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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on August 22nd, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

The US is pulling out its combat forces from Iraq, but the Sunday TV main topic was THE MOSQUE.  As always – the best conversation was on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN/GPS program.

His guest were Bret Stephens from The Wall Street Journal and Peter Beinart – Senior Political Writer at the blog The Daily Beast, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York, and a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation – till 2006 he was with The New Republic and still lives in Washington DC.

Stephens said that the legalities are clear but the issue is if this Mosque at that location advances interface dialogue and the answer is NO!

Beinart said you cannot divorce the right for building a Mosque from the right to decide where to build it. What about military bases? Will you next say that because there is sensitivity to Americans killed in wars in Muslim countries you cannot have a Mosque on a military base?

Stephens asked – wait – what if the German Government decides to build a tolerance center across the street from a concentration camp – this is much more like the present case.

Zakaria said – that is about irrational sensitivity – do you call this bigotry?

Stephens answered that the rights are indisputable and Bret said that you cannot ask people in the right not to use the right – this is equal to taking away the right.

Zakaria concluded that we talk past each other so the discussion is over. And that is the true state of these matters today.

We hope that Zakaria realizes now that his returning a prize to the ADL of the Bnei Brith was – well – premature.

Also, as he said that the discussion is really not ended – we suggest he invites next time also Anne Barnard whose article in today’s New York Times he did mention.

Anne Barnard is now on the city desk of the paper, but she is not a newcomer to these issues as sh worked in the Middle East – in Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt. She has seen sensitivities from very close – not your regular city desk person. We know Anne for many years – actually since she was a kid – and have met her in different locations as well. We continue here with her material and hope she continues to keep her sights on the developments we expect when Imam Raouf returns from his Middle East tour.

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Further comments about Beinart. His parents immigrated to the US from South Africa and work in Cambridge where he was born. His mother remarried theater personality Robert Brustein. Beinart is Jewish and belongs to a liberal synagogue in Washington.

Peter Beinart has written: “The Icarus Syndrome – A History of American Hubris,” HarperCollins, June 1, 2010, and
“The Good Fight: Why Liberals–and Only Liberals–Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again,” HarperCollins, May 2006,

Beinart was a supporter of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.[7] and in a recent essay, he has argued that the tensions between liberalism and Zionism in the U.S. may tear the two historically-linked concepts apart.[8]

After leaving The New Republic, in 2007-2009, Beinart was a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Further comments about Bret Stephens: He was born in 1973 and grew up in Mexico City. Stephens went to the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics.[2]

Stephens began his career at the Journal as an op-ed editor in New York and later worked as an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe in Brussels. In 2006 he took over the “Global View” column from George Melloan, who has retired.

Between 2002 and 2004 Stephens was editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, a position he assumed at age 28 – the youngest person ever to hold that position. He is the winner of the 2008 Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Opinion Journalism.
In 2005, Stephens was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, where he was previously a media fellow. He is also a frequent contributor to Commentary magazine.[3]

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Fareed Zakaria promised that on his program this emotional discussion will be rational – what he did not say was that he is in effect pitting against each other two well qualified Jews. We do not believe that THE MOSQUE – that is that particular Mosque – is only an issue for Jews. We indeed believe that his next panel will pull in other “suffering souls” as well.

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Feisal Abdul Rauf’s Balancing Act in Mosque Furor – NYTimes.com

The full article by our friend Anne Barnard, as above, but as published front page The New York Times had the title:
Complicated Balancing Act for Imam in Mosque Furor – Complicated Balancing Act for Imam.

 www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/nyregi…

It includes The Imam’s history and his father’s history – both of them highly interesting people. While the father was an employee of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and eventually led to the construction of the New York Islamic Center cum Mosque at the corner of East 96th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan, Feisal became the Imam of the Sufi congregation downtown. Then he attempted also the building of a large Center cum Mosque.


William Sauro/The New York Times

Mr. Abdul Rauf’s father, Muhammad, in 1968. He ran the Islamic Center of New York.

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Far away from New York, in Bend Oregon (by Western Communications, Inc.) retained the New York Times in print – name of the article – but our friend’s article was reshaped  as follows:

 bbedit.sx.atl.publicus.com/apps/p…

Complicated balancing act for imam in mosque furor.

By Anne Barnard / New York Times News Service

Published: August 22. 2010 4:00AM PST

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf inside his mosque, housed in a building near the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan, in November. “We want to push back against the extremists,” the cleric says. Others worry about an anti-Muslim backlash. - Michael Appleton / New York Times News Service

Michael Appleton / New York Times News Service

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf inside his mosque, housed in a building near the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan, in November. “We want to push back against the extremists,” the cleric says. Others worry about an anti-Muslim backlash.

For years, Feisal Abdul Rauf has encountered distrust as he tries to reconcile Islam with the West. -

For years, Feisal Abdul Rauf has encountered distrust as he tries to reconcile Islam with the West.

Muslims need to understand and soothe Americans who fear them; they should be conciliatory, not judgmental, toward the West.

That was Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s message, but not everyone in the Cairo lecture hall last February was buying it. As he talked of reconciliation between America and Middle Eastern Muslims — his voice soft, almost New Agey — some questions were so hostile that he felt the need to declare that he was not an American agent.

But one young Egyptian asked: Wasn’t the United States financing the speaking tour that had brought the imam to Cairo because his message conveniently echoed U.S. interests?

“I’m not an agent from any government, even if some of you may not believe it,” the imam replied. “I’m not. I’m a peacemaker.”

That talk, recorded on video six months ago, was part of what now might be called Abdul Rauf’s prior life, before he became the center of an uproar over his proposal for a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site. He watched his father, an Egyptian Muslim scholar, pioneer interfaith dialogue in 1960s New York; led a mystical Sufi mosque in Lower Manhattan; and, after the Sept. 11 attacks, became a spokesman for the notion that being American and Muslim is no contradiction — and that a truly American brand of Islam could modernize and moderate the faith worldwide.

In recent weeks, Abdul Rauf has barely been heard from as a national political debate explodes over his dream project, including somewhere in its planned 15 stories near ground zero, a mosque. Opponents have called his project an act of insensitivity, even a monument to terror.

In his absence — he is now on another Middle East speaking tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department — a host of allegations have been floated: that he supports terrorism; that his father, who worked at the behest of the Egyptian government, was a militant; that his publicly expressed views mask stealth extremism. Some charges, the available record suggests, are unsupported. Some are simplifications of his ideas. In any case, calling him a jihadist appears even less credible than calling him a U.S. agent.

Growing up in America

Abdul Rauf, 61, grew up in multiple worlds. He was raised in a conservative religious home but arrived in America as a teenager in the turbulent 1960s; his father came to New York and later Washington to run growing Islamic centers. His parents were taken hostage not once, but twice, by American Muslim splinter groups. He attended Columbia University, where, during the Six-Day War between Israel and Arab states like Egypt, he talked daily with a Jewish classmate, each seeking to understand the other’s perspective.

He consistently denounces violence. Some of his views on the interplay between terrorism and American foreign policy — or his search for commonalities between Islamic law and this country’s Constitution — have proved jarring to some American ears, but still place him as pro-American within the Muslim world. He devotes himself to befriending Christians and Jews — so much, some Muslim Americans say, that he has lost touch with their own concerns.

“To stereotype him as an extremist is just nuts,” said the Very Rev. James Morton, the longtime dean of the Church of St. John the Divine, in Manhattan, who has known the family for decades.

Since 9/11, Abdul Rauf, like almost any Muslim leader with a public profile, has had to navigate the fraught path between those suspicious of Muslims and eager to brand them violent or disloyal and a Muslim constituency that believes itself more than ever in need of forceful leaders.

One critique of the imam, said Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, is that he has not been outspoken enough on issues “near and dear to many Muslims,” from Israel policy to treatment of Muslims after 9/11, “because of the need that he has had — whether taken upon himself or thrust upon him — to be the ‘American imam,’ to be the ‘New York imam,’ to be the ‘accommodationist imam.’ “

Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University, said Abdul Rauf’s holistic Sufi practices could make more-orthodox Muslims uncomfortable, and his focus on like-minded interfaith leaders made him underestimate the uproar over his plans.

“He hurtles in, to the dead-center eye of the storm simmering around Muslims in America, expecting it to be like at his mosque — we all love each other, we all think happy thoughts,” said Ahmed.

“Now he has set up, unwittingly, a symbol of this growing tension between America and Muslims: this mosque that Muslims see as a symbol of Islam under attack and the opponents as an insult to America,” he added. “So this mild-mannered guy is in the eye of a storm for which he’s not suited at all. He’s not a political leader of Muslims, yet he now somehow represents the Muslim community.”

Andrew Sinanoglou, who was married by Abdul Rauf last fall, said he was surprised the imam had become a contentious figure. His greatest knack, he said, was making disparate groups comfortable, as at the wedding bringing together Sinanoglou’s family, descended from Greek Christians thrown out of Asia Minor by Muslims, with his wife’s conservative Muslim father.

“He’s an excellent schmoozer,” Sinanoglou said of the imam.

Many different Islamic influences

Abdul Rauf was born in Kuwait. His father, Muhammad Abdul Rauf, was one of many graduates of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the foremost center of mainstream Sunni Muslim learning, whom Egypt sent abroad to staff universities and mosques, a government-approved effort unlikely to have tolerated a militant. He moved his family to England, studying at Cambridge and the University of London; then to Malaysia, where he eventually became the first rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

As a boy, Abdul Rauf absorbed his father’s talks with religious scholars from around the world, learning to respect theological debate, said his wife, Daisy Khan. He is also steeped in Malaysian culture, whose ethnic diversity has influenced an Islam different from that of his parents’ homeland.

In 1965, he came to New York. His father ran the Islamic Center of New York; the family lived over its small mosque in a brownstone on West 72nd Street, which served mainly Arabs and African-American converts. Like his son, the older imam announced plans for a community center for a growing Muslim population — the mosque eventually built on East 96th Street. It was paid for by Muslim countries and controlled by Muslim U.N. diplomats — at the time a fairly noncontroversial proposition. Like his son, he joined interfaith groups, invited by James of St. John the Divine.

Hostage crisis

Unlike his son, he was conservative in gender relations; he asked his wife to not drive. But in 1977, he was heading the Islamic Center in Washington when they were taken hostage by a Muslim faction; it was his wife who challenged the gunmen on their lack of knowledge of Islam.

“My husband didn’t open his mouth, but I really gave it to them,” she told The New York Times then.

Meanwhile, Abdul Rauf studied physics at Columbia.

In his 20s, Abdul Rauf dabbled in teaching and real estate, married an American-born woman and had three children. Studying Islam and searching for his place in it, he was asked to lead a Sufi mosque, Masjid al-Farah. It was one of few with a female prayer leader, where women and men sit together at some rituals and some women do not cover their hair. And it was 12 blocks from the World Trade Center.

Divorced, he met his second wife, Khan, when she came to the mosque looking for a gentler Islam than the politicized version she rejected after Iran’s revolution. Theirs is an equal partnership, whether Abdul Rauf is shopping and cooking a hearty soup, she said, or running organizations that promote an American-influenced Islam.

A similar idea comes up in the Cairo video. Abdul Rauf, with Khan, unveiled as usual, beside him, tells a questioner not to worry so much about one issue of the moment — Switzerland’s ban on minarets — saying Islam has always adapted to and been influenced by places it spreads to. “Why not have a mosque that looks Swiss?” he joked. “Make a mosque that looks like Swiss cheese. Make a mosque that looks like a Rolex.”

In the 1990s, the couple became fixtures of the interfaith scene, even taking a cruise to Spain and Morocco with prominent rabbis and pastors.

Abdul Rauf also founded the Shariah Index Project — an effort to formally rate which governments best follow Islamic law. Critics see in it support for Taliban-style Shariah or imposing Islamic law in America.

Shariah, though, like Jewish law, has a spectrum of interpretations. The ratings, Kahn said, measure how well states uphold Shariah’s core principles like rights to life, dignity and education, not Taliban strong points. The imam has written that some Western states unwittingly apply Shariah better than self-styled Islamic states that kill wantonly, stone women and deny education — to him, violations of Shariah.

After 9/11, Abdul Rauf was all over the airwaves denouncing terrorism, urging Muslims to confront its presence among them, and saying that killing civilians violated Islam. He wrote a book, “What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America,” asserting the congruence of American democracy and Islam.

That ample public record — interviews, writings, sermons — is now being examined by opponents of the downtown center.

Those opponents repeat often that Abdul Rauf, in one radio interview, refused to describe the Palestinian group that pioneered suicide bombings against Israel, Hamas, as terrorist. In the lengthy interview, Abdul Rauf clumsily tries to say that people around the globe define terrorism differently and labeling any group would sap his ability to build bridges. He also says: “Targeting civilians is wrong. It is a sin in our religion,” and, “I am a supporter of the state of Israel.”

“If I were an imam today I would be saying, ‘What am I supposed to do?’” said John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University. “‘Can an imam be critical of any aspect of U.S. foreign policy? Can I weigh in on things that others could weigh in on?’ Or is someone going to say, ‘He’s got to be a radical!’”

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Could it be that the solution leads to a true CORDOBA HOUSE OF CULTURE AND INTER-RELIGIOUS UNDERSTANDING with all Cordoba three religions having footholds at the center – not  a Mosque.

In this case what if Rabbi Marc Schneier who started together with the East 96 Street Islamic Center’s Imams his good-will exchanges gets a foothold and offices there? The Battery Park Holocaust Museum could be linked, and the Archbishop of the Trinity Church of the neighborhood as well – that is with offices in the building. This would call for a joint board and joint ownership in the name of good intentions. It would be considered a step towards healing within the possible of the memory of 9/11/o1 within reach of the 10th memorial of the event. Clearly – this does not answer the call for a larger Mosque, neither will this be a place with Synagogue and church – we know that the institutions must be separate.

If separation is preferred, then a gesture of exchange of real estate for a different location would be appreciated.

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President Obama also went on TV today – breaking his vacation because of the media attacks on him branding him a Muslim.

Obama blamed this crazzy media culture when the main issue is the pulling out from Iraq but the focus is on “THE MOSQUE” – is this just an August diversion? By whom?

Michel Martin (an Emmy Award winning American journalist and correspondent for ABC News and National Public Radio. After ten years in print journalism, Martin has for the last 15 years become best known for her news broadcasting on national topics.), asks whom are we talking about as media? It is just the Conservative Pundits that keep on drumming? Or is there by now a symbiotic relationship between the right wing bloggers and the main-stream media? It does not make sense to pretend that there is not a concern with Islam. We heard on TV that Glen Beck said Lincoln Day has no meaning for him – so he calls for a rally at the mall on that day. Aha I said – if that is so – why do you expect more consideration from adherents of Islam – Americans or otherwise? Are Americans so dam by now that they cannot see that insensitivity breeds more insensitivity?

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