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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Third Choice — Interview of Mark Durie by Mark Tapson for FrontPage Magazine

Before it was innocuously renamed Park 51, the Ground Zero mosque development had been known as the Cordoba House, which proponents claimed referred to a supposed golden age of multi-faith tolerance under Islamic rule. What they neglect to mention is that historically, non-Muslims under Muslim rule have been presented with three choices: conversion to Islam, death, or the subservient status known as dhimmitude.

A new book sheds light on that little-understood condition and its contemporary relevance. The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom [1] by Dr. Mark Durie was released in February by Deror Books and short-listed for Australian Christian Book of the Year. A former linguistics scholar, Durie is now the Vicar of St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Caulfield in Melbourne, Australia. He writes and speaks extensively in Australia and internationally about Islam, interfaith dialogue, religious conflict, and the persecution of religious minorities, especially Christians living under Sharia law.
I caught up with the author just prior to his recent arrival in Los Angeles to promote the book.

MT: Dr. Durie, I’d like to begin talking about The Third Choice by asking what inspired you, as an Anglican priest, to write a study of Islam and dhimmitude?

MD: I first became interested in Islam when doing linguistic field work in Aceh, Indonesia, in the early 1980’s. The Acehnese people are proud of their Islamic identity, but despite enjoying countless discussions about religion with them, I made no attempt to study Islam formally; my whole focus was on linguistic research. But I couldn’t escape learning about jihad [2], because it played such a large role in the historical consciousness of the people. An amazingly large number of works of Acehnese literature are jihad epics. Another aspect of my experience was contact with local Christians; this is how I came to know of the difficult circumstances of non-Muslims living in an Islamic society.
When I left academia to become an Anglican minister, around 1998, I thought I was leaving Islamic jihad well behind me. I had no idea of the depth and breadth of the global Islamic movement. Then as I watched the burning World Trade Center towers collapse in the New York morning sunshine, I knew there was no ideology on this earth other than Islamic jihad which could have inspired such an attack. It was no surprise when verses from the Koran reportedly found in the backpacks of the terrorists were exactly the same verses which had figured so prominently in Acehnese jihad epic poems from over a century ago.
At that point I knew I had to try to understand Islam properly. So I read the hadiths, the Koran, and Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad in the months after 9/11, with the eye of a theologian – I was constantly asking how this material would form people’s spiritual identity.  This exploration made me deeply troubled. The persona of Muhammad which arose before me from Islam’s primary sources shocked me to my core. I thought, “If this man’s life is supposed to be the best example, we are all in deep trouble.”
I went to the Islamic Council offices in Melbourne and bought more books about Islam. One was Maududi’s Let Us be Muslims. This only increased my concern. After chapters on all the essentials of Islam, such as the pillars of faith, Maududi concludes the book with a call to jihad. Everything else in Islam, he said, was but a preparation for toppling governments, taking power, and establishing Islam in the world. I thought this was an ideal book for turning a pious young Muslim into a jihad-ready militant.
At that time I began to write and teach on Islam, and I’ve been going ever since. I wrote The Third Choice to help people understand Islam from the ground up, and to know what it really means to depend upon the benevolence of an Islamic state from the perspective of a dhimmi – a non-Muslim living under Islamic rule.

MT: How is your book different from other works about the topic by scholars like Andrew Bostom [3] or Bat Ye’or, who actually wrote your foreword?

MD: Their books are great, and I could not have written The Third Choice without them. But they are long and academic. Their focus is on specific historical manifestations of Islam: jihad, dhimmitude and anti-Semitism [4]. They also include large chunks of primary source material. This is great for the researcher, but for many readers it is just too much to digest. Also, their books don’t attempt to explain Islam itself as a total system.  One of my central goals is to make Islam itself clear and plausible. This is very necessary. Also I approach the subject as a theologian – I focus on ideology: how it shapes people’s worldview, and how we can find freedom from it. The Third Choice is a one-stop shop for understanding Islam and the dhimmi condition.

MT: Where and in what ways do you see dhimmitude at work in the West?

MD: Gradually, and in countless ways, the West is accepting that Islam deserves to be treated differently and preferentially. We are finding it perfectly normal to make concessions to Islam which would never be made to other faiths. The “third choice” of my title is the alternative to conversion to Islam or the sword. This is the choice to give up fighting, and surrender to Islam, and live as a non-Muslim under Islamic rule. But there is a price to keeping your head without converting, and this is to serve Islam and to embrace your own inferiority.
The two most characteristic psychological traits of the dhimmi are gratitude and humility. We are seeing both these traits shaping public discourse around Islam. President Obama, for example, has spoken of the “debt” the West owes to Islam. This sense of indebtedness is being imparted to our schoolchildren through Islamicized history textbooks.
 The dhimmi syndrome is analogous to that of the battered woman. An abused woman will often vigorously deny that her husband is doing anything wrong, even when her life is daily at risk from beatings. She will be schooled by the violence to be grateful for any small kindness shown to her, and to insist that he loves her. All the abuse is her own fault. The dhimmi syndrome causes victims to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve their worldview of denial.
I respect but deplore the psychological power of this dynamic. Respect, because these are the strategies of survivors. Deplore, because such soul-destroying strategies rob people of freedom and bind them into self-deception. Indeed I was amazed to discover a Moroccan jurist who in his commentary on Sura 9:29 of the Koran said that the purpose of the dhimmi system is to “kill the soul” of the non-Muslim, so he will render willingly everything demanded of him.

MT: What can be done to reverse the trend of surrendering to Islam’s demands?

MD: The most important thing is to understand Islam, warts and all, without camouflage, from the ground up, for ourselves. We must make sense of the theology – or ideology, if you like. We must also insist on reciprocity in all things. We need to recognize that handing over your worldview and allowing it to be shaped by an abuser is a terrible loss of freedom, and no good will come of it. We need to recapture our discourse, and demand that the word jihad be used where it is appropriate. We need to stop talking in circumlocutions which conceal and hide the truth. We need to stop protecting Muslims from being forced to account for their own religion’s teachings.

MT: The Ground Zero mosque controversy has amplified accusations against non-Muslims of Islamophobia, fear and ignorance. Are they legitimate, and can we put our trust in interfaith dialogue to resolve tensions?

MD: There is this idea floating around that those who are speaking up about Islamic radicalism must be bigots and therefore they must be ignorant. Ironically the loudest critics of Islam are usually the ones who have studied the fundamentals of Islam the most rigorously. Those crying “bigot” can be the most ignorant, and will come up with absolute howlers, real nonsense, spoken with a poker face as it were the most serious thing in the world. They decry accurate and reliable information about Islam as “Islamophobic facts,” just as the Soviet courts used to reject what they called “calumnious facts.”
When non-Muslims go into interfaith dialogue without a good understanding of Islam, they are severely handicapped. The dialogue can easily be manipulated to become an exercise in da’wa, or proclaiming Islam. A good example is the label “Abrahamic faith.” This is a Koranic term, and in Islam it stands for the idea that Abraham was a Muslim. According to the Koran, the faith of Abraham is Islam. Getting Jews and Christians to speak about “Abrahamic religions” has been a great coup – it is a manifestation of the Islamization of our religious discourse.
The problem of dialogue is especially acute if your Muslim counterpart subscribes to the doctrine of taqiyya, which favors the use of misleading impressions, or even direct lies. Everyone involved in interfaith dialogue with Muslims needs to understand that under certain circumstances – for example, if Muslims feel threatened – giving a misleading impression could be regarded as a righteous act. Not all Muslims will go down this track, but for some it is a real option, and there are plenty of clear examples of it happening all around us. In The Third Choice I give a very clear explanation of the doctrine of taqiyya, and explain how it arises in Islamic theology, how it is being taught by Muslims, and how it is being applied today.

MT: A distinction is often made between Islam and Islamism. Do you feel that it’s a valid distinction, and is a reformed Islam possible?

MD: A thorough reading through the hadiths, sira and Koran led me to believe that reform in the sense of “improvement” is incredibly difficult. In medieval Christianity, reforming religion meant making it better by going back to its roots, back to the gospels. The problem is, if you reform Islam this way, you go back to Muhammad’s message and example, and what you get is Wahhabism and al Qaida [5]. Reform through reshaping Islam under the influence of external ideas, derived from non-Islamic sources, is conceivable, but the trend of the past 100 years has been just about all in the other direction.
If you put a young God-fearing Muslim in a room with an Islamic radical and an Islamic moderate, both trying to win over the young person’s soul, the radical would win again and again. It is because the canon – hadiths, sira and Koran – are massively stacked in favor of the radical position. Yes, there are violent passages in the Bible too, but it is an uphill battle to build a violent theology based on them. With the Koran, building a violent theology is like rolling balls down a hill. It is a huge uphill struggle building a “moderate” Islamic theology on the basis of the Islamic canon alone.
I think some commentators – whose work I respect and admire – speak of “Islamism” because they don’t want to dignify the radical cause by calling it “Islam.” Also, if they name the problem as “Islam,” it would seem too overwhelming. Nevertheless, I agree with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan and other ex-Muslims that the problem of radical Islam is the problem of Islam itself. The will to dominate is hard-wired into the core texts of Islam, and this cannot be excised from the heart of these texts without a traumatic assault on the fundamentals of Islam. So I don’t like to speak about “Islamism.” To me it feels like a cop-out.
Often I meet people who want to be informed about Islam but will let their minds grasp the problem only if the solution is clear. This is hopeless. You must first live with the problem, even for a long time, before solutions will come. But I am convinced we will  find solutions to the challenge of Islam. That is why I wrote The Third Choice – out of conviction that facing the truth will bring liberty.

The interview was posted on FrontPage as:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What is a mosque?

What is a mosque?  This is an important and pressing question.

I am reminded of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's observation:
"One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing's nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing round the frame through which we look at it."[1] 
I suggest that this is how a lot of people form their understanding of mosques — they look at a mosque and think 'Islamic church', because a church is what they are familiar with. It is the frame they are looking through.

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor presented a sermon for the 9/11 anniversary in which he stated that "a mosque should be a place of peace, prayer and study", as if this were a self-evident truth.  But is it?  Or was he in fact describing his ideal synagogue?

To understand what a mosque is in Islam, we need to grasp that Islamic practice and belief is based upon the example and teaching of Muhammad.  What determines the function of a mosque — from a religious perspective — is how Muhammad used mosques.  The question "What is a mosque?" begs the question "How did Muhammad use mosques?"

What needs to be kept in mind is that Islam does not separate faith from politics.  This is becauase Muhammad combined in himself the offices of chief priest, head of state, general of the army, and chief justice.  Just as he combined all these functions, so in Islam, the mosque can be a site for political, military, religious and legal activities.  It can be a parliament, military parade ground, church and a court.  And during Muhammad's life time, mosques were at various times, all these things.  This is all explained in the handy booklet The Mosque Exposed by Sam Solmon and E Alamaqdisi, who give examples of Muhammad using mosques for such diverse purposes.

But let's consider what a significant contemporary scholar has said on the subject.  Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is an influential person. He is no lightweight or fringe-dweller.   A trustee  of the Oxford University Centre for Islamic Studies, he was named by Foreign Policy Magazine as number 3 in a poll to determine the top 20 public intellectuals in the world today.

In 2006 Al-Qaradawi produced a fatwa (a religious ruling) to answer the question: "Is is permissible to use a mosque for political purposes?" (The Arabic text can be found here.) (Apparently this was a revision of an earlier fatwa, issued in 2001.)

Al-Qaradawi's answer was 'Yes it is,' and included the following remarks:
The mosque at the time of the Messenger of Allah [Muhammad] was the center of the activities of the Muslim community as a whole: it was not just a house of worship and prayer, but included worship, a university for science, a forum for literature, and a parliament for consultation ... it was used by delegations from various places in the Arabian peninsula to meet with the prophet [Muhammad], and it was the place where he gave his sermons and guidance in all religious, social and political aspects of life.
In the life of the prophet there was no distinction between what the people call sacred and secular, or religion and politics: he had no place other than the mosque for politics and other related issues. That established a precedent for his religion. The mosque at the time of the prophet was his propagation center and the headquarters of the state.
This was also the case for his successors, the rightly guided Caliphs: the mosque was their base for all activities political as well as non-political.
... Politics as a science is one of the best disciplines, and as a practice and career it is the most honorable. The surprising thing is that it is politicians, who are totally immersed in it [politics] from the top of their heads to the soles of their feet, who are inquiring if the mosque should embark on and leap into political affairs. Politics in itself is neither vice, nor evil, according to Islam. ... For Muslims it is part of our religion: doctrine and worship constitute a system for the whole of life. 
... It must be the role of the mosque to guide the public policy of a nation, raise awareness of  critical issues, and reveal its enemies. 
From ancient times the mosque has had a role in urging jihad for the sake of Allah, resisting the enemies of the religion who are invading occupiers. That blessed Intifada in the land of the prophets, Palestine, started from none other than the mosques.  Its first call came from the minarets and it was first known as the mosque revolution. The mosque's role in the Afghan jihad, and in every Islamic jihad cannot be denied.

The last point about jihad is an important one.  It explains why time and again intelligence agencies have established links between jihadis and particular mosques, where the faith and intentions of young men have been so nurtured that they were ready and willing to undertake jihad for the sake of Allah.

There are reported to be 40,000 to 50,000 mosques in the United States, but there is not a single church in Saudi Arabia.  The issue for municipal planning authorities to consider, when they receive a request to issue a permit for a mosque, is how can they know what kind of facility this will turn out to be?  No doubt there are many mosques which are simply places of private devotion and public worship.  But, according to Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, there is much more to a mosque than this.


[1] Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Prentice Hall, 1973. p. 114.

Monday, September 13, 2010

More on Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor

I have been ruminating further about Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor's 9/11 address.  In my previous blog I questioned his presupposition that those who oppose the Park51 Project (the 'Ground Zero Mosque) must be bigots, as well as his assumption that ignorance is the cause of bigotry, and the inference that the rejecters whom he regards as bigots must therefore be ignorant, and what they most need is to be educated about Islam in the new Islamic Center.  I suggested that he made some contributions to ignorance of his own.

Polarized rhetoric is one of the lamentable features in the bitter debates over Imam Faisal's divisive project.  However Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor did make some valid points.  I agree that the analogy of the Carmelite Convent controversy is invalid, even offensive.  I also agree that it is a bad idea to base a decision about the Park51 proposal on the principle that we must respect the right of survivors of a tragedy to hold 'irrational' or 'bigoted' positions (see the report on Abraham Foxman's statements).

On the other hand, I don't agree that 9/11 can reasonably be described as 'an attack on the liberties and pluralism of the US by Wahabist terrorists'.

For one thing, it seems strange to call Al Qaida "Wahhabist", as Wahhabism is the religious ideology of the Saudi State, and Al Qaida wants to destroy this state.  Despite some commonalities, Al Qaida's religious beliefs diverge from Wahhabism at key points.  (And keep an eye on the Investigative Project, for Steven Emerson's anticipated report on Imam Feisal's defense of Wahhabism).

But more importantly, it is misleading to call 9/11 an "attack on liberties and pluralism", and to base one's support for the Park51 project on this idea.  According to Bin Ladin himself, the 9/11 raid was an attack on America and its infidel people, whom he regarded as criminal oppressors.  Al Qaida was not purporting to attack 'pluralism' or 'liberty', but an actual country, and actual people in that country, who, it claimed, were killing Muslims and fighting Islam. Al Qaida's objective, Bin Ladin said, was to make Islam victorious in the world. It therefore seems a strange rhetorical trick for Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor to claim that the Islamic Centre must be built near Ground Zero,  so that America can prove it has not been beaten by Al Qaida.

Of course it is open to anyone to claim that Bin Ladin misrepresented or misunderstood his own strategic goals when he made these statements after 9/11. But it is also open for survivors, relatives of victims, and Americans in general, who, understanding what he said, and judging correctly that the victims were killed by men claiming to act in the name of Islam, are now asking that no monument to this faith be constructed close to the site of their personal tragedy.

This should be regarded as reasonable, and not bigotry, quite irrespective of whether one believes that Al Qaida's ideology bears any relation at all to 'real Islam'.

The question of what is real Islam is a complex and hotly disputed one. It seems heartless to demand that 9/11 survivors and their supporters must be forced to subscribe to a politically correct answer to this question, or else be denigrated as 'bigots'.

In my view the Park51 Center is a bad idea, because its construction will not bring the harmony which Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor is seeking. However, whether the project should be deemed unlawful is another question altogether.  It is not good to limit religious freedoms merely on the grounds that others might be offended. This kind of argument is often used in sharia societies to restrict the religious practices of Christians and other non-Muslim groups:  it is claimed that such and such a church must not be built, or such and such a temple must be torn down, just so that Muslims will not be offended. If the planning authorities do permit Park51 to be built – and religious freedom principles could be invoked in support of this  – what seems absolutely clear is that those who oppose the project deserve a fair hearing, without being vilified as 'bigots'.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Case Study in Denial: the Example of Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor, of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, has written a reflection for 9/11 entitled "How many lies are contained in the phrase "A mosque at ground zero"?
The rabbi excoriates those who are opposed to the construction of the Park51 project, also known as the "Ground Zero Mosque."  Such people, he says, are bigots, intolerant, narrow-minded, xenophobic, haters, ignorant, right-wing and purveyors of 'idiotic stories'.  This is not a nice way to speak about people who object to the proposed Islamic Center. Not all of these people are fringe-dwelling crazy uneducated bores with no ability to think.

Rabbi Betton Granatoor declares that:
 "... the root of most bigotry and discrimination is found in ignorance.  Education is the only antidote to bigotry ... ignorance is exactly what is being perpetuated in this roiling debate.  Simple facts are distorted and lies are told so frequently that they take on the weight of truth."  
Since Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor has already decided that the mosque-opposers are bigots, he deduces from this that they must be therefore also be ignorant.
But has the rabbi not made his own contributions to ignorance?  Here are just a few points:
1. Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor says that Imam Feisal Rauf is a Sufi, and "... the Sufis are the most open, welcoming and peace-loving community in the Islamic world."
In fact, Sufism is a mystical practice, not an alternative to militancy.  The great Muslim scholar Al-Ghazali (d. 1111) was a Sufi, but his opinions on the jihad were  as militant as any Al Qaida operative's are today.  (See Andrew Bostom's Sufism without Camouflage for a discussion of Al-Ghazali and other famous Sufis from the past).
2. Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor reports that Imam Feisal Rauf has said "I am a Jew":
And it was in 2003 that Imam Rauf stood on the bima of a synagogue and eulogized Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan – concluding his remarks, with “If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul, ‘Shma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad – Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, The Lord is One’ not only today, I am a Jew, I have always been one.”
What the rabbi ignores is that Islam regards itself as the root and source of Judaism, indeed as the true Judaism.  The point was well-explained in a letter written by Author Shamim A. Siddiqi of Flushing, New York  to Daniel Pipes (Letter to the editor, Commentary, February 2002):
Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were all prophets of Islam. Islam is the common heritage of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim community of America, and establishing the Kingdom of God is the joint responsibility of all three Abrahamic faiths. Islam was the din (faith, way of life) of both Jews and Christians, who later lost it through human innovations. Now the Muslims want to remind their Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters of their original din. These are the facts of history.
To which passage I wrote the following explanation in my book Revelation? (p.51):
This historical negationism – appearing to affirm Christianity and Judaism whilst in fact rejecting and supplanting them – is a linchpin of Muslim apologetics. What is being affirmed is in fact neither Christianity nor Judaism, but Jesus as a prophet of Islam, Abraham as a Muslim, Moses as a Muslim etc. This is intended to lead to ‘reversion’ of Christians and Jews to Islam, which is what Siddiqi refers to when he speaks of ‘the joint responsibility’ of Jews and Christians to establish ‘the Kingdom of God’. By this he is asserting that American Christians and Jews should embrace Islam and work together to establish sharia law and the dominance of Islam in the United States.
The problem with Imam Feisal's  "I am a Jew" statement is that it is ambiguous in a really unhelpful way.  On the one hand it could be read as an unqualified expression of empathy for Judaism. On the other hand, it could be an affirmation of  Islam as the original faith of Jews.  Imam Feisal declared that he has 'always' been a Jew, which fits this explanation:  he regards his Islamic faith as the true Judaism.  This is the most reasonable – and in fact an Islamicly orthodox – interpretation of Imam Feisal's "I am a Jew" statement.  The Imam does appear to have given his Jewish audience a misleading impression.

3. Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor further opines:
Right wing pundits and others have circulated idiotic stories that in Islam, it is the tradition to build mosques on the sites of victories for Islam.  What rubbish – but it makes great copy on the evening news and on placards held up at demonstrations. This is a pure distortion of the facts: the Dome on the Rock which was built to commemorate a military victory is NOT a mosque.  The Al Aksa mosque built much later was built at the edge of the Temple Mount to distance itself from a war memorial, as a mosque should be a place of peace, prayer and study.
Whether it is or is not an Islamic tradition to build mosques on sites of victory is not my concern here.  What is completely false in the rabbi's statement are his claims about the Dome of the Rock.  In Arabic this structure is commonly referred to as Masjid Qubbat As-Sakhrah 'Mosque of the Dome of the Rock'. As for its origins, the Muslim scholar al-Wasiti gave this account of the building of the Dome of the Rock:
When Abd al-Malik intended to construct the Dome of the Rock, he came from Damascus to Jerusalem. He wrote, "Abd al-Malik intends to build a dome (qubba) over the Rock to house the Muslims from cold and heat, and to construct the masjid [mosque]. But before he starts he wants to know his subjects' opinion." With their approval, the deputies wrote back, "May Allah permit the completion of this enterprise, and may He count the building of the dome and the masjid a good deed for Abd al-Malik and his predecessors." He then gathered craftsmen from all his dominions and asked them to provide him with the description and form of the planned dome before he engaged in its construction. So, it was marked for him in the sahn [courtyard] of the masjid.
(The 'rock' which the 'dome' covers is in fact the 'Foundation Stone', the site of the holiest of holies of the Jewish temple.) Al-Wasiti's account makes clear that the Dome and the associated mosque were constructed at the same time, and as part of the same complex.  (The mosque itself was later rebuilt). Furthermore, Prof. Shlomo Dov Goitein has explained that the dome was built to demonstrate the superiority of Islam:
In a well-known passage of his Book of Geography, al-Maqdisi tells us how his uncle excused Abd al-Malik and Al-Walid I for spending so much good Muslims' money on buildings: They intended to remove the fitna, the 'annoyance,' constituted by the existence of the many fine buildings of worship of other religions. The very form of a rotunda, given to the Qubbat as-Sakhra, although it was foreign to Islam, was destined to rival the many Christians domes. The inscriptions decorating the interior clearly display a spirit of polemic against Christianity, while stressing at the same time the Koranic doctrine that Jesus Christ was a true prophet. The formula la sharika lahu 'god has no companion' is repeated five times, the verses from sura Maryam 16:34-37, which strongly deny Jesus' sonship to God, are quoted ... (The Historical background of the erection of the Dome of the Rock, Journal of American Oriental Society, Vol. 70, No. 2, 1950).
The Dome of the Rock was no "war memorial", but an exercise in spiritual one-upmanship. Built upon the site of the Holy of Holies, and through its inscriptions denouncing a core Christian belief, it was contrived to trump both Judaism and Christianity at the same time.

Before presuming to call the conclusions of others 'idiotic' and 'rubbish', Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor could get his own facts straight.  He might also consider the possibility that dispelling ignorance about a religion does not necessarily increase positive regard for it. He might entertain the possibility that  his own wishful thinking about Islam could itself be cocooned in a web of misinformation and prejudice.

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor would have us believe that building an Islamic Center close to Ground Zero "would enable our Muslim fellow citizens to distance themselves from the evil that was done in their name".  This argument  patronizes Muslims of good will, who are already well-able to distance themselves from Al Qaida, without needing to build a triumphalistic Islamic Center so close to the site of the Twin Towers atrocity. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Ground Zero Mosque Dividing America

I have hesitated to write about the Ground Zero Mosque, which has grabbed the attention of America in recent months.  But today is the 11th of September, and it seems as good a time as any to bite the bullet.

For an insightful discussion of what can be learned from the unfolding dispute to date, I  recommend Barry Rubin's blog post:  A Totally Different Approach on the "Ground Zero Mosque" Controversy.
Rubin makes two points:
  •  That 'the government and media have done everything possible to support it and kill off any serious debate on the issues', even though 'In this context, with everything else remaining the same, no church or synagogue  project would have been approved for this site, under these conditions, and with the group running the project.' and
  • 'Radical Islamists [including Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan] constantly hide as moderates, depending in large part on the disinterest of government, media, or academia in investigating their background and credentials.'
America is in deep trouble.  It seems impossible to have any substantive debate about Islam.  Facts no longer matter, and genuine analysis has been replaced by prejudice and paralysing, fear-driven denial.  A politically correct narrative has taken hold among the elites —that Islam has been hijacked by a few extremists — and a principle of censorship — that we must not offend the sensibilities of the other Muslims.  The effect is that Islam is being given a higher place than that accorded to other religions.

This is causing a  chasm to open up between the American people and the elites.  The elites, led by President Obama, stifle debate by labeling people with legitimate concerns 'bigots'.  But the American public is smarter than the elites understand.  The public understands there is something wrong with the religion of Islam, when Saudi Arabia forbids even a single church to exist within its borders (despite employing hundreds of thousands of Christian workers), and this on religious grounds, but at the same time the Saudis are free to fund mosques — perhaps even Imam Feisal's project — and support radicalization across the United States.  As Newt Gingrich put it:
"There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over."
In this conflicted environment, radically minded Muslim leaders like Imam Feisal keep playing the Islamophobia card, inflaming the conflict.

The reasons why the elites have such trouble reading Feisal and those like him correctly are complex.

One factor is the influence exerted by fellow-travelers in the political establishment, whose personal connections, such as marriage, family, business arrangements or friendships, dispose them to shield Islam from criticism.  Included among these is President Obama himself, who famously said 'I know, because I am one of them'.  Another factor is the loss of intellectual freedom in the Academy, due in part to funding of Islamic Studies centers by donors from Islamic countries, but also to the contemporary intellectual fashion of Western self-hatred.  Other contributing factors are certain worldview dispositions, such as the assumption that all religions are the same; or that one can just as easily support violence from any 'holy book'; or that wars are fought over land, wealth or injustice, but not because of deeply held religious beliefs (according to this view, religion is just a pretext, and never a real cause for war).  There is also the contribution being made by the Islamization of the West's historical consciousness, including the promotion of the myth of an Islamic Golden Age, and the supposed indebtedness of the West to Islam. Another factor is fear: fear that if Islam is the problem, there could be no imaginable solution, or simply the fear that if we criticize Islam, we will be attacked.

Imam Feisal is not the only radical to have promoted himself as a moderate.  The current Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, Samuel T. Lloyd III, presided at a memoral service immediately after the 9/11 atrocity, held at Trinity Episcopalian Church in Boston, as which Dr Walid Fitaihi spoke.  Revd Lloyd had this to say about Dr Fitaihi's contribution:
Many of us experienced a remarkable moment of hope at the service yesterday, when Dr. Wadid Fataihi (sic), a doctor at Harvard Medical School and member of the Islamic Society of Boston, spoke words of healing and support. His gentle, holy manner touched everyone in that church. And it seemed an enormously hopeful sign of a divided world looking for ways to draw closer together. 
However, in letters written and published in Egypt and London, Fitaihi subsequently described this very same interfaith service at Trinity Church in a way which showed that he evaluated it in terms of its value for winning America to Islam. By this criterion, he judged the event a success.  He reported the Christians’ acceptance of key points of Islamic theology, including that the Quran is the word of Allah, infidels are guilty, and the Umma [the worldwide Muslim community] is superior:  Fitaihi reported the words of one of the Christians to him after the service: ‘You are just like us; no, you are better than us’.  Also, using antisemitic rhetoric, Fitaihi celebrated 9/11 as helpful to the Islamic cause, because it was driving a wedge between Christians and Jews over Israel.  He looked forward to a wave of conversions to Islam in the US, post 9/11.

Another example comes from Australia.  In 2002 the Islamic Council of Victoria  made a complaint of religious vilification against two Christians pastors in Melbourne Australia. The complaint was made about a seminar on Islamic jihad, presented in the months after 9/11.  At the time, non-Muslim religious leaders in Victoria, including a bishop and a rabbi, went public to declare their support for the Muslims, and to criticize the two pastors.

What was striking about media coverage of the resulting tribunal case and subsequent successful appeal by the Christian side – in a legal process which went on for years — was how unwilling journalists were to inquire into the ideological background of the ICV.  They did not access publicly available records which showed that during the 1990's the Council had been running a mujahideen account, raising alms for jihad in Afghanistan.  Nor did they mention the fact that in the weeks after 9/11 the Council was found to be selling Maududi's Let us be Muslims to the public (The Real Words of Islam  - Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun - 6/12/01). (I remember this because I was the one who bought the book - and the man who sold it to me later turned out to be a retired Australian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia!)  Maududi's influential radical text calls for the toppling of democracies by jihad, and replacing democracy with sharia law  Even during the period when the tribunal found in favour of the ICV (subsequently overturned on appeal), the ICV's website had a link to the site of the Federation of Australasian Muslim Students and Youth, on which FAMSY was advertising radical Islamic texts for sale through its bookshop. Including among these titles was  Sayyid Qutb's Milestones and Maududi's Jihad in Islam. The latter text includes the paragraph:
Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a State on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which Nation assumes the role of the standard bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State. Jihad in Islam, p.9.
It seems that religious leaders in Melbourne were wooed by an effective long-term program of interfaith dialogue with the Islamic Council of Victoria, and as a result were supportive of the ICV's complaint against the two pastors.  The Christian and Jewish leaders were willing to make public statements in support of the ICV seemingly without investigating the ICV's ideological profile for themselves.

While some have analyzed the evidence of ideological radicalism in past statements of Imam Feisal and his wife (see here and here) what is disturbing is the lack of interest — or willful incompetence — on the part of the mainstream US media to investigate such matters. I say 'willful' because the media has had years in which to correct its lack of understanding of radical Islam.

This lazy prejudice is inflaming divisions in American society.  It continues to condemn people to ignorance, and amplifies the cognitive dissonance of the gap between the elites' worldview and reality. This gap has become only too obvious to the American public, but when will the elites wake up? And when or if they do, will the damage have become irreversible?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Interfaith dialogue with Dhimmis: What does it mean? What are the implications?

Lecture and Book Signing with Revd Mark Durie, Ph.D.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - 7:00 p.m.
Skirball Cultural Center
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA  90049

Here is the link that opens to the invitation:

Those who are prepared to engage in substantive interfaith dialogue with Muslims must gain a comprehensive education in Islamic doctrine, tenets and practices, including the very alarming political ideology of Islam. In that way, some thorny and exceptionally unpleasant issues can be appropriately targeted and addressed for clarification.

“Interfaith is like motherhood and apple pie. Everyone supports it. But there is one proviso. Dialogue can only work when both parties are genuinely committed and we avoid making concessions in order to curry favor that merely create a fa├žade of goodwill but in reality compromise our dignity, enabling evil to flourish. Interfaith relations must be based on honest and frank dialogue designed to create goodwill based on shared values.”- Isi Leibler

The Third Choice offers indispensable keys for understanding Islam’s influence in global politics, including interfaith dialogue initiatives, the widening impact of sharia revival, deterioration of human rights in Islamic societies, jihad terrorism, patterns of Western appeasement, and the increasingly volatile relationship between migrant Muslim communities in the West and their host societies.

Dr. Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist and pastor in the Anglican church.  He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992.

Dr. Mark Durie will be available after the lecture to answer questions and sign copies of his book,
The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom.
(Books available on the night for a one-off price of $10 - cash or cheques only.)

Entrance to the lecture: $10 per person
Cash or check at the door

By email —
or call (818)704-0523

Students attending the lecture will receive a free personally signed copy of The Third Choice.  Please have your student ID ready to present.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

International Burn a Koran Day - Why it was a bad idea

Dove World Outreach Centre in Florida has declared that it will burn a Quran on 11 September 2010 on what they have declared as 'Burn a Koran Day'.
 In response Muslim groups throughout the world have warned that this event will result in extreme reactions.  Would-be martyrs have declared their readiness to die in bombing the Dove Church. Radical groups such as Hizbut Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood have warned about uncontrollably violent reactions.  For example a statement posted by the Muslim Brotherhood said:
Dr. Diaa Rashwan, Islamic movements' expert at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, described the intended burnings of the Quran [as] unreasonable and exceedingly dangerous going beyond all reason and sensibility. He maintained that a serious crisis will arise and extremism will be initiated in the Muslim world stressing that it is imperative that the US administration and UN interfere before a vicious circle of violence and extremism is initiated. He added that the burning of the Quran was not freedom of expression but a clear violation of the rights of nearly one and a half billion Muslims worldwide. 
An effigy of Pastor Jones of DWOC has been burned in Kabul, by protestors shouting 'Death to America. Death to Obama',  and General David Petraeus, the US military commander in Afghanistan has warned that the act 'could endanger' American troops, and play into the hands of the Taliban.

Many have spoken out against the burning ritual, including American Christians.  The National Association of Evangelicals has urged cancellation of the burning because:
God created human beings in his image, and therefore all should be treated with dignity and respect. The proposed burning of Qu’rans would be profoundly offensive to Muslims worldwide, just as Christians would be insulted by the burning of Bibles.
Rick Sanchez of CNN in his interview with Terry Jones, pastor of DWOC asked him why he would burn the "sacred" book of Muslims, and also asked how he would feel if Muslims burned a Bible. Jones said that he wouldn't like it, but this would be their right.

Kiran Chetry in another interview suggested to Jones that he would have the blood of American soldiers  on his hands.

This Quran burning ritual is a bad idea, but not because it shows disrespect to Muslims, nor because Jones will have 'blood on his hands'.

Re disrespect.
It is unhelpful for the NAE to demand that Christians must respect Islam for the sake of Muslims' sensibilities.  If someone believes the religious ideas or beliefs of others are bad, it is wrong to demand that the person must show respect towards these ideas or beliefs.  Bad and harmful beliefs do not deserve respect, no matter how ardently they are held.  The assumption that if you reject someone's beliefs, you are attacking or offending the person who holds them is also a very, very unhelpful idea. People should be free to disagree with or vehemently reject the beliefs of others without being accused of hatred.

Re blood guilt.
If some people rise up and kill others on the basis of a Koran burning incident - or any other incident which is believed to insult Islam –  then the only people who will have blood on their hands will be the killers.  Opposition to Islam's teachings does not and never will justify acts of violence by offended radical Muslims.

These two ideas, i) that if you attack Islam, you are attacking Muslims; and ii) that criticism of Islam justifies violence – these are very bad ideas, bad for freedom, bad for justice, and bad for peace.  It is true they are claimed by some Muslims to be the legitimate teachings of Islam.  Some cite, for example the verses of the Koran which state that 'persecution [fitna] is worse than slaughter' (Sura 2:191, 217) or 'fight them until there is no more persecution [fitna]' (Sura 2:193, 8:39).  These are the same verses used to justify killing those who leave Islam (so-called 'apostates' from Islam).  According to the fitna worldview, violent responses to criticism of Islam are justifiable.  However they are not, and it is unwise for critics of the DWOC to veer into a dalliance with the fitna worldview by commanding respect for bad beliefs, while expulcating perpetrators of violence and terror.

Yet I do oppose the Quran burning.  The best explanation, from a Christian perspective, for opposing this reckless act, has come to me, not from Christians, but from Ahmadiyyah Muslims.  It is found in a statement Love for All, Hatred for None – A Peaceful Message to the World Burning Scriptures – A Biblical Teaching?

The Ahmadiyyah response begins by citing Jesus' words from the sermon on the Mount:
But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven ... (Matthew 5:44-45)
The Ahmadiyyah statement correctly rejects Dove Church's reliance on Acts 19:19, in which pagan Ephesians burned their magic books and articles:
This is the only such incident of "book burning" recorded in the New Testament. However, for verse 19:19 to be used in support of Christians gathering together to burn the scriptures of other faiths publicly is not logical and is unsuported by any other Christian teaching.  The scrolls that are burnt in this verse are burnt by their owners themselves, the implication being that they are aware that what is contained within is not truthful and they fear being disgraced as those who had been using Jesus' name to drive out demons were disgraced.  They openly confess their actions and then burn the scrolls to show they are putting an end to such practices in the future.  This is a completely different scenario from the one being presented by the Dove centre to justify burning the Qur'an.
 Indeed.  The Ahmadiyyah statement then goes on to point out that Jesus taught meekness, showing mercy, peacemaking, forgiving others, not judging others, and repentance, citing Matthew 5:5, 5:7, 5:43-45, 6:14-15, 7:1-2, 11:25, and 9:10-13. It points out that burning is an action of destruction and hatred, and this is not in accordance with the message of the New Testament: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:17-18).
It is sad that some Christian leaders, in their rejection of the DWOC's foolhardy and dangerous Quran burning proposal, have fallen into the trap of appeasing the sentiments of Muslims, instead of standing up for Christian principles of love and grace.
Finally, I can refer readers to an entertaining presentation of information about the original Burn a Koran Day, namely that of the Caliph Uthman, when he standardized the Quran by fire.  See the video on YouTube here, or you can view it on my blog here: