A Strange Place to Focus

by Conor Friedersdorf

Daniel Larison writes:

...what I find remarkable about this mosque controversy is how blatantly, narrowly political the opposition to this particular construction project has been. It has been an exercise in manipulating public anger and using it for the purpose of waging an ostensibly anti-Islamist political campaign by organizing against harmless Muslims and their organizations. A distinctive American culture isn’t under threat from this mosque, the Cordoba Initiative or Imam Abdul Rauf. Rauf and those like him do represent a threat to lazy conservative anti-jihadism that treats every Muslim to “the right” of Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a potential fifth columnist and would-be enforcer of creeping shari’a... 

It isn’t enough if Muslims peacefully practice their religion, reject violence and embrace their new countries, but they must also become pro-government loyalists.

In another post, he says:

These champions give the impression that they are a tiny band of courageous souls resisting the tide of indifference and appeasement that is otherwise taking us all to oblivion, but somehow they wind up critiquing figures such as Ramadan (or Rauf) who pose no conceivable threat to them or to anyone else. The less dangerous the Muslims in question are, the more insidious and subversive they are made out to be.

Obviously, there has been no shortage of self-appointed protectors who want to warn the public about threats from Islamist groups, and for the most part mainstream media outlets have repeated these warnings or served as venues for the issuing of such warnings. The point isn’t that there aren’t threatening, hostile Islamists in the world, but that they are largely so powerless, so irrelevant, and so few in number that it makes no sense that they inspire so much panic and alarm. Scoffing at the alarmists shouldn’t blind anyone to real Islamist threats when they exist. On the contrary, criticizing the people who routinely exaggerate the power of Islamists is an important part of confronting the threats that actually exist. It is also an expression of confidence in “what we stand for” that we don’t believe our way of life can be destroyed by such relatively weak foes.

The staunchest critics of the Cordoba Initiative ought to see that lavishing so much scrutiny on Imam Rauf and his plans for a mosque near Ground Zero is folly in a world where there are plenty of Islamist radicals who openly preach violence, encourage terrorism, and otherwise represent an actually threat to the United States. I've said before that it's perfectly acceptable to scrutinize Imam Rauf's record, and to subject his style of interfaith outreach to praise or criticism.

But if your object is protecting the United States from a security threat, as opposed to constructively engaging the question of how moderates ought to engage Islam as a whole, the decision to focus on Imam Rauf is the kind of judgment call that should basically disqualify you from any position actually responsible for safeguarding American national security.