[Posted by Karl]
There is plenty to go around, including among the defenders of the project. Their loathing explains their fear, so let’s start there. Cliff May captures much of the problem by reference to Paul Berman’s latest book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, which is largely devoted to examining how people were — and have been — duped into thinking Tariq Ramadan is a moderate Muslim leader:
Berman concludes that multiculturalism and moral relativism, doctrines devoutly embraced by the intellectual classes, render “everything the equal of everything else.” As a consequence, some very smart people have “lost the ability to make the most elementary distinctions.” Except one: They reflexively regard those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.
So if Imam Feisal says he’s a moderate, he must be a moderate. Why read his books or inquire into what he preaches in his mosque or with whom he associates on his frequent trips to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and other exotic locales? Would we ask such questions of a Baptist minister building a church near Ground Zero?
Pascal Bruckner, a French writer and philosopher — and veteran of the debate over Tariq Ramadan — has a piece in the new City Journal describing how this sort of self-loathing is paralyzing Europe — or more accurately, Europe’s ruling classes.
Bruckner contrasts Europe with the US, probably understating the degree to which similar forms of loathing have infected America’s ruling class (and its hangers-on in the establishment media). Ever since Stalin went out of fashion, America’s hard left has groped from one anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-Enlightenment, “noble savage” movement to the next: Mao, the Vietcong, Pol Pot, Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, Castro, the Sandinistas, etc. America’s soft left has embraced the “noble savage” in its pop culture, from the lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” to James Cameron’s Avatar (unsurprisingly, the pacifist version of the “noble savage” is found more readily in fiction than fact). Moreover, the blame, shame, and guilt of the soft left is fed by the propaganda of their friends on the hard left.
The common denominator is an antipathy to US foreign policy. Thus, when America favored Israel in the 1967 war, the New Left shifted in favor of Israel’s enemies. When Islamic fundamentalism returned as a force on the world stage, uber-leftists like Michel Foucault cheered the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The claimed grievances of the Islamists are those of the left, making for an alliance of convenience at the least. Thus, the flags of Hezbollah and Hamas are waved by people wearing Che Guevara T-shirts at most any anti-war or anti-globalization demonstration in the West to this day.
The left’s fear is that this agenda of loathing is political suicide in post-9/11 America, even among Democrats (as CNN’s poll on the Ground Zero mosque bears out). Indeed, it is an agenda so toxic that Pres. Obama — about as far left a president as our nation has ever had — has maintained and extended almost all of the Bush-era war policies he campaigned against as a candidate. But retreat is not really an option for the left on these issues.
For example, Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria asserts that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf “is a moderate Muslim clergyman. He has said one or two things about American foreign policy that strike me as overly critical — but it’s stuff you could read on The Huffington Post any day.” I was unaware that The Huffington Post was a pillar of great and gentle wisdom on matters of interfaith dialogue. And the objections to Rauf go beyond one or two stray comments. But implicit in Zakaria’s “defense” is that if Rauf is beyond the pale, then perhaps what passes for dialogue at The Huffington Post is outside the mainstream — a conclusion that would clearly be unacceptable to the paranoid center-left that dominates the establishment media. Thus, Rauf must be a moderate.
With this sort of backwards reasoning from pre-ordained conclusions, the left begs one of the major questions raised not only by the Ground Zero mosque, but also by the war in general: What is moderate Islam? Reuel Marc Gerecht addressed that question at TNR, in the context of the Ground Zero mosque. After noting that the definition of a moderate Muslim differs from place to place, Gerecht suggests that an American definition of a “moderate Muslim” might start as: a believer who (a) unqualifiedly rejects terrorism against anyone (including Israelis); and (b) unqualifiedly renounces the applicability of the Sharia, the Holy Law, in American society.
The response from former SDS president Todd Gitlin was that Gerecht wants Rauf “to swear a sort of loyalty oath,” when all Gerecht wants to know is the nature of those with whom we are dealing. (At the HuffPo, Gerecht’s piece was described as the call for a Spanish Inquisition, which no one expected.) Notably, Gitlin makes no attempt to defend Rauf on part (a) of Gerecht’s suggested definition of a moderate as someone who renounces terrorism. Gitlin does attempt to defend Rauf on part (b). While conceding in passing that “[f]rom a strictly secular point of view, [Rauf] makes impermissible moves,” Gitlin fails to mention that Rauf is an open proponent of integrating sharia into the law of Western countries, like the legally binding sharia arbitration tribunals in the UK that dispense injustice to women in matters ranging from inheritance to domestic violence. Groups like Civitas and One Law for All question whether submission to the sharia courts is truly voluntary on the part of many women, particularly immigrants who may not speak English. Gitlin mentions none of these real-world consequences of Rauf’s agenda, just as he and other defenders are too afraid to openly discuss the rest of his record.
Gitlin’s “loyalty oath” analogy is inapt, yet telling in its allusion to the Cold War. During that period, leftists (as Gitlin well knows) took political refuge in the pose of being anti-anti-Communist. They seized upon the excesses of McCarthyism in an effort to discredit anti-Communism. The left’s hysterical tarring of all critics of the Ground Zero mosque as religious bigots may point to the incipient rise of anti-anti-Islamists, bent on discrediting anti-Islamism to distract the public from the left’s great political vulnerability on the war. That unwelcome development would have an impact far beyond the questions of whether Rauf is a moderate or the Ground Zero mosque is a bad idea.