A Task for George W. Bush

By Jeffrey Goldberg

The most frightening story I read yesterday -- apart from the story of the killing of the American aid workers in Afghanistan by the Taliban -- was Laurie Goodstein's New York Times article about efforts in numerous communities across the country to stop Muslims -- American citizens of the Muslim faith -- from building mosques. Goodstein reports from three communities in Wisconsin, Tennessee and California, all of which are scenes of terrible intolerance directed against Muslims no one actually suspects of being terrorists. Goodstein writes:

In all of the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself. They quote passages from the Koran and argue that even the most Americanized Muslim secretly wants to replace the Constitution with Islamic Shariah law.

These local skirmishes make clear that there is now widespread debate about whether the best way to uphold America's democratic values is to allow Muslims the same religious freedom enjoyed by other Americans, or to pull away the welcome mat from a faith seen as a singular threat.

The singular threat, of course, is not posed by those who want to build mosques, but those who oppose the right of American Muslims to worship freely. The threat is not only to the Constitution, and to our self-image as a tolerant and accepting nation, but to the War on Terror itself. As I've explained previously, it is the goal of Islamism -- the politically radical and violent interpretation of Islam whose most famous proponent is the mass murderer Osama Bin Laden -- to create a civilizational struggle between the West and Islam. It is the goal of the American national security apparatus to make sure that this war does not widen into such a struggle, and it should be the goal of both Democratic and Republican leaders to support this mission.

Americans who seek the marginalization of Muslims in this country are unwittingly doing the work of Islamist extremists. I am not arguing that there are no radical Muslims in our midst -- the Ft. Hood shooter, among others, has proven that there are -- but I am arguing that the vast majority of American Muslims are law-abiding citizens uninterested in either committing terrorism against their country, or in seeking to impose shari'a, Islamic law, on it.

One American politician who has always understood the difference between the mass of American Muslims, on the one hand, and radical Islamists on the other is President George W. Bush. In his remarks at the Washington Islamic Center a few days after the 9/11 attacks, he said the following:

When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that's made brothers and sisters out of every race -- out of every race.

America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.

Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes. Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America. That's not the America I know. That's not the America I value.

I've been told that some fear to leave; some don't want to go shopping for their families; some don't want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they're afraid they'll be intimidated. That should not and that will not stand in America.

In this generous and visionary statement can be found the seed of an important task for ex-President Bush. I would hope -- especially now that he is finished writing his book -- that he would speak out for Muslim enfranchisement in America, in particular in the wake of the "Ground Zero" mosque controversy. He should let American Muslims know that he accepts them as equal citizens under law, and that all Americans, but particularly members of his own party, should do the same. This is an important task, and I believe that George W. Bush is the best man for it.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/08/a-task-for-george-w-bush/61133/