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Douthat offers reasoned critical analysis of NYC Islamic center

August 17, 2010

This Islamic center  near Ground Zero controversy is making me nuts. Mostly, I think, the balanced, reasoned voice that acknowledges the complexities of the situation has been largely drowned out by the hysterical voices on either side. Not to mention the fuss over Obama weighing in. (What exactly did he say/mean? Does it matter?)

So it’s really encouraging to read Ross Douthat’s NYT piece “Islam in Two Americas” that looks critically at both sides and provides some excellent analysis of how our country functions when it comes to perceived outsiders and minority religions. The first America, he writes, welcomes all and champions diversity; the second America demands assimilation and views newcomers with suspicion.

So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.

This last part needs to be said. It’s not a slam on Muslims. It’s not Newt Gingrich using Nazis and Japanese people and Muslims interchangeably (oy!). It’s an honest look at the reality and perceptions of American Muslims. Douthat goes on to talk about Rauf’s post-9/11 comments and refusal to label Hamas a terrorist organization. Rauf may also be a great leader. But we have to consider what makes this situation so sensitive. We certainly should not cow to the bigots. The ones threatening to tear up the Quran or smear pork products in front of the center when and if it opens. Neither should we cow to the finger-wagging liberals lecturing anyone who questions the choice of the center’s location or who wants to know the funding source for the building. At least the latter group is promoting religious liberty.

But I still believe we are missing an honest and reasoned discussion of this topic. Columns like Douthat’s will (one hopes) improve the situation.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2010 12:42 pm

    Sorry to disagree, Eileen, but I really don’t get it.

    It seems to me that what Douthat defines as the second America is simply that which embraces intolerance, that tries to put fear and hatred of those different from ourselves into public policy. It is the part of America that has never grown up, and that our Constitution was carefully conceived to protect us from.

    Now, I realize that all of us have some allegiance to the second America, we all have a degree of fear of what we don’t understand, but it is a flaw, it is not our highest ideal, we should try to get over it. Of course sensitivity to the feelings of those who suffer from this all too human flaw is not out of place, but militant sensitivity probably is.

    Furthermore, I cannot see that the second America has had a constructive role in American society at all. It did not, pace Douthat, put the ‘unum’ in ‘e pluribus unum’. The many cultures, races and religions that make up America put the ‘pluribus’ in this phrase, it was the First America that added the ‘unum’, by embracing the ideal that we can live together as one in spite of our differences. The second America merely tries to take the ‘pluribus’ out, and this attempt has consistently resulted in the most shameful episodes in American history.

  2. Jack Wirtz permalink
    August 19, 2010 11:57 am

    The 1st. Amendment has not been held by the Courts to protect ALL religious rights, i.e., Mormon polygamy or the Branch Davidians killed at Waco, but in the case of Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam fronting for the NYC mosque, here is a man that declares the mosque’s goal is toward “a better understanding” ; I beg your pardon!
    Where is Inman Rauf’s public outrage of his religious comrade’s slaughter of the Afgan medical team charged with “preaching Christianity” ? Where is the Inman’s public horror of the execution of former Moslems who turn to Christianity?
    When his Mosque of Moderation denounces Islam’s Sharia law which controls every aspect of the individual’s life and leaving Islam is punishable by death. Until then Rauf’s Mosque is far more dangerous to our nation than polygamy or the Davidians.

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