Tuesday, August 24, 2010


'A Call to Prayer From the Rubble of the WTC'

The Ground Zero imam sends mixed messages.

The Wall Street Journal Online / Best of the Web Today

24 August 10

So what are we to make of Faisal Abdul Rauf, the imam whose plans to build a fancy mosque near Ground Zero have caused such a frenzy. Even backers of his plan disagree sharply. Left-wing sociologist Todd Gitlin, writing on The New Republic's website, thinks Rauf is as American as apple pie:

Imam Rauf's third book, published in 2005 but unavailable to me last week when I wrote about him and his earlier work, is called What's Right with Islam is What's Right with America. In these pages, Rauf proves just as Islamic as his detractors say. He is downright idealistic about Islam and hearty about its prospects. He has been scouting out America for a long time. And what is it that he finds here to gladden his Islamic soul? It's right there on p. 176: ". . . the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution."
The imam goes on to say that these documents "express the Islamic ideal, which is itself but an expression of the Abrahamic ethic."

Compare this, though, with Christopher Hitchens--a supporter of the mosque plan who is as disdainful of widespread American sentiment as Gitlin ("so stupid and demagogic as to be beneath notice"):

Here is Rauf's editorial on the upheaval that followed the brutal hijacking of the Iranian elections in 2009. Regarding President Obama, he advised that:
"He should say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution--to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faquih, that establishes the rule of law."
Coyly untranslated here (perhaps for "outreach" purposes), Vilayet-i-faquih is the special term promulgated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to describe the idea that all of Iranian society is under the permanent stewardship (sometimes rendered as guardianship) of the mullahs. Under this dispensation, "the will of the people" is a meaningless expression, because "the people" are the wards and children of the clergy. It is the justification for a clerical supreme leader, whose rule is impervious to elections and who can pick and choose the candidates and, if it comes to that, the results. It is extremely controversial within Shiite Islam.

Even the name of Rauf's book sends mixed messages. Gitlin cites the American title, "What's Right With Islam Is What's Right With America." The Middle East Media Research Institute reports that the title in the world's biggest Muslim country sounds more evocative of Islamic supremacy than American greatness:

Imam Faisal 'Abd Al-Rauf's book What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West was published in Indonesian in 2007 with a different title--Seruan Azan Dari Puing WTC: Dakwah Islam di Jantung Amerika Pasca 9/11 ("The Call of Azan from the Rubble of the World Trade Center: Islamic Da'wa in the Heart of America Post-9/11").
The azan is the muezzin's call to prayer. It consists of a number of sentences repeated several times: "Allahu Akbar," the Shahada (la ilaha illa Allah wa-Muhammad rasoul Allah--"There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger") and the phrase "Gather for prayer." It is noteworthy that, in the period of Muslim conquests in the first centuries of Islam, this call was made from newly conquered sites.

Dawa refers to Islamic preaching or missionizing. It's said that you can't judge a book by its cover, so we'll look forward to Memri's reports on whether the Indonesian and other foreign editions of Rauf's book match the pro-American message Gitlin says he found in the U.S. edition.

For a project that is supposed to encourage reconciliation, though, the Ground Zero mosque is certainly stirring up a lot of hatred--among its supporters. Here's Richard Cohen in today's Washington Post:

Appearing on ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour," Daisy Khan, a founder of the mosque (and the wife of the imam), rejected any compromise. She was right to do so because to compromise is to accede, even a bit, to the arguments of bigots, demagogues or the merely uninformed. This is no longer her fight. The fight is now all of ours.

And here's a passage from an NPR "Morning Edition" report today, titled "Rancor Over Mosque Could Fuel Islamic Extremists":

"This, unfortunately, is playing right into their hands," said Evan F. Kohlmann, who tracks these kinds of websites and chat rooms for Flashpoint Global partners, a New York-based security firm. "Extremists are encouraging all this, with glee.
"It is their sense that by doing this that Americans are going to alienate American Muslims to the point where even relatively moderate Muslims are going to be pushed into joining extremist movements like al-Qaida. They couldn't be happier."

To Cohen, two-thirds of Americans are "bigots, demagogues or the merely uninformed." To Kohlmann, even moderate Muslims are inclined toward mass murder if they don't get their way. Both these statements are not merely bigoted but downright unhinged.

Something about this mosque project is causing--or bringing to the surface--the utter derangement of its supporters. It is ugly and disturbing to watch, and all the more reason to think the idea is a bad one.

'I Was Not Commenting, and I Will Not Comment, on the Wisdom of Making the Decision to Put a Mosque There'
"Happy National Waffle Day!"--headline, SeriousEats.com, Aug. 24

Here, Chait! Fetch! That's a Good Dog!
This Jonathan Chait post at The New Republic's website is so good (and so short) that we'll quote it in its entirety:

Mitch McConnell is careful with his words, so this dog-whistle message to the far right during his "Meet the Press" appearance today is notable:
Sen. McConnell: The president says he's a--the president says he's a Christian, I take him at his word. I don't think that's in dispute.
[David] Gregory: And do you think--how, how do you think it comes to be that this kind of misinformation gets spread around and prevails?
Sen. McConnell: I have no idea, but I take the president at his word.
To say that you "take him at his word" means two things. First of all, it suggests that the president's word is the only information we have to go on here. Of course, that is absurd. Second, if further suggests that, the evidence being weak or inconclusive, McConnell is taking the high road by accepting Obama's testimony.
The formulation is a way of putatively siding with the truth so that he can't be pilloried by the media, while subtly suggesting that he is open to the views of Americans who think Obama is Muslim. And, of course, if reporters recognize the sneaky little game he's playing and demand a stronger formulation, all the better! It gets more chatter about Obama and possibly being a Muslim into the news.
McCOnnell [sic] used the formulation twice. It's not an accident.

Chait makes it look as if McConnell raised the question of the president's religion, when in fact the full context makes clear Gregory brought it up and McConnell tried his best to avoid the subject:

Gregory: Let me move on to something that seems to be related to this and has gotten a lot of attention this week, and this is the poll about the president's own faith from the Pew Research Center. Eighteen percent of those polled believe that the president is a Muslim. Among Republicans, this is striking, 31% believe he's a Muslim. Of course, he's not. Why do you think these views prevail?
McConnell: Well, look, I think the faith that most Americans are questioning is the president's faith in the government to generate jobs. We've had an 18-month effort here on the part of this administration to prime the pump, borrow money, spend money hiring new federal government employees, sending money down to states so they don't have to lay off state employees. People are looking around and saying, "Where's the job?"
Gregory: Right.
McConnell: The president's faith in the government to stimulate the economy is what people are questioning.
Gregory: That, that, that's certainly a side step to, to this particular question. Again--
McConnell: Well, no, I--the--I--the president--
Gregory: --as a leader of the country, sir, as one of the most powerful Republicans in the country, do you think you have an obligation to say to 34% of Republicans in the country--rather, 31% who believe the president of the United States is a Muslim? That's misinformation.

At this point, McConnell states, "The president says he's a Christian, I take him at his word." What would Chait have had him say? "The president says he's a Christian. But don't take him at his word, look at the evidence . . ." Then what? Chait says it's "absurd" to think that "the president's word is the only information we have to go on here," but what other information is there?

One might object that McConnell's statement "the president says he's a Christian" wasn't responsive to Gregory's question, "How do you think it comes to be that this kind of misinformation gets spread around and prevails?" Suppose McConell had said, as we wrote yesterday:

Today an increasing number of Americans doubt whether Obama is "American enough." Like blacks in 2007, they see him as an outsider, as lacking a certain instinctive or emotional attachment to the country--an attachment that, whatever their faults, no one doubts Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have.

It's an important part of the explanation, but it likely would have upset Chait even more, and it would have been an extremely impolitic thing to say.

It is clear that Gregory was trying to bait McConnell into making news by saying something embarrassing. McConnell, recognizing Gregory's not-so-sneaky little game, demurred. If Chait really objects to the propagation of the notion that Obama is Muslim, his quarrel is with Gregory, for bringing the subject up--and with himself, for discussing it further.

Take Cover
"A woman who accused the Disney Co. of discrimination for refusing to let her wear a Muslim head scarf at work says she won't wear a specially designed hat instead," the Associated Press reports:

Imane Boudlal, who's a restaurant hostess at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, says Disney's suggested hat-and-bonnet is embarrassing and makes a joke of her religion.
She has gone home without pay seven times rather than remove her hijab or accept jobs away from customers.
Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown says the company believes the head covering accommodates both Boudlal's beliefs and Disney costuming guidelines.
Last week, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Disney has both a legitimate interest in its servers' uniform appearance and an obligation under antidiscrimination laws to make reasonable accommodations to its employees' religious beliefs. We have no opinion as to which side is more in the right; the AP story doesn't give enough information.

But the idea of a government agency making the decision is troubling in itself. How is some EEOC bureaucrat qualified to decide whether the Disney hat is acceptable to Islam? If Faisal Abdul Rauf is really interested in being a reconciler, perhaps he could start small by offering to mediate this dispute.

One good thing about this story, though, is that it should put to rest any rumor to the effect that John Kerry is a Muslim. He has the hat to this day.

Accountability Journalism
Here's a classic from the Associated Press, a dispatch by Ben Evans titled "SPIN METER: GOP Hot, Cold on Constitution." The idea is that Republicans are hypocrites, because--well, the first two paragraphs give you the idea:

Republican Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia won his seat in Congress campaigning as a strict defender of the Constitution. He carries a copy in his pocket and is particularly fond of invoking the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
But it turns out there are parts of the document he doesn't care for--lots of them. He wants to get rid of the language about birthright citizenship, federal income taxes and direct election of senators, among others. He would add plenty of stuff, including explicitly authorizing castration as punishment for child rapists.
This hot-and-cold take on the Constitution is surprisingly common within the GOP, particularly among those like Broun who portray themselves as strict Constitutionalists and who frequently accuse Democrats of twisting the document to serve political aims.

Whatever one thinks of Broun's suggested amendments--and except for abolishing the income tax, they sound like bad ideas to us--Evans's argument is either ignorant or intellectually dishonest. There is no inconsistency whatever in Broun's position.

When one argues for amending the Constitution, one is adhering to the Constitution, which provides (in Article V) a process for changing it. It is very difficult: First an amendment must be proposed (requiring two-thirds votes in both houses of Congress, or a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states), then it must be ratified (requiring the assent of three-fourths of the states).

"Twisting the document to serve political aims," by contrast, means passing laws irrespective of whether the Constitution authorizes them.

To take an example: Democrats did not suggest amending the Constitution to authorize Congress to require people to purchase medical insurance. Instead, they enacted such a requirement into law (by simple majority, and we do mean simple!), asserting that this was a regulation of interstate commerce. That is twisting the Constitution to serve political aims. There may well be examples of Republicans' doing the same, but Evans does not produce a single one.

Out on a Limb
"Afghan Poll a Chance for Change, or More of the Same"--headline, Reuters, Aug. 24

Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est la Deluge
"Despite Martha's Vineyard Deluge, Obamas Dine Out"--headline, Associated Press, Aug. 24

The Lonely Lives of Scientists
"Scientists Form General Theory of Bird Homosexuality"--headline, Time.com, Aug. 23

Why Is Her Color Relevant?
"Orange Deputy Was Driving 80 MPH When She Crashed Into 91-Year-Old Man"--headline, Orlando Sentinel, Aug. 23

We're Not Signing Up for That Course
"Study Links Chronic Fatigue to Virus Class"--headline, New York Times, Aug. 24

Did He Survive?
"South Africa Saw Big Tourist Jump During World Cup"--headline, MSNBC.com, Aug. 23

Dude, Where's My Car?
"Cannabis Electric Car to Be Made in Canada"--headline, CBC.ca, Aug. 23

Questions Nobody Is Asking

"How Would You Describe Cambridge?"--headline, Boston Globe website, Aug. 23

"Why Is 'Outspoken' Hollywood Silent on Plans to Build Mosque Near Ground Zero?"--headline, FoxNews.com, Aug. 23

"Is Obama FDR or Hoover? Or Neither?"--headline, Washington Post website, Aug. 19

"Ten Questions Nobody Ever Asked About George W. Bush"--headline, Pandagon.net, Aug. 19

"Is That My Son Wearing a Dress?"--headline, Salon.com, Aug. 23

Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking

"Why a Wooden Cross Divides Poland"--headline, CNN.com, Aug. 23

"I'm Happy to Pay for Disabled Guys to Meet Hookers"--headline, Belfast Telegraph, Aug. 20

Too Much Information
"Christ School's Hooker Mixes Coaching, Dentistry"--headline, Citizen-Times (Asheville, N.C.), Aug. 24

News of the Tautological
"Australian Boomerang"--headline, The Wall Street Journal Asia, Aug. 23

Breaking News From Stardate 7412.6
" 'Star Trek' Draw Less Than Stellar"--headline, Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.), Aug. 23

News You Can Use

"Michelle Zapanta: Don't Press Your Luck by Doing Bench Press All Wrong"--headline, El Paso Times, Aug. 23

"Off to See the Pope? Bring a Picnic, but No Booze"--headline, Associated Press, Aug. 23

"A**holes Succeed--No Ifs, Ands or Butts"--headline, AOLNews.com, Aug. 23

Bottom Stories of the Day

"Paranormal Convention Attracts Small Crowds"--headline, Dayton Daily News, Aug. 22

"Little League Spectators Reflect on Present, Past Weather Conditions"--headline, AccuWeather.com, Aug. 23

"The Hill's Slow Rush Hour"--headline, Politico.com, Aug. 24

"Scene Seems Normal"--headline, Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.), Aug. 24

"ACLU Questions 'Enhanced Patdown' of Air Travelers"--headline, Associated Press, Aug. 23

"Hagel to Endorse Sestak"--headline, New York Times website, Aug. 23

By Popular Demand: An Encore
President Obama had this to say in a Columbus, Ohio, speech last week:

I was using an analogy--I was talking out in California--imagine our economy is a car. And these guys, I don't know what they [Republicans] were doing. I don't know whether they were on their BlackBerry while they were driving, or they were doing something else irresponsible. They drive it into the ditch.
And so me [sic] and Sherrod and Mary Jo and Steve and Ted and a whole bunch of folks, we're all putting our boots on, and we go down into the ditch. And it's muddy down there

Mary Jo could not be reached for comment.

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