I had been aware of anti-Islamic beliefs in America for years, but when a favorite author of mine published a novel filled with anti-Islamic themes, I followed-up and found an echo chamber of weak arguments spoken loudly. I believe that it is our responsibility as Americans to speak up for our values, even in hostile environments, so that at least some in the audience may begin to question what they have been told. Perhaps those values come out of my own American Jewish heritage, but they are American values as much as Jewish ones.
In particular, as we get ready to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I find the characterization of the Park51 Muslim Community Center as a Ground Zero Mosque as a particularly inexcusable act. The only role played by American Muslims in Lower Manhattan in the 9/11 terrorist attacks was as victims, and to assign moral culpability to the victims of terrorism is wrong.
I am not an expert, but have spent the past month developing counter-arguments to flaws in the anti-Islamic dogma currently being promulgated. Please use these points to help you speak out. Also, I would appreciate additional arguments, insights or clarifications as you see fit. Also let me caveat that my point is not about relativism or moral equivalence – it is that there are claims about differences between Islam and other religions that are not substantiated by fact.
I have been engaging in on-line debate with those who express anti-Islam beliefs, and after a particularly intense month of discussion, I believe I have found a set of responses that counter the primary assertions that underlie their main arguments why Islam is different and worse than other religions:
1. Muslims are more likely to murder innocent people
2. Islamic Scripture promotes violence
3. Muslims follow their scripture literally to this date
4. Muhammad is an exemplar of expansionist military conquest
5. Muslims are analogous to Nazi’s
6. Muslims treat murderers as heroes
7. Muslims build Mosques on the sites on conquered Churches
8. Other evasive tactics used by anti-Muslim advocates
I will follow with substantiation for three assertions of my own:
1. The anti-Islamist characterization of the Park51 Muslim Community Center as a Ground Zero Mosque runs counter to our fundamental American values
2. The faulty diagnosis of the root cause of violence committed by Muslims leads the anti-Islamists to recommend actions that will strengthen our enemies and harm the interests of the United States
3. The acceptance of these anti-Islamic beliefs provides another example of how far out of the mainstream American conservatives have moved
The case regarding the organization and funding of anti-Islamists has been made by those with far more expertise in this area than me; see http://www.americanprogress.org/...
My own conclusion is that there are many reasons why men commit evil acts. Religion motivates some to kill, so does ideology, and so do politics, ethnic conflict, resource scarcity, conflict over control of territory, and resentment over prior historical conflicts. Sometimes evil men use religion or ideology to justify the killing that they do for a combination of reasons. In the course of refuting some of the anti-Islamic talking points, I will bring up examples from Judaism and Christianity that do not reflect positively on these religions. My intent in these instances is not to disparage all (or any) religions, but instead to show that the logic used by anti-Islamists to disparage Islam can be used to similar effect with examples from other major religions.
Anti-Islamist Claim #1 - Muslims are more likely to murder innocent people
Many of the arguments of the Anti-Islamists are based on throwing around numbers without examining the mathematical underpinnings of their assertions. For example, anti-Islamists often emphasize that 19 Muslims committed the terrorist attacks on 9/11, with the implication is that all Muslims world-wide have some level of culpability for this attack. 9/11 was a horrific act of terrorism, but 19 Muslims is 1 of every 80 million Muslims in the world. In 1995, an American-born Jew named Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Amir said he "acted alone and on orders from God." and that "If not for a Halakhic ruling of din rodef, made against Rabin by a few rabbis I knew about, it would have been very difficult for me to murder." He was 1 of 20 million Jews in the world, as was I, but I don’t remember anyone holding me responsible for Rabin’s assassination.
Argument for the violent nature of Islam is made frequently with reference to a particularly graphic murder, but one website in particular (http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/) is in the business of documenting and quantifying "Islamic Terror Attacks". The website asserts that they exclude non-Islamic Terror attacks, but the substantiation is based on immediate newspaper reports, which may be biased or mistaken (the terrorist actions of Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik were initially attributed by some to Muslims). Mixed in with the suicide bombings are also stabbings in village markets and other murders which may have causes other than Islamic terrorism. The murders described are truly horrific, and several times on-line I was presented with a day-by-day list totaling almost 1400 murders in June-August 2011, which seems to reinforce the point that people who are Muslims are more likely to murder innocents.
Until you do the math. On an annualized basis, the 1400 murders in three months equals 5600 murders/year committed by a population of 1.5 billion Muslims. This shows a murder rate by Muslims of 2.7 murders per 100,000 people. How does that rank? Well, it's a lower murder rate than 35 of the 50 United States (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/...), lower than the average for the United States, and much lower than Lousiana with 11.8 murders per 100,000 people.
To be fair, the list probably does not include all murders by 1.5 billion Muslims. But at the same time, many nations in the Muslim world are currently involved in ongoing military conflict, and so one would expect a higher rate of killing than experienced in the United States. And the 2.7 murders per 100,000 is a low estimate, because some of these murders are of non-Muslims, meaning that the total should be divided by more than 1.5 billion.
Another way to put into context these 1400 murders committed by Muslims over the past 3 months is to compare the total with the 800,000 murders that were committed by people who were Christian in Rwanda over a similar period of time in 1994. It would take the same murder rate depicted on thereligionofpeace.com for 142 years to equal the death toll from 100 days of genocide in Rwanda.
Thereligionofpeace.com plays some other games with numbers. They put in headlines that “More people are killed by Islamists each year than in all 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition combined” The citation provided is a Wikipedia sources that estimates 5000 were killed by the Inquisition in Spain over 350 years, 2,000 of them in 1480-1530 (almost all of Jewish origin). 2,000 seems a small number, until you remember that Spain exiled all their Muslims and all but 40,000 of Jewish origin, so 2,000 is 2.5% of the prime target population. Over 50 years, that’s only 40 murders per year. Case closed, right? Well, if we take 1.5 B Muslims and conservatively estimate 0.5B potential non-Muslim targets, there would need to be 1 million murders per year for 50 years to match the Inquisition. Thereligionofpeace.com quotes numbers for substantiation, but the arguments are usually quantitative strawmen. For example, there have been fewer murders committed by the ~5,000 members of the Klu Klux Klan in the last 50 years than committed by 1.5 billion Muslims every day. It turns out that works even if every Klu Klux member was 16 times more likely to commit a murder every day for 50 years than Muslims are, because 1.5 billion is that much a bigger number than 5,000.
A final point based on the thereligionofpeace.com daily tally of murders committed by Muslims. If you were just going by the odds, and you wanted to avoid being killed by a terrorist over the period from June-August 2011, you would have been safer in the Muslim world than you would have been in Norway, where 77 were killed in a terrorist bombing and shooting.
A different test of the hypothesis that Islam results in more war and killing is to look at major wars over history. If Islam is more likely than other religions to lead to war and killing, we should expect to see Muslims disproportionately involved in wars and mass killings across history. Muslims were not involved in 18 of the 23 wars with the highest death totals (the wars involving Muslims are primarily on the less lethal half of the list, and 1 of the 5 where they were involved is the crusades). Muslims were not the aggressors in 23 of the 29 worst mass killings in history, also where they were involved it was primarily on the lower (less lethal) half of the list. These are all still horrific actions, but there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that Muslims are more likely to initiate such actions than those of other religions.
There are some who argue that murders of one group of Christians against another group of Christians are not like religious conflicts among Muslims (yes, ruling out wars and acts of terrorism that have occurred in conflicts between groups that happen to be Protestants and Catholics). One simple counter-example is provided by the Christians who killed 8000 Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995.
If data refutes the hypothesis that Muslims are more likely to murder/kill, the anti-Islam case evaporates. Therefore, the next position that I have seen anti-Islamists take is that when Christians commit murder, they are not being “true Christians”, but when Muslims commit murder, it is because they are Muslim. And this, the anti-Islamists assert, is because of the fundamental nature of Islam, so we turn next to those arguments.
Anti-Islamist Claim #2 - Islamic Scripture promotes violence
Anti-Islamists assert that the differences between Islam and other religions can be discerned from a close study of Islamic scripture. Typical arguments are as follows:
The word Islam means to obey, or to submit. The Koran is the last testament, never to be abridged or amended by any later prophet or word of God. Islam is, by nature explicitly political as well as theological. There is no such concept as "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's," and thus no such alien concept as a separation of church and state. The Koran is the "handbook" of Islamic life, and all aspects of it are meant to be followed today.Anti-Islamists assert that the disproportionately murderous nature of Islam can be demonstrated by textual analysis of Islamic scripture itself. I myself am unable to read the Koran in Arabic, so I am unable to assess the accuracy of translations such as these:
Muhammad: “Allah said, ‘A prophet must slaughter before collecting captives. A slaughtered enemy is driven from the land. Muhammad, you craved the desires of this world, its goods and the ransom captives would bring. But Allah desires killing them to manifest the religion.'" Ishaq:327
The Day of Resurrection will not arrive until the Moslems make war against the Jews and kill them, and until a Jew hiding behind a rock and tree, and the rock and tree will say: 'Oh Moslem, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!'" – Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.176A contrast is typically drawn by statements about the peaceful nature of Christianity (and by extension other religions, although they went largely uncommented-on). Of course, these statements are cherry-picked, and the Koran also has a few positive comments about Jews, but it is undeniable that there are problematic passages in Muslim scripture.
The counter-arguments start with the assertion that different Sects within a religion can have very different interpretations of the same core scripture (take for example Quakers as compared to the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as the Knights Templar). People can be influenced by the interpretations that grow around the problematic passages in scripture. People can be influenced by the religious language they hear, even if they don’t follow all of the practices. The central story of Christianity includes deicide committed by Jews, and therefore within the many interpretations of Christianity that have evolved there are some that actively promote anti-Semitism. Christian scripture provides support for anti-Semitic interpretations with passages like this in the Book of John, where Jesus says to a group of Jews (Pharisees, the forefathers of Rabbinic Judaism):
“I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father. They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did. ... You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. (John 8:37)”I found a remarkable set of examples of problematic aspects of Christian scripture being appropriated by violent extremists. Imagine holding the author of the following comments to the same standards that the anti-Islamists use with the Koran
“"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."
My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people."Both quotes are from Adolf Hitler, the first from Mein Kampf, the second in a speech on 12 April 1922 (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20, Oxford University Press, 1942). In his actions, Hitler was not a supporter of the Christian Church or Christian institutions, but he grew up in a Christian society. On On two occasions in the 1930’s Hitler himself attended the Oberammergau Passion Play which re-enacted a religious depiction of the last days of Jesus, and which contained many anti-Semitic elements. In terms of the standards of argumentation used by the anti-Islamists we can see a mass murderer assert the religious foundations of his own motivation.
As can be shown, there are passages in Christianity and Jewish scripture that can be interpreted as providing support for extremist violence, across history and even to this day, as I will discuss below. I personally don’t believe that religion is what generally drives people to murder; I believe that murderers sometimes use an interpretation of religion to justify the murders that they are compelled to commit for other reasons.
The most common response of Anti-Islamists is to proclaim that Christianity is a religion of peace, and that interpretations of Christianity to support violence are theologically unsound. They assert that, in contrast, the theology of Islam requires violent acts. As one person put it, “the difference between Judeo-Christian history and Islamic history is that one set of beliefs has a tendency, over time, to ameliorate humanity's baser, violent, oppressive instincts, and Islam has a tendency to encourage them”.
The evidence does not support the idea that it is harder for evil men to use Christianity to justify their evil acts. A post-9/11 example is Congo General Laurent Nkunda, a warlord responsible for killing thousands in the middle of the past decade.
One of the most striking parts of the interview is the religious fervor with which General Nkunda led his troops. Apparently, he is very influenced by the evangelist movement, and as a pastor in the Pentecostal church, he helps to convert and baptize his troops. He proudly sported a pin, “Rebels for Christ.” Before each drink and meal, he and his faithful prayed. “We fight in the name of the Lord,” he told us. “That is what I tell all my troops. When they fight, they have God on their side.”(source: http://twofortheroad.blogs.nytimes.com/...)
When murderers cite their religious faith in this manner, it is a manner of semantics as to whether they are actually killing in the name of their religion, or using their religion to justify their killing. Nevertheless, anti-Islamists do sometimes start arguing that they can discern the motivation possessed by each Muslim who commits a murder to know that it is their religion that drives them, also that they can discern when Christians commit murders and determine that it is not religion that drives them. But the assertion cannot be substantiated. But even without the ability to discern individual motivation, in examining aggregate acts there is no evidence for the proposition that Islam makes men more likely to commit murders. There are problematic passages in the scripture of many religions and murderous men take advantage of them. The core doctrine of Christianity that is asserted to promote peaceful behavior does not appear to have that effect in practice; if it did, we would not see similar levels of violence committed by those of different religions.
Anti-Islamist Claim #3 – Unlike Christians or Jews, Muslims follow their scripture literally to this date
Sometimes Anti-Islamists argue that while there may be problematic passages in Christian and Jewish scripture, Muslims take their scripture literally while Jews and Christians do not. The assertion is made that the references in Christian and Jewish scripture are to historical events many thousands of years ago that are not treated as binding by modern Christians and Jews. Among practitioners of Orthodox Judaism, all aspects of Torah are meant to be followed today except for those mitzvot (or commandments) which are only possible in the Temple in Jerusalem. Anti-Islamist Anthony McCarthy wrote recently how Muslim plans for conquering the West can be seen in the behavior in enclaves in Malmo, Sweden, where fundamentalist Muslims throw stones at civil authorities for violating religious laws http://www.nationalreview.com/.... These actions are wrong, but it is not only fundamentalist Muslims who engage in such tactics, as can be seen in enclaves of other religions such as the neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem.
For obvious historical reasons, Christian scripture does not refer to Muslims, and Jewish scripture also does not refer to Christians. But that does not stop extremist groups from seizing on the text of scripture to validate their murderous intent with reference to modern targets
"2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." (1 Sam. 15:2-3).The extremist Jewish movement known Gush Emunim was cited in Danny Ribinstein’s book On the Lord's Side as asserting “In every generation there is an Amalek. The Amalekism of our generation finds expression in the deep Arab hatred towards our national revival …”, and other examples of using Amalek as shorthand for a current envisioned enemy are found to this date (for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/... , http://www.counterpunch.org/... )
Anti-Islamist Claim #4 - Muhammad is an exemplar of expansionist military conquest
A variant of the argument that Christianity is a religion of peace comes down to describing the lives of the founders of Christianity and Islam. Jesus is described as a long-suffering, forgiving martyr who preached loving one's enemy, whereas Muhammad is described as a military commander who ordered the killing of thousands in his wars of territorial expansion. Of course, Moses was also a military commander who ordered the killing of thousands in his wars of territorial expansion. I have not yet gotten a coherent rebuttal to this argument.
Anti-Islamist Claim #5 - Muslims are analogous to Nazis
Many political arguments in modern history wander to a comparison with Hitler and the Nazi’s (the Hitler quotes in an earlier section were in response to tracking down some of the assertions made by anti-Islamists). The defining attributes of the Nazi analogy in argumentation are an evil ideology that is focused on waging violent wars, controls its followers and hides its true intent until it attacks by surprise. The argument about evil ideology rests on the anti-Islamists interpretation of Muslim scripture, and their denial of the problematic passages in non-Islamic scripture. The fear of surprise attack represents a flawed historical analogy. The Nazi’s came to power in 1932 and invaded Poland seven years later. In contrast, there’s almost 1500 years of history by which to measure Islamic behavior, and so we return to the first point of the counter-argument: if Muslims have not demonstrated that they are more prone to killing and wars in the past 15 centuries years than non-Muslims, there is no reason to believe that 2012 will be 1939. And if Muslims as a group or as individuals are no more likely to commit violent murder, then Muslims should not have culpability for killing performed by other Muslims and more than Christians or Jews are held accountable for the killing performed by others who claim to share the same religion.
Another argument is that there was a lot of support for Hitler among Arabs in what is now Israel. That’s true. However, there was a lot of support for Hitler among people in Japan and Italy, but that does not make those of Japanese or Italian descent responsible for what Hitler did.
Anti-Islamist Claim #6 - Muslims treat murderers as heroes
It is a sad truth that Muslims who commit violent, extremist murders are sometimes hailed by some as heroes. But this practice is not limited to Muslims:
Nathan Bedford Forrest stands as the paramount hero in the Tennessee landscape. He gets a bust in the state capital, a statue in Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis, obelisks at his birthplace in Chapel Hill and at Nathan Bedford Forest State Park near Camden, and thirty-two different state historical markers, far more than any other person in any other state in America. (Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, James W. Loewen, p.237)What did Nathan Bedford Forrest do to be hailed as such a hero? He founded the Klu Klux Klan. Earlier, as a Civil War General he was responsible for the massacre of hundreds of (primarily African American) Union soldiers following their surrender at Fort Pillow. We may disagree with the honoring of this extremist murderer, but the existence of the monuments should not affect who we treat people from Tennessee.
Anti-Islamist Claim #7 - Muslims build Mosques on the sites on conquered Churches
This is historically true, but also a product of historical sequence. Jews came first, then Christians, and then Muslims. The Jews built their first religious buildings on the shrines of the Canaanites, and early Christian churches were built on the sites of Roman and other pagan shrines. Similarly, when Muslims conquered lands, they built their mosques on sites considered holy to those who came before them. The assertion of anti-Islamists is that Muslim construction of religious buildings has a more explicitly political meaning than similar construction performed by non-Muslims.
Because the Muslim invasions occurred last in the historical sequence, there are far fewer examples of the behavior exhibited by Christians after conquest of Muslim territory than the reverse. And we must be careful to define how conquest is defined. In the last few centuries where Western Christian nations took some level of political control over Muslim nations, the colonialist form of conquest was different from the previous 1000+ years, with generally a small cadre of rulers controlling a much larger population into which they did not assimilate. Going back before the 18th century, most of the historical conquests were by Muslims over Christians, and consequently Muslim conquerors make a disproportionate share of recorded quotations regarding construction of religious building on the sites of buildings consecrated to other religions.
The best example of a Christian conquest of lands that had been under Muslim rule is the Christian conquests of Iberia. If Muslims had a unique antipathy to religious buildings of other faiths, we should expect to see different behavior than in the anti-Islamists accusations. Instead, we see a typical pattern – the Great Mosque in Córdoba is reconstituted as a Christian church, just as the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople was reconsecrated as a mosque. After the Christian conquest of Iberia in 1492, the last of the other hundreds of medieval mosques in Spain were destroyed.
The example of the Kingdom founded by Ferdinand and Isabella provides evidence against the assertions that Christianity promotes more tolerance or less violence than Islam. In 1492, both the Muslims and the Jews were expelled from Iberia. A test of tolerance is provided by the example of these Spanish Jews. At that when England was still under Edicts from 1290 forbidding Jews to enter (Edicts which stood in place until the late 17th Century), the Muslim Ottoman Empire actively encouraged the Jews to migrate there. The Spanish Inquisition emerged and began to impose its particular brand of government-sanctioned religious extremism.
Other evasive tactics employed by anti-Muslim advocates
The format of on-line debate enables your opponent to ignore your strongest points and focus on a weaker point or a subsidiary issue. A frequently-used escape technique is to change the subject to debate process or language rather than the substance of the matter. For example, the use of term “Islamophobia” in a subsidiary source can lead to a long excursion asserting that liberals think that anyone who disagrees with them has mental problems as suggested by the use of a word with psychological ramifications. This technique can be used even by conservatives who have levied similar insults at you – the goal is distraction, and finger-pointing about debate achieves that goal. My recommendation is to avoid language that provides such cover, however ill-founded. There are plenty of plain words that can be used to document why your opposition is making claims that are unsubstantiated by data or not logically sound.
Another argument that gets thrown up is that the anti-Muslim advocates have heard all of your counter-arguments before. I spent a fair amount of time going through secondary links before I recognized this for the tactic it was. The appropriate response is to raise a specific question (“Please substantiate your assertion that Muslim countries have committed more violent murders and killings than non-Muslim countries”), and if told that the answer is somewhere else, ask for a precise reference location or a three sentence summary.
The anti-Islamist characterization of the Park51 Muslim Community Center as a Ground Zero Mosque runs counter to our fundamental American values
Since the assertions of the anti-Islamists are invalid, and the only role played by American Muslims in Lower Manhattan in the 9/11 terrorist attacks was as victims, characterizations the Park51 Muslim Community Center as a Ground Zero Mosque run counter to fundamental American values. The arguments and evidence above have refuted the assertion that Islam disproportionately promotes violent murder and killing. When we apply to Christianity or Judaism the same criteria used by anti-Islamists, we can similarly show links between those religions and violent extremism. Without a reasoned argument for anti-Islamism, we are left with xenophobia, the "hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture".
As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks, as one anti-Islamist blogger wrote, we will stand together “in solidarity with the families who lost precious sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, wives and husbands on that day and in the years that followed and those whose loved ones are risking their lives in faraway lands today”. I agree with every word of that. But at the same time, the public events on the anniversary will inevitably be an expression of our national values, both in terms of what is said and what is left unmentioned.
There is no aspect of Islam that justifies inferior status for American Muslims. In particular it is egregiously wrong to treat the American Muslim community that lives in Lower Manhattan and suffered losses on 9/11 as being closer to the terrorists than as being victims. The anti-Islamists have asserted that because of their religion American Muslims in Lower Manhattan have some culpability for the 9/11 attacks that puts moral restrictions on building a religious community center.
I am an American and a Jew, and first and foremost I have solidarity with other Americans. As we express our most cherished American values this week-end, it is important to take a stand on behalf of Americans and American values. I am not at all an expert on Islam. I stumbled onto this topic when I read a book by one of my favorite science fiction authors that was filled with virulent anti-Islamism, among other things (Flashback, by Dan Simmons). I followed it back to a website forum where I found much of the flawed argumentation I have discussed here. For all that I disagree fiercely with what they wrote, the people there are also (mostly) fellow Americans. They, too, are not a malevolent mob - they are generally intelligent even if prone to insults, and their questions enabled me to write this set of responses. I may not be able to convince all of them, but I have faith that I can persuade some. It is our responsibility as Americans to speak up for our values, even in hostile environments, so that at least some in the audience may begin to question what they have been told.
The anti-Islamists’ mis-diagnosis of the root cause of violence committed by Muslims leads them to actions that will strengthen our enemies and harm the interests of the United States
The mis-diagnosis of the root cause of violent extremism has profound implications for the West's ability to defeat our actual enemies. For example, interacting with Iran by focusing on President Ahmadinejad and his extreme statements, and issuing threats in response, might be an effective strategy if Iran truly were a monolithic enemy. However, as Iran has both extremist and more secular elements, then American focus on Ahmadinejad and making threats just serves to under-cut the opposition and reinforce the political power of the most extreme elements in that society. The Obama Administration approach of speaking directly to the Iranian people but not getting deeply involved in their civil conflict left the extremist elements there without a familiar American enemy to use for rallying support (they tried using the British as the external enemy, but with only limited success). The net result is a weakening of credibility for the extremist leadership, which forces Iran to shift effort towards internal affairs.
Similarly, since the diagnosis of the threat of violent extremism as coming intrinsically from Islam is wrong , then by labeling all Muslims as following a religion more prone to extremist violence aids the extremists by reinforcing their internal political position. And this support for the position of violent extremists can even come from language that treats American Muslims in Lower Manhattan not as Americans first, but instead as somehow complicit with the terrorists for the 9/11 attacks because of their religion.
American conservatives have moved far out of the mainstream
It’s not often that I go to the words of President George W. Bush, but they provide an illustration of just how extreme and divisive one school of American conservatism has become. Look at the following set of quotations, and consider that his position is absolutely unacceptable to the anti-Islamists currently inhabiting much of the Republican Party and the conservative pundit class
"The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them."
President George W. Bush's Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People
United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.
September 20, 2001
"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."I finish with President Bush because this issue is more than political. Sure, I believe that the timing of the manufactured Ground Zero Mosque controversy was politically motivated to influence the mid-term elections. And the continued anti-Islam efforts appear to be funded by special interests that have been pushing for a conservative agenda for decades. But those are topics for a different diary. The attacks on American Muslims, particularly on the community of Lower Manhattan, represent a fundamental wrong that has been committed against our fellow citizens, and in their defense, and in defense of core American values, let's take all those who choose to stand beside us.
Remarks by the President at Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.