Muslim American Collective Guilt for 9-11 as the New McCarthyism: Robert Wright Says Yes to the Ground Zero Mosque and Deconstructs Rick Lazio and the Weekly Standard

Robert Wright has thought a lot about Islam and its relation to violence, and in his recent magisterial survey of Western religion, The Evolution of God  (Little, Brown 2009), he writes five chapters on Islam, including one that is wholly devoted to the subject of jihad.

So what does Wright say about the so-called ground zero mosque (which is actually blocks from the ground zero site, at Park Place, and hidden by larger buildings)?

In a recent commentary for the New York Times website, he supports Mayor Bloomberg’s position, and calls out for particular approbation Republican Rick Lazio’s demagoguery:

Pathetically, Rick Lazio seems to have made his demand for an “investigation” into Park51 the centerpiece-du-jour of his gubernatorial campaign. Happily, Mayor Bloomberg has shown true moral leadership and opposed Lazio’s demands in clear language. “Government should never — never — be in the business of telling people how they should pray, or where they can pray,” Bloomberg said last week. “We want to make sure that everybody from around the world feels comfortable coming here, living here and praying the way they want to pray.” Amen.

Wright also deconstructs and parodies Weekly Standard writer Stephen Schwartz’s McCarthyite tarring of imam Faisel Abdul Rauf:

Rauf’s wife has an uncle who used to be “a leader” of a mosque that now has a Web site that links to the Web site of an allegedly radical organization. (I’ll get back to the claim that the Westbury Mosque is itself a “center for Islamic radicals.”)

The odd thing is that the author of this piece, Stephen Schwartz, is a self-described neoconservative whose parents were, by his own account, communists. You’d think he might harbor doubts about how confidently we can infer people’s ideologies from the ideologies of their older relatives. You’d also think he might disdain McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactics.

You’d be wrong. Schwartz’s piece goes on and on, weaving webs of association so engrossing that you have to keep reminding yourself that they have nothing to do with Rauf.

Wright also offers his take on how this might be playing among terrorist recruiting circles:

I’d have thought that opinion leaders of all ideological stripes could reach consensus by applying a basic rule of thumb: Just ask, “What would Osama bin Laden want?” and then do the opposite.

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.

I’m with Wright on this whole subject. Our war is not with Muslim Americans, attributing to them collective guilt for 9-11 (in America the political unit for the law is the individual citizen, not one’s tribe, ethnos, or religious affiliation). Nor is our war with Islam peacefully practiced. It is with terrorists who have given the Quran a very particularist reading, one that most Muslims do not share, and those who don’t share it shouldn’t be treated with the McCarthyite suspicion that they secretly share it.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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