The Corner

Bloggingheads: The Mosque (and Rangel, and Socialism, and Christie)

I forgot to post this yesterday. It’s my debut on bloggingheads.tv, with Charlie Sheen (who, as I understand it, now blogs under the name “Dave Weigel” for Slate) and we addressed a number of interesting topics.

Though Dave and I disagree on a lot,  we’re both sort of natural consensus-seekers by personality, so there are probably not as much fireworks as some may have liked. And no, the word “JournoList” did not come up.

I did want to say something more about our first topic of discussion though.

I’m a bit of a squish on the Corboda Center — my discussion with Weigel is a textbook exercise in wishy-washy hair-splitting. I basically argue that it’s a bad idea,  and none of my business. But since we recorded this on Tuesday, my thoughts have crystallized a bit more, especially after reading Kevin and Kevin and Jonah.

In an e-mail yesterday, an avowedly conservative colleague (not here) — who will remain anonymous — blasted NRO’s editorial as something we’d have to “apologize for some day.” Particularly our worry that one of the GZ mosque’s benefactors, Feisal Abdul Rauf, was equivocal in his position on jihadist terrorism.

Adam Serwer, at American Prospect, called that worry “correction worthy” since it “pretended” that Rauf didn’t also explicitly reject Islamist terror:

Yeah, the interview in which Rauf says, “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened,” is the same one in which he offers a “full-throated rejection of terrorism,” saying, “Fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam. … There are always people who will do peculiar things, and think that they are doing things in the name of their religion. But the Koran is … God says in the Koran that they think that they are doing right, but they are doing wrong.”

Throughout this I have been willing to grant the good intentions of the Cordoba House’s planners, but since I also believe, in general, that (classical and contemporary) liberal tolerance for intolerant illiberalism is a potentially crippling paradox, and that political Islam in particular presents a grave threat to Western values, I’m basically okay with erring on the side of skepticism re: the imam’s comments. When you say that the United States was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, as he did, it tends to blunt my ability to pick up the subtleties of what comes after. That interview was equivocal at every turn, and when moral equivalences are trotted out re: 9/11, the tie goes to “your either with us, or with the terrorists.”

In other words, we are perfectly entitled to suspect that the “accessories to the crime” bit represents the investment, while the “condemning terrorism” bit is merely the hedge.

I don’t think Cordoba House is a “victory mosque,” I don’t necessarily think its benefactors have nefarious motives. The mosque is small fry, important only anecdotally, as part of a bigger conversation about the West’s confrontation with barbarism. I don’t think barbarism can or will destroy the West. But it won’t because most of us get what’s at stake.

If we view our jobs as opinion journalists as trying to nudge the median voter in the direction of virtue, then I’m quite happy with the balance of American opinion on the mosque. I’m happy that we wrote that editorial and that it’s part of the debate. Happy too that religious tolerance and property rights are part of the debate. The mosque’ll get built, and maybe it’ll even do some healing in the medium-term, but not until we’ve thoroughly interrogated its intentions and called on every one associated with it to take a stand.

The stakes are sufficiently high in a society interested in balancing security and liberty, and the methods of our Jihadist enemies sufficiently brutal, that we are entitled to rigorously interrogate the statements of even avowed Islamic “moderates.” We’re entitled by a reasonable suspicion –  illustrated by the “accessories to the crime” talk — that the middle third of Islam is not, by Western secular standards, recognizably “moderate” at all.

So my anonymous conservative colleague will have to excuse me if I can only blink at the suggestion that our editorial will have to be “apologized for” some day. If that comes to pass, it will be precisely because the conflict with political Islam has been settled decisively, at a civilizational scale, either in our favor or against it. We’ll either have crushed illiberal Islam and be offering the kind of feel-good, inconsequential apologies afforded to the victorious, or we’ll be prostrating ourselves before our new Qutbist overlords. And in either case we’ll have bigger problems. But my guess is that we won’t apologize, or have occasion to, and that we’ll go on presenting one valid point of view in a pluralist discourse.

PS — as the title suggests, we also discuss Charlie Rangel, Obama and Socialism, and my piece on Chris Christie.

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