Self Fulfilling Prophecy


We’ve written about the proposed Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, and championed the concept of religious freedom. The subsequent dialogue about the project, however, prompts further discussion, not so much about the center itself, but rather whether we choose to address our societal issues through hatred or understanding. 

Many who have opposed the project have done so purportedly because of the location of the mosque “at” Ground Zero (it’s not), or because of alleged connections between the center’s leader and radical Islamists (unproven) or because of sensitivities associated with the victims of 9/11 (part of the Anti-Defamation League’s delicately nuanced but ultimately unfortunate opposition).

Then President Barack Obama entered the fray with his own support of the center, relying on bedrock American principle and law in support of free exercise of religion. This was not politically wise – a substantial majority of those polled oppose the project – and some suggested he should have avoided the fray altogether. It is to his credit that he spoke up essentially to reaffirm his commitment to American constitutional protections.

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The lack of popular support for civil rights is nothing new; in fact, it’s why the protections exist in the first place. What’s interesting, however, is whether our majority-rule democracy can withstand the onslaught of hate that is being slung toward politically unpopular minorities. Given the national animus toward Muslims, illegal immigrants and now, the children of illegal immigrants, one might think those groups are responsible for all that ails America.

There is another way besides hateful stereotyping, and the New York incident could have been a model for shifting the public paradigm.

In 2007, the RAND Corporation’s Center for Middle East Public Policy published a lengthy and informative treatise entitled, “Building Moderate Muslim Networks.” This document recounts the root causes and growth of radical, violent Muslim activity and examines ways forward that might reverse the trend.

The Saudi funding of Wahabbist extremists throughout the Middle East, and the use of foreign (including American) funds to support the Taliban who were combating Russian insurgency in Afghanistan, are two of the many ways that Islamism has been fortified. These movements, which have focused on destabilizing civil security and prospects of democracy (there was yet another suicide bombing in Iraq this week, killing at least 40), are no more about mainstream Islam than the Ku Klux Klan is about mainstream Protestantism or the Irish Republican Army was about mainstream Catholicism.

The RAND study’s recommendations focus on taking steps to fortify the moderate forces within the world Islamic community, through building ties with liberal and secular Muslim academics and intellectuals; young moderate religious scholars, community activists, women’s groups engaged in gender equality campaigns and moderate journalists and writers.

Sensible, right? Seems so to us. Yet antagonists in the New York drama ignore this potential as it stares us in the face. Here’s what the Washington Post reported U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley as saying regarding the center’s Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, whom the department is sending to the Middle East as an emissary for the peaceful practice of American Islam:

“His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well known, and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States,” Crowley said.

Some detractors of Islam have faulted mainstream Muslims for not speaking out louder, or working harder, to dissociate from the ranks of extreme Islamists. Yet Rauf, a Sufi Muslim (whose sect has been a continuing target of militant Pakistani Taliban) is known as a bridge-building peacemaker. This from Walter Isaacson, quoted in the Huffington Post:

“Imam Feisal has participated at the Aspen Institute in Muslim-Christian-Jewish working groups looking at ways to promote greater religious tolerance,” Isaacson, head of The Aspen Institute, told the Huffington Post. “He has consistently denounced radical Islam and terrorism, and promoted a moderate and tolerant Islam…This is why I find it a shame that his good work is being undermined by this inflamed dispute. He is the type of leader we should be celebrating in America, not undermining.”

No one’s suggesting Rauf is a panacea or an angel; he certainly has his share of baggage as all public figures do. But he is certainly the kind of figure whose presence at times like these can help pull Muslims back from the abyss of radical and violent sects.

That’s what we thought the world wanted, peaceful religious coexistence. But with the war of words focused on the New York Islamic center, we suspect that no form of Islam will do for some naysayers. And that is highly unfortunate, because the more we push away our peaceful American Muslim brothers and sisters, the more susceptible that community will be to the influences we most abhor.