Islamic mosque, Islamist mosque, or extremist mosque?
How appropriate is animus toward the new Ground Zero mosque?
A few months ago, news emerged of plans for a mosque and Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero. In the ensuing and continuing saga, Sarah Palin is but one of the latest to weigh in, tweeting “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand. Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in the interest of healing.”
John Esposito at CNN framed the moral question well: “Why should Muslims who are building a center be any more suspect than Jews who build a synagogue or center or Christians who build a church or conference center?”
What underlies the Palin position is the conflation of Islam, Islamism, and radicalism.
It seems rather improbable that the new mosque in practice will become a magnet for extremists. But the opposition to the mosque is concerned as much with the fear of terror as with the symbolism of a building that represents what is perceived as an alien and hostile culture.
If Americans find Muslims suspect, it is because Islam, among the major contemporary world religions, has a uniquely intense political dimension — Islamism. In its mildest form, Islamism resembles the politics of center-right “Christian Democratic” parties in Europe; Turkey's ruling AKP is such a party. In its most radical forms, we see the barbarities committed by the Taliban. The American public is undoubtedly more familiar with the latter example.
Less well known
is the fact that Muslims in the United States are socioeconomically and culturally well-assimilated. The Muslim American experience is a stark contrast to that of Muslims in Europe, where the Parisian riots of 2005, the murder of Theo van Gogh and the Danish cartoon controversy, not to mention the ongoing problem of honor killings, illustrate how poorly integrated, marginalized and radicalized European Muslim immigrant communities are despite the paeans of European elites for multiculturalism. The populist backlash in Europe has produced such pointless and flagrant violations of basic religious expression as the minaret ban in Switzerland, headscarf bans in France, Belgium and parts of Germany, and a likely burkha ban in France, further inflaming the problem.
Post-9/11 acts of Islamist terrorism in the West have all occurred in Europe (i.e. the London Subway and Madrid Train bombings), often at the hands of native-born Muslims. It is perhaps a testament to the kind of immigrants that the United States attracts and the institutions of a free society founded by immigrants that we have avoided the severity of the problems besetting Western Europe.
Abandoning the principle of free religious expression that has contributed to this happier state of affairs in America would be a step in the wrong direction. In the “interest of healing,” we should not, per Mrs. Palin's opinion, react with suspicion and hostility to something that should be assumed innocent until proven otherwise. American Muslims are not alien or hostile. A fearful symbolic association between the mosque and violent anti-Americanism is not warranted.
Photo used under a Creative Commons Attribution License by Wikipedia user Kamiox