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Ground Zero for Tolerance

Posted on Aug 17, 2010
ground zero
AP / Mark Lennihan

Construction cranes tower above One World Trade Center on Aug. 13 in New York.

Q & A - Live Chat with Robert Scheer

A live Q & A session related to this column took place on August 19, 2010 at 11:00 am PT.

Click here to view the transcript.

By Robert Scheer

Are the Republicans terminally stupid or are they just playing the dangerous fool? In either case, the irrational attack on Muslims everywhere by the GOP’s leadership is not only deeply subversive with regard to the American ideal of religious tolerance but also poses a profound threat to our national security. Nor does it help that some top Democrats like Harry Reid are willing to demean Muslims even as we fight two wars in which victory depends on our ability to convey a respect for their religion.

Just ask Gen. David Petraeus, who is leading the war without end to win the hearts and minds of Muslims in Afghanistan, how helpful it is to the Taliban for American politicians to identify all Muslims with terrorism. Or to the theocratic leaders of Iran who justify their hard line with the insistence that the U.S. is obsessively anti-Muslim.

Demonization of the Muslim religion is what this brouhaha is all about. Talk of the sensitivity of the victims of 9/11, ignoring those who were Muslim, is just camouflage. It is as absurd as it would be to blame all religious Jews for the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, killed by one gunman from a fanatical Jewish fringe group, or to ban the erection of an Orthodox synagogue anywhere near Rabin’s grave. As irrational an act of scapegoating as blaming all ethnic Germans for the acts of Nazis, many of whom claimed to be God-fearing Christians.

Yet that is the logical implication of the comparison that Newt Gingrich made when he likened the proposed erection of a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site to putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum. On his website, Newt goes further in identifying all Muslims with terrorism: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively towards us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.”

Consider the full implication of that call for an international cold war against Islam by the former GOP House speaker. Someone should remind Newt that both Republican and Democratic presidents have regarded Saudi Arabia as an ally in the war against terrorism and toward that end sanctioned the sale of very sophisticated weaponry to the kingdom and the sharing of intelligence with its military. So too with the Muslim-dominated government of Pakistan with which we have been allied for a half-century, not to mention our current Muslim allies in power in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a leader in Congress, Gingrich supported those policies, but now in his zeal to misrepresent President Barack Obama’s perfectly sensible stand that we are not at war with the Muslim world, he abandons not only his record but also any pretense of logic.

But even if one accepts that the Wahhabi version of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia helps fuel violent spinoffs of the Osama bin Laden variety (although bin Laden would be summarily executed in his native land), what does this have to do with a Sufi Muslim community center proposed for lower Manhattan? As the highly regarded religion writer William Dalrymple pointed out in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the group hoping to build the New York center, is a moderate Sufi, and he and his movement’s espousal of universal brotherhood have been a target of violence. The Taliban was so threatened by the Sufi message of universal love that it attacked a Pakistani shrine to the great 17th century Sufi poet-saint Rahman Baba. “I am a lover, and I deal in love,” Dalrymple writes in citing Baba’s revered Sufi verse, which continues, “Sow flowers,/ so your surroundings become a garden./ Don’t sow thorns; for they will prick your feet./ We are all one body./ Whoever tortures another, wounds himself.”

Just the message most relevant to adorn a building near the site of the World Trade Center, leveled by those who sow thorns. But sadly the thorns of religious bigotry are not a monopoly of any one religion or easily resisted by the demagogic politicians who exploit our ignorance of the other. The premise of our constitutional protection of religious diversity is that ignorance is the enemy of freedom. 

Our founders were keenly aware, from the lessons of Europe and the early American colonies, of the dangers posed by false prophets from within their own churches. They knew well from deep personal experience, as is revealed clearly in the writings of Washington and Jefferson, that religious and political liberty was most effectively threatened by the zealotry of one’s own kin. 

Click here to check out Robert Scheer’s new book, “The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.”


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By ardee, August 18, 2010 at 2:06 am Link to this comment

I am posting to note the seeming “surprise” in the comments of Mr. Scheer to the typical demonizing of ones enemies or potential enemies found in that proposed mosque. The way to a voter’s heart these days seems to be in getting the adrenaline and testosterone flowing so that voter won’t notice the bullshit.

As to Harry Reid’s weaknesses, well, he accurately portrays the Democratic Party and its inability to stand up for the good and criticize the evil.

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By Ouroborus, August 18, 2010 at 12:43 am Link to this comment

Provincialism has been a hallmark of U.S. culture;
adding intolerance/ignorance will just further isolate
the U.S..
If only our representatives could see themselves the
way the rest of the world (especially Muslims) see
The third ingredient is a complete lack of integrity:
shifting of positions; whichever way the wind blows.
And it’s an ill wind that blows.

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By fearnotruth, August 17, 2010 at 10:29 pm Link to this comment

The Global War Of Terror was launched in ernest Sept. 11, 2001. There was a failed attempt to do the same 1993 in the same place. Irrefutable evidence confirms that both incidents were classic false-flag provocations. All serious students of history know of similar scores of infamous incidents. Anyone warmongering behind any such incident is either an agent provocateur or a useful fool. The relentless brandishing of this (perhaps the most heinously tragic, false-flag provocation of all time) reconfirms at every turn its purpose and intention. If nothing else, this persistence should illicit a genuinely transparent investigation of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which we’ve never had. The 9/11 Commission was a blatant whitewash of the most egregious sort. Anyone who defends it is too either a rich asset or a useful fool.

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