Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Rutland Herald/Barre Times Argus Perspective Section Democracy is not selective By Haviland Smith
Americans can argue as much as they wish about the Mosque in lower Manhattan. We are guaranteed that right under the First Amendment. That said, the arguments on both sides of the issue are and will continue to be to be largely emotional.
It took Newt Gingrich to get the ball really rolling when he said, inter alia, that “there should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia”, and further that, “Those Islamists and their apologists who argue for ‘religious toleration’ are arrogantly dishonest. They ignore the fact that more than 100 mosques already exist in New York City. Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia. In fact no Christian or Jew can even enter Mecca. And they lecture us about tolerance.”
Gingrich finishes up by saying that “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization. Sadly, too many of our elites are the willing apologists for those who would destroy them if they could. No mosque, No self-deception, No surrender. The time to take a stand is now - at this site - on this issue.”
This has led to a rash of emotional arguments, both pro and con. Some, Gingrich’s “intellectual elites”, point out that the Imam in charge of the lower Manhattan project is a Sufi Muslim, a member of the most peaceful, conciliatory branch of Islam. They continue by saying that the project is not a Mosque, but a cultural center for all religions, which simply contains an Islamic prayer room. It is further interesting to note that the Imam, Feisal Abdul al-Rauf was first tapped by the George W. Bush administration as a spokesman for the United States in Islam, a job he continues under president Obama today, apparently with great effect.
Some commentators have tied the lower Manhattan project to the self-promoting Florida preacher in a further attempt to affect the outcome. The President, the Secretary of State and General Petraeus have said unequivocally that Muslim-baiting of this kind is inimical to our interests in the Middle East and will lead inexorably to loss of American life and fundraising and recruiting gains for Muslim fundamentalist terrorism.
All of the pros and cons of this issue are emotional and predictive and may or may not prove to be true. These arguments are clearly extraordinarily important to those who make them, but they are light years less important than the real issue.
The real issue here is our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In any objective examination of its governance and policies, Saudi Arabia, the country so often mentioned by Gingrich, would come out at or near the bottom of any reasonable person’s list of “democratic countries”.
So, the only valid question here is: If the Gingrich statement is acceptable, does that mean that we are trying to compete with Saudi Arabia’s anti-democratic policies? Do we have to sink to their level?
Gingrich’s notion that America will remain democratic only if Saudi Arabia becomes democratic is totally self-defeating. That simply has to be one of the most absurdly illogical arguments ever offered for anything. Talk about cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face! It defies any sort of logic and most important, any action against the Manhattan project violates our First Amendment free speech and religion rights, in both of which virtually all Americans claim to strongly believe.
Are we expected to give up our unreserved support of democracy by denying one specific group of Americans their First Amendment rights, based on the argument that the Saudis are not democratic? What sort of message does that send to the world about our own observance of our own basic beliefs?
America seems to be at loss without real enemies and wars. We can look back on the last hundred years of two World Wars, Korea, Viet Nam, the Cold War and the War on Terror. As a matter of fact, the only time we have really looked aimless was during the 1990s when the fall of the USSR left us momentarily enemy-free.
If we get it right, we will not loose to terrorism. What will we do then? On whom will we turn? In our past, we have turned on the Irish, Italians, Jews, Germans, Japanese, Catholics and now Muslims. Who will be next? Will it be you?
Democracy that is discretionary or discriminatory will never work – for us or any other country. Democracy is for everyone in America… or no one.
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.
Posted by Michele Kearney at 12:03 PM