Monday, August 9, 2010

Who's Shaming Whom?

So much for deliberation and debate. The controversy over the planned Islamic Center and Mosque at Ground Zero has just taken leave of its senses.

The mayor of New York, self-proclaimed champion of first amendment freedom, has declared the debate over. For all his zeal defending what he sees as religious freedom, the mayor is far less zealous when it comes to the free speech of people who disagree with him.

Even if that number comprises the majority of the citizens of New York City, New York State, and the United States.

Now the debate has taken a turn toward the dark side. Those who defend the right of Imam Rauf to place a mosque near Ground Zero are tired of debating the point. They have moved on to Plan B: stigmatize anyone who disagrees with them by calling them bigots.

In so doing they are saying that if you disagree with their point of view you will be cast into social oblivion. It beats debating the issues.

In view of those who claim the stature of intellectual elites, anyone who disputes their position is an Islamophobe. And since the leftist cultural elite in this country believes that American can only be saved if it does penance for its sins, there is nothing very new here.

Among those who have cast the opponents of the mosque as bigots are Michelle Goldberg, Hendrik Hertzberg,  and Reihan Salam.

Shaming your opponents is a venerable rhetorical technique, but it is also one of the nastier ways to shut down opinions you do not agree with.

And when you decide to shut down the opposition you are also saying that there need be no negotiation, no middle ground, no finding a common interest.

Dare we say that these tactics have no place in the free market of ideas. And dare we say that the vigorous and reprehensible reaction of the intellectual elites to the objections to putting a mosque within a couple of blocks of Ground Zero feel more like an assertion of their own status and authority.

When the elites are threatened by those who do not belong to their tribe they react with verbal violence and resort to shunning those who dare disagree.

Thereby, they enforce intellectual conformity while at the same time making themselves the ultimate arbiters of the correct opinions.

One instance of shaming stands out here, for its egregiousness and the object of its shunning. I am thinking of Fareed Zakaria, leading intellectual light at Newsweek magazine.

Zakaria found himself so completely appalled by the attitude of the Anti-Defamation League that he publicly denounced the group and returned an award that it had given him several years back. Link here.

Of course, some might say that Zakaria is reacting as he is because he was born Muslim and is the son of an Islamic scholar. I prefer to believe that he is defending his own tribe, the intellectual elites, and its authority within the world of ideas.

Given the choice between Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the Abraham Foxman of the ADL, Zakaria sides with Imam Rauf. Apparently, an Imam who has famously refused to denounce Hamas is more worthy of Zakaria's loyalty than is one of the nation's most intrepid fighters against anti-Semitism.

Zakaria is saying that the ADL should be shunned as institution. He cannot bear to have been honored by it, thus he is declining the honor.

Zakaria does not merely defend the Imam on the grounds of religious freedom. He makes the larger argument that the war against radical Islam can only be won if we promote, support, and sustain the voices of Islamic moderation.

Zakaria is especially impressed by the fact that Imam Rauf wrote a book entited: What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America. He fails to mention, however, that when the book was published in Muslim countries, its title was changed. The Muslim-friendly title is: A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11.

Clearly, the Imam understands the propaganda value of building a mosque amid the World Trade Center rubble. Whatever he says in his books, his gesture, in and of itself, means that he is not in the least interested in conciliation with non-Islamic religions.

The interesting part of this exercise in public shaming is that it is directed at the wrong targets.  Rather than shaming those who disagree with what has come to be yet another liberal dogma, would it not be better if the intellectual elites and the American government set about shaming some of the practices of radical Islam?

So writes Mona Charen in a vigorous article about how to fight human rights abuses in foreign countries. Link here.

As a case in point, Charen cites Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian mother who was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. You recall the international outcry against this barbaric act, and you know that this bad publicity was instrumental in convincing the regime that they should not carry out the punishment.

One can only wonder why this has not happened more often. Have the intellectual elites so fully exhausted their moral resources attacking Sarah Palin and the Tea Party that they have nothing left to attack the Iranians.

Why hasn't the gay rights movement not mobilized to protest the Iranian regime when it hangs gay men in the public square? Shouldn't the woman's rights movement be mobilized internationally to protest the treatment of women in radical Islamic cultures?

In June, 2009, the Iranian regime cracked down violently on the democratic protester of what was called the Green movement. Where were the American defenders of human rights and democratic liberty when that was happening? Why was the American administration silent in the face of torture, murder, rape and unjust imprisonment?

But, then again, if people are so good at shaming, why not call out Imam Rauf for some of his positions? It is one thing to say that we are obligated under law to allow the mosque to be built. It is quite another to say that it ought to be built, or that no one can reasonably protest its location.

Why does Fareed Zakaria feel a need to defend Imam Rauf as just the kind of moderate Muslim who can help us to defeat Islamic extremists? And why does Michael Bloomberg declare that we should not investigate the funding behind the Islamic Center?

The truth is, the person who deserves to be shamed in this episode is the Imam himself, not the director of the Anti-Defamation League. Recall that the Imam said that: "... United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened [on 9/11]." And he added that: "Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A." Furthermore, as is well known, Imam Rauf has never had the courage to denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Why then does Fareed Zakaria defend Imam Rauf as the kind of moderate Muslim we should be supporting while shunning and shaming the Anti-Defamation League?

And while we are thinking in these terms, do you think that Zakaria's own gesture was noble or shameful?

1 comment:

Salam, Shalom, Shanti said...

I really wish prominant American religious leaders from all of the world's major faiths would publicly propose to the Muslims behind the Mosque idea and their supporters that an INTERFAITH CENTER be built there where Muslims and adherents to all of the world's major religions can gather for joint worship and conversation.

Om Shanti Om