THE SPINE AUGUST 15, 2010
Apparently, Muslims are also not particularly stirred by the president’s policies. They wanted him to be more forthright and more forthcoming on their issues as he had indicated he would be in his much-vaunted “new beginning” speech last year in Cairo.
In a New York Times dispatch yesterday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg cites an Arab-American journalist as complaining that Obama has since left many Muslims disappointed. Well, on this count, at least, those disappointed Muslims are at one with most other Americans. Still, Ali Abunimah, the cited journalist, complains, “There has been no follow-through—Guantanamo is still open and so forth.” It is, frankly, noxious that any American ethnic or religious group should take on as one of its cardinal—and symbolic—issues the shutting down of a penitentiary where many Al Qaeda militants have been rightly imprisoned. But it does tell you something about the Muslim sect in the American polity that Guantanamo should figure so strongly in its politics.
One suspects, however, that the anxiety many Muslim Americans are feeling about Obama is not so much the president’s utter incapacity to shut down the jailhouse on the tip of Cuba but the failure of his whole overblown rhetorical exercise in changing the rules of diplomatic and military play.
Obama’s exercise in Cairo was to posit the mainstream of Islam against the Muslim fundamentalists. He invoked his mainstream bromides once more in his iftar remarks on Friday. But these simply are not warranted by the facts. Now, let me be clear: most Muslims are not, are not Islamists. (I suspect that there are millions and millions of Muslims who do not cling to Islam but seek something outside it, perhaps even heresy or, heaven forbid, even Christianity.) Still, the dominant structures of Islam—the governments (with notable exceptions) that rule in its name, the mosques and madrassas which preach and teach to the bewitched faithful, the baleful ignorance which its “intellectual” institutions maintain, the sexual slavery enforced on women, the hatred of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists—explain why Islam stood still...and is standing still.
In his comments during the White House ramadan festivities the president pulled a sleight of hand: “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam. It is a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders—they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children.” True enough. But Al Qaeda is not the only combatant organization with which we are engaged in battle. What about the Taliban? Or the other terrorists in the field in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia and Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and Nigeria and Sudan and the former Soviet Union. I omit any thoughts on Turkey. And, by the way, where does Obama come off issuing obiter dicta on Islam? Where does his learning come from
The president made his comments minimizing Islamic terror on Friday—and he did actually use the word “terror,” bless his penitent soul. And on Sunday an article, “Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents,” by Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Robert F. Worth appeared in the Times detailing the newly extended war on terrorism, not quite as newly as the administration wants it to seem. Still, this war simply does not comport with a minimalist reading of the threat of Muslim terror.
Obama’s counter-terrorism czar, John Brennan, a man I’ve written about before and whom from his statements I simply do not trust, is cited in the Times article as saying he preferred a strategy based on the “scalpel” rather than the “hammer.” Of course, the scalpel is a preferable tool because it doesn’t take our fighting men and women into the midst of ferocious battles. But opting for the scalpel has already presented and will present some more the ethical choices forced on those who are fighting terrorism that has already obliterated the difference between civilized and uncivilized war. The Israelis try to confront this issue, and those sympathetic to the politics which relies on terrorism—like Judge Goldstone or Baroness Ashton—pretend that the issue does not exist and that one should accuse and judge by formulae that are no longer germane.
In any event, Muslim terror is not a small containable phenomenon. Moreover, the argument that its Islamic adversaries are brave and numerous and wise fails because they have barely shown themselves. Are they—I ask President Obama—real? If yes, present them and let them present themselves to their publics. And present themselves with the clarity of the brave and the honest. I am afraid that the president cannot achieve such a goal because some of our “best” Muslim allies are themselves compromised by the inborn corruption and bloodlust of their societies. There is not one—or maybe there is just one but I don’t know of him—Muslim leader who can stand up and be recognized as a true moral leader of his people. Shall we try President Zardari? Or President Mubarak? Or, for that matter, President Abbas?
So, all this notwithstanding, as Ms. Stolberg’s article details, the president endorsed the building of the mosque at Ground Zero. Nobody knows who is paying for it; nobody knows what activities will take place in it; nobody knows whether the entrepreneur who wants to open a gay bar next door to the Muslim center will be permitted to do so. This is a question of fairness.
And, as her second Times article on the mosque makes clear, Obama “understands the politics of it.” This wisdom comes from David Axelrod who also said in March apropos some still-to-be-deferred Israeli building in Jerusalem that it was an “affront,” presumably also understanding the politics of it. Some weeks later, Axelrod was all hugs and kisses with Netanyahu. No affront. No insult. Well, it took less than 24 hours for the big civil liberties hero Barack Obama to retreat a bit from his endorsement of the mosque’s construction.
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Faced with withering Republican criticism of his defense of the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near ground zero, President Obama quickly recalibrated his remarks on Saturday, a sign that he has waded into even more treacherous political waters than the White House had at first realized.
In brief comments during a family trip to the Gulf of Mexico, Mr. Obama said he was not endorsing the New York project, but simply trying to uphold the broader principle that government should “treat everybody equally,” regardless of religion.
“I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” Mr. Obama said. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.”
But Mr. Obama’s attempt to clarify his remarks, less than 24 hours after his initial comments at a White House iftar, a Ramadan sunset dinner, pushed the president even deeper into the thorny debate about Islam, national identity and what it means to be an American — a move that is riskier for him than for his predecessors.
Which leaves his enthusiasts in some trouble, including his enthusiasts at TNR
In any case, there will be more public proceedings on the Cordoba Initiative.
Have you wondered, as I have, why this project is called the Cordoba Initiative? Well, the city was conquered in 1148 by a Muslim dynasty, the Almohades, who offered the Jews a rich choice: conversion to Islam, death or exile. The family of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides was born in Cordoba and Moses ben Maimon spent his childhood there. Until, that is, the Muslims arrived. When given their options, they left. Which is what most of the Jews did then. And there started the long journey of exile from Spain until 1492 when nobody was left.
So, dear Jon Chait and dear Isaac Chotiner, does the Cordoba Initiative at least not give you the creeps?