Eric Trager has a thoughtful piece on the Ground Zero Mosque, in which he calls out the stark idiocy of his erstwhile Commentary colleague Jennifer Rubin’s comparison of Cordoba House to a monument at Pearl Harbor to the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, and Newt Gingrich’s suggestion that the U.S. shouldn’t allow any more mosques until Saudi Arabia allows synagogues and churches:
Never mind that, whereas Hirohito was singularly responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, American Muslims had nothing to do with 9/11 (and, in fact, many American Muslims were murdered in the attacks). And never mind that America is not Saudi Arabia, and hence does not aspire to Saudi standards of religious tolerance.
The real outrage is that these opponents of the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” apparently agree with Osama Bin Laden that Al Qaeda’s way is the true Islamic way, rightly understood. It is only through this leap of logic that the institutions of a billion-strong faith become synonymous with the greatest crimes of its most radical adherents.
I think Trager steps wrong, however, when, in what I suppose is an attempt at even-handedness, he identifies “a second, equally disturbing trend” in the debate over Cordoba House: “the prominence of apologists for acts of Islamist terrorism within the American Muslim community”:
As critics of the Islamic center rightly noted, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, one of the project’s principals, parroted the Saudi line immediately following the 9/11 attacks, telling “60 Minutes,” “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” [...]
The real outrage is that the imam of an Islamic organization that aims to “improve Muslim-west relations” rationalized the 9/11 attacks, rather than condemning them outright.
First, can the statements of one person really be a “trend”? Second, Rauf’s comments (while admittedly inelegantly and dodgily phrased) don’t seem to me to “rationalize the 9/11 attacks” as much as to explain and put them in an historical context (though I understand that there are those who simply refuse to admit any distinction there).
While one can agree or disagree with that context — that is, agree or disagree with the idea that U.S. policies contributed in any way to 9/11 — it’s important to note that this is a central contention of the post-9/11 neoconservative critique: That the U.S. was, in a sense, paying a price for decades of reliance on autocratic Middle East rulers for the maintenance of an illusive “stability.”
This was pretty clearly elucidated by Sen. John McCain in his big foreign policy speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in March 2008. “For decades in the greater Middle East,” McCain said, “we had a strategy of relying on autocrats to provide order and stability“:
[The United States] relied on the Shah of Iran, the autocratic rulers of Egypt, the generals of Pakistan, the Saudi royal family, and even, for a time, on Saddam Hussein. In the late 1970s that strategy began to unravel. The Shah was overthrown by the radical Islamic revolution that now rules in Tehran. The ensuing ferment in the Muslim world produced increasing instability. The autocrats clamped down with ever greater repression, while also surreptitiously aiding Islamic radicalism abroad in the hopes that they would not become its victims. It was a toxic and explosive mixture. The oppression of the autocrats blended with the radical Islamists’ dogmatic theology to produce a perfect storm of intolerance and hatred.
We can no longer delude ourselves that relying on these out-dated autocracies is the safest bet. They no longer provide lasting stability, only the illusion of it.
So was John McCain “rationalizing” terrorism and extremism? Or was he simply recognizing that short-sighted U.S. policies had contributed to the problem?
Or is it only permissible to say such things if you follow it up with “…and that’s why we need to invade and occupy their countries”?
Obviously it’s important to recognize the sensitivities around this, but it seems that Rauf and McCain were making very similar critiques. Yet only one of them is labeled an apologist for terrorism.