Revisiting one of the first big stories on the now controversial Islamic center near ground zero, a New York Times piece from last December titled "Muslim Prayers Fuel Spiritual Rebuilding at Ground Zero," I found myself dumbstruck. As you probably guessed from the headline, the story was a laughably sunny gloss on an issue that was obviously a powder keg from the start.
It reminded me a of a joke from last season's "30 Rock," where Alec Baldwin's character was being told that in order to protect the feelings of a co-worker, he needed to "lie to her, coddle her, protect her from the real world."
Baldwin's retort? "I get it. Treat her like the New York Times treats its readers."
In fact, the aforementioned Times article ends with a quote from Sherif El-Gamal, one of the developers behind the Cordoba mosque project. "What happened that day [9/11]," he said, "was not Islam."
So if Islam is not responsible, what was the reason for the 9/11 attacks? In 2004, Sufi Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the spiritual leader behind the mosque, told the Sydney Morning Herald, "there was an endless supply of angry young Muslim rebels prepared to die for their cause and there was no sign of the attacks ending unless there was a fundamental change in the world."
What fundamental change did Imam Feisal recommend? "[Feisal] said there could be little progress until the U.S. acknowledged backing dictators and the U.S. President gave an 'America Culpa' speech to the Muslim world."
Feisal further offered his own reasoning for why the 9/11 attacks were not related to Islam. "The Islamic method of waging war is not to kill innocent civilians," he told the Herald. "But it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima, neither of which were military targets."
Now that's a charitable view of history. Whenever Muslims kill innocent civilians, it has no relation to Islam. The Muslim conquest of India, the bloodiest conflict in history, in which 80 million people were killed? Not Islam. Sept. 11 attacks? Not Islam. Hamas lobbing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians? Well, Feisal refuses to go on record condemning Hamas even when asked point blank.
But when America's secular government stopped the atrocities of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, it was really all about Christians killing civilians. America culpa!
If the president of the United States felt compelled to publicly disown the Christian pastor who baptized his children over his false equivalences between U.S. foreign policy and 9/11, why are we being told to believe Feisal's proposed mosque near ground zero is a beacon of tolerance?
The media seem to think they must reflexively defend any minority thrust into the public square from intolerant hordes throwing nooses around lampposts. But since 9/11 there's been almost no violence or concerted oppression of America's peaceful Muslim community.
At the same time, Americans remain clear-eyed about the fact certain Muslim attitudes are on a collision course with Western society. The mosque's backers may be tolerant relative to the Taliban and other Muslim extremists. However, their refusal to condemn Hamas and the fact that they won't rule out taking money from Iran cannot be considered tolerant by any enlightened standard.
Yet, the cover of Time magazine last week exploited the mosque controversy to ask, "Is America Islamophobic?" Why are the attitudes of the American public so suspect, when so few questions have been asked of those behind the mosque near ground zero? Or do the media really believe they can to lie to us, coddle us and protect us from the real world?
Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com.