Mosques, Book Burnings, Collectivism and War Worship

The Cordoba House Islamic community center, scheduled for construction on private land within a few blocks of where the Twin Towers once stood, has drawn ire from many Americans, many of whom have provocatively called it the “Ground Zero Mosque” and have condemned it as offensive, and many of whom have called on the government to step in and prevent the center’s construction, in violation of both the private property rights of the owner of the land as well as the principles of religious toleration that make America a great country.

Defenders of the construction project have pointed out that the building is not a mosque, but a community center—qqqessentially a Muslim version of the YMCA. Opponents have snapped back that the building will in fact have a mosque in it.

But according to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is spearheading the project, the center will also include separate places of prayer for Christians and Jews. And while some have said the project’s backers should instead give money to a 9/11 memorial, the Imam says the center will also have “a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.”

Some have pointed out the supposed bad taste of building any sort of house of Muslim prayer near Ground Zero, but this assumes that Islam was the culprit on 9/11. It wasn’t. And even moderate defenders of the “Ground Zero mosque” will try to differentiate between radical and moderate Islam—but radical Islam is not really the reason behind the 9/11 attacks, either. The motivation was revenge for U.S. foreign policy, and although that certainly doesn’t excuse the atrocity, there is nothing unique about Islam, fundamentalist or not, that is needed to explain this act of revenge. As Robert Pape’s extensive research decisively shows, even the particularly gruesome spectacle of suicide bombing has little to do with religious extremism per se—many suicide bombers are not Muslim and even secular—and much more to do with resistance against a foreign occupier.

When Americans went to war after 9/11, revenge was a motivator there, too. But Americans’ religion had little to do with it. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, this too was likely an act of revenge (or as some would claim, self-defense) against Hezbollah. The fact that the Israelis were mostly Jewish was not the major factor. Geopolitics and war in the region, as well as in U.S. conflicts with the Muslim world, do relate to religious questions. But it is not Islam, or Christianity, or Judaism, that is responsible for these acts of violence.

The Lebanese seem to understand this distinction, as they appear to support the reconstruction of a synagogue that was destroyed in the Israeli invasion of their country in 2006. Lebanon’s own “Ground Zero” synagogue is a good example for Americans of how to distinguish between belligerents that attack your country and the religion they happen to belong to.

Newt Gingrich bellowed that so long as Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow churches or synagogues, Americans shouldn’t tolerate a mosque near Ground Zero. As though this should be our standard. But in any event, while many Muslim nations are quite theocratic, a few do allow relative freedom for Christians and Jews. Sharia law does not bind non-Muslims in Kazakhstan, Turkey and Mali. The world’s Muslims are not a monolith, and if the Lebanese don’t hold Israel’s belligerence against their small Jewish minority—as they shouldn’t—then neither should Americans hold the violence of some Saudis and Egyptians on 9/11 (all hailed from these nations, our allies) against our much bigger Muslim minority. Nor should we hold it against the Muslims in the rest of the world—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or Pakistan—who have nothing to do with 9/11 at all.

Meanwhile, some Americans are planning to burn the Quran on 9/11 this year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and General David Patraeus are right that this is an incendiary act—far more intentionally offensive, it would seem to me, than the mosque building—and that it could motivate more Muslims to hate Americans. But as Ron Paul points out, such U.S. officials are ignoring the real American-caused incitement of anti-American violence and terrorism: U.S. foreign policy. It is foolish, offensive, ugly, stupid and probably immoral for Americans to burn the Quran in such a display of religious animosity. But on the other hand, at least these Americans are planning to destroy their own private property—the U.S. military and State Department, as a matter of course, loot and destroy the private property of other people, Americans and foreigners alike. Worse, U.S. wars have killed hundreds of thousands of foreigners in just the last decade or so. This is by far the bigger problem, and Hillary and the general should focus on what they can do to reduce anti-American hatred. Burning the Quran is terrible. But bombing and burning foreign mosques and killing women and children would seem to me much worse, by practically any moral standard.

Moreover, this whole notion that Ground Zero is “hallowed ground” is itself religiously offensive to me, and should be offensive to anyone who subscribes to Christianity or any other major religion. The U.S. government is not sacred. The lives lost on 9/11 were of course of infinite worth. But to single out a spot of blowback against U.S. wars—a spot that was jumped upon to launch ever more wars and the expansion of the U.S. government—and call it “hallowed ground” evokes religious imagery and feeling in a potentially blasphemous way. But in America, while Muslims pray in fear and even Christians, the majority, are harassed about their faith—where distinct minorities like fundamentalist Mormons and Branch Davidians are deprived of their families or even their right to live—worship of the U.S. government is the most protected “religious” freedom. Indeed, this is why we’re supposed to be completely enraged when foreigners burn the American flag, and yet not even bothered when American interrogators desecrate the Quran as they are conducting “enhanced interrogation techniques” against U.S. captives. It is why any disrespect of the U.S. Armed Forces is sacrilege in America, even as almost no Americans are aware that U.S. marines—the “best and the brightest”—spray-painted their motto “Semper Fi” onto the walls of the 4,000-year-old Ziggurat of Ur after they “liberated” the ancient Sumerian city, the Cradle of Civilization itself, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Religion might be part of the particular motivation of every major side in the wars and terrorism of today, but it is the secular religion of collectivism, the civic religion of statism, that is most philosophically responsible for all this violence, and that has allowed people to reject their own religious teachings not to kill the innocent for what they have convinced themselves is the pursuit of the greater good. Utilitarianism and materialism and the worship of the worldly, not the spiritual, are the main problem here.

Religious freedom is under attack. Property rights are a thing of the past. A baseline of civility is absent in the way so many Americans have continued to respond to the terrorist attacks nine years ago. And worst of all, the U.S. government has continued its orgy of mass killing—in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and into Pakistan and who knows where next—demonstrating that the most important lessons of 9/11 have yet to be learned.

UPDATE: The Florida pastor has reportedly canceled the book burning. Now if only we could cancel U.S. wars, which do far more to inflame anti-American sentiment and violence.

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