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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Obama and Imam Feisal Prove to be Hypocrites (sort of) on Burning the Koran (update: the burning has been called off))

Big Update:  Cnn’s breaking news email reveals that the pastor has called off the burning.  Now when are they going to call off the Ground Zero Mosque? 

Now first, I am very heavily medicated, on benedryl dealing with hives caused by pain medication I needed after having my appendix removed.  You are very likely to see more grammatical mistakes than usual.  For that I apologize.  But despite all of that I believe my thinking is clear, at least on this subject..

Anyway, I am beginning to think that this Koran burning Reverend is some kind of genius, in terms of political theater as performance art.  Or he is just an idiot and just blundered into it.  Its really hard to decide, but whether intentionally or not, he made both the President and the founding Imam of the Ground Zero Mosque (GZM) look like complete hypocrites.  Which if intentional, was nicely done.

First up, let’s remember what the President said on the GZM.  First he stood up for it, saying this:

But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure....

[After discussing the evil of the terrorists and their generalized intolerance.]  That is who we are fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms – it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race or religion; wealth or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us – a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.

Which, gee, sounds like an endorsement.  Indeed, Imam Feisal seemed to think so in a recent op-ed.  We’ll talk more about him in a minute.

But of course famously Obama walked his comments back shortly after saying, “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

Actually that is a perfectly reasonable position—to say, I as president am going to stay out of the issue of taste, but not the issue of whether they have the right.  The only problem is he doesn’t maintain that stance as strictly when the issue turned to another provocative act of religious expression: the burning of Korans.  This is what he said to ABC news recently:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about Pastor Terry Jones. He gave a press conference today. Says he's going to go through with burning the Korans. Is there anything you can say to him to convince him not to?

OBAMA: If he's listening, I just hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values of Americans. That this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance. And as a very practical matter, as commander of chief of the Armed Forces of the United States I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We're already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat --

STEPHANOPOULOS: What more could happen?

OBAMA: --that he's making.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are you worried about?

OBAMA: Well, look, the … this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda. You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who'd be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities. You know and so you know, I just hope that, he says he's … he's someone who s motivated by his faith.

STEPHANOPOULOS:And he says he's praying on it.

OBAMA:Yeah. I hope he listens to…those better angels.


OBAMA:And understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in.

STEPHANOPOULOS:I wonder what this must feel like from behind your desk. You're President of the United States. You have to deal with the fallout. And he's a pastor who's got 30 followers in his church. Does it make you feel helpless or angry?

OBAMA: It, well it is frustrating. Now, on the other hand, we are a government of laws. And so, we have to abide by those laws. And my understanding is that he can be cited for public burning. But that's the extent of the laws that we have available to us. You know, part of this country's history is people doing destructive or offensive or harmful things. And yet, we still have to make sure that we're following the laws. And that's part of what I love about this country.

So you get that?  Someone wants to build a Mosque at Ground Zero, which might be seen as a victory by our enemies, but Obama will say they have the right, and will fastidious refuse to comment on the wisdom of it.  But a Pastor decides to burn a few Korans and suddenly Obama has an opinion on the wisdom of it!

At first blush that sounds utterly hypocritical, but thinking it over I did see one way to thread the needle.  And that is simply this.  He could believe that there is a world of difference between positive statements on faith, and negative ones.  A positive one is “I believe in Jesus.”  A negative statement is, “Mohammed was a pedophile and thus I cannot believe he was God’s chief prophet.”  And there is a strain of thought in some circles that somehow freedom of religious speech extends only to the positive statements, and not the negative ones.  But as I have said repeatedly the ability to freely criticize religions is a necessary component of freedom of religion.  The syllogism is simple.  Freedom of religion includes the freedom to choose one’s religion.  The freedom to choose one’s religion is the right to make an informed choice.  The right to make an informed choice requires that everyone else is free to speak their minds on each and every faith, so you, the person choosing your faith, can weigh the pros and cons of each.  Tolerance in this society cannot mean we never tell the rude truth about each other’s faiths, as we see those truths.  Tolerance means you have to hear rude things said about your deity, you have to see the image of your savior defaced, and respond with nothing more than speech of your own.  You have to tolerate other people’s inevitable rudeness toward your particular faith.

Or perhaps there is a simpler explanation.  Maybe when Obama originally made that statement in support of the “right” he really meant it as it was understood—as an endorsement of the project.  The walkback was false and thus he is being true to his actual ideals when he shoots his mouth off about the wisdom of the Koran burning, because in fact he doesn’t mind talking about the wisdom of religious expression.

So which is it?  Is he a hypocrite, a man with a diminished sense of freedom of expression, or what?  You shall be the judge as indeed you always are.

Meanwhile, the Imam sat down to an internet chat and was asked a few tough questions.  Cnn has highlights from the transcript.  First the more positive parts.  He is described as saying that “if he knew how controversial the project would be, he ‘never would have done this - not have done something that would create more divisiveness.’”  And he goes on and says a few right things here:

When asked about the feelings of families of 9/11 victims - such as those who might claim that their relative's remains have yet to be found at the site, Rauf said: "This is not that spot. This is not ground zero proper. No one's body is in that location."

"I'm very sensitive to those feelings," he said. "As an imam - as any religious person does - we have to minister to the pain and hurt ... in our communities. This is part of our intention."

He said he intends to put a 9/11 memorial in the center.

And if meant honestly, these are all positive signs.  And through many comments in that chat, as well as his op-ed the other day in the NYT he has argued that whatever the wisdom of starting it, we have to finish it now:

The wonderful outpouring of support for our right to build this community center from across the social, religious and political spectrum seriously undermines the ability of anti-American radicals to recruit young, impressionable Muslims by falsely claiming that America persecutes Muslims for their faith. These efforts by radicals at distortion endanger our national security and the personal security of Americans worldwide. 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.

Get that?  So let us finish our mosque because domestic anti-terrorism “radicals” don’t want it, and because the radical terrorists themselves will bomb us or something.

But then he is asked about burning Korans he says this:

"I would plead with him to seriously consider what he is doing. It is going to feed into the radicals in the Muslim world," Rauf said.

He noted that U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus has warned that the burning would endanger U.S. troops overseas.

"It's something which is not right to do on [those] grounds," Rauf said.

"We have freedom of speech, but with freedom comes responsibility. ... This is dangerous for our national security, but also it is the un-Christian thing to do," he added.

Which at first blush again sounds really hypocritical.  But I suppose you could thread the needle like this.  He could feel that basically our freedom of religion should be exercised or voluntarily curtailed according to the wishes and whims of terrorists.  Which makes him, like Ibrahim Hooper, a free rider on those terrorists’ conduct using their cruelty for his own advantage.

So, hypocrite, or free rider on terrorism?  You make the call.

Update: James Taranto finds a different angle to the GZM Imam’s comments, writing:

What was initially marketed as a gesture of conciliation has turned into a protection racket: Give Rauf what he wants, he tells us, or there's no telling what those angry Muslim extremists might do. Rauf's outrageous comments ought to erase all doubt that the construction of the Ground Zero mosque would be a victory for terrorism.

Harsh, but accurate.