Here’s an interesting post from Volokh Conspiracy, taking a serious look at the various arguments being raised against the construction of 51Park, the erstwhile ‘Cordoba Center’.
The ongoing debate over the “Ground Zero Mosque” has generated lots of commentary. But I fear that much of it conflates three separate issues: whether the government should use its power to block the construction of the mosque, whether the construction of any Islamic facility near Ground Zero is objectionable, and whether this particular organization is problematic because of the views of its leader. As I see it, the government should not suppress the mosque, and I see nothing wrong with building an Islamic facility near Ground Zero. But objections based on the dubious record of Cordoba Project leader Feisal Abdul Rauf are not so easily dismissed. There are many weak, foolish, and even bigoted anti-mosque arguments out there. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good ones.
Somin identifies and discusses three principle arguments:
I. The Role of Government.
II. Objections to the Presence of any Islamic Center.
III. Objections to this Particular Center.
I find his discussion to be generally apt, though I’m not quite sold on his parsings of statements by Imam Rauf. Refreshingly, comments to the post are not (yet) infected by the crazies. Others, for instance, do push back on his interpretation of Rauf’s intentions and speech. Definitely worth reading, comments too.
Asharq Alawsat runs a couple of pieces today that look at the 51Park cultural center and its main promoter, Imam Feisal Abul Rauf.
The first is an op-ed by Adel Al Toraifi, current Editor-in-Chief of Al-Majalla magazine. He takes a look at the dispute over the center through the eyes of Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th C. French diplomat who wrote an important work analyzing American culture and society. Al Toraifi correctly notes that the US Constitution, through its Bill of Rights, seeks to put limits on ‘the tyranny of the majority’, i.e. mob rule, in order to protect the rights of minorities and individuals. He also notes that in times of tension—today’s economic crises fit the bill—Americans have strayed from the ideals put forth in the Constitution. They do, he concludes, come back from the extremes.
I do disagree with him, however, about whether the US is ‘suffering from a case of Islamophobia.’ The disease may not have reached every corner of the body politic, but the infection does exist and it is purulent. As I pointed out in an earlier post, it is not just the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ that is being questioned.
Tocqueville…and the Ground Zero Mosque Crisis
Adel Al Toraifi
In his historically important book “Democracy in America” (1838) Alexis de Tocqueville writes that “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.” This description put forward by the French diplomat brings to mind the escalation in the dispute in the US over the issue of building an Islamic community center and mosque close to the site where the World Trade Center collapsed in New York. In just a few weeks, the mosque issue has become a major public opinion issue in which everybody has had their say – including the US President – whether in favor of or against. However the issue has taken a negative turn both inside and outside of America due to the approach of the US mid-term elections, with the issue now being portrayed as a debate over America’s position towards Islam. This issue would not have reached this level of controversy if this project was scheduled to be built on any other street in New York or in any other US city; so is the US truly suffering from a case of Islamophobia?
Asharq Alawsat also runs an article from the Associated Press that gives an overview of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. The article notes the controversy over him, over the questions of how 51Park will be funded, and arguments made, in good faith or bad, about him.
I’m not a big fan of Lex Talionis, an-eye-for-an-eye, and thus would not make a very good Saudi. The Saudi legal system falls back on that form of retributive justice more than I care for. In the case of the Sri Lankan maid who returned from her job in Riyadh with at least 19 nails embedded in her body, allegedly put there by her Saudi employers, I might make an exception.
Lankan officials seek justice for maid in nails & needles case
MOHAMMED RASOOLDEEN, ARAB NEWS
RIYADH: Sri Lankan officials strongly urged authorities in Saudi Arabia on Friday to investigate and bring to justice the persons responsible for torturing L.T. Ariyawathi, a 49-year-old Sri Lankan housemaid by heating up nails and needles and pushing them into her legs, arms, hands and forehead.
The maid said the Saudi couple she worked for in a Riyadh household committed the crime as a form of punishment. The couple has not been identified and Saudi officials were not available for comment on Friday.
Lankan Justice Ministry sources told Arab News on Friday that legal counsel would be provided to the maid to file a case in Saudi Arabia over the incident.
“The Bureau (of Foreign Employment) will make all arrangements to take her to Saudi Arabia to testify,” said L.K. Ruhunuge of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment.
I do not think this behavior typical of Saudis or Saudi employers of domestic workers: this act is singularly depraved. But the Saudi system for employing foreign domestic workers does not do nearly enough to protect those workers. Other aspects of Saudi society—primarily, privacy within one’s own home, but also a disdain for foreigners, women, and non-Muslims—make the situation worse. With this worker now back in Sri Lanka, conducting a full investigation into the case will be difficult and will rely on the good will of Saudi authorities. I truly do hope they step up. It’s not just the employer(s) who are shamed by this crime, but the whole of Saudi society. It’s seen internationally as ‘just another example of Saudi brutality’.
Several commenters has stated that while the Park51 people have full legal rights to build their center where they propose, it is not wise to do so. Because building it as planned would offend the sensibilities of many, perhaps a majority of Americans, they should forgo exercising their right in order to better achieve harmony.
That was pretty much my thought before the center became a blazing political issue: Yes, the rights exist, but they need not be put into play as many could be expected to object.
As I later said, though, I believe the situation changed with its politization and backing away from building the center would be to say something which the builders do not want to say. It would, in effect, accept the premise that there’s something so noxious with Islam that it desecrates the memory of 9/11. I really don’t see many Muslims willing to say, “Yep, you’re right. Islam is the problem and an Islamic center certainly doesn’t belong here.”
Had the issue remained simply a matter of local politics, then it would have been relatively easy and relatively painless for the builders to simply back out. The issue is no longer local, however, and the problems disclosed by the controversy are not local.
As this article from The Washington Post points out, objections to building Islamic centers or mosques are not limited to geographic areas which attract heightened sensitivities. The article discusses the rhetoric flying around a plan to build a mosque in Murfreeboro, Tennessee. Now certainly, some do hold Murfreesboro ‘sacred’. It was the scene of a brutal battle in the American Civil War, in 1862. But as that battle ha nothing to do with Islam or Muslims, its ‘sanctity’ has nothing to do with the current uproar. Instead, what we see is blatant anti-Islamic bias.
Jump over to Riverside County, CA and we find another exercise in anti-Islamic bigotry. Those protesting the building of a mosque in Temecula are not dissembling, but make very clear that they argue purely on religious and political grounds.
Together, I think these protests—while certainly protected by the US 1st Amendment as free speech—are being carried out in such a way as to make it unmistakable that the issue is pure religious prejudice. Religious prejudice, I believe, should be fought always and constantly.
The issue of Park51, though, isn’t just a battle of words and feelings. There are those, still, who seek to use the power of the state to prevent the center’s being built.
Eugene Volokh Ilya Somin, at Volokh Conspiracy law blog, points to efforts to use the state power of ‘eminent domain’ to seize the property and put it to a ‘better use’. He notes that this is unlikely to happen because it would be soon apparent that whatever reasons the state gave would be pretextual, merely trying to hide the anti-Muslim bias of those seeking to stop the center. [Attribution for the post at Volokh Conspiracy was mistaken. It's now fixed.]
UPDATE: On the matter of sensitivities, here’s an Associated Press piece of interest: 9/11 families, others rally in favor of NYC mosque
In looking at the issue of Cordoba Center at 51 Park Place in New York, people astutely note that freedom of religion is clashing with freedom of speech. While the group seeking to build the center is assured its religious freedom to do so, critics are equally assured their freedom to criticize their decision to do so. That’s exactly right.
There’s no foul, no oppression, no violation of any freedom when citizens criticize an act, rightly or wrongly. Freedom of Speech practically requires that someone else will be offended. After all, if everyone believed the same things, then such a freedom would not be needed. Offenses to the concept of free speech come only when government acts or is enlisted to act against speech and those who make it.
Freedom of Religion is similar. The right itself and the laws to protect it would not be needed if everyone prayed in the same way to the same god or gods. Again, the right is offended only when government acts or is enlisted to act against or prejudicially in favor of a religion.
No government has acted in any way to violate the rights of the sponsors of Cordoba Center. Instead, government has acted in a way to show no preference of a religion nor animus toward a religion. Nor has government sought to suppress speech against Cordoba Center. There has been no censorship, there has been no favoritism. President Obama correctly and legally supported the rights of the center’s sponsors to build on land for which they held the property rights to build.
President Obama also criticized—obliquely—their decision to build an Islamic center at that particular location. That’s fine. It’s not censorship, it’s not offensive to their religious beliefs. No one is shielded against criticism, only against governmental coercion.
Many Americans believe it was a bad decision to seek to build the Cordoba Center in that particular location, close to 70% of Americans, in fact. Most of the objections seem to me to be wrong-headed, but not malicious. Many seem to believe they have some sort of ownership right to the idea of tragedy of 9/11. Some families of those killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers claim and are granted some sort of moral ownership of the site of their loved ones’ deaths. Some of them are offended by the thought of building an Islamic center near that site. They find it ‘insensitive’ at best. This argument is undercut by the support by some other 9/11 families to have the center built. With both groups holding equal claim to the moral high ground from which to speak, I fail to find any persuasive argument in either direction. Neither side has the higher moral ground.
One side, however, does have a stronger claim to legitimacy, legitimacy based on the logical strength of their argument. The other side’s argument rests on logical fallacy as well as a great deal of incoherent feelings, not based on fact but instead on innuendo and often conspiratorial thinking.
As I said earlier, criticizing the group wanting to build the Cordoba Center at that site is constitutionally protected. What is not protected, what offends the Constitution, is the effort of find some way to force government to stop the center’s construction.
The logical flaws in the arguments against the center are several: Ad Hominem, Appeal to Belief, Appeal to Emotion, Appeal to Fear, Appeal to Spite, Compostion, the Genetic Fallacy, Poisoning the Well, Personal Attack, the Slippery Slope, and perhaps most pernicious, the Two Wrongs Make a Right argument. Most of the arguments against the center do not confine themselves to just one logical error, they combine many of them. I’ve get to come across a situation where compounded errors result in a correct response.
As I’ve said, I don’t think most people making fallacious arguments are doing it out of spite or in bad faith. I believe they are just not thinking clearly and are letting their emotions rule. There’s certainly a role for emotions in life, but the formulation of public policy is not one of them.
I keep hearing that “Moderate Muslims aren’t speaking out against extremists”. Many take a further, utterly illogical step to conclude, “That must mean the moderates support extremism.”
Just to help those whose ability to use an Internet search engine is hampered, here’re a few places to look and listen:
American Muslims Make Video to Rebut Militants
Laurie Goodstein, NY Times
A recent spate of arrests of Muslims accused of terrorism in the United States has revealed that many of them were radicalized by militant preaching they found on the Internet.
Now nine influential American Muslim scholars have come together in a YouTube video to repudiate the militants’ message. The nine represent a diversity of theological schools within Islam, and several of them have large followings among American Muslim youths.
If that’s too American-Muslim-centric, then take a look at this page of linked quotes, via Mujahiba blog.
The issue of the building of an Islamic center at 51 Park Place, two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has gone beyond controversial. It has, in my opinion, spiraled dangerously into a whirlpool of intolerance, ignorance, ill-will, and in some quarters, out-and-out, bigoted Islamophobia.
The decision by the real estate investment firm Soho Properties to build a center there seems to have been made in good faith. According to the company’s CEO, Sharif Al- Gamal:
Our hope is that by helping to revitalize downtown New York, this project will demonstrate to all Americans and to the rest of the world that the American Muslim community rejects the violence perpetrated on September 11 and wants to be a part of the healing and rebuilding process…
That decision may have been ill-considered, though. A lot of people have an emotional attachment to the World Trade Center and what happened there some nine years ago. As it is an emotional attachment, it is not necessarily a rational attachment. Dealing with the issues, dealing with history rationally can often be at odds with how people feel and behave.
The result of the controversy is the greatest rupture in American politics since the candidacy of John F Kennedy to become President, back in 1960. Then, there were those who were certain that were Kennedy to be elected, the US government would take its orders from the Pope in the Vatican. As it turned out, Kennedy was elected, but the secular nature of the US continued unabated.
Arguments against building the center and its encorporated mosque are held by some 68% of the American population, according to several polls. Reasons range from ‘sensitivity’ to fear of ‘the new Caliphate’. I think the reasons proffered, while many are heart-felt, are missing the point. In missing the point, Americans are feeding the dreams of Islamic extremists and spreading fear among Islamic moderates.
The facts are that building this center is supported both by American Constitutional law—both the 1st Amendment dealing with religious freedom and the 5th, dealing with private property rights. The would-be builders went through all the proper channels to receive zoning approval for its intended use. In sum, there are no legal barriers to its construction.
Matters covered by the Constitution are not open to interpretation by popular votes. The Constitution may be amended by popular vote, but it does not flex in the winds of popular opinion—or mob preferences.
Initially, I thought the decision to build the Cordoba Center at this location wasn’t the smartest choice. I pretty much still think that: Mr. Al-Gamal’s aspirations notwithstanding, he and his advisors just might have realized that this would be a very sensitive decision. Having the right to do something does not require that one do that thing, however. This is the same argument I’ve made about the ‘Mohammed Cartoons’.
The backlash over the proposed project, however, has changed my mind. Much of that backlash argues that Al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11, is synonymous with the totality of Muslims. That is utterly false.
If the builders now simply say, ‘Ok, bad decision’ and cancel their plans, they are accepting that false equation as true. That is not good for Islam, nor is it good for Muslims, American or otherwise.
It is yet possible that this center will not be built. The organizers do not have funding for it, currently, at least not enough. Their plan has caused so much anti-Muslim animus that potential donors may very well think it a bad investment or even a bad charitable donation.
Too, the State or City of New York could come up with an offer of other property that would be too good to refuse. I can’t think offhand what that might be—Seven floors of the Empire State Building? Ten acres of Central Park?—but it’s not impossible. Accepting such an offer would certainly provide adequate excuse for changing plans.
I am deeply dismayed that so much politics is being played with this issue and that the result is increased feelings of hostility toward Islam and Muslims. American Muslims, who would be the primary users of this center, did not fly those planes on 9/11. I fail to see how they should be blamed or forced to suffer unfair consequences.
The most distressing fact coming from this is that the new intolerance is coming from both Republican and Democratic parties and candidates. Arguments against the center, for example, have come from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed, a Democrat. As a member of a religious minority (Mormons) that has, in its history, suffered from popular and governmental intolerance, one would think he’d know better. A member of a different minority—Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who is Jewish and who just happens to represent this part of New York City—on the other hand, calls for the center to be built.
President Obama has not helped to clarify the issues at stake. While he made a strong statement of support one night—at an Iftar—the next day he ‘clarified’ by backing off that support.
A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail from the Republican Party in the county in which I live. The e-mail asked that I take part in a poll about whether or not the center should be built. I did not. Instead, I contacted the Party and told them that they should be ashamed to even ask the question. The point was to incite anger at Muslims and no American political party should be doing that, whether or not it gave them some advantage in upcoming elections.
I’m deeply unhappy to find that writers and friends whom I had respected have shown themselves to be simply insane on this issue. Balderdash about ‘sacred ground’ (there are already bars and strip joints equally distant from ‘Ground Zero’) or ‘sensitivity toward those who died’ (Some 9/11 families support the center; some don’t) or the sheer lunacy of ‘giving into Islamic triumphalism’ is truly depressing.
There were times in my career as a Foreign Service Officer, representing my country and its policies, where I was not thrilled with particular policies, but nevertheless had to find ways to make them understandable, if not palatable. This, though, is a far more difficult challenge. Too many Americans seem to have forgotten what this country and its constitution are about. That is depressing.
The Washington Post reports that Operation Iraqi Freedom, the battle front that opened in 2003, has now ended. The last combat troops have left Iraq, leaving behind some 50,000 troops who will serve primarily as trainers for Iraqi forces. They also leave behind, of course, a country that is vastly different from the Iraq of 2003. How well that country fares will be in the hands of Iraqi citizens who still have quite a ways to go in resolving their internal differences.
Lt. Col. Mark Bieger huddled his infantrymen in a darkened parking lot minutes before they were to depart Baghdad for the last time.
“This is a historic mission!” he bellowed, struggling to be heard over the zoom of fighter jets and unmanned drones deployed to watch over the brigade’s convoy to Kuwait. “A truly historic end to seven years of war.”
The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country, fulfilling the Obama administration’s pledge to end the U.S. combat mission by the end of August. About 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, mainly as a training force.
“Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!” exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.
“Hooah!” the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.
Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.
It’s Ramadan, so it must be time for another ‘Tash Ma Tash’ controversy! Arab News reports…
This time around, the target is polygamy. The writers turn it around to a matter of polyandry, though, and that’s got some people hot under the collar. Rather than seeing it as a social critique, the humor-impaired see it as an attack on religion. It’s hardly that… Islam, after all, doesn’t require that a man have four wives. It only permits it. The choice to have multiple wives is a personal and somewhat-social matter. But it certainly has an effect on the supernumerary wives. And that is exactly the point this popular TV show was making.
Tash Ma Tash again stirs controversy
JEDDAH: A controversial episode from a satirical Saudi television show was finally aired on Saturday, despite coming under fire from scholars and viewers.
The “Multiple Husbands” episode, the fourth to be shown on the 17th series of Tash Ma Tash, revolves around a woman with four husbands who wants to divorce one so she can marry for the fifth time.
It is based on Saudi columnist Nadine Al-Bidair’s article “My Four Husbands and I,” published last December in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri Al-Youm. The column created a major Islamic debate and received massive criticism.
In the episode, the woman marries her second husband because the first stops caring about his looks after five years of marriage as well as being too busy with work.
The woman marries the third husband as part of a dare with her friends. She then weds the fourth because he is Syrian and by that point she is bored with Saudi men.
She tells her husbands that she wants a fifth because she wants to feel young again, but adds that she needs to divorce one of them first in order to achieve this.
After the men draw lots, she divorces the husband who draws the short straw.
I’m truly sorry to read of the passing of Ghazi Al-Gosaibi. Not only did I know and like him, but he represented the sort of government official who is in far too short a supply in Saudi Arabia. His love for his country and for his fellow Saudis was amply demonstrated by the regulations he sought to create to bring more Saudi women into the workplace, to control the explosive growth of expatriate labor, to reduce the unemployment problem that desperately needs a solution.
This piece from Arab News notes that beyond being a bureaucrat and diplomat, Al-Gosaibi was also a noted poet and novelist. His poetry sometimes got him in trouble—at home and abroad—due to its pointed nature. For a while, he was in semi-exile in Bahrain (as Ambassador) because he’d offended the government. His writings, in fact, were largely banned in the Kingdom until last month, according to the London Times’ obituary.
Ghazi Al-Gosaibi was one who did not suffer idiots. I’m sure he’s gone to a place where idiots are in short supply.
Al-Gosaibi’s passing leaves a literary void
Siraj Wahab — Arab News
He was a creative icon, cultural ambassador and great administrator, all rolled into one
ALKHOBAR: Labor Minister Ghazi Al-Gosaibi, known for his poetic talents, died Sunday at 70, the Royal Court announced. He died at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh following a prolonged illness. He was buried Sunday evening after funeral prayers at Riyadh’s Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque.
“Al-Gosaibi was a prominent government official who served the country sincerely with dedication. He had held several important positions and the last position was the minister of labor,” the Royal Court said.
Acting Riyadh Gov. Prince Sattam attended the prayers along with a large number of citizens and expatriates, many of whom recalled with fondness the impact the minister made on so many lives and his efforts to promote the employment of Saudis in all levels of employment. The minister was well-known for maintaining high spirits even when addressing heady issues.
The Saudi government has finally cracked down on the willy-nilly issuance of fatawa by anyone with a college degree in Islam and access to the media, Financial Times reports. In banning the issuance of fatawas by any other than officially certified scholars, this step will definitely reduce the number of crazy judgments and statements (like the one telling people that they should breast feed, thus establishing a maternal relationship, in order to get around bans on mixing the sexes!). But there’s a cost involved, too.
If only state-sponsored clerics can issue a fatwa, then it’s not unreasonable to expect that only the fatawas that support the state will be issued. That puts honorable and reasonable fatawas out of bounds if they contradict state policy. Good for having the government run smoothly, but not necessarily good for those who lack close, official ties to government. Certain groups within Saudi Arabia—i.e., Shi’ites—still suffer from government disfavor. Unless Shi’a clerics are brought into the official fold, they are going to be deprived of a legitimate part of their religious practice.
A Saudi royal order limiting the number of religious rulings – or fatwas – is an attempt to bring order to what has become a chaotic field with the advent of satellite television and the internet, analysts say.
King Abdullah’s decree this week banned anyone other than Islamic scholars appointed by him from issuing public religious rulings.
“We have noticed some excesses that we cannot tolerate, and it is our legal duty to stand up to these with strength and resolve to preserve religion,” said the Saudi ruler in his order, which was addressed to the kingdom’s Grand Mufti – the most senior official pronouncing on religious matters.
… men of religion, some of whom are accused of having furnished the ideological underpinnings al Qaeda, have been on the defensive since 2001 when the state turned away from them after the shock of the September 11 attacks carried out by Saudi nationals.
King Abdullah has tried curtail some of the powers of conservatives and he has taken cautious steps to improve the situation of women and the Shia religious minority.
My recovery was much slower than I’d hoped, but I think I’m there now. Today, I’ll restart regular posting. The volume may still be on the light side for a bit, but it’ll be there.
Thank you, both for your good wishes and your patience.