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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Double standards and self-deception: Barack Obama on the Ground Zero mosque

A brief questionnaire...

1. Should the construction of a mosque at Ground Zero be

(a) allowed in the name of religious freedom


(b) prevented on the grounds that it is grossly offensive to those bereaved by 9/11?

2. Should the Catholic convent at Auschwitz have been

(a) closed down on the grounds that it was grossly offensive to Jewish Holocaust survivors


(b) allowed to stay in the name of religious freedom?

Would I be wrong in thinking that a broad swathe of liberal opinion would reflexively choose answer (a) to both questions?

True, not a few conservatives would offer a (b) in both cases. That, however, would arguably be less inconsistent since the parallel is not an exact one. The Nazis did not claim Auschwitz as a Christian project; indeed they were very happy to murder Christians there, not least one who perished 69 years ago today. 9/11, on the other hand, was of course the work of men who saw themselves as Muslims acting in the name of Islam - and the fact that they sacrificed their lives for this conviction might seem like reasonably strong evidence that they held it sincerely.

Barack Obama, however, supporting the Ground Zero mosque, thinks he he knows their minds better than they did:-

'"Al-Qaeda's cause is not Islam," he said, "it is a gross distortion of Islam"'

Apart from anything else, this is simply a cowardly way to argue for religious freedom. 'Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear' says the banner at Harry's Place (and whilst I'd rather not hear the gross dishonesty of pieces like this, I certainly don't want them banned). Religious freedom is a costly good. The cost would be a small one if it could be assumed a priori that all religions are just different ways of articulating a belief in motherhood and apple pie. They aren't.

And who made Obama an authority on what is Islamic and what is not? Undoubtedly many Muslims would agree with him about Al-Qaeda, and that is naturally very much to be applauded. But who will adjudicate between them and the many Muslims who take the opposite view?

9/11 was not the work of callow converts. Nearly all the perpetrators were born and bred in Saudi Arabia. So is Saudi Arabia a genuinely Islamic society or isn't it? Was the Islam these men absorbed from families and mosques real or bogus? If it was real, when and why did they stop being real Muslims? When they started drawing particular practical conclusions from the doctrine of jihad? That was a very bad thing to do and, to repeat, makes them very bad Muslims in the eyes of very many Muslims, but how did it turn them into non-Muslims, Mr President?

If his choice of a place of worship in Chicago is anything to go by, I'd say Barack Obama is a less than perfect Christian. If my church started putting material from Hamas into the parish magazine I'd protest, and if that didn't work I'd walk. What this doesn't do, though, is make Obama a non-Christian. Far worse people than him have been bad, but real, Christians.

It is widely believed among Muslims that 9/11 was not the work of Muslims at all, and that no Jews were killed because they'd all been warned to stay off work. Others believe that 9/11 was fitting punishment for America's crimes against Muslims. Are these non-Islamic beliefs? If they are, can Mr Obama assure us that none of these non-Muslims will be plausible enough to insinuate their way into the Ground Zero mosque?

Places of worship can be powerful symbols of reconciliation. The reconstructed Frauenkirche in Dresden is topped with a cross made in Britain by the son of an airman who took part in the bombing of Dresden. Reconciliation doesn't happen to order, though. If I was a Muslim wanting to build a mosque at Ground Zero, I'd wait to be invited.

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