Cordoba House in Rauf's Own WordsI can't think of a better opening than this:
As my flight approached America last weekend, my mind circled back to the furor that has broken out over plans to build Cordoba House, a community center in Lower Manhattan.Of course, read the whole thing, Building on Faith. (Brilliant title!) But I have to excerpt and comment on some parts. After writing exclusively in the first person in the opening, he ends with the antecedent for the next graf:
... Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels.Pow! As a small writing critique, I wouldn't have included "tolerance", opting for a one-two punch rather than a triplet. More importantly, I wouldn't claim it as an American value either, which is one of the points of this ado. (How many points can one ado have?) Americans, unlike other peoples, don't have to be particularly religiously tolerant in order to live together. The First Amendment allows both protest and practice of religion. Tolerance is beside the point.1 Demagogues can proclaim as loudly as they want that Cordoba House shouldn't be built, but they can do nothing to prevent it. Nutcases can burn all the holy books they want to, but they cannot take them away. As a famous immigrant once said, "What a country!"
We have all been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community center has become. The level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship.
Back to Rauf's words. Here are two commandments that, if they were the only ones, even an atheist could endorse with only very minor fudging:
Cordoba House will be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord our creator with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength; and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions.And more judicious use of "we Americans":
This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. It is a paradigm we must shift.Agreed. Here are Osama bin Laden's greatest wishes:
- His criminal actions are legitimized as jihad
- He is regarded as a holy warrior
- America invades a Muslim country
- America suffers greatly because of it
[By the way, this is a perfect example of actual dramatic irony. When because of all your efforts to avoid a result (al-Qaeda "winning"), you cause that result to happen. One of my pet peeves is the misuse of the word "irony", especially beginning a sentence with "Ironically". Nine times out of ten, it's not even simple irony, when a result is the opposite of what you'd expect.]
As "but" is my favorite word, I do have one criticism. The end is overly different-paths-up-the-same-mountain ecumenism obviously influenced by Rauf's Sufism. (And wishy-washy shalom-ness is the basis of the Cordoba Initiative, which Rauf founded.)
The very word “islam” comes from a word cognate to shalom, which means peace in Hebrew. The Koran declares in its 36th chapter, regarded by the Prophet Muhammad as the heart of the Koran, in a verse deemed the heart of this chapter, “Peace is a word spoken from a merciful Lord.”First, the linguistic fallacy - you can't prove anything by a strained relationship between the etymology of words in different languages.
How better to commemorate 9/11 than to urge our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians and fellow Jews to follow the fundamental common impulse of our great faith traditions?
Second, I'm sure that over a billion Muslims do not regard that quote from the 36th chapter of the Koran as central to their religious practice. And hundreds of millions wouldn't even recognize it as coming from the Koran. (Note, the same could be said substituting Christians and the Bible)
Third, Islam does not mean peace. Nor do the other Abrahamic faiths mean peace. All three have conflicting impulses of strife and peace. Islam means submission. Its primary concern is justice. (See Steven Prothero's After Words program on his book, God is Not One, for more comparative religion insights.)
Fourth, the best way to commemorate 9/11 would be to start the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and others involved in executing the 9/11 attacks in federal court in Manhattan on almost 3,000 counts of murder.
UPDATE: September 13, 2010. Ted Koppel agrees with me:
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, succeeded far beyond anything Osama bin Laden could possibly have envisioned. This is not just because they resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths, nor only because they struck at the heart of American financial and military power. Those outcomes were only the bait; it would remain for the United States to spring the trap.He also gets dramatic irony right, but complicates matters by adding an extra step of the Iranian threat to invade Iraq, which doesn't actually exist today. But the core irony is correct:
The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another. Bin Laden deserves to be the object of our hostility, national anguish and contempt, and he deserves to be taken seriously as a canny tactician. But much of what he has achieved we have done, and continue to do, to ourselves. Bin Laden does not deserve that we, even inadvertently, fulfill so many of his unimagined dreams.
The ultimate irony is that Hussein, to [prevent foreign invasion], allowed  the rest of the world to believe that he might have weapons of mass destruction. He thereby brought about [a foreign invasion and] his own destruction, ...1 As George Washington basically said in the Letter to Touro Synagogue: "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."