Gnu Atheists Get Strident About Park51

That's "New Atheists" for the uninitiated. Originally, the species started with 4 horsemen who all had atheist books out at around the same time: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. Slap the oldest ideological tag on the front and you've got a marketers' dream. The name was catchy and edgy at the same time, so the meme spread like a religion that promises an afterlife. Eventually more names were added and many controversies, smack-downs, stupid-fests, much ados and even some great discussions were breaking out all over the intertubes. Someday I'll dive into more of them, but today's issue is the ground zero mosque / Islamic community center officially called Park51.

Christopher Hitchens cancerUnfortunately, a few prominent Gnus don't provide anything more enlightening than the average bluster from mainstream theists. Christopher Hitchens started things off before President Obama spoke, Mau-Mauing the Mosque: The dispute over the "Ground Zero" mosque is an object lesson in how not to resist intolerance.
I don't like anything much about the Cordoba Initiative or the people who run it. The supposed imam of the place, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is on record as saying various shady and creepy things about the original atrocity. Shortly after 9/11, he told 60 Minutes, "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened." He added, "In the most direct sense, Osama Bin Laden is made in the USA." More recently, he has declined to identify the racist and totalitarian Hamas party as being guilty of the much less severe designation of terrorist. We are all familiar by now with the peddlers of such distortions and euphemisms and evasions, many of them repeated by half-baked secular and Christian spokesmen. A widespread cultural cringe impels many people to the half-belief that it's better to accommodate "moderates" like Rauf as a means of diluting the challenge of the real thing. So for the sake of peace and quiet, why not have Comedy Central censor itself or the entire U.S. press refuse to show the Danish cartoons?

This kind of capitulation needs to be fought consistently. But here is exactly how not to resist it. Take, for example, the widely publicized opinion of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Supporting those relatives of the 9/11 victims who have opposed Cordoba House, he drew a crass analogy with the Final Solution and said that, like Holocaust survivors, "their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted." This cracked tune has been taken up by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who additionally claim to be ventriloquizing the emotions of millions of Americans who did not suffer bereavement. It has also infected the editorial pages of the normally tougher-minded Weekly Standard, which called on President Obama to denounce the Cordoba House on the grounds that a 3-to-1 majority of Americans allegedly find it "offensive."

Where to start with this part-pathetic and part-sinister appeal to demagogy? To begin with, it borrows straight from the playbook of Muslim cultural blackmail. Claim that something is "offensive," and it is as if the assertion itself has automatically become an argument. You are even allowed to admit, as does Foxman, that the ground for taking offense is "irrational and bigoted." But, hey—why think when you can just feel?
Hitchens, who is fighting esophageal cancer right now, is a former Trotskyite who adopted a neo-connish outlook on foreign policy after 9/11. Well, we all have our blind spots. As for this quote, I don't agree with his harping on the statements of Imam Rauf, especially the 60 Minutes quotes. For one thing, they are words by someone without any power; for another, they are true. There is a direct line to be drawn between U.S. support of the Afghan mujaheddin against the Soviets to Osama bin Laden. And our foreign policy was complicit in motivating the 9/11 plotters and pilots. NOTE - I am simply explaining, not rationalizing or justifying.

And I strongly disagree with the "widespread cultural cringe" bit. Besides the argument being a strawman and a gross exaggeration, Rauf is a moderate. He is firmly on the side of peaceful co-existence and integration between Western democracy and Islam. He is reaching out from this viewpoint to all Muslims to try to help them to move in this direction. He is also trying to educate non-Muslims about Islam. In the eyes of Salafist jihadists such as al-Qaeda, as a Sufi he is an apostate and an enemy. At the very least, he is a friend because he is our enemy's enemy. Although I would go farther to say he is actually helping to limit the effectiveness of groups such as al-Qaeda, by doing the best thing that can be done in this regard, convincing the Islamic world that the United States is not at war with Islam. Now if we can just stop fighting counter-insurgencies against Muslim populations, this approach has a chance at working.

While the rest - especially denouncing the role Abe Foxman has played - is on the money, Hitchens completely avoids making any positive argument: explaining how intolerance should be resisted. And what intolerance is he talking about? I would hope he doesn't mean the whole worldwide community of Muslims, or even a small sample of radicals. The issue is the mosque and the Muslims lead by Imam Rauf. Besides condemning the good Imam over al-Qaeda and HAMAS quotes (or lack of quotes), Hitchens is just more sophisticated than the common rabble - he's still wrong. Other than the non-issues already mentioned, in his more recent article Hitchens only adds complaints about Muslim cab drivers refusing to ferry dogs and the many flags at a D.C mosque. Being a professional anti- can be fun, but what should be done?

Sam Harris, What Obama Got Wrong About the Mosque, instantly goes off the rails:
Should a 15-story mosque and Islamic cultural center be built two blocks from the site of the worst jihadist atrocity in living memory? Put this way, the question nearly answers itself.
Sam HarrisIt only answers itself in the way Harris wants it to if you equate Islam with jihad. That is precisely the problem with American attitudes and our foreign policy. By blaming Islam and attacking Muslims, both figuratively and literally, we are making the situation worse. Torturing, detaining and drone bombing Muslims is exactly what we shouldn't be doing. And the broader cultural demonization of Islam makes it harder to stop doing these things. Harris is on the side of bigots on this issue, which at least he acknowledges.

He goes on to say they have a right to build it, but should they? (Yes, that again) He also draws some ridiculous comparisons. Can we just stop comparing Park51 to anything else and focus on the case at hand? Harris can't:
[I]t is also true that honest, freedom-loving Muslims should be the first to view their fellow Muslims somewhat differently. At this point in human history, Islam simply is different from other faiths. The challenge we all face, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, is to find the most benign and practical ways of mitigating these differences and of changing this religion for the better.

It is both ironic and instructive that at the very moment that the path was finally smoothed for the construction of the ground zero mosque, the Hamburg mosque that nurtured the 9/11 hijackers was shut down by the German government. No doubt there were German Muslims who felt their religious liberty was shamefully abridged. However, after a decade of treating this mosque as a monument to tolerance, the Germans were forced to admit that it was actually an incorrigible incubator of jihadism and anti-Western values. And so, the question must be asked: Which of these sister mosques represents the true face of Islam?
That is a ridiculous question. Which church represents the true face of Christianity? When you find it Sam, let me know. The point about religious freedom, as with free speech, is that people have the right to be wrong. The only process that is allowed to promote or change anything from the outside is the law and thus the political process. The German government followed their laws in closing the mosque. What does Harris have in mind for all of Islam? Unfortunately, he doesn't tell us. Rather, he keeps sliming all Muslims with the worst actions and theologies that any Muslim has done or believes. In a twist to a common atheist question about morality, is there one terrible thing that only a Muslim could do? No. Humans can do some terrible things, but none of them are exclusively Islamic. He ends on this strange note:
American Muslims should be absolutely free to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero; but the ones who should do it probably wouldn’t want to.
How does he decide which Muslims should do it? Which puts the issue on what should be its starting and ending point: it is impossible in practice to do anything but allow the construction of any legal building for any legal use. End of story.

Richard Dawkins isn't any better. His foundation's website posted a quite proper rant (he's English) against Park51 and Islam. Dawkins completely supports the ravings:
He may sound extreme, but that could just reflect the extremes he is fighting against. I don't know the corresponding figures for America, but polls in Britain suggest that an alarmingly high percentage of young British Muslims support the terrorists of 9/11 and 7/7, and some 40% of Muslims want Sharia Law introduced into Britain. Disquietingly high percentages supported the death sentence against Salman Rushdie and the threats of violence against the Danish cartoonists. Even 'moderate' Muslim leaders support the principle that apostasy deserves the death penalty, even if they are too nice to carry out the sentence themselves. I think it is well arguable that Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today. Pat Condell is one of the few with the courage to say so. Before condemning his 'extremism', at least consider the possibility that it may be justified.
Okay, I've considered it. It's not. How hard is this to understand:
  1. Free speech allows people (even Muslims!) to say what they want. You don't have to like it, but you have to defend their right to say it. Remember these are words and not actions.
  2. Blanket statements about 'moderate' Muslim leaders are wrong. Where is Dawkins' evidence? Is there some poll of 'moderate' Muslim leaders out there I don't know about? Even if there is, how the h-e-double-toothpicks did they do the poll? It's impossible to do.
  3. Blanket statements about 'moderate' Muslim leaders are irrelevant. The issue involves one moderate Muslim leader, Imam Rauf. Please limit your criticism to him and others directly involved in the project.
  4. Fine, make your argument that "Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today." What are you going to do about it besides public criticism? Is denying a few American Muslims their Constitutional right to religious freedom a suitable substitute for changing worldwide Islam?
Jerry CoyneAnd FSM! I hate scare quotes!

Jerry Coyne has become a loud voice for atheism, in particular against the compatibility of science and religion as two different, but equal, "ways of knowing." (just what are these people for?) His blog, Why Evolution Is True, which is named after his book, is a daily read for me. He took on the issue recently as well, using the dreaded scare quotes, The “mosque” in New York. Mostly, it's a rehash of the same old stuff, plus agreeing with Harris on how dastardly Islam is. In conclusion, Coyne writes:
Do I oppose the center’s construction? No. Do I think that building it on that site is a good idea? No. It’s no better an idea than would be building an American cultural center near Ground Zero in Hiroshima. It was Islam, after all, that propelled those planes into the World Trade Center nine years ago.
Actually, it was jet fuel. Islam is about nine steps removed in the chain of causation. And Hiroshima is just another poor comparison to pose some kind of caveat to the obvious conclusion that the community center has a right to be built.

For a Gnu Atheist I agree with, I have to dig a little deeper into the bench. Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog:
Frankly, as a rebuke to all the hateful rhetoric I have been hearing on the news channels recently, I'm at the point of hoping they built it thirty stories tall.

The notion that somehow there is a radius around Ground Zero that is now a Muslim-free zone is obscene and bigoted. This isn't even an issue of freedom of religion. It's about being innocent until proven guilty. There have been attempts by the right to demonize the fellow behind the project, but as far as I can tell it is all just a standard Fox News smear job.

Monty Hall ProblemMeanwhile, the standard political story of our time -- Republicans are evil, Democrats are cowards, people are clueless -- has played out to grim perfection on this issue. There have been a few bright spots. Al Franken proved once more that he's the best Senator in the body. It took some courage for President Obama to weigh in on the project at all, though he did undo some of the impact by backpeddaling the next day. But those are the exceptions.

You know what? Now that I think about it I hope they build it fifty stories tall.
Assuming the developer can come up with the money, and right now he has none, that would provide even more of a boost to the economy. If it's foreign money, even better!

This will conclude this test of the emergency anti-anti-Muslim blogcast network and we now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging. However, I have posted an atheist link dump after the jump.

All of these links are to atheists:

I Don't Oppose the Mosque Near Ground Zero, Hemant Mehta, Friendly Atheist, June 8, 2010.

A Mosque Maligned, Robert Wright, New York Times Opinionator, July 20, 2010.

Ground Zero mosque protected by First Amendment - but it's still salt in a wound, Susan Jacoby, On Faith at, August 4, 2010.

Collective Guilt for 9-11: The Ground Zero Mosque and Muslim Americans as the Enemy Within, Santi Tafarella, Prometheus Unbound, August 16, 2010.

Proximity, Jeffrey Rowland, Overcompensating, August 16, 2010.

On that "ground zero mosque", miller, Skeptic's Play, August 30, 2010.