5 Best Sunday Columns

Elite students saving cities, American Muslims fighting extremism, and Emma Thompson inspiring--and irritating--millions

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  • Nicholas Kristof on the So-Called 'Ground Zero Mosque'  The New York Times columnist makes the usual arguments--that the proposed project is more like a YMCA center than anything else, that it's not really at the site of Ground Zero--but then adds two new notes. The first is personal: "I know Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan--the figures behind the Islamic community center--and they are the real thing." They are "open-minded" moderates who "have been strong advocates for women within Islam." Second, Kristof urges readers to consider that Islam is not "an inherently war-like religion that drives believers to terrorism." Writes Kristof:
But don’t forget that the worst brutality in the Middle East has often been committed by more secular rulers, like Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad. And the mastermind of the 1970 Palestinian airline hijackings, George Habash, was a Christian.
  • Julia Llewellyn Smith on Emma Thompson  Smith delivers a thoughtful Telegraph op-ed on one of moviedom's more unusual stars, who recently has been irritating her countrymen with her "otherworldly edicts." For example: "telling working mothers they couldn't 'have it all,'" saying Audrey Hepburn was "'twee, mumsy and really couldn't act." Going over Thompson's life and career trajectory, relating some details doubtless known by the reader, others likely new, Smith explains how the "national treasure" could appear insufferable to some. But, whether intentional or not, the mere cataloguing of Thompson's feats and quirks--original, unsexy roles, awards kept in the bathroom, "neglecting her career" for her daughter, adopting a child soldier, writing her own parts--simultaneously shows how much there is to admire in the unusual actress.
  • Piers Brendon on China's Rise to #2 Among World Economies  "How will China use its new-found wealth?" Wealthy countries have often "equip[ped] themselves with the sinews of war in order to enhance their position," explains the historian and writer, currently a fellow at Cambridge, but that isn't what the U.S. did. "For the the most part, the nation's business was business," and it's possible that it was this attitude that led to America's tremendous economic success. China, too, has at points seemed to espouse the ideal that "globalization fosters international cooperation." Concludes Brendon: China may or may not "keep its promise" to expand peacefully. "But doom-merchants predicting that China will topple America from its pre-eminence should recognize that history is not necessarily on their side."
  • Andrew McCarthy on Muslim Americans: Individuals and Communities  McCarthy recalls "head[ing] up a prosecution team that was preparing to try the 'Blind Sheikh' Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven other jihadists for conducting a terrorist war against the United States. The case," he writes at National Review, "revealed this country's Muslim divide." The prosecution relied on American Muslims, who "infiltrate[d] the terror cells" and "helped us shape the resulting evidence into a compelling narrative." But when the prosecution tried to "retain some civilians as private contractors" for translating, the team faced a problem: confidentiality--many were afraid of being "ostracized" for betraying their religion. "As long as they could do it quietly, they were willing to help," explains McCarthy.
But doing it quietly was imperative. Most American Muslims are not instinctively different from other Americans. But American Muslim communities are peculiar. In many of them, the leadership of the mosques and Islamic centers is foreign (or at least foreign-influenced). This leadership tends to be anti-Western and arrogant, claiming an Islamic authenticity Americans are said to lack. Many American Muslims are intimidated into silence.
  • Lawrence Harmon on Students Saving Boston  "The think tank at Boston City Hall is percolating," writes Harmon in the Globe, "with ideas courtesy of elite graduate and law students usually found in summer internships at white-shoe law firms and downtown consulting firms." He tells of summer interns "delving into the zoning code to determine if urban farming has a place in Boston's future ... design[ing] ways to make the gears of city government operate more smoothly ... integrat[ing] social services and public education." Mayor Menino "has spent a lot of effort bringing scholars to city Hall," explains Harmon, "but time is running down on the fifth-term mayor's legacy." The hope may lie in "topflight students who opt for careers in public service."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.