Friday, August 20, 2010

Islam and America in the 21st Century: "Die Stunde der Demagogen" and the Ground Zero Mosque Debate

"Bataille de Poitiers en Octobre 732" by Carl von Steuben depicting Charles Martel (mounted) facing Abduhl Rahman al Ghafiqi (right) at the Battle of Poitiers (aka The Battle of Tours)

The Battle of Poitiers (CE 732) Reloaded for CE 2010
"God’s Warriors" and spineless politicians raise their swords against the invading Muslim hordes in Lower Manhattan

Author’s Note for Act I:  "I wade exhausted into the fetid swamp of American politics, xenophobia, and religious fear-mongering yet again with sword in hand to battle demons and heretics…"

There is a raging debate taking place in the United States over the construction of a new Islamic community center near the sight of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. It is a planned $100 million dollar building project that before the events of “9/11” would have attracted little attention in New York let alone throughout the whole of the U.S.A. and abroad.

After all, Muslims have been practicing their faith freely in America since the late 1700’s. African Muslim slaves taken to the American colonies in the early 1600’s practiced their faith in secret for fear of severe punishment, and the first known mosques to be erected in the United States were built in Maine, New York, North Dakota, and Iowa in the early 1900’s. Thomas Jefferson, our third president and one of the founding fathers of the new republic, a president who had difficult relations with Muslim countries during his presidency (see the Barbary Wars), kept a copy of the Holy Qur’an (a 1734 edition of the Alcoran of Mohammed translated by George Sale) in his private library.

U.S. Library of Congress
Use of Thomas Jefferson's Koran for Congressional Swearing in Ceremony

The Thomas Jefferson Papers - America and the Barbary Pirates
(American Memory from the Library of Congress)
What Jefferson really thought about Islam by Christopher Hitchens

I was totally unaware of the proposed Park51 Community Center until a few weeks ago when I saw news headlines about the growing controversy in America over the mislabeled “Ground Zero Mosque” and the outpouring of anti-Islam fear-mongering and hysteria from some of America’s best known political, civic, and religious leaders. Upon close examination of what exactly was being said about the proposed Islamic center and mosque in lower Manhattan, it become clear to me that this is NOT about respect for the families of New York’s 9/11 victims as claimed.

This so-called national debate is not about American ‘sensitivities toward Muslims’ who intend to build an Islamic center and mosque near the site of “hallowed ground” (the former NYC World Trade Center), but instead this is about low-down and dirty politics American style___ ahead of the upcoming midterm elections in the U.S. where devious politicians (mainly from the Republican Party but also including many spineless Democrats) are using fear, hatred and ignorance to fan the flames of distrust and fear between American Muslims and non-Muslim citizens. This debate in fact is an impromptu national referendum on Islam and Muslims in America.

FP Magazine’s Stephan M. Walt and Marc Lynch comments on the debate:
What's at Stake in the Cordoba House Debate by Stephen M. Walt


“It doesn't take a genius to figure out what is going on here: All you really need to do is look at how the critics of the community center project keep describing it. In their rhetoric it is always the "Mosque at Ground Zero," a label that conjures up mental images of a soaring minaret on the site of the 9/11 attacks. Never mind that the building in question isn't primarily a mosque (it's a community center that will house an array of activities, including a gym, pool, auditorium, and oh yes, a prayer room). Never mind that it isn't at "Ground Zero": it's two blocks away and will not even be visible from the site. (And exactly why does it matter if it was?) You know that someone is engaged in demagoguery when they keep using demonstrably false but alarmist phrases over and over again.

What I don't understand is why critics of this project don't realize where this form of intolerance can lead. As a host of commentators have already noted, critics of the project are in effect holding American Muslims -- and in this particular case, a moderate Muslim cleric who has been a noted advocate of inter-faith tolerance -- responsible for a heinous act that they did not commit and that they have repeatedly condemned. It is view of surpassing ignorance, and precisely the same sort of prejudice that was once practiced against Catholics, against Jews, and against any number of other religious minorities. Virtually all religious traditions have committed violent and unseemly acts in recent memory, and we would not hold Protestants, Catholics, or Jews responsible for the heinous acts of a few of their adherents.

And don't these critics realize that religious intolerance is a monster that, once unleashed, may be impossible to control? If you can rally the mob against any religious minority now, then you may make it easier for someone else to rally a different mob against you should the balance of political power change at some point down the road.”

End excerpt____

More on the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ debate at Foreign Policy:

Criticizing the Lower Manhattan Mosque is pretty stupid; saying such criticism helps Al Qaeda is stupidity squared by Daniel W. Drezner

Why the Clash of Civilizations Won't Go Away by Marc Lynch


Last evening in New York, I joined a strong panel organized by the UN's Alliance of Civilizations at the New York Times to discuss U.S. relations with the Muslim world. The room was packed to hear Roger Cohen, Joe Klein, Martin Indyk, Reza Aslan, Dalia Mogahed and I talk about a variety of issues. A surprising amount of the discussion ended up focusing on Israel, which perhaps shouldn't be that surprising, with some real sparks between Aslan and Indyk in particular over the possibility of a two state solution. While I took part in a variety of conversations about Israel, Iran, democracy, and Obama's foreign policy more generally, my main concern was the dangerous resilience of "clash of civilizations" narratives in American and global discourse about Islam. For all of Obama's efforts to change that narrative, to move away from a war on terror and focus on partnerships and respect, recent trends only confirm how deeply ingrained the older confrontational narratives really are. Why? What can be done?

The power of these post 9/11 confrontational narratives about Islam has been on full display of late. What I like to call stupidstorms break out with alarming regularity, driven by right wing media: the frenzy around anodyne comments by the NASA director about engaging Muslims, the firing of Octavia Nasr over her Hezbollah tweet, the especially nasty clashes over the Ground Zero mosque complex. The sheer amount of disinformation, vitriol, and agitation against Muslims and Islam in pockets of the right wing media (new and old) beggars belief. Part of the blame also lies with right wing politicians, who cynically (or, more frightening, sincerely) exploit the anti-Islam tropes to drum up votes and to grab attention. And part of the blame lies in the reality of the persistence and terrorist attacks of al-Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers , and the polarizing effects of the escalating arguments over Israel, Gaza, and Iran. It isn't just the right wing echo chamber, though --- the frenzies over the Captain Underpants failed bomber and the Times Square failed bomber show a mainstream media still hardwired to fall back into the comfortable tropes of the war on terror.

End excerpt_____

This so-called debate is an ugly, disgusting thing to watch from the other side of the Atlantic and it angers me beyond words. To see politicians and high-profile public figures stoop to such depths in order win votes, whip up anti-Muslim fervor amongst the American public, frighten/threaten American citizens of the Muslim faith, people who have committed no crime or acts of sedition against the nation, is outrageous. This hysteria reminds me (and I am certain many other people here in Germany) of the rapid rise of the National Socialists (the Nazis) following the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

The situation in America has gotten so out of control that a growing number of Americans surveyed in a recent national poll firmly believe that President Obama is a Muslim! This is not a new phenomenon on the American political right, but the fact that the findings released on August 18th state that a full 18% of Americans polled believe that President Obama is a Muslim is shocking. The report goes on to state that fully 43% of Americans don’t even know what President Obama’s religion is and that only 46% of Democratic Party voters surveyed say that the 44th President of the United States is a Christian. President Barack Hussein Obama has been raised as a Christian, is a practicing Christian along with his wife and two daughters, and to my knowledge has no intention of giving up his faith or changing religions. End of story!

Author’s Note: I personally do not care whether my president is a Muslim, Christian, or Jew, but that so many of my fellow citizens in America could be so ---damn stupid is absolutely un----ingbelievable! And this is the nation that claims to be the light of the world? Think again, America!

Pew Research Center: Forum on Religion and Public Life
Religion & Politics 2010 - News, Analysis and Data on Religion and the 2010 Midterm Elections
Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim (survey report summary and download) (Slate Magazine)
The Republican campaign against a Ground Zero mosque by William Saletan
Why we should build the proposed Islamic center in Lower Manhattan
The dispute over the "Ground Zero mosque" is an object lesson in how not to resist intolerance by Christopher Hitchens

Author’s Warning: Christopher Hitchens is a card-carrying heretic and anti-theist if I ever seen one. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim readers be advised that you might find his views offensive.

The New York Times
Is the Mosque Issue a Risk for Obama? - Room for Debate
Editorial: Xenophobia - Fear-mongering for American Votes

The Los Angeles Times
Debate over mosque near 'ground zero' splits Republicans
GOP takes harsher stance toward Islam by Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman

These kinds of underhanded tactics work especially well with Americans who hold a thinly-veiled fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims worldwide. I had thought that these ‘Hetzredner’ (demagogue, hate speech) were just a lunatic fringe of the American political and religious right until I saw a CNN International report that claimed a full 68% of Americans across the US political spectrum, Republicans and Democrats alike, vehemently OPPOSE the Cordoba Initiative Park51 Center in New York. At this point my heart sank as I realized that a majority of people in a country that I love so dearly may be heading down the slippery slopes of religious bigotry and fear that has plagued humankind for millennia.

The tireless efforts by Middle East and Islamic scholars, religious leaders from all major faiths, and efforts by the U.S. Government (under two administrations) to inform and educate Americans about Islam (the faith) vs. Islamist extremist ideology has simply not worked. Even my own humble efforts to reach out and engage with Muslims here in Europe, the majority of which are very fine and decent, hard-working people from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia who live right here in my neighborhood in northern Germany is of no interest to a majority of Americans. That my personal efforts to help build bridges of knowledge and understanding between “the black American guy” and his Muslim friends, from the very young to wise old sages like myself, could be considered a total waste of time for many Americans back home makes me feel somewhat depressed.

The controversy over the building of an Islamic center and mosque in New York near the site of ‘Ground Zero’ is something that we are all too familiar with here in Europe. It is something that German literary figure and Nobel Prize laureate Günter Grass, a man who understands how fast and low an entire society can sink into the abyss of xenophobia and mass hysteria, calls Die Stunde der Demagogen (The Hour of the Demagogues). Günter Grass knows what he is talking about when the subject of demagoguery comes up because he was a teenaged soldier and member of the Waffen-SS in the Deutsche Wehrmacht (the German Army under the Nazi’s).

(Note: see articles about Islamophobia and integration of Muslims in Europe listed below)

Spiegel Online International (Germany, English language edition)
A Would-Be Role Model Hits a Dead End: Criticism of First Turkish-German Minister Grows

The War on Burqas: French Ban only Latest in European Debate

Tilting at Minarets: Germany's Anonymous Mosque Watchers

Following in Switzerland's Footsteps: International Right-Wingers Gather for EU-Wide Minaret Ban

Islam for the Diaspora: Importing Germany's Imams

Muslims in Germany: Life in a Parallel Society

Opinion: Swiss Minaret Ban Reflects Fear of Islam, Not Real Problems

The World from Berlin: 'Germany Would Also Have Voted to Ban Minarets'

Fears of Eurabia: How Much Allah Can the Old Continent Bear?

SPIEGEL Special: Muslims in Europe (all archived articles on this subject)

Foreign Policy Magazine
Europe's Burqa Wars by Kayvan Farzaneh
Ground zero mosque debate echoes Europe's fears of Muslims

My Personal Position on the Cordoba Park51 Islamic Community Center

Therefore I want to state clearly that I strongly support plans to build the Cordoba Park51 Community Center in Manhattan, 2 blocks from the site of 2,819 people from 115 nations around the world who lost their lives on that tragic day in September 2001. I think it is a great idea and can provide a place for people of the Muslim faith (and frankly all faiths) who visit New York City’s memorial to 9/11 to reflect, interact, and pray. I am a proud member of the 29% of Americans (according to a CNN poll) who say that the other 68% of Americans polled are dead wrong on this issue (as if the location and building of an Islamic center in Manhattan were any of our business to begin with). And before anyone gets all bent out of shape, the Cordoba Project for the center is only in the planning stages, there are no architectural plans completed for the center and financing for the center has not been arranged according to some reports.

(Note: see the Der Spiegel article about the Muslim prayer room at 45 Park Place in Manhattan).
Finding Allah at Ground Zero: A New Manhattan Mosque Hopes to Heal
Photo Gallery: Praying to Allah at Ground Zero

I am also appreciative for the stance taken by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. President Barack (Hussein) Obama, and the many enlightened people who stand in support of the Cordoba Park51 Center, a place as described by the project heads Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan is meant to be a sanctuary of reflection, interfaith dialogue and exchange of religious knowledge, and worship modeled after the great medieval centers of learning in the Cities of Light in 8th Century Spain (see Al-Andalus and links on Islamic Spain below). - Office of the Mayor of New York City
Mayor Michael Bloomberg Discusses the Landmarks Preservation Commission Vote on 45-47 Park Place (Cordoba House Community Center) The White House Blog
President Obama Celebrates Ramadan at White House Iftar Dinner (text summary and video)
Remarks by President Obama at White House Iftar Dinner (transcript)

What bewilders me is that former U.S. presidents and respected political figures from administrations past and present have NOT come out publicly in favor of the building of the Cordoba Park51 Community Center, especially those leaders who worked so hard after 9/11 to encourage Americans not to hate and seek revenge against Islam and Muslims worldwide. Key members of the Bush administration worked tirelessly to convince Americans that these attacks were the work of extremists and terrorists who misrepresent the tenants and principles of a great faith. Even if some political leaders do not support the building of an Islamic center and mosque near the site of the September 11th attacks in New York, they certainly should be speaking out loudly against all of the hate speech and fear-mongering surrounding this project.

Where are the voices of former U.S. presidents George W. Bush, Clinton, and Carter? Why haven’t former secretaries Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and James Baker spoken out on this issue? President Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has not said anything about the nasty controversy engulfing the country and electrifying our Muslim allies and friends around the world? Hillary Clinton certainly must be supportive of the work of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf because the U.S. State Department has sent him overseas as a representative of the United States for conferences on Islamic thought and life in America. Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard and aspiring Republican congressional candidate (California), has spoken out AGAINST the building of the Islamic center (to my great surprise and dismay). Why are we hearing from the far right Republican fringe, people like Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gringrich, two presidential hopefuls who surely do not represent mainstream America on this issue.

The New York Times
U.S. Sends Muslim Center Imam to Arab World to Promote Religious Tolerance - The Lede Blog

The Washington Post – 44 blog
Newt Gingrich compares 'Ground Zero mosque' backers to Nazis
Daisy Khan - On Faith Panelists Blog at

The Wall Street Journal
Mosque Near Ground Zero Sparks Debate That Grows, Splinters

The New York Times
White House Memo - In Defining Obama, Misperceptions Stick
Palin, Shakespeare and the Ground Zero Mosque - The Caucus Blog

PBS Newshour (video and transcript)
Mosque near Ground Zero: Local or National Issue?

Informed Comment by Professor Juan Cole
Palin on the Ground Zero Mosque vs. the Founding Fathers

Yahoo! News (assorted news sources)
White House says Obama is Christian, prays daily (AP)
Mosque debate divides Democrats, especially in NY (AP)
Ground Zero Mosque: Who's For, Who's Against (The Daily Beast)

US News and World Report
Palin’s Unpresidential 'Ground Zero Mosque' Comments
Michael Bloomberg delivers stirring defense of mosque - War Room
How the "ground zero mosque" fear mongering began – Topics: Ground Zero Mosque
Newt Gingrich's summer of imaginary threats – Topics: Newt Gingrich
'Ground Zero Mosque' Park51 Not a Triumph of Radical Islam
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Moderate Sufi Imam Behind the 'Ground Zero Mosque'
Muslim History Belies Stereotypes in 'Ground Zero Mosque' Dispute
Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban: Afghan Women Fear Their Fate Amid Taliban Negotiations (TIME magazine cover story July 29, 2010)

Christian Science Monitor
Obama mosque dispute: In backing plans, he parts with many Americans
Is ground zero mosque imam best choice for diplomatic mission to Mideast?

End of Act I – Author exits stage right dragging sword through the murky waters of the fetid swamp singing that old American Negro spiritual “I’m with Jesus, yes I am.”

Part II coming ASAP: A critical look at the history (and myths) about conflicts between Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Europe and the Middle East from the medieval period in al- Andalus (Islamic Spain) right through to the Prostetant Reformation. Don’t miss it!

Information about Islamic Spain, Cordoba, and the Cities of Light

Foreign Policy – FP Passport blog
The other Cordoba initiative (in Cordoba, Spain) by Brian Fung

PBS (USA, Public Broadcasting Service)
Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain

Unity Productions Foundation (official website of the 2-hour documentary film)
Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain

Chicago Humanities Festival 2008
Professor David Levering Lewis: Conversation about his book "God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215" (multimedia and text)

Author’s Note: NYU Historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Levering Lewis talks about his book “God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe 570 to 1215”. This book is one of the most prized possessions in my personal library and I highly recommend it to all readers interested in medieval European history and the relationship between Muslims and Christians and Jews during this important period.

The New Yorker magazine review of Professor Lewis’s book
A Better Place by Joan Acocella – Feb 04, 2008

The Economist – Democracy in America (blog)
Ground Zero mosque: The symbolism of Cordoba

Got Medieval (an excellent blog on European medieval history and the media)
Professor Newt's Distorted History Lesson


Anonymous said...

Thank you !!.I have been in constant battle with some bloggers on booker rising about this.
The vitriol towards Obama and Muslims is quite unbelievable.


BRE said...

You are very welcome Deji. Thank you for stopping by Jewels in the Jungle to read this important post. All the best to you over there in London on the other side of the Channel. I'm not very far away from you (in distance).

blackgirl on mars said...

Great that you went there! I discussed this with my class last bring much-needed light to this!

BRE said...

Hello my dear "Bandit Queen" up in Copenhagen! Hoping that all is well with you and that you are keeping very busy. As you can see I haven't posted to Jewels for more than a year (I really needed the break researching, analyzing, composing, and publishing).

I felt a bit guilty that a (very popular) blog devoted to news from and about Africa would stop at a post about fundamentalism, fear, mistrust and downright hatred between far too many people in our home country (USA), Europe, and Muslims worldwide. Looking back over the past year and especially focusing on the fast-breaking events across North Africa and onto the Arabian Penninsula I now realize that this last post was an excellent place to stop for a long pause.

The Battle of Poitiers (Tours) in CE732 as depicted in Carl von Steuben's painting (completed in the 1834) is symbolic of a long-running conflict between these two worlds (Occident & Orient) that continues to this very day___ 1279 years this week as a matter of fact!

Not to worry, though. I believe I can see a bit of light at the end of this tunnel of death and doom.

Be well and thanks for thinking about the old man and stopping by today. Auf wiedersehen!