Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A partial retraction

Last week, I used this blog in a way I usually don't, to support a particular project: the proposal to build an Islamic center called Cordoba House in the neighborhood adjacent to the World Trade Center site.  I described the imam who's behind the project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, as a moderate, a modernist, someone intent on building good interfaith relations.  This assessment was based on my having heard him speak and on my knowing people who attended his small mosque in Tribeca, which is located 10 blocks uptown from the proposed Cordoba House site.   I was also moved by his interview on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show, in which he made clear his opposition to violence in the name of religion and his desire to build bridges between his and other religions.  Support for precisely those causes motivated me to support Imam Rauf's project.

I am sad to say that I must retract at least part of statement of support for the Cordoba House project, having learned that Imam Rauf has been reported to be on the board of the Perdana Global Peace Organization, a group led by former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Mahathir.  (Read here.)   This group, which purports to  be pacificist, devotes itself largely to campaigning against Israel in ways which betray deep bias on that subject.  The NY Post article that brought this to my attention focuses on Perdana's support for the Gaza flotilla, to which they were the largest donor.  While that alone presents issues, the group's fundamental bait and switch -- it's deception -- is more troubling.  It promotes hate in the name of promoting peace.  Understand that I have no objection to peace organizations focusing attention on Israel, so long as they are truthful about their reasons.  This group calls itself a campaign against all war, but acts very differently.  For Mahathir, this organization is part of a strategic campaign of anti-Semitism, via which he has blamed Jewish financiers for Malaysia's problems and charged his domestic political opponents with working on behalf of Jewish interests.  (Ian Baruma, writing in the New Yorker, had a great article on Mahathir which discusses this subject here.  A brief interview about it is here.)  Imam Rauf, who has roots in Malaysia, must know of Mahathir's troubling history (troubling for other reasons as well).  In addition to misusing peace groups such as Perdana to demonize Israel, Asia Times Online reports that he has similarly used conferences designed to promote Islamic culture to promote anti-Semitism (read here).

Freedom of religion is the paramount issue in determining the government's role, if any, with respect to the plans for Cordoba House.  Opponents of the project who advocate government interference must understand that it isn't the government's role in this country to determine what religious institutions can go where.  That idea is repugnant.    Moreover, Muslims are already fully part of the life of the community.  Muslims were among the victims of 9/11 and were among the first responders.   Muslims live and work in the area.  Those who oppose a Muslim presence near "Ground Zero" are too late.  It's been there all along.  Sadly, the tone of much of the opposition to Cordoba House has been hateful and designed to create fear.  (Read here for an example.)  Those who have leveled charges that this mosque could be the home of a terror cell or would somehow dishonor by its mere presence those who died on 9/11 betray a bias that calls both their motivation and their conclusions into question.  I feel much more comfortable honoring the memory of 9/11 by promoting peace.

That being said, I now have questions as to what Imam Rauf means when he says that he's moderate.  I hope that he addresses those questions by addressing his role in the Perdana group and his connection with Mahathir.  While I still strongly support the imam's constitutional right to build Cordoba House, I now need to be convinced that this will be a place where interfaith includes Jews like me who support Israel's right to live in peace with its neighbors.  I hope that Imam Rauf addresses these questions and that Cordoba House lives up to its hype.  I would like such a place to exist. But now I need to be convinced.


Anonymous said...

anti-semitism and anti-zionism are 2 different things. One can be anti-zionist and still be a Jew or pro-Jew. However, these terms are sometimes deliberately confused to give a false impression.....

Adam Holland said...

Are you saying that Mahathir is not anti-Semitic? If you are, the evidence says otherwise.

Unknown said...

There were many signs and much evidence showing that the Imam and the Cordoba project is an exercise in deception.

The flotilla connection is just the latest of facts which surfaced proving that this project has nothing to do with tolerance and plurality.

Adam just choose to ignore those while being busy demonizing the opponents of the Mosque.

Blaming 911 on America, Advocating Sharia for the US (in a Malay publication)

Father in the Muslim Brotherhood and statements like "the grandchildren of the protesters will all be Muslims"

None of these awoke Adam from his PC kool aid induced slumber.

Adam Holland said...


1) Are you concerned that the tone of much of the opposition to the project has been anti-Muslim? Do you support the anti-mosque demonstration last weekend? Did you know that two Coptic Christians from Egypt who were part of that demonstration were singled out for abuse by the crowd because they were Arabs? They had to be protected from the mob by the police.

2) Imam Rauf is on the board of one troubling organization, but as far as I know, hasn't said or done anything to indicate that what you say of his project is true. Can you cite a source for your charge?

3) Why shouldn't the move to prevent the mosque from opening be regarded as an infringement on freedom religion?

livingengine said...

Dear Mr. Holland,

I have been aware of your blog for some time now, and I think you are an excellent consumer of the news.

I also think the fact the you have reconcidered your support of Feisal Rauf speaks to your integrity.

Having said that, I would like to point out that the Copts you mentioned as being "singled out for abuse by the crowd" such as Joseph Nassaralla do not agree with your caracterization of the demonstration.

I would like to end by saying I do not think there is anything, wrong, untoward, immoral, or imappropriate about criticizing Muslims.

Muslims have made the mistake of encroaching on other people's sacred grounds numerous times from Ayodha to the Dome of the Rock, and they apparently need to be TOLD to stop doing it.

Adam Holland said...


1) I'm not sure what you mean when you praise me as a "consumer of the news". I use this blog to put something into the public sphere that wouldn't otherwise be there, not to "consume" what is already there. I guess you intend to slight me with faint praise to express displeasure concerning my opinions on the Cordoba House project. Frankly, that seems a bit petty.

2) With respect to the Copts who were described in press accounts as having been attacked by fellow demonstrators based on their Arab ethnicity: can you cite a source for their account which you imply exonerates their fellow demonstrators? I've been unable to verify this. I'd like to correct the record if this is so.

3) Most importantly, your statement portrays Islam as intrinsically imperialist and expansionist and therefore worthy of being opposed. It is precisely this point -- the magnification of a legitimate criticism of aspects of Islam into an indictment of and a call for action against all Islam and all Muslims -- where you go off the rails of rational criticism and into the realm of counter-jihad. It is one thing to oppose doctrines that demand that everyone submit to a particular religious authority. You take that sound opposition and, by singling out Islam and painting its adherents with a broad brush, advocate a contrary but equally false form of intolerance. I object to that doctrine just as strongly as I do the that of jihad.

Religious freedom must be protected against fundamentalism of all sorts, whether that fundamentalism is rooted in a particular religion or in opposition to a particular religion. Our political and legal systems are clearly strong enough to withstand the existence of religious institutions which in some way oppose liberal values, but by definition would not survive being used to suppress those religious institutions. At that point, we would no longer be free. What a foolish sacrifice to advocate in order to make a point about what you think is wrong with Islam.

4) Are you really comparing the World Trade Center to the Temple Mount? Give me a break! It was office towers, stores and subway stations. I hope that it will be so again, soon. If someone wants to build a mosque a couple of blocks away, I don't expect the freaking caliphate to be reestablished with its capitol in Lower Manhattan. All that will happen is that Muslims who work in the area will have a place to worship. Moreover, contrary to what you and other opponents to Cordoba House claim, this will in no way dishonor anyone who died on 9/11. On the other hand, using their memory to promote hatred and intolerance does dishonor them. Please stop.

Adam Holland said...

Your comment is a bit confused and a bit confusing. At first, you seem to disparage the idea that Americans are ignorant of Islam by placing the term "ignorant" in quotation marks. But what at first seems an attempt at irony soon shows itself instead to be ignorance of grammar. It's ironic that the term which shows this ignorance is, in fact, "ignorant". You have nothing to be ignorant of other than ignorance itself. (Apologies to FDR.)

I agree with your opposition to religious-based discrimination against women. Even if Islam is the worst offender among the world's religions, which is arguably true, that does not absolve the rest of the world's religions from this charge, nor does it excuse a blanket condemnation of all Muslims, or demand discrimination against them. As soon as you open the door to religious discrimination, everyone's rights becomes vulnerable. If you are an ardent advocate for women's rights, more power to you. Campaign on this issue and make this problem clear. But don't use it as an excuse to deny the rights of a Muslim organization to build a home for their cultural center.

Your argument is not a defense of rights, but an excuse for the denial of rights.

Unknown said...

Absolutely embarassing, Adam.

Here is the link you asked for.

It is something you could have found yourself if you were interested in this issue.

Have you read Rauf's book?

No. Right?

You don't care.

What not just come out and say that?

Adam Holland said...


1) Thanks for the link. According to the letter posted there, anti-Cordoba House protesters reacted angrily to an intemperate speech which seemed to support violent jihad, not to the fact that the speaker was an Arab. According to the letter, which was written by an associate of the speaker who was attacked, that speaker used a bullhorn to give a speech describing the views of a jihadi in a loud, belligerent voice. His fellow protesters thought that he was expressing his own views. That is an important point, and while I can't verify this as true, it puts the accuracy of news reports depicting the crowd as merely anti-Arab into question. Thank you for that clarification. (Note: The fact that I allow a link to Jihad Watch should in no way be considered an endorsement of that site. That website promotes hate, and is not a reliable source of news that cannot be verified independently elsewhere.)

2) With respect to Imam Rauf's book: no, I haven't read it. You demand that I admit that I don't care about it, but don't bother to explain why I should. Feel free to comment again to say why. You've got my attention, now say something.

3) Can you explain to me how letting a liberal Muslim group build a cultural center in any way helps jihadis and fundamentalists? Cordoba House looks like exactly the sort of thing that the extremists hate most. Do you expect Cordoba House to a)house an al-Qaeda sleeper cell or b) host interfaith conferences, concerts and provide its members with a pool and gym? It's got to be one or the other larry. Which one is it?

Unknown said...

Feisal Abdul Rauf's book is damning.

When not creating phoney PR stunts like Cordoba House, Feisal Abdul Rauf spends his time in Malaysia working on his Sharia Index Project.

Like some kind of weird Santa Claus, he measures the sharia-ness of the world's country's.

He doesn't study the Bill of Rights or anything crazy like that. No, he likes sharia - a lot.

He wants to bring sharia to the US, and he makes that perfectly clear in his book.

On page 111, Feisal Abdul Rauf suggests a "subsidary entity" in the US judiciary to comment on the sharia compliance of certain decisions.

He is not just a sharia maniac, but also a meglomaniac as well.

On page 252, FAR calls for a program like the Apollo Space program to, well, Islamise America.

If we don't do it his way "further harm" might result. In other words, they will attacks us.

Who told you he is liberal?

He is a 911 Truther. He will teach revisionist history from his center.

On page 152 of his book, the mad Imam compares Osama bin Laden to Robin Hood.

Robin Hood lurked in Sherwood Forest. OBL lived with his band in caves.

He carrys on this conceit far too long before finally saying, "Should we be surprized that bin Laden cuts a similar figure to many Muslims and non-Muslim youths today?"

He never mentions Bin Laden's signature event, or why that might keep people from compairing OBL to Robin Hood.

Feisal Abdul Rauf is a manipulative person who purchased his building because of its proximity to Ground Zero then boasted about that in public.

Like the "Flying Imams", this Cordoba/Park51 affair is a template for Muslim provocaton.

Provoke, play the victim, frame the debate in terms of pro or con Islam, look for advantages, or concessions, and repeat.

If you don't like the Mahathir connection, I strongly urge you to take this seriously, and look into it instead of using barrowed opinions.

He is not what he represents himself to be.

Anonymous said...

Livingengine said..." Muslims have made the mistake of encroaching on other people's sacred grounds numerous times".
Funny, since this sounds like your "Indian name" I was surprised and thought... what of the American Indians sacred grounds that we encroached on?
...But that was OK right?

livingengine said...

What do the American Indians have to do with this?

Feisal Abdul Rauf is determined to transform this country in ten years.

If Rev. Sun Young Moon were attempting to appropriate 911 like the mad Imam, people would be looking at his connections, funding, and associations.

Feisal Abdul Rauf, and his Cordoba Initiative need to be throughly investigated.

Unknown said...

This is Joseph Nassralla.

I agree with him 100%.


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