I have been trying hard to find an explanation for the intense controversy
surrounding the Cordoba Initiative, whereby 71 percent of Americans object to
the proposed project of building a mosque next to Ground Zero.
agree with the theory that such broad resistance represents Islamophobic
sentiments, nor that it is a product of a “rightwing” smear campaign against one
imam or another.
Americans are neither bigots nor gullible.
sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims was cited as yet another
explanation, but this too does not answer the core question.
accepts that the 19 fanatics who flew planes into the Twin Towers were merely
self-proclaimed Muslims who, by their very act, proved themselves incapable of
acting in the name of “true Islam,” then building a mosque at Ground Zero should
evoke no emotion whatsoever; it should not be viewed differently than, say,
building a church, a community center or a druid shrine.
A more realistic
explanation is that most Americans do not buy the 19 fanatics story, but view
the the 9/11 assault as a product of an anti- American ideology that, for good
and bad reasons, has found a fertile breeding ground in the hearts and minds of
many Muslim youngsters who see their Muslim identity inextricably tied with this
THE GROUND Zero mosque is being equated with that
ideology. Public objection to the mosque thus represents a vote of no confidence
in mainstream American Muslim leadership which, on the one hand, refuses to
acknowledge the alarming dimension that anti-Americanism has taken in their
community and, paradoxically, blames America for its creation.
American Muslim leadership has had nine years to build up trust by taking
proactive steps against the spread of anti-American terror-breeding ideologies,
here and abroad.
Evidently, however, a sizable segment of the American
public is not convinced that this leadership is doing an effective job of
In public, Muslim spokespersons praise America as
the best country for Muslims to live and practice their faith. But in sermons,
speeches, rallies, classrooms, conferences and books sold at those conferences,
the narrative is often different. There, Noam Chomsky’s conspiracy theory is the
dominant paradigm, and America’s foreign policy is one long chain of “crimes”
against humanity, especially against Muslims.
Affirmation of these
conspiratorial theories sends mixed messages to young Muslims, engendering anger
and helplessness: America and Israel are the first to be blamed for Muslim
failings, sufferings and violence.
Terrorist acts, whenever condemned,
are immediately “contextually explicated” (to quote Tariq Ramadan); spiritual
legitimizers of suicide bombings (e.g. Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi of Qatar) are
revered beyond criticism; Hamas and Hizbullah are permanently shielded from the
label of “terrorist.”
Overall, the message that emerges from this
discourse is implicit, but can hardly be missed: When Muslim grievance is at
question, America is the culprit and violence is justified, if not
True, we have not helped Muslims in the confidence-building
process. Treating homegrown terror acts as isolated incidents of psychological
disturbances while denying their ideological roots has given American Muslim
leaders the illusion that they can achieve public acceptance without engaging in
serious introspection and responsibility sharing for allowing victimhood, anger
and entitlement to spawn such acts.
The construction of the Ground Zero
mosque would further prolong this illusion.
If I were New York’s Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, I would reassert Muslims’ right to build the Islamic center
and the mosque, but I would expend the same energy, not one iota less, in trying
to convince them to put it somewhere else, or replace it with a
community-managed all-faiths center in honor of the 9/11 victims.
Muslim Americans will benefit more from co-ownership of consensual
sole ownership of confrontational ones.
The writer is a professor at UCLA
and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is
coeditor of I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words
Daniel Pearl (Jewish Light, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book