concerned about. But I will say this much: the situation is sufficiently ambiguous that I hope that once the center is built (as it surely will be), residents will engage with it, and keep close watch on what is said and done in it—if there truly are militant intentions behind it, that will emerge much more clearly over time, and can be dealt with then. If not, then it is all the same to me whether an Islamic center or a Christian one, or a Burlington Coat Factory, sits there.

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