Friday, September 24, 2010

Is A Jew Supporting the "Ground Zero Mosque" A Traitor?

Mr. Mark Williams,

In your article here and in your response to Mr. McMorris-Santoro quoted in his article here, you apparently decided that Jews who support the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" should be called Judenrat.

(For those unfamiliar and who didn't go and read the linked articles, before I go on, the Judenrat were the Jews living in the Nazi ghettos who snitched and reported on their fellow prisoners, and essentially sold out their neighbors to the Nazis. Also, I am myself a Jew, although my argument has nothing to do with that fact.)

Mr. Williams, this is an inaccurate comparison, because it makes one assumption:

It assumes that the Muslims building the "Ground Zero Mosque" are our enemy.

They are not.

(As it has repeatedly been pointed out, <LindaRichman> the "Ground Zero Mosque" is neither at Ground Zero, nor really a mosque... discuss amongst yourselves </LindaRichman>. The official name is Park51, since people raised a stink about calling it "Cordoba House.")

The problem we have, and have been having, on a large scale and for the past several years, is that we equate the radical Muslims with all Muslims. The radical Muslims - they are our enemy, they are anti-Semitic, and murderous, and all those other bad things. But first of all, they are hardly Muslims; the Koran preaches peace and goodwill just like the Christian Bible (and assuredly has some less-than-modern morals just like the Christian Bible). Islam is not vastly different from Christianity or Judaism in the grand scheme of things; it just has some different wallpaper. The differences between radical Muslims and moderate Muslims are greater than those between moderate Muslims and moderate Christians and Jews. If we could get beyond our prejudices - the natural reaction of "That's so foreign!" whenever we see Muslims with their strange, alien prayer methods and forms of dress and their typically differently-colored skin - we could see that.

We should not be shunning and spitting at the Muslims founding this Center. They are our friends. What we should be doing is embracing them, saying, "Hey, radical Muslims of the world! Look here! Here are the true Muslims, and we are proud to call them friends. You see, it is we - the moderate, peace-loving of the world - who are united against you, the hate-mongers and the opportunists."

This is not what we are doing, or at the very least, this is not the message we are sending out because the All-Muslims-Are-Bad folks scream the loudest. This is counter-productive. Radical Muslims and moderate Muslims are not a hair's-breadth apart. Suggesting they are barely distinguishable is like saying you or I are barely distinguishable from the Unabomber or the Oklahoma City bomber because we are all Americans. We are vastly different, we just happen to live within the same nation. And so with the Muslims - the moderate and radicals just happen to be within the same (metaphorical) nation, and it's one considerably vaster than America, for that matter. It does nobody any good to lump all those moderates in with those few extremists; all this achieves is driving the dispossessed and unhappy moderates into a state where they can swallowed up by the extremists.

We should want to hug close the vast, moderate mainstream of Islam, that wide swath that includes the likes of the liberal Iranians whose secular lifestyle is almost identical to the typical American middle-class one (remember the Twitter thing?) and, of course, the many good-citizen decent-folk Muslims living in America, who, again, would be indistinguishable from typical Americans except for some differences in skin color and cultural heritage.

There is no way to justify lumping all the Muslims together without resorting to racism and prejudice. And here is the important part: There is also no way to justify saying the Center should be scrapped because its in "bad taste" without implying that we are incapable of distinguishing honest, true Islam from radical, in-name-only Islam. This should be, as they say, a teaching moment. We should be teaching the world, each other, and ourselves that love of peace, community, education, communication and tolerance are better umbrellas under which to lump together disparate peoples than the name and minimal trappings of a vast religion.

In other words, this would be an excellent opportunity for we, Americans and Jews, to re-define our concept of Muslims - to perhaps even invent a contrasting pair of terms more specific and simple than the generic modifiers "moderate" and "radical" - such that we can talk about either group of Muslims without having to spout disclaimers all the time. Imagine if we referred to the extremist so-called Muslims who are more interested in power, oppression and control of the legacy of the Koran as "Jihadists." (This would not be accurate given the definition of the word within Islam, but it's evocative for Americans, at least, and I can't do any better at the moment.)

It was Jihadists who attacked the World Trade Center - not Muslims. Muslims, like any regular Christians or Jews, are merely interested in practicing their own religion and living their own life and being, you know, normal - they don't attack people. Jihadists attack people, and they did. Jihadists caused 9/11 - Muslims want to build a Center nearby. Wait, where's the problem there? It's Group A and Group B.

We have everything to gain from doing our best to separate and distinguish the totally fine, normal everyday Muslims from the out-there violent evil quote-"Muslims"-unquote. Our aim should be to extricate the Muslims from the complicated universe of ties that connect them to the Jihadists, not to treat them as tainted.

I am not a Judenrat because I support the foundation of Park51. You, Mr. Williams, are giving more comfort to the enemy than I, by doing everything you can to drive a wedge between peace-loving peoples. The nerve you have, trying to de-legitimize the opinions of your fellow Jews by calling them such a loaded word (which very nearly evokes Hitler and thus loses your argument by Internet Law anyways). And if you would read this (I'm sure you won't, but I have to assume you will given the nature of an open letter), I am sure you would call me naive - but you are naive, to believe it possible for a religion with X million adherents worldwide to be so monolithic that to support one (moderate) member of it to be equivalent to supporting the most distant and extremist member of it.

And since I'm on a roll, responses to a couple other common anti-Park51 arguments:

"They should have known people would react negatively to it, and so not have done it." (A slightly differently worded version of the "bad taste" argument.) Yes, and the lawmakers who passed the civil rights bills in the 60s knew that people were going to react negatively. But they did it anyways, because it was right, and because those people who reacted negatively needed to grow up and learn better.

"Oh so NOW they want to build a Mosque right where they killed people on 9/11!" and any similar arguments that mean the same thing, but are worded more diplomatically. You can't make this argument without suggesting there is some Muslim committee that makes all the decisions. That use of the word "they." There is no "they." There is no monolithic Islam. There are Jihadists and there are Muslims, and even amongst those two groups, there are no steering committees. This isn't Catholicism with the Pope we're talking about. The "they" who are building Park51 are not the same "they" who flew planes into the towers - nor the same "they" who launch rockets at
Israeli civilians, for that matter.

I will conclude by saying that the choice often lies with us as to whether we identify an Other as either enemy or friend. (The key word being "often" - if someone is literally pointing a gun at you, they are probably not your friend - but this is not the case, is it?) So if we have the choice of having one more friend or one more enemy, why should we make the choice that leaves us one ally fewer and one enemy more?


David Pratt said...

I simply must say, excellently said.

B.Graham said...

Brett, this is amazing. Thank you.