Cliff May

The controversy over plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan has taken an odd twist. On one side are those making arguments in opposition to the project, along with those who merely have questions they would like answered so they can decide for themselves whether this project will honor the victims of 9/11 – or mock them. On the other side are those who support the project wholeheartedly and who respond to both arguments and questions by saying: Shut up.

Most prominent among the second group is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It would be one thing if Hizzoner were saying: “I hear your concerns and I have questions, too, but municipal laws and the First Amendment permit this project to go forward.” But he is not saying that. He is saying instead that those with misgivings about the 13-story Islamic center that is to rise near where the Twin Towers collapsed “ought to be ashamed of themselves. … It is a shame that we even have to talk about this."

Last week on CNN, I debated the issue with Peter Beinart, former editor of The New Republic. As soon as we were off the air he called me – at a high decibel level -- a “bigot.” I suggested it might be more persuasive were he to frame an argument for me to consider. Echoing Bloomberg, he replied that I should be “ashamed of myself.”

To Peter’s credit, he later apologized for “losing his cool.” But when I sent him some thoughts on the controversy by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, he emailed back that I should “please stop” because he was “appalled.”

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol describes such responses as stemming from the “self-deluding pieties and self-destructive dogmas that are held onto, at once smugly and desperately, by today’s liberal elites.” Ironically, it is a liberal intellectual historian, Paul Berman, who has thought hardest about this phenomenon. In his latest book, “The Flight of the Intellectuals,” he ponders why so many academics and journalists refuse to grapple seriously or honestly with Islam and Islamism.

By the way: Moderate Muslim intellectuals have not put their critical faculties on hold. I asked Akbar Ahmed, a professor at American University and the author, most recently, of "Journey Into America: The Challenge of Islam,” his perspective on the controversy. “Muslim leaders need to understand,” he said, “that 9/11 remains an open wound for Americans. And it is wrong to rub salt into an open wound.”

Both by disposition and training, journalists and intellectuals are supposed to be inquisitive. Yet Beinart -- who continues to write for prestige publications – and Bloomberg -- whose name adorns a great journalistic institution -- have made it clear that they do not want to know whether the $100 million needed for the “Muslim facility” (that’s the term that Oz Sultan, a consultant to the project, used when describing it to me) will come from individuals who also support terrorism and the ideologies that drive terrorism.

This week, Newsweek editor and CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria returned an award given to him five years ago by the Anti-Defamation League in protest of the ADL’s opposition to the project. Zakaria called the ADL’s decision “bizarre” and a form of “bigotry.” I’ll wager that Zarkaria has spent not one hour investigating those behind this project, their finances and their motives. I know: It’s so retro of me to expect elite reporters to report.

Or even to read much. It’s hardly a secret that some mosques in America, Europe and the Middle East are centers of extremism. As former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has chronicled, the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center and mosque in Falls Church, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., has provided a pulpit for several radical imams, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda terrorist now hiding out in Yemen. Among those Awlaki is said to have inspired: Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a plane on Christmas, Fort Hood massacre suspect Nidal Hassan and at least two of the 9/11 hijackers.

Terrorists who would go on to take part in the 9/11 attacks also made their base at the King Fahd Mosque in Los Angeles.  As Nina Shea noted, “the mosque’s imam, Fahad al Thumairy, a former Saudi diplomat, was finally expelled by the U.S. in 2003 for suspected terror connections.”

The Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn is where Omar Abdel Rahman, the Blind Sheik, delivered sermons. Andy McCarthy eventually sent him to prison in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

And just this week, as my colleague Ben Weinthal reported, German authorities banned the Masjid Taiba mosque of Hamburg. It had been a launching pad for the 9/11 terror attacks and “had long served as a hotbed for training jihadists and stoking anti-Western ideology.”

Why wouldn’t Zakaria – before slapping the ADL in the face – at least invite the key organizers of the Ground Zero project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, on his TV show and ask them about all this? Why it is that hardly anyone in the mainstream media has yet to ask them any uncomfortable questions?

In his Newsweek column, Zakaria asserts that Rauf “is a moderate Muslim clergyman. 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.”

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas – which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews – as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist. 

A thought experiment: I am grieved by Saudi policies, for example Saudi religious discrimination, oppression of women and persecution of homosexuals. If I were to express these grievances by blowing up a Saudi kindergarten, do you think Imam Feisal would say (1) the Saudi Royal family must share responsibility for the carnage, and (2) whether or not I had committed an act of terrorism is a “very complex question”?

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: "It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet." In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

For Zakaria, Beinart, Bloomberg and so many other members of the intellectual elite, it’s as though such information were either too trivial to bother with, or so personal that no gentleman would mention it in polite company.

Of course, that can’t be the real explanation. So what is? Paul Berman concludes that multiculturalism and moral relativism, doctrines devoutly embraced by the intellectual classes, render “everything the equal of everything else.” As a consequence, some very smart people have “lost the ability to make the most elementary distinctions.” Except one: They reflexively regard those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame and guilt.

So if Imam Feisal says he’s a moderate, he must be a moderate. Why read his books or inquire into what he preaches in his mosque or with whom he associates on his frequent trips to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and other exotic locales? Would we ask such questions of a Baptist minister building a church near Ground Zero?

That the terrorists responsible for the atrocities of 9/11 – and more than 1,500 other acts of terrorism since – proudly proclaim that they act in the name of Islam is irrelevant! Anyone who says that Rauf’s project is “confrontational” or “in bad taste” or disrespectful of non-Muslims – to borrow a few descriptions from Raheel Raza, board member of the Muslim Canadian Congress – is intolerant and a bigot and an Islamophobe! Shame on her! She is appalling! End of discussion.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.