What I’ve Been Trying, and Failing, to Tweet . . .

August 18, 2010 at 5:29 pm (By Amba)

. . . about Imam Rauf, splendidly said by Rick Moran at Right Wing Nut House:

[T]he more I read about this fellow Rauf makes me ask my liberal friends if they know who they are getting in bed with when they so viciously attack those who are opposed to building the mosque. I don’t trust people who say one thing in one language, and another thing in another language as Imam Rauf has done repeatedly. He has also been silent in the face of extraordinary statements by his colleagues in Malaysia about suicide bombings, Hamas, and hatred of the US. He has blamed the US for 9/11, defended Palestinian terrorism, refused to disavow Hamas’s goal of eliminating the state of Israel, and attended at least one conference with known terrorist sympathizers.

This guy is about as moderate a Muslim as Rush Limbaugh is a moderate conservative.

Despite this, to summarize my take on the “mosque” controversy (otherwise strung out on Twitter), the actual building and its location do not merit the rabble-rousing verbal description of a triumphal structure “towering over Ground Zero.”  It is neither towering nor over Ground Zero. It doesn’t live up to its blazing marquee billing as a symbol either of Muslim triumphalism and dhimmitude, or of tolerant pluralism.  It’s just another building in a busy neighborhood.  The overwrought Right has made it much more important than it really is, thus elevating Imam Rauf to celebrity (rather than subjecting him to outside-the-limelight investigation) and causing the idiot Left to rush to the “mosque’s” defense.  Maybe that was the plan.  Maybe it was just a political trap that the Democrats obligingly fell into in plenty of time to lose them more votes in November.  If so, does the end justify the means?  Or does cranking the volume of our political “discourse” up to 11 over this poor choice of symbol merely deafen everyone further, locking the left into their defense of yet another dubious ally and the right into an ever-hardening opposition to all of Islam?  The Left is too uncritically eager to designate and embrace Muslim allies, but the Right has now created a litmus test in which the only possible good Muslim is one who opposes the Ground Zero Mosque.

By the way, I bolded the line in the quote above because the encounter of my brother, an education journalist, with the Fethullah Gülen movement (depending on your point of view, a modern, tolerant, world-peace-promoting strain of Sufi Islam or a stealth Islamist attempt to theocratize Turkey and resurrect the Ottoman Caliphate), which actually runs (without admitting it) over a hundred charter schools in the U.S., got me thinking about taqqiya, the Muslim precept of deception in the service of the faith.  (Here, about a third of the way down, is Gülen allegedly, and eloquently, advocating taqqiya to followers back in the 1990s.  If authentic, this speech should probably not be understood as plotting for world domination; it’s all about Turkey and, perhaps, Turkic Central Asia.)

It struck me that one of the best ideals of the West (even though richly honored in the breach), and at the same time one that can render us vulnerable, is the assumption that people mean what they say, that we can take them at their word, that candor, forthrightness, transparency are aspects of honor, values we can trust we share with most of those we have dealings with.  Given this noble yet naïve orientation, perhaps unique to a young and fortunate civilization, we are particularly ill-equipped to cope with the unnerving concept of taqqiya.  We are bound to meet it with either excessive trust or excessive paranoia.

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41 Comments

  1. Twitted by amba12 said,

    […] This post was Twitted by amba12 […]

  2. Ron said,

    If what you’re saying is true, then why even give them the time of day? It’s one thing to trust someone’s words, but quite another if you think they are systematically lying to you. Nothing they say would then have any meaning whatsoever.

  3. amba12 said,

    What I mean is that some would find it impossible to believe anything any Muslim ever said, which is excessively paranoid.

  4. amba12 said,

    The question is, how do you know who’s playing you and who’s really your friend?

    Let’s say you cease to be useful or credulous, without being hostile, and see if they drop you. (If you became hostile, even the sincere would drop you.)

  5. Ron said,

    If their policy is to intentionally deceive (in the name of the faith) than, no, it is not excessively paranoid to mistrust them by their own words.

    Given that, I’m not sure the question you ask is relevant.

  6. Donna B. said,

    Further about trust – can I trust what I hear from some on the other side? Is Newt Gingrich telling the truth about the original Cordoba house?

    http://gotmedieval.blogspot.com/2010/08/professor-newts-distorted-history.html

    If he is then he is engaging in lying in service of what he perceives to be “the good” also.

  7. amba12 said,

    But who is “they”? Certainly not every Muslim you meet has any agenda at all — the great majority of people of any religion just want to live their lives! But then, that’s what people thought about the guy who put the bomb in Times Square!!

    There’s a lot of paranoia on the Right (and among secular Turks) about the Gülen people — although violence is clearly not in their portfolio, a certain stealth about their aims clearly is — yet my brother says those he met are really, really nice people, dedicated and selfless-seeming. These may be idealistic rank-and-file volunteers who really are dedicated, really believe in what they’re doing, and don’t even question what larger agenda might guide what their leaders ask them to do.

  8. amba12 said,

    Donna: good point! and, that’s an excellent example of what I mean by “richly honored in the breach”!

  9. amba12 said,

    And great link!! I love it!

  10. realpc said,

    Obama was correct in saying this country has always stood for religious freedom. Unfortunately the Muslim religion does have members who hate Israel, and therefore America. Islam has a violent history (so do Christianity and Judaism, but that was long ago).

    This situation is complicated because building a mosque at that location seems like a challenge.

    Would it be denying freedom of religion to say please build your mosque elsewhere? Please be a little sensitive to what that location means to us? We should be able to find a reasonable compromise.

    Left and right should be able to understand each other on this, but they don’t even try. Big surprise.

  11. Maxwell James said,

    Would it be denying freedom of religion to say please build your mosque elsewhere?

    If the government says it – then yes, it absolutely would be.

    Amba, I somewhat agree with you – and I definitely agree with Donna – but I also think there are times where this centrist-style splitting of the baby is just cowardice. One doesn’t have to romanticize Rauf or apologize for double-speak to recognize this. Sometimes you have to stand up for principle.

    Nothing disgusted me more than the ADL’s craven statement on this matter. Jews, of all people, should remember how often this sort of thing has been done to us in the past.

  12. amba12 said,

    Maxwell, I agree Rauf is not the issue in this case. Or, he’s a separate issue — whether he’s really an interfaith-dialogue ally or a two-faced con man has nothing to do with this.

    In fact, I think it’s a shoulda-been nonissue that’s been made into an issue. The thing isn’t even obtrusive enough to be offensive to anyone, if all this opportunistic attention hadn’t gilded it. To be now making a major freedom-of-religion issue out of it is just falling into the Right’s trap, IMO. Also, I have the impression they’re mostly not saying it should be denied or forbidden (that would violate their own defense of private property rights), but that it’s insensitive and should be vocally opposed, until the organizers agree to put it — what — three more blocks away??

    The whole thing is silly. It reminds me of the war over Grenada: much ado over so little.

  13. Michael Reynolds said,

    Rauf is irrelevant. Do we forbid the Catholics from building Cathedrals because their pope enabled child molesters? Do we oppose synagogues because we think Bibi is an asshole? Do we oppose Southern Baptist churches because half their ministers are loons?

    We have certain core values as Americans. Among those is freedom of religion. Period. Freedom of religion. Not freedom of Christian religion, or freedom of Jewish religion, freedom of every religion.

    End of story. If we don’t believe in freedom of religion then just what the fuck are we?

    We are the crazy radical idealists of freedom. We’re the Americans. Jesus Christ, I’m an atheist, I have contempt for all religions, and I still know that we cannot discriminate against religion.

    We’re bigger than this, we’re stronger than this, and we will prevail because we’re fucking RIGHT not because we violate our own principles out of fear.

  14. amba12 said,

    “Jesus Christ, I’m an atheist.” Great line.

    And when you put it that rousingly, I have to agree.

    There is a fascinating fundamental disagreement here about what is courage and what is cowardice. What is defending our civilization and what is betraying it. The views are diametrically, 180 degrees opposed. And in some crazy way they chase each other in a circle, like a snake swallowing its own tail.

    There is the irony of defending an open society by closing it.

    But there is also the irony of being so tolerant you tolerate intolerance.

    Meditate on that pair for a while.

  15. Michael Reynolds said,

    I agree there is danger in tolerating intolerance. That’s why I basically support France’s burqa law and did not condemn Pym Fortuyn.

    But we’re not France or the Netherlands. We’re the United States of America. The essence of our exceptionalism is that we are the freaks of freedom. We’re the world’s largest economy (by far), the world’s most powerful nation (by far) the oldest constitutional system, the country that actually survived a civil war without abandoning its Constitution. We’re John freaking Wayne. We don’t sell our integrity. We shoot the varmints who suggest we should.

    Is this really all it takes to convince Americans to abandon the concept of religious freedom? Are we that weak? It’s a mosque, for God’sake, a bunch of superstitious ninnies praying to a non-existent God — just like every other house of worship on Manhattan. They’re idiots, but they have the right to be idiots. We are big enough and strong enough to absorb the latest round of dumbasses.

  16. Donna B. said,

    Michael – you are 100% right – but while I would vehemently oppose any governmental action to prevent the mosque, I’m also preserving my right to criticize it on the basis of it being too close for comfort. I disagree with Amba that it should be a complete non-issue.

    However, the most stupidest type of comment I’ve read opposing it is along the lines of “when a Catholic can build a cathedral at Mecca, then the ground zero mosque will be OK”.

    Makes me wanna scream and rip the keyboard away from the moron’s limited grasp of reality.

  17. Maxwell James said,

    Also, I have the impression they’re mostly not saying it should be denied or forbidden (that would violate their own defense of private property rights), but that it’s insensitive and should be vocally opposed, until the organizers agree to put it — what — three more blocks away??

    If a bunch of tea partiers or 9/11 widow/ers or Staten Islanders wanted to get out and protest the building of the Cordoba House, this would be true, and you wouldn’t hear a peep from me (It also ignores the fact that anti-mosque sentiment is hardly relegated to this one example).

    But that’s not the case. This issue was clearly brought to the forefront by leaders of one of the two national political parties. Nobody was talking about the Cordoba House until Sarah Palin tweeted it, Newt Gingrich decided to demagogue the “issue” and the rest of the leading Republicans followed suit. Most of these people are or were national office holders, or have transparently indicated that they will be running for such two years from now. They are not just any private citizens in this regard, as as current or prospective government officials I think they have an obligation to respect the first amendment.

    If anything this reminds me of the Schiavo affair. Once again the GOP is attempting to demagogue a matter that is local if not private. The only difference is that this time they’re not in power so they can get away with it.

    Finally, speaking as a NYC native if not resident – I am sick and tired of having all these assholes who are not New Yorkers taking political advantage of a few square blocks in my hometown.

  18. Randy said,

    We’re the United States of America. The essence of our exceptionalism is that we are the freaks of freedom. We’re the world’s largest economy (by far), the world’s most powerful nation (by far) the oldest constitutional system, the country that actually survived a civil war without abandoning its Constitution. We’re John freaking Wayne. We don’t sell our integrity. We shoot the varmints who suggest we should.

    Is this really all it takes to convince Americans to abandon the concept of religious freedom? Are we that weak?

    It appears that the answer is yes. Either that or easily frightened. But then 20% of the American public believe that the President of the United States is a Muslim and an equal or larger number think he wasn’t born in the country.

  19. Randy said,

    …while I would vehemently oppose any governmental action to prevent the mosque, I’m also preserving my right to criticize it on the basis of it being too close for comfort. I disagree with Amba that it should be a complete non-issue.

    While I disagree with you, I definitely agree that you and others have every right to express your opinion.

  20. Randy said,

    …This issue was clearly brought to the forefront by leaders of one of the two national political parties….

    This issue may have only caught your attention after GOP leaders jumped aboard the bandwagon, but the truth of the matter is that it was already well on the way to prominence before any of the major players spoke up.

    ….If anything this reminds me of the Schiavo affair….

    Close enough, for government work, which is what many consider it.

  21. david said,

    Holy crap.

  22. wj said,

    It’s a red-letter day: I find myself agreeing with Michael right down the line thru multiple comments. And how often does that happen???

    I think that there is a (relatively) straightforward approach to trust and dealing with those who routinely lie. Start out giving everyone a modicum of trust. The first couple of times that doesn’t work, still give them the benefit of the doubt to the extent possible. (Could they have misunderstood, been working from misinformation, etc.?) Only when a clear pattern emerges do you stop trusting without verification.

    As for the discussion on the propensity of Muslims to lie deceive in the service of their faith, consider this: Gulen apparently felt it necessary to tell his followers (in writing, yet!) to lie. Which suggests, at least to me, that he did NOT think that they would reflexively do so. In short, someone on the inside had to assume that Muslims would not lie in service of their faith unless specifically urged to do so my their current leader. For comparison, think of it as Limbaugh or Gingrich having to tell his listeners explicitly to lie to liberals in order to advance their cause.

  23. amba12 said,

    Maxwell, did you see the Salon timeline? It was a blogger named Pam Geller (?) who started this, then Palin and Gingrich picked it up and decided to trump it up.

  24. amba12 said,

    I agree with you that this is about politicians manipulating many people’s sincere and naïve (in the single sense of believing the politicians are sincere too) sentiments.

  25. Maxwell James said,

    I actually just read it, after seeing Randy’s comment. Fair enough.

    The bill of rights has always needed watchdogs, especially in the case of unpopular minority groups. Unfortunately, we’ve never been able to rely on the government for that role, nor the good will of the people. One more reason why the Madisonian approach to government is so essential.

  26. amba12 said,

    “We are the freaks of freedom.” That’s a great line, too.

  27. amba12 said,

    That wins the prize for best expression of American exceptionalism I’ve seen in a long while. Maybe I’ll make it a post.

  28. Maxwell James said,

    For another perspective on Rauf.

  29. realpc said,

    “a bunch of superstitious ninnies praying to a non-existent God — just like every other house of worship on Manhattan.”

    I would be interested in knowing how you found out that all Gods are non-existent.

  30. Randy said,

    Anyone interested in hearing and seeing the man himself speak can watch Rauf talking about ego and compassion last year at TED.

  31. GN said,

    “Jesus Christ, I’m an Athiest” So nice to see MR at his simplest

    This really is so simple …

    But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
    -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

    Next door or down the road, it doesn’t matter

  32. William O. B'Livion said,

    “What I mean is that some would find it impossible to believe anything any Muslim ever said, which is excessively paranoid.”

    Is that what you mean, or do you mean:

    “What I mean is that some would find it impossible to TRUST anything any Muslim ever said, which is excessively paranoid.”

  33. amba12 said,

    Yes, I think that’s better, William.

    I mean “believe” in the sense of “take at face value, believe that what is said is what is meant, that there isn’t a hidden agenda.”

  34. William O. B'Livion said,

    Most people, regardless of culture or religion have a lousy track record in that regards, even when their sacred or canonical documents insist on honesty and integrity.

    When a culture’s guiding documentation asserts that lying is perfectly acceptable to one class of people, and I’m in that class of people I think “excessive paranoia” is a little overstated.

    My father tried *really* hard to raise me and my brother to be color blind. To the point where I was in middle school before I realized that I was supposed to recognize someone’s skin color in a different way from their hair and eye color.

    But ignoring cultural inputs is just dumb.

    Islam sucks.

    From the link that Donna sent:

    “Still, the Muslims did “transform” a Christian church, didn’t they? Possibly, but only in a very qualified sense. Most standard histories of Cordoba will note that the Great Mosque is built on the site of the Basilica of St Vincent, Martyr, a Visigothic church that was itself built on the ruins of a Roman pagan temple. And archaeological work has confirmed that the present site of the Mosque did at one time belong to some sort of Christian church. There’s no indication that the present-day structure included any elements from that church, though, and exactly when it was razed and under what circumstances is unclear. ”

    The funny thing is that this person engages in a similar sort of dissembling that they are accusing Newt of.

    We have plenty of evidence, both contemporary and historical that Islam seeks to destroy cultural and religious iconography of it’s rivals. From Blowing Buddhas in Afghanistan to desecrating temples and churches for the last 1400 years.

    And yes, for those of you who want to draw a moral equivalence between a religion that dragged us OUT of the dark ages and one that wants to drag us back, Christians have been guilty of that sort of behavior. Which is why there are more churches in Saudi Arabia than there are Mosques in New York.

    Oh. yeah. Other way around.

  35. William O. B'Livion said,

    “””
    However, the most stupidest type of comment I’ve read opposing it is along the lines of “when a Catholic can build a cathedral at Mecca, then the ground zero mosque will be OK”.

    Makes me wanna scream and rip the keyboard away from the moron’s limited grasp of reality.
    “””

    No, it’s exactly the point. Islam is an incredibly repressive culture at all levels.

    Once it stops being so repressive, once it starts to allow other religions and beliefs.

    Once it starts to allow individuals the choice of joining a religion or no religion at all based on their belief and understanding of the universe, then it ceases to be the threat that it is today.

  36. Randy said,

    No, it’s exactly the point.

    I’ve read that there is a smaller center, similar to this one, that has been operating in a building a few doors down for quite some time. Should that one be removed or just this one not be built?

    At what point do you believe a property ceases being at (or near enough to) the World Trade Center site so that whatever might be built there is not considered an insult, a provocation, or a violation?

  37. amba12 said,

    When a culture’s guiding documentation asserts that lying is perfectly acceptable to one class of people, and I’m in that class of people I think “excessive paranoia” is a little overstated.

    William, it’s just that I doubt that precept is anywhere near the forefront of most Muslims’ minds. The trouble is distinguishing the one here and there who’s latched onto it, like the Times Square would-be bomber.

  38. amba12 said,

    William, I think the problem is that Islam had stagnated. The countries dominated by it were being left behind. There was a time in its history when scholarship and interchange flourished, but it had fallen from those heights without rising again. It never had a sweeping Reformation, maybe because it lacked one central authority to rebel against. One of the most interesting remarks I’ve seen somewhere is that the sort of anarchic structurelessness of the religion has fostered radicalism.

    And now, what’s happened is that the extremists have put Islam back on the map by killing — by digging up and exploiting the worst possibilities of the religion. That was a shortcut to getting attention. (Another thing that fascinates me is that the founder of the Wahhabi sect was influenced by French Existentialism, as was Pol Pot. Won’t take time to find a link just now, maybe later. The mixing in of modern Western leftist ideas is, well, sort of like pouring alcohol into someone with exactly the wrong genetics for it.) The trouble is that destruction is a shortcut to pride. Muslims feel they can’t catch up fast enough any other way, especially when dragged down by oppressive governments. The problem is that the multitudes who might not themselves be haters are getting a surge of pride from this illegitimately won new prominence of Islam.

  39. Donna B. said,

    William O’ – the comment is stupid in my opinion because I don’t think we (meaning our whole big USA culture) should make decisions based on what somebody else does.

    It’s saying “If they’re going to be wrong, I’m going to be wrong too! So there!”

    As for the history behind Cordoba, I think it’s quite likely that it wasn’t intended or perceived at the time to have the meaning that has been assigned to it by modern insensitivities or sensitivities of Muslims or Christians.

  40. chickelit said,

    amba wrote There is a fascinating fundamental disagreement here about what is courage and what is cowardice. What is defending our civilization and what is betraying it. The views are diametrically, 180 degrees opposed. And in some crazy way they chase each other in a circle, like a snake swallowing its own tail.

    @amba I’m assuming that you know the story about Kekulé’s dream–if not, do Google it.

    I saw your tweet with a link to that comment the other night and went to bed thinking about it. Sadly, I had no inspiring dream that night and completely forgot the matter until just now when I thought about how linear unsaturated hydrocarbons are so much more unstable than their cyclic counterparts (the ones which have swallowed their own tails). I got to thinking about the concepts of “aromaticity” and I think I might hatch something new and original down the road on this. Of course the struggle will be to explain it, but thanks for the inspiration!

  41. amba12 said,

    Chickelit — yes, I do know about Kekulé’s dream! I’m happy to have sparked something or other by reminding you of it — I wish you, not sweet, but aromatic dreams!

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