Archive for August 25th, 2010
America, as a nation, has some big fish to fry these days. But the energy is being focused right now on a symbolic question. Can the nation tolerate the building of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero almost a decade after the 9/11 attacks? Or, more to the point, can America uphold one of its core values – religious tolerance? The debate has smoldered on throughout the summer, and we’ve seen the hard right and left condemn the Cordoba Initiative and Islam more generally. On the right, Newt Gingrich has talked about how we’re facing an “Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.” And built into his thinking is the assumption that when Christians commit abhorrent crimes, it’s a perversion of the religion, not an indictment of its essence. But the same charity doesn’t get extended to the Islamic minority faith in the country. Meanwhile, Sam Harris on the secular/atheist left gets in bed with Gingrich when he says“there is much that is objectionable—and, frankly, terrifying—about the religion of Islam and about the state of discourse among Muslims living in the West.” If it matters, the main difference between Harris and Gingrich is Harris’ consistency, which boils down to a consistent contempt for religion. (Partially Examined Life takes a much closer look at Harris’ arguments here).
All of this makes me wonder: What would someone who actually knows something about Islam say about the whole affair? So here you have it. Karen Armstrong, one of the most well known thinkers in the field of comparative religion, a former Catholic nun, and the author most recently of The Case for God, offering her thoughts on the matter above
NY1 reports today of a likely hate crime in New York City, which has been the site of an ugly, emotional debate over the proposed Park 51 Islamic community center near the site of Ground Zero. The news station reports that a cab driver was attacked by a young man who appears to have assaulted him due to his Islamic faith. The man reportedly asked the driver if he was Muslim, and when he confirmed that he was, the young man attacked the driver, slashing him “in the throat, arm and lip” with a knife:
A city cab driver is in the hospital after being stabbed by a passenger who allegedly asked if he was Muslim, police tell NY1. Investigators with the New York City Police Department say it all began Monday night when a 21-year-old man hailed a cab at 24th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.
Police say the passenger asked the driver, “Are you Muslim?” When the driver said yes the passenger pulled a knife and slashed him in the throat, arm and lip.
Both the driver and the alleged attacker are currently hospitalized in Bellevue Hospital. The first casualty of the “Ground Zero mosque.”
UPDATET: PM reports that the attacker will be charged with attempted murder and committing a hate crime.
UPDATE: The New York Times has more details on the attack:
The passenger, Michael Enright, 21, of Brewster, N.Y., hailed the cab at Second Avenue and East 24th Street around 6 p.m. Tuesday, the police said. Twenty blocks north, they said, he slashed and stabbed the 43-year-old driver in his throat, face and arm. [...] After falling silent for a few minutes, the passenger began cursing and screaming, and then yelled, “Assalamu alaikum — consider this a checkpoint!” and slashed Mr. Sharif across the neck, and then on the face from his nose to his upper lip, the alliance said. [...] “I feel very sad,” Mr. Sharif said in a statement released by the taxi workers’ alliance. “I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before.”
UPDATE: Politico‘s Ben Smith finds that Enright is an employee "Internet media company who had recently spent time with a combat unit in Afghanistan filming military exercises until this past May." He was also a volunteer for Intersections International, an interfaith dialogue group that had recently put out a statement in support of building Park 51.
Nick Baumann and David Corn report at Mother Jones:
President Barack Obama has declared that a group of moderate Muslims have the right to build a community center in lower Manhattan, two blocks from the site once occupied by the World Trade Center towers. Yet representatives of a wholly US government-funded outfit have joined the vociferous opposition to the Park51 or Cordoba House project that critics have dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque." A leader of this group—which receives $4.3 million a year from the government—has even proclaimed that the community center could be a front for Islamic terrorism. That’s not all: the same agency, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF), has been the subject of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint for allegedly discriminating against Muslim employees.
The commission was created by Congress in 1998 to monitor religious freedom around the world and scold countries that aren’t meeting religious freedom obligations outlined by international human rights treaties. Its sole source of funding is the US government; it is empowered to make recommendations to the president about policy decisions related to issues of religious freedom. Recently, the commission has decried Vietnam for its systemic violation of religious freedom and slammed China for its repression of Uighur Muslims. But leading conservative members of the commission have supported the opposition to the Cordoba House, essentially joining those who want to deny New York Muslims the freedom to build their religious and cultural center at this particular site.
In a recent piece for National Review Online, Nina Shea, one of USCIRF’s nine commissioners (who are selected by the president and congressional leaders), wrote that instead of "a cultural center for all New Yorkers," the "mosque" project could be "a potential tool for Islamists"—suggesting it would be a hotbed of jihadism that, among other things, spreads the literature and ideas of Islamic extremism. She compared the leaders of the Cordoba House project to convicted terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman (the "blind Sheikh") and accused Fort Hood and Christmas Day bombing coordinator Anwar al-Awlaki. (Shea’s piece, as of Monday, was no longer showing up on the NRO site.)
Shea, long an influential figure in neoconservative circles last appointed to the commission by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), is not the only commissioner of this religious freedom organization trying to block the Cordoba House project. Leonard Leo, the chairman of the commission and a top official in the conservative Federalist Society, is director of Liberty Central, a new tea party-related rightwing group organized by Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Liberty Central has organized a petition campaign against the Cordoba House project. Moreover, Virginia Thomas is one of several conservative leaders participating in a 9/11 rally against the Cordoba House project, organized in part by anti-Islam activist/blogger Pam Geller, who runs an organization called Stop Islamization of America and who kick-started the "mosque" controversy. (Geller recently said that Obama has "sided with Islamic jihadists.") To break this down: the chairman of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (Leonard Leo) is working closely with a conservative activist (Virginia Thomas) who is a featured speaker at an event being mounted by an outright anti-Islam group. [Regarding Thomas' participation in this rally, see the update below.]
And as TPM reported, Richard Land, another USCIRF commissioner and the influential president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has opposed the project, comparing it to a (non-existent) Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor and a (never-built) convent near Auschwitz. (Land says that the USCIRF itself is prohibited from intervening in domestic matters, but the commission has officially criticized a Saudi-run high school in Alexandria, Virginia.)
The USCIRF also happens to have connections to former UN ambassador John Bolton, one of the fiercest critics of the Cordoba House project. Bolton served as a USCIRF commissioner in the early years of the George W. Bush administration, and Jackie Wolcott, the commission’s current executive director, worked under Bolton when Bolton was in charge of nuclear nonproliferation efforts within the Bush State Department. (Bolton wrote the forward to Geller’s anti-Islam book and is another scheduled speaker at her September 11 rally against the project.)
The USCIRF may have internal problems with Muslims, too. In February, the Washington Post broke the news of religious infighting at USCIRF. According to the Post, Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, a former policy analyst at the commission, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that her contract was cancelled because she was a Muslim and affiliated with the Muslim Public Affairs Counsel, an advocacy group. Another researcher at the commission, Bridget Kustin, quit in protest after Ghori-Ahmad’s contract was not renewed. In her resignation letter, Kustin wrote that she did not want to "remain part of an organization that would be willing to engage in such discrimination."
In a message on the commission’s website, Leonard Leo notes that …
Stephanie Mencimer reports at Mother Jones:
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was first issued in 1989 as a landmark human rights document defining basic rights for children under the age of 18. It’s so uncontroversial that every member of the UN has signed it. Every member, that is, but the U.S. and Somalia, and the only reason Somalia never signed it is that it hasn’t had a functioning government capable of signing. But even that wretched country last year announced plans to ratify the treaty. So that leaves the U.S. as the only civilized country in the world that won’t ratify an international document pledging to create a legal culture that acts in the best interest of the child (rather than, say, treats them like chattel). During the 2008 campaign, President Obama observed,"It’s embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land." His administration has attempted to revive efforts to get the damn thing ratified after more than 20 years of political wrangling.
But it doesn’t look like the treaty is going to get anywhere on Obama’s watch, either, despite having renowned children’s rights lawyer Hillary Clinton running the State Department. Religious conservatives, especially in the homeschooling movement, are raising a stink about the treaty and trying to get Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would make it virtually impossible for the US to ever ratify it. Their main objections? Under the treaty, "parents would no longer be able to administer reasonable spankings to their children," the government couldn’t sentence teenagers to life in prison, kids could get sex-ed and birth control if they wanted it, and–gasp!–children would be able to choose their own religion, according to a fact sheet published by ParentalRights.org, an outfit headed up by Michael Farris, the homeschooling movement’s legal mastermind. The group is dedicated to winning passage of the parental rights amendment.
On Sunday, WorldNet Daily reported on the latest fury over the UN treaty and a renewed interest among conservatives in fighting it. WND noted that 31 Republicans in the Senate have expressed opposition to ratification in a move that seems directly related to the rise of the tea party movement. Farris told WND, "The whole notion that government wants to invade our lives in every sphere has awakened the American public, and frankly has aroused a sleeping giant."
I simply don’t understand what the GOP means by "family values," but it seems to include going out with prostitutes while the wife sits at home (better, I suppose, than the wife joining in), hitting kids, having sex with your best friend’s wife and then trying to pay him off with a good job, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and the like: a cesspool of human values.
Jonah Goldberg, whose columns are apparently published in grown-up newspapers for consumption by literate adults, uses today’s to expand on a theme that he first toyed with at The Corner last week: Liberals are the real intolerant ones because they make up "Islamophobia" and accuse Real Americans of it.
Here’s the lede:
Here’s a thought: The 70% of Americans who oppose what amounts to an Islamic Niketown two blocks from ground zero are the real victims of a climate of hate, and anti-Muslim backlash is mostly a myth.
First: "an Islamic Niketown"? What … what does that mean? Will there be shoes for sale? Are Americans objecting to the commercialization of the sacred ground near but not adjacent or particularly related to the former site of the World Trade Center, where a complex of commercial office building are currently being constructed? Couldn’t Goldberg, who is Jewish and from New York, have come up with an analogy that actually helped explain to his readers what he is talking about?
The data backing up Goldberg’s thesis? FBI hate crime statistics. That’s it. There were only 481 hate crimes against Muslims in 2001, "the year a bunch of Muslim terrorists murdered 3,000 Americans in the name of Islam on Sept. 11," Jonah helpfully reminds us. ("Now, that was a hate crime," he adds, because he is a truly execrable columnist.)
Goldberg certainly doesn’t like hate crimes, but he finds that to be an acceptable number of them. Although, the ADL presented the FBI’s numbers with the disclaimer that "anti-Islamic" bias crimes are hard to classify, because people were going around stabbing Sikhs and blowing up Hindu temples in the weeks after 9/11. One group, using contemporary media accounts, found 645 incidents of bias in the first week after 9/11.
And as Conor Friedersdorf pointed out when Goldberg first tried this line, even outside of outright crime or incidents of harassment or threats, the entire national media conversation became, at times, incredibly anti-Islamic. Goldberg claims, hopefully (but probably not) in jest, that occasionally "heated" anti-Muslim rhetoric is dwarfed by "open bigotry toward evangelical Christians" on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. If anyone can point to anything published in the Times that is as hysterically anti-Christian as, say, any random week’s worth of Andy McCarthy’s contributions to the National Review, please let me know.
Then there is the fact that this miserable summer has, from sea to shining sea, featured enraged white people staging marches in the street attacking all Muslims as terrorist sympathizers, for the crime of wanting to build a house of worship in their communities. And the entire conservative political elite, along with a huge portion of the supposed other wing, refuse to even bother to condemn it. (Indeed, they indulge it! The Muslims in New York are all told to be more "sensitive" to the angry white people!)
So you can maybe see why some people are concerned about an atmosphere of intolerance toward American Muslims, and the possible effects of such an atmosphere. It is about more than just FBI-identified bias crimes.
The "news peg" of that Time cover on Islamophobia that Jonah is so mad about is not some sort of lofty essay about stupid middle-American pigs being bigots; it is based on an actual poll, of the Americans themselves.Some fun findings:
Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President — a slightly higher percentage than the 24% who mistakenly believe the current occupant of the Oval Office is himself a Muslim.
Forty-four percent of Americans have a favorable view of Muslims. Even Mormons top 50 percent.
I’m just saying that before we go around congratulating ourselves, as a nation, for not spending even more time vandalizing the property of people we suspect to be Muslim and physically attacking anyone in a turban, we should maybe ask ourselves if we are setting the bar a bit low.
But Goldberg apparently thinks that it’s bigoted against real Americans to be at all concerned about bias against American Muslims, because Goldberg, who does not give a shit about American Muslims, does not think the coordinated nationwide campaign to make people uneasy about them has led to that much violence.
This, actually, is the funniest line from Goldberg’s piece:
Meanwhile, to listen to Obama — say in his famous Cairo address — you’d think America has been at war with Islam for 30 years and only now, thanks to him, can we heal the rift. It’s an odd argument given that Americans have shed a lot of blood for Muslims over the last three decades: to end the slaughter of Muslims in the Balkans, to feed Somalis and to liberate Kuwaitis, Iraqis and Afghans.
Well, if that is how you interpreted that speech, I can understand why you’d find it "an odd arguments." Lots of arguments probably seem odd when you don’t understand rhetoric or logic. But, yes, Jonah Goldberg still thinks America is owed a great big fucking thank you from all the people we’ve been "liberating" in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama should spend less time apologizing to people who hate us for our freedom and more time apologizing to people who hate him because they think he’s a Muslim.
He had his day, and is now acting against his earlier positions, which he apparently did not mean. He increasingly seems like a bigoted jerk. Justin Elliott at Salon:
Yesterday we reported on the Anti-Defamation League’s unusual lobbying effort against a trip to concentration camp sites by a group of U.S. imams and a few Obama Administration officials.
The background is that the ADL, while acknowledging that National Director Abe Foxman lobbied against U.S. officials’ participation in the trip, claimed Monday that Foxman objected only because he thinks Rosenthal should be focusing on "government to government" work. (Though a person familiar with the trip told Salon Monday that Foxman went so far as to call a Polish rabbi during the imams’ trip earlier this month to implore the rabbi not to meet with the American group.)
In response to the ADL’s objection, Rosenthal explained: "My reason for going was simple – Anti-Semitism is growing in places for different reasons, but Holocaust denial is growing in parts of the Muslim communities and must be confronted in order to combat the anti-Semitism that accompanies it."
It’s also worth noting that the imams’ trip to Auschwitz ended with a strong joint statement denouncing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Here’s Rosenthal’s full statement:
My reason for going was simple – Anti-Semitism is growing in places for different reasons, but Holocaust denial is growing in parts of the Muslim communities and must be confronted in order to combat the anti-Semitism that accompanies it.
The response to my participation on the trip has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. As I travel to countries facing increased anti-Semitism, I regularly meet with Jewish organizations, and interfaith and interethnic organizations, in addition to meeting with government leaders. I recognize that this age-old hatred will take a multi-faceted approach: calling for government leadership in condemning anti-Semitism; better education for the younger generation; interfaith understanding and advocacy; and good old-fashioned relationship building. I am trying hard to do just that.