“Peace” is a word so over-used and abused that by now it’s wise to brace yourself every time some self-declared “peace-maker” pipes up. But even by those standards, the perversion of “peace-making” hit fresh heights Wednesday evening, when CNN’sLarry King Live, guest-hosted by Soledad O’Brien, devoted a full hour to an interview with the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque project, Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Asked if it’s really a good idea to go ahead with his plans to build a mosque and Islamic center at an address so close to Ground Zero that it has become a flash point, Rauf gave a reply that boils down to a threat. Rauf said that if his Cordoba House does not get built on his chosen site near Ground Zero, “The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack.”
Citing Muslim attacks on Danish embassies during the riots in 2006 over Mohamed cartoons Rauf went on to say that the result of this current “crisis” could be that “anger will explode in the Muslim world.” That, he said, could lead to “something which could really become very, very, very dangerous indeed.”
Please bear in mind that CNN beams this stuff out not only across America, but around the globe. While Rauf might proffer that he was merely giving helpful advice, there’s an Islamist audience out there who could hear his well-amplified words – “Islam is under attack” — as a summons to inflict yet more of those explosive onslaughts in which thousands of Americans have already been killed.
As for the message Rauf’s words might impart to the many Americans who oppose his project, his warning doesn’t sound like bridge-building. It sounds like blackmail. Before Rauf rolled out his Cordoba House project for approval by a Manhattan community board this past May, America’s annual observations of Sept. 11 were a solemn matter, focused on the enormity of the Islamist murder of almost 3,000 Americans. This year, the run-up to Sept. 11 has become an angry showdown, involving Pastor Terry Jones and his widely and rightly condemned on-again off-again plans to burn the Koran, growing frustration on the part of many Americans who feel they are endlessly asked to defer to the sensitivities of Muslims who respond with ever-growing demands, and at the center of it all, the obdurate and self-promoting Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Rauf’s own plans created this “crisis.” Rauf himself said last December (before his partners began trying to unsay it) that he’d latched on to the Burlington Coat Factory site precisely because of its proximity to Ground Zero — so close to the heart of the Sept. 11 Islamist attacks that it was hit by “wreckage” from one of the hijacked planes. If Rauf was genuinely clueless at the time that harmony would not be served by trying to create an in-your-face $100 million Islamic hub on the edge of Ground Zero, by now he should be clued in. Whatever support he’s received has been dwarfed by the many objections — the elite hothouse enthusiasms of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Barack Obama notwithstanding.
Repeated public opinion polls show that a large majority of Americans think that while Rauf and his partners may be within their legal rights, they are nonetheless doing the wrong thing. Among the critics are a number of Muslims brave enough to publicly disagree with this self-appointed panjandrum of Ground Zero, such as Miss USA, Rima Fakih, and Muslim American activist M. Zuhdi Jasser.
If Rauf ever had the smallest intention of promoting harmony, it is past time for him to quit. Instead, having spurned the U.S. debate while spending a secretive summer in Malaysia and the Middle East, Rauf returned to New York on the eve of Sept. 11, to pronounce that unless his mosque gets built near Ground Zero, Americans might expect from the “Muslim world” a new wave of destructive fury.
We used to call this kind of stunt a protection racket. The message here is one of implied violence. Not that Rauf himself would do anything violent, mind you. He’d just like his audience to know that if Americans don’t knuckle under and get with his program for Ground Zero, he can’t be responsible for whatever devastation the “Muslim world” might inflict on his behalf. ”My life has been devoted to peace-making,” he told CNN’s O’Brien.
In his CNN interview, Rauf also said that had he anticipated the pain his Cordoba House project would cause, he would not have started down this road. That turned out to be a throwaway remark. He then implied there is no going back, lest it result in — here’s that threatening element again — “greater conflict.”
Really? All Rauf has to do is announce that he is in the market for a venue less inflammatory and quite possibly more convenient for his planned community palace with mosque and swimming pool – though less likely to land him a permanent pulpit on global TV news. Far from trying to shut down Rauf’s plans for an Islamic center, New York Governor David Paterson has offered to help him relocate, at taxpayer expense. On Thursday, real estate magnate Donald Trump offered to buy out the Burlington site, in cash, for 25% above what Rauf’s developers paid, provided they build their mosque at least five blocks from Ground Zero. Apparently that would be too great a compromise for Rauf and his partners. They just keep saying no.
As for any anger that might boil up in the Muslim world should Rauf decide to build his Cordoba House a few blocks further from Ground Zero, why, here was a real opportunity for the Kuwait-born, Egyptian-fathered, Arabic-speaking naturalized American Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to do some genuine peace-making. Instead of warning Americans to toe his line or brace for something “very, very, very dangerous,” Rauf could quite as easily have devoted his air time to backing down and issuing a public call for tolerance from that same Muslim world.
In battening on to the crater of the destroyed Twin Towers, Rauf and his partners are getting the publicity ride of their lives. They are exploiting the site as an amplifier for their own agenda, never mind who gets hurt. With their newly acquired megaphone, what are they broadcasting to the world? Rauf’s wife and business partner, Daisy Khan, who covered for him in New York during his summer excursions abroad, seized the opportunity last month to make a televised denunciation of America as a place “beyond Islamophobia.” Now comes Rauf, with his pronouncements on CNN that if his Cordoba House doesn’t go up near Ground Zero, Americans had better worry – even more than they do already — about “national security.” The “peace” he would bring to Ground Zero now smacks of an extortionist’s chilling instructions: Do it my way, or else.