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Islamophobia or Reality?

A conservative activist and a liberal Tablet contributor debate whether the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ poses a threat to the United States

David Horowitz
Daniel Luban
August 27, 2010
Protesters rally in favor of the proposed Park51 Islamic center at the lower Manhattan site last weekend.(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
Protesters rally in favor of the proposed Park51 Islamic center at the lower Manhattan site last weekend.(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

When Daniel Luban published an essay in Tablet Magazine last week finding resonances between what he called Islamophobic opposition to the Park51 Islamic center and past anti-Semitism, one comment on the piece jumped out at us. “This article is in serious denial,” began a brief, angry response from David Horowitz, the conservative intellectual and activist and the author, most recently, of A Cracking of the Heart, a book about his daughter. We invited Horowitz and Luban to extend their debate about Luban’s theory. Here is their exchange.

MARC TRACY, Tablet Magazine: David, in your comment on Dan’s piece, you said that “Jew hatred is part of the gospel of Islam and the practice of all Muslim states in the world today.” By contrast, a premise of Dan’s article is that there are in the world a relatively small group of Islamists—fundamentalists who subscribe to a violent, anti-Semitic, mutant strain of Islam—and, for the most part, ordinary Muslims who do no such thing, and that, contrary to the arguments of writers like Andrew McCarthy, most American Muslims are not Islamists. How do you respond to that? Is the problem with Islam or with Islamists? And if it’s with Islamists, how influential are Islamists in America? Are the people behind the Islamic center Islamists?

DAVID HOROWITZ: Like many Jews who are in denial about the existential threat to Israel and to Jews generally from the Islamic world, Daniel Luban thinks that the radical, Jew-hating element in Islam is relatively small, and consequently the threat is a pathology, which people like him call “Islamophobia.” Among such deniers there is a notable absence of attention to what the Islamic world actually does and says in relation to Jews or how seriously Muslims take the word of their God, who refers to Jews as “apes and pigs” and calls for their extermination (as per this infamous and well-known saying of the prophet: “The day of Judgment will come when Muslims fight the Jews and kill them”). Here are some corrective observations:

After the Sept. 11 attacks there were several public opinion surveys conducted in the Muslim world about Muslim views of Osama Bin Laden and his terror war against “crusaders and Jews.” The number of Muslims who supported Osama and the attacks ranged from a low 10 percent, or 150 million Muslims, to 50 percent, or 750 million (the latter figure coming from a poll conducted by Al Jazeera). These cannot be dismissed as insignificant minorities, even if reduced by a factor of 10.

The Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—head of a nation of 70 million and a man who claims to speak in the name of Islam—has called for wiping Israel from the face of the earth, a comment seconded by a former prime minister of Malaysia. Leaders of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank are openly opposed to the existence of the Jewish state, officially celebrate mass murderers of Jewish civilians as “martyrs” and “saints,” and run a school system that teaches kindergarteners to hate Jews and aspire to kill them. The charter of the Islamist terror organization Hamas calls for Israel’s extinction in the name of Allah, while the head of Hezbollah, the largest terrorist army in the world, armed with 30,000-plus rockets courtesy of Syria and Iran, has called for the liquidation of Israel and the extermination of the Jews.

That’s the open and frank admission side of the ledger, the millions of Muslims with genocidal designs on the Jews. Copping to genocide by the way is something that Hitler never dared to do. He thought it prudent to keep the Final Solution hidden until it was a fait accompli, lest he incite civilized opposition to his plan. In contrast, the demand for a second Holocaust has been trumpeted from the Islamic rooftops, and there has been no official opposition from the Islamic world. This is a reasonable indication that these open calls are the tip of a very ugly iceberg of Jew hatred that runs the length and breadth of Muslim ummah. There are some 57 Islamic nations in the world, and not one of them has condemned these genocidal proclamations. Au contraire. They have added their own condemnations of Israeli crimes in hundreds of U.N. resolutions they sponsored. But there is not a single U.N. resolution condemning 60 years of terrorist acts by Palestinians and Arabs, beginning with the creation of the Fedayeen in 1949. Not a single one.

The same silence over genocidal intentions blankets virtually all the mosques in America, at least 80 percent of which are funded by the rulers of Saudi Arabia, the most bigoted promoter of jihadism and its Jew-hating ideology in the world today. The same can be said of the principal Muslim organizations in the United States, the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

All of these organizations are elements of the Muslim Brotherhood network, which spawned al-Qaida and Hamas. (CAIR is a direct spinoff of Hamas.) None of them have condemned Hezbollah and Hamas or their patrons in Teheran. The same is true of the Muslim Students Association, representing most Muslim students in American universities, which is also a part of the Muslim Brotherhood network. The Muslim Students Association is currently conducting a nationwide campaign to support the Islamic crusade to eliminate the Jewish state, which it refers to as “occupied Palestine.” When I confronted a former officer of the Muslim Student Association on the University of California, San Diego, campus and asked her if she were for or against a genocide of the Jews she said, “For it.” Refusal to condemn Hezbollah and Hamas, which in my experience is universal among Muslim Students Associations, is tantamount to such an endorsement. (You can see our exchange here.) The same Judeophobic campaign is now a principal focus of the secular left, although these secularists don’t seem to fully grasp the implications of their support. All these elements are also supporting the Ground Zero mosque whose leader also finds Islamic terrorism “too complex” to condemn.

These are troubling indicators of evil afoot. Dismissing them as figments of a conspiratorial paranoia is a sign of intellectual bankruptcy and a form of psychological denial. It is not an argument that anyone, let alone a Jew, should take seriously.

DANIEL LUBAN: David Horowitz’s response to my article is primarily devoted to reciting a familiar litany of examples of anti-Semitism in Muslim-majority countries. Many of his arguments in this regard are cherry-picked or otherwise misleading, but I won’t spend time answering them, for they are irrelevant to the point of my piece. My argument was not about attitudes toward Jews in Syria or Saudi Arabia, but about attitudes toward Muslims in America.

Even if I were to concede all of Horowitz’s arguments about the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Muslim-majority countries, this would not answer the central question, which is whether the theories of the American “anti-jihadi” movement are a sane response to the situation in which we find ourselves. If they are not, if—as I argued—they represent a kind of bigotry and paranoia akin to anti-Semitism, Know-Nothingism, or McCarthyism, it is not particularly relevant whether equally paranoid or odious views are prevalent elsewhere in the world.

For Horowitz’s defense of the “anti-jihadis” to hold water, he needs to show not merely that many Muslims in other countries hold objectionable views, but that Muslim-Americans are actually engaged in the kind of conspiracy against the United States that people like Andrew McCarthy and Pamela Geller posit. On this count, his arguments are remarkably thin. The primary piece of evidence he offers to show that most Muslim-Americans are genocidal anti-Semites is that not enough of them for his liking are willing to publicly denounce Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups.

One does not need to be fond of either group to notice how shaky the logic is here. Peter King, the hawkish New York congressman who has been a leader of the anti-mosque campaign, is a longtime apologist for the IRA, and I similarly imagine that it would be nearly impossible to get New York Jewish politicians like Sen. Chuck Schumer or Rep. Anthony Weiner to publicly label as “terrorists” Zionist militant groups like the Irgun or the Stern Gang. What follows from this? That King, Schumer, and Weiner are terrorist conspirators against the United States? I suspect the reason that even many Muslim-Americans who privately abhor Hamas and Hezbollah’s attacks on civilians are reluctant to “denounce” them to David Horowitz is that they realize, correctly, that he will simply pocket these denunciations and use them in the service of a broader Likudnik agenda that they find abhorrent.

The YouTube video that Horowitz posts is unintentionally revealing in this regard. A UCSD student confronts Horowitz over his allegation that her campus Muslim Students Association has financial ties to terrorist groups and presses him to provide some evidence for this claim. Rather than doing so, Horowitz—who is nothing if not a savvy showman—quickly changes the subject to the student’s own personal attitudes toward Hamas. Of course, whether an individual college student is willing to publicly denounce Hamas has nothing whatsoever to do with the factual question of whether the UCSD student association has financial links to terrorist groups, which Horowitz is content to insinuate without providing any evidence.

To determine whether people like McCarthy and Geller represent a measured response to a real threat or a hysterical response to a conspiracy of their own imagining, it might be helpful to examine the central claims that they make. Let’s leave aside the most obviously insane bits (Bill Ayers is the real author of Obama’s memoir; Malcolm X is Obama’s real father) and focus on their views about the Muslim threat to the United States. Does Horowitz really believe that the goal of the large majority of Muslim-Americans is “to supplant American constitutional democracy with sharia law”? Does he really believe that Muslims who privately live according to religious values within their own communities are doing so purely instrumentally, as a way to take over the country and impose these values on everyone else? Does he really believe that the president is a “neocommunist” who is secretly working in cahoots with these Islamists to implement a shared totalitarian vision in the United States?

If he genuinely does believe these things, I admit that there simply isn’t much more that I can say to him. But if he doesn’t—as I suspect he doesn’t—then I have to wonder how he feels about the fact that these views and those similar to them are rapidly becoming ubiquitous on the American right. Many hawks seem to feel that the Pamela Gellers of the world may be nutty and misguided, but that they make useful shock troops for fighting these political battles, so it’s best simply to hold one’s nose and make good use of them. It seems to me that there is something very dangerous in this logic, and that the anti-jihadis—egged on by conservative elites like Newt Gingrich, Bill Kristol, and Horowitz himself—are leading the country into a very ugly place.

MARC TRACY: David, I think Daniel is conceding—or if not conceding, at least saying that for the sake of argument he would concede—your point about Muslim anti-Semitism in other parts of the world, but he is challenging you on the question of Muslim anti-Semitism in the United States specifically. Can it happen here and does it happen here? Is the mosque a manifestation of it, or a potential manifestation?

DAVID HOROWITZ: Daniel Luban has failed to understand my comments and therefore dodged the issue between us. A sign held up at the counter-demonstration by supporters of the Ground Zero mosque summarizes the real nub of our contention: “Groundless Fear Is the Real Enemy.” Is it?

The point of my response was not that there is “anti-Semitism” and not just “in Muslim countries” but that there is a global Muslim movement for a genocide of the Jews, beginning with the destruction of the Jewish state; and that this movement was spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood and is supported by the major Muslim organizations in the United States including the main supporters of the Ground Zero mosque, and wittingly or unwittingly, enabled by their allies on the political left.

Luban does not challenge a single fact I presented, which shows how deaf, dumb, and blind critics of the “anti-jihadis,” as Luban calls us, can be. Luban studiously ignores the elaborate documentation of the political beliefs and aims of the Muslim Brotherhood network and of Islam itself, which we have presented and instead attempts to draw ludicrous parallels designed to show a moral equivalence between Jewish and Muslim terrorists and their apologists. The difference is obvious to all but the politically obtuse. When some Jews commit acts that are heinous, Jews condemn them, they don’t build $100-million monuments on or near the site where the crimes were committed. Only Islam would build a mosque—the Dome of the Rock—right on top of the holiest place of another religion and then name a terrorist army (the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) after it. The silence of the central organizations of the Muslim world both here and abroad in the face of atrocities committed in the name of their God and their refusal to condemn by name those who commit them is both deafening and telling; and the failure of Daniel Luban and the left generally to appreciate this is ominous for Americans and Jews.

MARC TRACY: Dan, this one’s for you. In your piece, you credit Christopher Caldwell with providing one of the “more sophisticated treatments” of the Islamicization of Europe. I want your reaction to something Caldwell wrote on Slate this week:

There is no Christian equivalent—either for sophistication or influence—to the body of revolutionary political thought that arose among the Sunni Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the middle of the last century, or in Iran in the Age of Khomeini. To say this is not to confuse Islam and Islamism, or to imply that Islam is always and everywhere a violent religion. Nor is it to deny that the scriptural barriers to Christian violence are notoriously easy to breach. But Islam is equipped, as Christianity is not, with explicit contemporary doctrines of political violence.

While you and David could both find things in that paragraph to buttress your respective cases, I’d like to challenge you: Isn’t Caldwell correct that Islamic fundamentalism has uniquely strong resonance today? And, if so, isn’t the comparison of Islamophobia to anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism facile, as Judaism and Catholicism are not associated with similarly powerful fundamentalisms? (Yes, the Stern Gang existed, but its ideology was never as widespread and potent and universally violent as jihadism.) Even if most Muslims aren’t Islamists, doesn’t the unique resonance of Islamic fundamentalism pose a problem to the building of an Islamic center so close to the site of Islamic fundamentalism’s most notorious atrocity?

DANIEL LUBAN: Unlike the crop of self-proclaimed “Islam analysts” that has sprung up since Sept. 11—most of whom seem to think that their ability to use words like “sharia” and “jihad” in a sentence makes them experts on the finer points of Islamic theology—I will not pretend to anything more than an interested layman’s knowledge of Islam as a religion. For that reason I won’t speculate on the extent to which violent Islamist groups are rooted in true, or false, or mainstream, or deviant interpretations of Islam. I do wish that those on the other side would similarly resist the urge to issue authoritative pronouncements on subjects they know nothing about. (Lee Smith, with whom I frequently disagree on these issues, recently had a good piece in Tablet Magazine picking apart the absurd interpretations of “sharia” put forth by mosque opponents.)

But on the question of whether the “unique resonance of Islamic fundamentalism” poses a problem for the building of the Islamic center: First, what “resonance” are we talking about? That the center would resonate with and embolden violent Muslim radicals? I would expect quite the opposite. It is likely that radicals would be disgusted both with the center’s conciliatory theology and with the overall message it sends—namely, that the Unites States is so welcoming to Muslims that it is willing to let them practice their faith anywhere they choose, even a few blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks. It is equally likely that these radicals are rejoicing at the current controversy, realizing that every Islamophobic speech or rally or ad simply bolsters their claim that the United States is at war with Islam itself. In fact, the only extremists that the project seems to have “resonated” with are the right-wingers who believe—or at least pretend to—that the building would be a “9/11 victory monument” intended as a beachhead for sharia law in the United States.

“Islamic fundamentalism” is also a troublesome term, since it often seems to be applied (along with similar terms like “radical Islam” and “Islamofascism”) to any Muslims whom the labeler doesn’t like, regardless of whether their politics are either violent or rooted in religion. Regardless, it is obvious that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan do not qualify under even the loosest definition of “Islamic fundamentalism,” despite the best efforts of their opponents to paint them as radicals. (Jeffrey Goldberg, another writer with whom I frequently disagree, has written persuasively on the ludicrousness of these charges.)

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that many of the mosque opponents themselves subscribe to a form of hardline Likudnik politics and therefore regard any view to the left of Norman Podhoretz as proof of radical anti-Semitism. We must also note the wild guilt-by-association tenor of the campaign against Rauf—as Robert Wright put it, a typical charge is that “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.” It strikes me that similar chains of association could have been used to tie virtually any Jew in 1950s America to communism—you yourself may never have been a party member, but surely you had a cousin who had a wife who had a brother who was a member.

In any case, let’s accept that there are some significant, disturbing, and violent strains within Islam (regardless of what we call them and how extensive we think they are). Two points here. First, the fact that such radical elements do exist does not license us to descend into bigotry or conspiracy theories, just as the fact that many Jews in postwar America really were communists did not excuse the wild ravings that proliferated on the right about a “Judeo-Bolshevik” plot against America.

Second, the “anti-jihadi” extremists who have led the anti-mosque campaign present precisely the wrong way to respond to the existence of these radical elements. Their message is that Muslims should be regarded as threats simply for subscribing to religious precepts, even if they denounce violence and even if they adhere to the laws of the land. This, of course, removes much of the incentive to chart a moderate course—if nothing less than the full-blown atheism of an Ayaan Hirsi Ali will satisfy such critics, then why risk a partial assimilation that will only be rejected as proof of nefarious intentions? Imam Rauf was the guy who did everything right, who was conciliatory even to the point of alienating his constituents—if even he is now being tarred as a violent radical, I imagine many Muslims-Americans are asking themselves, then why even bother?

MARC TRACY: David, I’d urge you to consider: Are opponents of the center working to alienate American Muslims? And: Parse what exactly you think is different about the radical elements within Islam (as opposed to other religions/groups) that justifies special concern and vigilance.

DAVID HOROWITZ: The Ground Zero mosque is the project of an Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who in the age of Jimmy Carter supported the fundamentalist Islamic revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeni, replete with hangings of gays, oppression of women, sponsorship of Hezbollah, and the murder of Americans and Jews. In the age of Obama and Ahmadinejad and in the face of a revolt by the Iranian people against this medieval regime, Rauf counseled our president to support the “guiding principles” of the theocratic dictatorship whose leaders continue to hang gays, arm the world’s largest terrorist army, Hezbollah, and not incidentally threaten to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. (See Christopher Hitchens, “The Test of Tolerance.”)

Not surprisingly, the construction of the Ground Zero mosque is supported by the leader of Hamas and by the Muslim Brotherhood network, which includes the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Society of North America, CAIR, and other anti-American, anti-Israel, pro-jihadist groups with which Rauf is closely connected. Small wonder that he considers the United States an “accomplice to 9/11” (one of his associates, Sheik Muhammad Gemeaha, is actually on record saying that the Jews did it.)

Luban seems to think that it’s important to bend over backward to show Islamists that we are actually tolerant by allowing the construction of a $100 million dollar mosque adjacent to the site where Muslims killed 3,000 Americans in the worst attack on our soil in the history of the republic. Why aren’t they already impressed by the fact that there are mosques all over the Unites States but no churches or synagogues in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, or that America has sent its youth around the world to save the lives of millions of Muslims in Bosnia, in Somalia, and in Afghanistan? Why aren’t Israel’s Muslim enemies impressed by the fact that Israel grants more rights to the million-plus Muslims who are citizens of the Jewish state than are granted to the Muslim citizens of any Muslim country? Why do U.S. leftists and Jimmy Carter refer to the most tolerant country in the Middle East as an “apartheid state”?

Anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and sympathy for jihadists are not driven by rational considerations, as Luban seems to think, but by irrational hatreds and xenophobic religious creeds.

MARC TRACY: Dan, we can argue over Rauf’s intentions all day. It might be interesting to argue that it actually is important to bend over backward rather than to deny that that’s what we’re doing. But of course, it’s your argument, not mine, so we’ll give you the final word.

DANIEL LUBAN: The opponents of the Park51 project have now resorted to manufacturing an endless stream of out-of-context quotes and sensationalistic “revelations” about Rauf; the idea seems to be that even if no individual claim bears scrutiny, the succession of attacks will reinforce the impression that Rauf is a radical. Since I have limited space here, I won’t spend it answering David Horowitz’s latest attacks on the imam—suffice it to say that they are as cherry-picked and misleading the other charges that have been brought forth against him.

I am more interested in Horowitz’s claim that the controversy is about whether we will “bend over backward to show Islamists that we are actually tolerant by allowing” the construction of the center. How, exactly, does “allowing” Muslims to build what they like on property they own with their own money constitute “bend[ing] over backward” to them? On the contrary, it is simply allowing them the same freedom that we extend to all other religions. As I discussed in my piece, this is symptomatic of the way that Horowitz and his allies operate—they claim that they simply oppose any special advantage being granted to Islam over other religions, when in fact their prescriptions call for specific and intrusive forms of discrimination against Muslims in particular.

I would, however, like to thank Horowitz for the arguments he has not made. Much of this pointless controversy has been dominated by bad-faith arguments that opposition to the Park51 center has nothing to do with opposition to Islam. (It’s merely that the blocks surrounding the World Trade Center site are “sacred ground,” you see—notwithstanding the strip clubs and dive bars and fast food restaurants that fill them—and opponents of the center would quickly drop their objections if it were merely moved five blocks away rather than two.) Horowitz, with greater honesty, has focused in on the real issues at stake: the role of Islam in America, and whether we should assume until proven otherwise that the bulk of Muslim-Americans are enemies of the state.

Horowitz closes by attributing to me a position that I have never argued: namely, that anti-Semitism and violent Islamism are “driven by rational considerations.” My argument was a very different one: that whatever the roots of these tendencies and however repugnant they may be, we solve nothing—in fact, we make matters worse—by descending into the sort of paranoid Islamophobia that is currently ascendant on the right. Horowitz flirts with these conspiracy theories without giving any real evidence for the allegation that the bulk of Muslim-Americans are genocide-minded Muslim Brotherhood sleeper agents. (Hence his non-response to my first rebuttal, in which he merely reiterates the same flimsy “evidence” that he asserted the first time.) Whether he actually believes this stuff or whether he is cynically using it for political purposes is ultimately irrelevant; either way, he and his allies are treading on dangerous (and for a Jew, depressingly familiar) ground.

Daniel Luban is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Chicago. David Horowitz is the president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the author of Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left. He recently published A Cracking of the Heart, a memoir about his daughter.

David Horowitz is the president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the author of Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left. He recently published A Cracking of the Heart, a memoir about his daughter.

Daniel Luban is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Chicago.