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Thursday, August 5, 2010

ISLAM IN AMERICA

     The struggle for Americans in how to identify and deal with the apparent contradictions between Islam and a democratic secular culture continues unabated. There are those, generally identified as being on the political Right, that identify all contradictions as threats and make overly broad assumptions about both individuals and groups. But if actual threats exist, and it seems obvious that they do, then it is those, generally on the political Left, that attempt to wish away or diminish them to actually dangerous levels.
     Should we listen to the ranting of the likes of Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, or Pat Robinson? Certainly not. Should we accept the view that most Muslims are “moderates” and the Islam is a “peaceful religion” and thus contains no contradictions with secular democracy at all and the violent extremists so visible in the mosques of Europe and increasingly in the mosques of the U.S. are “just a small minority” who can be dealt with in the civilian criminal justice systems? Not at all.

     Civil rights organizations often adopt an absolutist view of the Constitution which denies flexibility, modern circumstances not envisioned by the “founders”, and common sense. Recently, two such organizations filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Treasury and its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were recently retained by the father of Anwar al-Aulaqi, the U.S. born radical cleric who currently resides in Yemen and who holds Yemeni citizenship. Aulaqi has been implicated in the 9/11 attacks, the Ft. Hood massacre, and the Detroit Christmas Day “underwear bombing” attempt. He is a known radical Islamist propagandist who uses the internet as a recruiting tool and has been identified as a “regional commander” for al-Qaeda. He has made a video urging Muslims living in the U.S. to carry out domestic attacks and is currently on the Yemeni government’s “most wanted list”.  In April, 2010, President Obama secured U.S. National Security Council approval to place Aulaqui on the military and CIA target list, the first U.S. citizen to make that list.

     The intent of the lawsuit is to seek relief from the OFAC designation of Aulaqui as a Specifically Designated Global Terrorist. This designation results in a freezing of his financial assets and bars U.S. “entities” from “doing business or providing” him services, including lawyers unless those lawyers or other “entities” first obtain a license from OFAC.

     The fact that Aulaqi has not personally sought representation by the CCR or ACLU, has foreign citizenship also, and resides by choice in a foreign country where he is a fugitive, has not deterred these organizations from filing their lawsuit or attempting to turn the suit into a forum for the issue of Aulaqui’s presence on the target list. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero opines: “The government is targeting an American citizen for death without any legal process whatsoever, while at the same time impeding lawyers from challenging that death sentence and the government’s sweeping claim of authority to issue it.”

     Then comes Romero’s own “sweeping” generalization and typical ACLU “Chicken Little” hyperbole: “Such an alarming denial of rights in any one case endangers the rights of all Americans.” How that would be true goes unsaid because it is absurd. Romero continues: “The Constitution and international law do not permit targeting civilians for killing off the battlefield and can only be used “outside the battle zone and as a last resort when threat is imminent.” Of course the Constitution makes no mention of “targeting civilians off the battlefield” and since Aulaqi is an international terrorist thought to be hiding in the wilds of northern Yemen, he is not susceptible to apprehension by U.S. civilian law enforcement personnel, thus his presence on the target list is indeed a “last resort”. The Congress approved the use of military force against al Qaeda of which Aulaqi is a member and the Obama Administration has declared that Aulaqi does indeed represent an “imminent threat” through his current and on-going terrorist activities.

     The continued efforts of organizations such as the CCR and the ACLU on behalf of international terrorists represents a state of denial that is both dangerous and indicative of a broader mindset as it applies to the nature and practice of Islam in the U.S. While most Muslims in the U.S. are not potential terrorists, the few that exist are integrated into the broader Muslim community and require the attention of political authorities as well an awareness on the part of American citizens as a whole.

     These efforts run up against the denial mindset exemplified by Washington Post guest columnist Reverend Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite. The Rev. Doctor Thistlethwaite is the former President and current member of the faculty at the Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the politically liberal Center for American Progress. Like so many members of the clergy and political Left she is anxious to assume the role of “conscious of the country.” Her recent commentary entitled “Is Fear of Islam the New McCarthyism ?” attempts to demonize current concern with radical Islam by using the 1950’s bogeyman label “McCarthyism”, just as other commentators in the current political turmoil toss out “Nazi, Communist, Marxist etc. in foolish attempts to excite their readers.

     Thistlethwaite tells us that; “Religious freedom and the right of free expression are the strongest source of power Americans have for combating radicals who use Islam as the excuse for their violent extremism.”

     This is nonsense on its face. Americas is in a continuous struggle to deal with Islamic inspired acts of terror and the demands of radical Muslims to impose their medieval style of Islam on the larger western culture of the U.S. Muslim extremists will not be swayed by the concepts of “religious freedom and the right of free expression” which they deny as part of their interpretation of Islam. The “strongest source of power” we have for dealing with these individuals is active intelligence gathering and tough law enforcement. Thistlethwaite politicizes her views and her absurd McCarthyism parallel by attacking “ conservatives such as Newt Gingrich” who “want us to reject not only violent extremists, but also Islamic ideas, especially ideas on religious law, that is, Sharia law. Gingrich believes that Americans are "at risk" as a nation, not only from the violence of a "militant Islam," but also from the cultural integration of Muslims in the West. The latter he calls "stealth jihadists."

      Gingrich is certainly not alone in his beliefs, they make sense and they deserve attention and debate. Demands have already been made in some Muslim communities in Britain for the use of Sharia law in the areas of divorce and inheritance. Some British official, afraid of confrontation are listening.

     Of course there will always be those, like the ACLU and Thistlethwaite who, as a United Church of Christ minister, is strangely incapable of making common sense distinctions in lieu of moral equivalency of all belief systems. Here is a woman who advocates a military chaplaincy for Pagans a.k.a. Wiccans : “Of course they should have their own chaplain in the military since there are pagan adherents serving their country.”

      A few of these publicity seeking adolecents have somehow gotten into the Air Force Academy and have created “sacred ground” i.e. a circle of rocks out in the woods on the campus grounds. The ever politically correct Air Force has bought into it. While a few witches and warlocks in the military probably don’t represent much of a threat unless their ceremonies get out of hand, the “anything goes” attitude of people like Thistlethwaite has wider implications with respect to Islam whose more devout adherents make no separation of church and state exception and for whom religion trumps national identity or loyalty.

     The tension with American Islam has also been apparent in the recent controversy over plans to build a $100 million Islamic center and mosque in close proximity to the “Ground Zero” site of the 9/11 attack in New York City. Naturally most of the relatives of the victims of that disaster are appalled at the prospect. A Thistlethwaite like rationalizer, the Rev. Robert Chase, of the interfaith group Intersections called the proposed mosque “a really positive example of how we can move forward from 9/11.” Chase obviously had no friends or relatives killed in the attack and presumes to speak for those that did. The developer and prospective imam for the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf said, after the 9/11 attack; “U.S. policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” Such comments are not confidence builders, yet the idealists are not deterred. The New York Times editorialists added to the hand wringing on 8/4/10 with this: “It is disturbing to hear and read the vitriol and outright bigotry . . .” “New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted . . .to reaffirm one ofthe basic tenets of democracy, religious tolerance.”

     Of course the Commission did no such thing. They were charged with determining the historical significance of the existing building on the site of the proposed mosque and found none. Thus a ruling to preserve that building would not have survived a court challenge. The issue was not about opposition to religious expression or the building of an Islamic mosque in New York City, of which there are many. The issue was simply the wisdom and sensitivity of the proposal for that particular site which has enormous emotional significance to so many in NYC and throughout the country. Nonetheless the New York Times, like the Reverend Thistlethwaite could not resist taking a cheap political shot regarding the opposition:
     “We expect this sort of behavior from this kind of Republicans. They have been shamelessly playing the politics of fear since 9/11.” The Times doesn’t say what kind of Republicans “this kind” is but the numerous attempted domestic terrorist attacks since 9/11 certainly give cause for concern and stimulate genuine fear. That is not to say that this particular mosque will become a center of radicalism, but all mosques in the U.S. do not follow the “Islam is a religion of peace” assertion. The aforementioned al-Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Aulaqi was the imam at the Denver Islamic Society from 1994-96; the imam at a mosque in San Diego from 1996-2000; the imam at a mosque in Falls Church, VA and the Muslim chaplain at George Washington University in the nation’s capital before fleeing criminal charges in the U.S. to Britain and then Yemen.

Should we be concerned about Islam in America?

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