One might understand why Newsweek recently sold for a dollar and apparently went the way of Harper’s from David A. Graham’s “The Islam Idiots.” As a self-proclaimed nuanced expert on Islam, he bashes conservative critics of the Ground Zero mosque project (among them Andy McCarthy and me) while trying, in would-be courageous though actually embarrassing fashion, to contextualize the worries of more liberal opponents of the location — but never quite fathoms why 70 percent of the American people, among them such famed reactionaries as Sen. Harry Reid and Howard Dean, doubt the wisdom of Mr. Rauf’s “outreach.”
In subtle fashion, Graham calls me a “mosque basher” (notice the demagoguery — by opposing the choice of location for a particular mosque one becomes a mosque basher) and criticizes me for calling Mr. Rauf a “self-described Sufi.” Set aside the fact that we were told the Ground Zero mosque was not to be a mosque but a sort of Islamic complex (in politically correct calumny, therefore, I suppose I should be called a “complex basher”). One has good cause to wonder about Mr. Rauf’s credentials as a tolerant healer in the genuine Sufi tradition. I used the adjective “self-described” in the context of Rauf’s disturbing and contradictory proclamations. His public persona, for example, keeps morphing as he reinvents his message to better market his wares — so his book was reissued in paperback as What’s Right with Islam Is Right with America rather than the original What’s Right with Islam. Cordoba House suddenly became Park51 when the public caught on that medieval Cordoba, despite the presidential myth-making of the Cairo Speech, was not quite Dubai and, disturbingly, seemed to resonate a little too much with the “O al-Andalus” crowd. The American Sufi Muslim Association is now the American Society for Muslim Advancement. And so on.
And while Rauf the contemplative Sufi philosopher has a disturbing record of contextualizing 9/11, bin Laden, and Hamas, he has no need of nuance when it comes to America. He can be quite forthright in criticizing the United States for its perceived and apparently singular global transgressions — though he is quiet about far greater Russian and Chinese anti-Muslim violence. He claims he is for free expression, even when it so obviously offends tens of millions of Americans; but he has no problem criticizing the Danish cartoonists for their supposedly unnecessary and gratuitously offensive drawings. In a variety of ways, he has praised the Iranian Revolution, whose end result is horrific violence against women, homosexuals, democrats, and dissidents of any stripe, whether novelists abroad or reformers at home. Others have pointed out that there is no reason to believe the ecumenical Ground Zero Islamic complex will introduce gender or sexual parity into its protocols in the American tradition that Rauf keeps invoking.
In short, Imam Rauf remains what he always strove to be, a brilliant marketeer (in the American therapeutic Tony Robbins/Deepak Chopra tradition) who is able to adopt personas, symbols, and phraseology that cover his flank in the radical Islamic world while offering “bridge building” rhetoric to captivate self-righteous naïfs like Graham — in the process creating quite a lot of publicity for himself, and perhaps a multimillion-dollar base of operations. One can foresee the hype to come as the tour buses tack onto their routes the Park51 Islamic complex. I’m sure copies of What’s Right with Islam Is Right with America will be on sale in the lobby.