Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blood Muslim and Blood Innocent

There’s a lot of buzz out there currently about plans to build an Islamic center two blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center – the twin towers that were brought down in a terrorist attack by Islamic jihadists on September 11, 2001. Most folks refer to the proposed center, to be built at the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory at 51 Park Avenue, as the Ground Zero Mosque, or GZM for short. The Associated Press doesn’t like the GZM terminology and has directed its reporters to use other phrases to emphasize that the location is near, but not at, the site of towers. Like most of those on the political right, I think the proposal is legal but betrays, at best, a tone-deafness on the part of the group that wants to build the Islamic center to the sensitivities of those who suffered an emotional trauma on that day in 2001. Others have made persuasive arguments that the intentions (real or perceived) could be significantly less ecumenical than those that have been proclaimed. It’s not my intention here to add to that discussion.

What I do want to highlight are the recently revealed comments of the main GZM backer, Imam Feisal Rauf, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Rauf stated in 2005, “We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims.” Many are interpreting this statement to mean that the Imam believes the United States is worse than Al Qaida. I only wish to point out that, if parsed, the statement is not surprising coming from a Muslim cleric, and probably true.

On the one hand, we have all Muslims killed by agents of the United States. We’re not just talking about innocent bystanders or devout practicing Muslims. It matters not that U.S. forces operate under constrictive rules of engagement that take extreme measures to avoid harming non-combatants. It matters not that weapons employed by the United States are precisely guided to minimize collateral damage. It matters not that the vast majority of the Muslim blood on the hands of the United States came from Muslims actively seeking to harm the United States.

On the Al Qaida side of the equation we have innocent non-Muslims. In the minds of at least some Muslims, the phrase is an oxymoron. To be a non-Muslim is to be an infidel, and no infidel is innocent; therefore, the entire population of innocent non-Muslims is precisely zero – it is a null set. It matters not that those in the World Trade Center that day were only going about their lives and their jobs. It matters not that Al Qaida kills Muslims who aren’t Muslim enough.

I have no doubt that Imam Rauf believes what he said. However, the terms of the equation are completely unreasonable and subject to bias. If this is the face of “moderate” Islam, how can we even conduct a conversation?

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