Like it or not, we are judged by headlines. “America Invades Iraq” or “United States Passes Health Care Reform” can be the only impression people in other countries get of our complex political and military systems. The headlines that accompanied our election of an African American with a Muslim name changed the world’s perception of America. And simply being that man seems to have been enough to garner a Nobel Peace Prize.
Headlines matter. Currently, we are questioning the potential headline, “New York Builds Mosque Near Ground Zero.” Personally, I believe that headline would send a positive message to the rest of the world about the United States. But many oppose the project.
Watch as Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich verbally pat each other on the bum, in this lame interview. Hannity presents “evidence” which he uses to accuse Faisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam of the New York City mosque Masjid al-Farah, of radicalism. He opens with a clip in which Rauf dodges a baiting question regarding Hamas’s status as a terrorist organization. He then goes on to assume the offensiveness of the statement: “Osama Bin Laden was made in the U.S.A.”
Never mind the fact that Hannity and his team of crack journalists could have found this information on Wikipedia. He smugly suggests these cryptic sound bytes prove a list of the points. On this list are the claims that Rauf believes “America is an oppressive nation” and thinks “America should be sharia-compliant.” Neither of these quotes are included in the clips he just played. Am I the only person who finds this baffling? Hmm. It’s hard to find anything about it here: on this massive block of the Cordoba Initiative’s web site devoted to women’s empowerment.
Newt Gingrich sits through it all just nodding his head as though the clips actually included these points. Gingrich wrote a book entitled “Stopping Obama’s Secular Socialist Machine” and yet he is the person calling loudest for the ban of a religious institution by the federal government. Isn’t that precisely what actual socialists did? Lately conservatives seem to be standing up for freedom, but only freedom for white people. It seems as if the first and fourth amendments are up for debate if your skin is any darker than a Jersey Shore cast member’s.
This discussion of headlines might be irrelevant if Gingrich and Hannity didn’t discuss the topic themselves. Gingrich bombastically calls the construction “an Anti-American act of triumphalism.” He doesn’t pull any punches, outright accusing Rauf of being complicit in the 9/11 attacks. He predicts that Rauf will literally travel the world delivering this message: “The Americans are so dumb that after WE destroyed two of their greatest buildings, they allow us to build a mosque near there.” Gingrich uses the term “we”, suggesting that Rauf is not just sympathetic to terrorism, he is actually on their side. This is a bleak outlook to be sure, considering Rauf has been an Imam in Manhattan since 1983 and claims to have lost congregants in the 9/11 attacks.
Gingrich goes on to assert that the headlines will tell Muslims “how weak and how ignorant America is.”
I believe that the headlines would give just the opposite impression: That the United States refuses to discriminate against any religion, regardless of the egregious actions of some of its followers; that the freedom we enjoy in this country, that freedom that is the envy of so many in the Middle East and beyond, and which radical Islam purportedly hates, applies to all people, regardless of color or creed.
Gingrich’s most repeated quote has been his most wrong-headed. “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” Then what separates our country from Saudi Arabia? What makes us better? Or have we given up on proving that point? Are we now willing to stoop to their level? To say, “You ban our religion? We’ll show you by banning yours.” This is not the American Way.
Michelle Goldberg points out in a Daily Beast article that, “In 2002, [George W. Bush] criticized the anti-Islam comments of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, saying, ‘Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans. Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion…[W]e’re not going to let the war on terror or terrorists cause us to change our values.’”
It seems to me that by allowing the government to prohibit the construction of a religious institution, we would be doing exactly what President Bush vowed we would not do.
Peter Beinart points out that “Once upon a time, such behavior might have embarrassed a Republican leadership concerned with winning hearts and minds in the “ ‘war of ideas’ against ‘Islamofascism.’ Now barely anyone on the right seems bothered. The goal is less to change Islam in the Middle East than to keep Islam from changing the United States.”
Indeed, what would the headline Gingrich and Hannity would like to see, “U.S. Bans Construction of Mosque Near Ground Zero” accomplish, except to deepen the divide between Islam and the West?
We have every reason to want to ban this mosque. We are angry and frightened, and rightly so. But we cannot allow fear to win the day (isn’t that the goal of ‘terrorism’ after all?). By allowing this construction we are siding with President Bush in saying that our values as a nation supersede our emotions.
“United States Erects Mosque at Site of 9/11 Terror Attacks.” That headline would be truly surprising. That headline would force people in Muslim communities around the world to question their preconceptions about America. How could we hate Islam if we’ve constructed a mosque at the site of our greatest conflict with Islam?
I say this construction would be the most difficult action for Islamic radicals to spin in their favor. Their story, that we wish to eradicate Islam, simply wouldn’t stand up in the face of our embrace of the Cordoba Initiative. Unless we’ve given up on the war for hearts and minds, I know which headline I would like to see.
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