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July 25, 2010

Robert Wright has a piece up in the NYT that’s getting a lot of attention for its insights on the Ground Zero Mosque.  Again, I’m going to leave aside the how-far-is-it-from-Ground-Zero thing, because I think that’s beside the point.  Instead, we’re going back to the “what would bin Laden want” argument:

Bin Laden would love to be able to say that in America you can build a church or synagogue anywhere you want, but not a mosque. That fits perfectly with his recruiting pitch — that America has declared war on Islam. And bin Laden would thrill to the claim that a mosque near ground zero dishonors the victims of 9/11, because the unspoken premise is that the attacks really were, as he claims, a valid expression of Islam.

Well, bin Laden had a good recruiting pitch before 9/11, and although there has undoubtedly been a backlash to American involvement in Muslim countries, al Qaeda wasn’t built as a response to an American war.  Not building a mosque at Ground Zero isn’t a validation of bin Laden’s version of Islam any more than not building a church at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is a validation of David Koresh’s version of Christianity, but I don’t see that there are only two options here.  We don’t have to either build a mosque at Ground Zero or roundly denounce the whole thing as an attempt by Islamists to subject the nation to Sharia starting in Manhattan.  We can just build a memorial there!  Besides, we don’t know that bin Laden would prefer the American “war on Islam” narrative.  Like I say, he did have a good recruiting pitch before 9/11.

Unfortunately, there’s a less vacuous side to this argument, because some of the mosque’s opponents are calling on the imam in question to condemn Hamas:

No doubt Osama bin Laden, if apprised of the situation, would hope that Rauf will cave in to these demands and ritually denounce Hamas. Because the Muslims who are most vulnerable to bin Laden’s recruiting pitch are, it’s safe to say, at least somewhat sympathetic to Hamas. And if moderate Muslims like Rauf can be pressured into adopting Israel’s position, and thus be depicted by truly radical Muslims as Zionist tools, that will make them less effective in their tug of war with bin Laden for the hearts and minds of the vulnerable.

Yeah, this is why I prefer to discuss the argument in a vacuum.  There’s no need to force Muslims to make a choice on this issue because, again, there isn’t a clean divide between moderate Muslims and radical ones.  If we wanted to expel from our sights all those Muslims who are even somewhat sympathetic to Hamas — and thus reluctant to “denounce” it — then that’s a lot of people that we’re choosing to make enemies with rather than friends.  As Ackerman points out, that’s “needlessly limiting your pool of allies”.  You can be opposed to the GZM without requiring that its proponents completely rebuke their fellow Muslims.  Is this really the hill on which you’re choosing to make your stand?

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