The “mosque” in New York

August 15, 2010 • 6:00 am

While Gnu Atheists share certain opinions about evidence, reason, and faith, by no means do they march in intellectual lockstep.  Nowhere is this more evident than in this week’s disagreement between Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris about the proposed Islamic cultural center (which includes prayer facilities) near Ground Zero in New York City.

Over at Slate, Hitchens, while expressing reservations about the center’s proposed imam, argues that banning the center not only violates the First Amendment, but, by caving in to the wounded feelings of 9/11 survivors, “borrows straight from the playbook of Muslim cultural blackmail”.  He’s all in favor of letting it go forward.

Another of the “horsemen,” Sam Harris, isn’t so sure.  At The Daily Beast, he argues that there’s a problem—the nature of Islam:

And honest reasoning declares that there is much that is objectionable—and, frankly, terrifying—about the religion of Islam and about the state of discourse among Muslims living in the West, and it is decidedly inconvenient that discussing these facts publicly is considered a sign of “intolerance” by well-intentioned liberals, in part because such criticism resonates with the actual bigotry of not-so-well-intentioned conservatives. I can see no remedy for this, however, apart from simply ramming the crucial points home, again and again. . .

. . . Yes, it is true that the Old Testament contains even greater barbarism—but there are obvious historical and theological reasons why it inspires far less Jewish and Christian violence today. Anyone who elides these distinctions, or who acknowledges the problem of jihad and Muslim terrorism only to swiftly mention the Crusades, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the Tamil Tigers, and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma, is simply not thinking honestly about the problem of Islam.

In the end, he’s ambivalent about whether the center should be built:

The claim that the events of September 11, 2001, had “nothing to do with Islam” is an abject and destabilizing lie. This murder of 3,000 innocents was viewed as a victory for the One True Faith by millions of Muslims throughout the world (even, idiotically, by those who think it was perpetrated by the Mossad). And the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory—and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice. This may not be reason enough for the supporters of this mosque to reconsider their project. And perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps there is some form of Islam that could issue from this site that would be better, all things considered, than simply not building another mosque in the first place. But this leads me to a somewhat paradoxical conclusion: American Muslims should be absolutely free to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero; but the ones who should do it probably wouldn’t want to.

He has some good points.  Of all the major religions, I find Islam—in its bellicosity, its subjugation of women, its reliance on texts filled with hate and horror (and yes, I know the Old Testament has its gruesome parts and vengeful God), and the desire of many adherents to install Islamic law in their countries—the most repugnant.  And I don’t see much evidence of the friendlier, kinder Islam touted by accommodationists.  Do remember that 40% of British Muslims want sharia law introduced into the UK. And where was moderate Islam nine years ago? I saw lots of worldwide celebration after September 11, but few condemnations of the perpetrators, and none from Islamic countries. (Yes, I know there must have been a few of them, but they weren’t exactly prominent.)

Americans like Obama (who, after all, can’t say otherwise) deliberately overlook the problems with Islam. One of my friends even argued that as a faith, it’s no worse than Quakerism. To somebody who thinks that, nothing more can be said.

Nevertheless, while not all faiths are equal in content, they are, and should be, equal under law.  It would simply be wrong to prohibit a mosque/cultural center from being built on private property, or to use “landmark” provisions of the law to fight it.  Freedom of religion, like freedom of speech, is a non-negotiable, bedrock principle of our country.  But I have no confidence that the center’s construction will thrill the world’s Muslims with our tolerance. That’s wishful thinking, not supported by a scintilla of evidence. If anything, I think it’s more likely that militant Islam will see it as a victory.

Do I oppose the center’s construction? No.  Do I think that building it on that site is a good idea? No.  It’s no better an idea than would be building an American cultural center near Ground Zero in Hiroshima.  It was Islam, after all, that propelled those planes into the World Trade Center nine years ago.

239 thoughts on “The “mosque” in New York

  1. Yeah,…,what he said. Sam Harris on building Mosque near Ground Zero

    In one of my earlier posts referring to the building of a Mosque a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero, I said that,


    It looks like the fight over having a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City is pretty much over and that it’ll be built. I don’t really have a dog in this fight and it’s really up to New Yorkers, however, I do object to some of the assertions from those involved in the fight.

    New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said with or without landmark designation, the owners could open a mosque within the existing building. In a speech where he was joined by Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist clerics, he noted that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom.

    “It is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam,” Bloomberg said

    But here’s the problem. They were consistent with Islam just as all the violence in the bible is consistent with Christianity. The fundamentalists, whether Muslim or Christian, are the ones that are being consistent with the teachings of their texts, not the moderates.

    The most fitting tribute to Ground Zero would be to keep it secular so that people could mourn in peace without turning it into a pawn for the very kind of institutions that make such violence possible. That being said, they have every right to build the mosque.


    My view is basically that I think that those who are in favor of building the Mosque are guilty of bad taste, but certainly not breaking the law. I also think that we have strapped on some pancake-size blinders in the name of religious tolerance. Although I consider myself a liberal this view has brought looks of astonishment from my liberal friends. I wonder if they’ve read either the Bible or the Koran?

    Sam Harris wrote an article in U.S. News in response to Obama’s support for building the Mosque and I couldn’t agree more with it. I want to know which passages in the Koran one must leave out in order to be a “moderate” and on what basis these passages should be ignored. I will ask the same of Christians. Right now, the secular community is doing your job for you – that is, examing what you believe and what your religious text tells you to believe. Something you either don’t seem to be interested in or don’t want to talk about.

      1. Like I said, they have the right to build the mosque anywhere they like. If criticism is taken as intolerance then so be it but I have as much right to criticize their decision as they do to build it. I would consider a Catholic Church being built near Disney World in poor taste also, considering their history of child rape. Again, if that makes me a bigot then so be it.

    1. But if Jon Stewart is to be believed, there is another still existing mosque which is even closer to the WTC site. Without more information I can’t even say that building that “cultural center” as they call it as bad taste. It may simply be the only property nearby that they were able to acquire, or the major funders live nearby so why would they want to build the thing far away? It is also silly to believe that the WTC compound, whenever it may be rebuilt (it’s looking like it won’t happen in my lifetime) won’t have a number of mosques of sorts inside. I would be astounded if the game were really to show us ‘murcans that somehow they’ve won (won what?)

      1. Yeah, it’s really not that close too “Ground Zero”.

        Don’t let yourself be baited by Christianist conservative demagogues. While I share Harris’ and Coyne’s feelings that Islam is probably — by a nose — the most dangerous and destructive and repressive of the major world religions at this time, I fail to see what that has to do with the mosque in question. And not just from a legal perspective, but from a taste-wise perspective as well. It’s really just not that close to the site, so what the fuck is the problem?

        Unless your point is that all mosques are in “bad taste”, which frankly I probably would agree with, but… by mentioning it right now, in connection with this mosque, you are allowing yourself to be baited by theocratic Christianist assholes. Don’t do it!

        1. The question should be whether this is going to be a Shia or Sunni Mosque/cultural center?

          If it doesn’t matter can we blame Jonestown on the Sister Sarah and the Evangelicals?

            1. Agree that no religious institution should be built near Ground Zero, tho’ it’s not my town, but not that Islam is “by a nose” the most dangerous religion. It wins by many lengths these days.

  2. I ambivalently share your ambivalence.

    I have now, and have had in the past, had numerous Islamic friends and sensed no hatred or danger from them at all. In fact, all but one were quite charming, but mention India to a Pakistani, or Israel to any of them and their very appearance changed. They have centuries old resentment and anger that I am not sure even the most friendly American follower of that faith might find it hard to keep contained if one of the hot-button issues required a response, say, in a national policy. Which would be stronger, their American democratic feelings, or their faith. Of course I remember the Kennedy presidential campaign during which it was seriously argued that if he won the country would be run by the pope. Never can tell about prejudice and when it might overpower good sense.

    1. Mention the north to a good chunk of the population from the southern US, mention Mexicans to some one from Texas.

      I once had a very illuminating conversation with a well educated director of nursing from a Texas city with a spanish name. As far as she was concerned, mexicans were not human beings and shootin’ was too good them.

      I think it’s in “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” that Sagan opines that there may be an evolutionary basis to ethnocentrism, xenophobia, dominance hierarchies.

      1. Heh; forget about Mexicans in Texas, try Arizona. Yep, that chicano Jose Arpaio is keen on keepin’ all the other chicanos out.

      2. The Carl Sagan/Ann Druyan book that “opines that there may be an evolutionary basis to ethnocentrism, xenophobia, dominance hierarchies” is “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.” I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things (but then I’ve never heard bad things about any of Sagan’s books).

    2. This reminds me of the time in the early ’90’s when I worked with some Algerians. They all seemed pretty friendly, even with the fact I am gay and my boyfriend of the time worked there also.
      As I didn’t really know much about Islam then I innocently asked one of them, on the face of it the quieter one, what was the difference between Shia and Sunni muslims. The transformation was actually quite shocking. His whole face contorted with hatred and he literally screamed ‘All Shia are going to hell!!’
      Naturally enough that was the last time I ever ventured to ask him anything about Islam again.

    3. What frustrates me about this debate is that any rational analysis exposes the fact that Christian violence today is even worse than Islamic violence. The war on Iraq has killed over 1.3 million people, and Christian religious zealotry has provided the political base for that war.

      More Americans have died in Iraq than in the 911 attacks, yet we are led to believe that Islam is the greatest threat to Americans?

  3. Im glad that you and the commenter so far note that the center will be NEAR ground zero. This throws the whole landmark designation out the window. However, I think its disingenuous of you Jerry to then say “Do I think that building it on that site is a good idea? No.” That site? How far away does it have to be to lose the “that site” designation? 4 blocks? 10? otherside of the East river?

    You seem to have embraced the 9/11 victims meme. The victims weren’t all Christians and Jews, some were muslim (not many but some), and even those who are not muslim not all are lock-step in agreeing to be hurt by the establishment of this center.

    I appreciate you pointing out that atheists are not of the same mind and I agree with you that Islam is dominated by a bunch of violent hate-spewing little troll people (my words not yours). The idea that Islam has more violent tendencies than the other Abrahamic religions is true, but I think has as much to do with history and the leaders of the organization, it wouldn’t take much get Christians to be as violently evil as a group.

    Finally, I agree that the support of 9/11 was fairly uniform in Muslim countries. It made my blood boil and still does. However, I think it is naive at best to lay this reaction at the feet of Islam. You think maybe the policies of our government and treatment of people in these countries by the West over the last 100 years might have had a little to do with it? Maybe?

    1. Which countries ? The muslim world covers a large area with diverse cultures and histories, has the ‘west’ ( would that include the Soviet Union and China ) treated them all identically ? You are coming close to blaming the victims for their own punishment there.
      Here in the UK we have a large population of Hindus and Muslims from our former colonies in the sub continent, the Hindus are well integrated and useful members of society who pose no threat whatsover, I wish I could say the same about all the Muslims.

    2. “You think maybe the policies of our government and treatment of people in these countries by the West over the last 100 years might have had a little to do with it? Maybe?”
      Absolutely not.
      Muslim mentality requires that Islam be spread throughout the world and have political power. That is why the caliphs after the prophet invaded their neighboring nations. It was an absolutely unprovoked act. How do you think Islam spread within a century or so, from it birthplace in Arabia, to lands as far away as Central Asia and Spain?

    3. Finally, I agree that the support of 9/11 was fairly uniform in Muslim countries.

      Was it, though? Immediately after the attacks, I remember many statements coming from Muslim countries expressing sympathy for the loss of life, and condemnation for the attacks. Support was also offered when the U.S. entered into Afghanistan in an attempt to destroy Al Queda. It seems to me that opinion only started changing rapidly after the invasion into Iraq began. Maybe I’m misremembering…

      1. Probably not universal. But there were celebrations in certain parts, not question about that. Most notably perhaps, on the Gaza strip.
        Which is why I find it hard to feel any sympathy for them, no matter how though things get.

        1. As I recall, that was just one video clip that got a lot of CNN airplay. (Although it pissed me off, too.)

          Arafat made a point of condemning the 9/11 attacks and even donated blood for the victims, although of course it was just a gesture that didn’t do any actual good for the victims.

        2. So let me get this straight: You are unsympathetic to them, in their suffering, because they were unsympathetic to you, in your suffering.

          Okay, but did you consider that they were unsympathetic to you in your suffering BECAUSE you are unsympathetic to them, in theirs? Or, more to the point, because you (the USA) have caused generations of suffering through the support you give to their immediate oppressor?

          Why is what is good for the goose not good for the gander?

        3. Probably not universal.

          Really? It wasn’t even universal among U.S. citizens. Remember the “9/11 truthers”? Plenty of those claim that no one died when the towers collapsed. Are we to judge every group only by it’s most insane members?

      2. You’re not misremembering. The host of this blog is. There was near universal shock, horror, and sympathy for the US after 9/11. Wikipedia has a useful article “Reactions to the September 11 attacks” for those whose memories are susceptible to alteration by nine years of relentless Muslim baiting.

    4. Finally, I agree that the support of 9/11 was fairly uniform in Muslim countries.

      And Nazi’s and Maoists and Stalinists were all supported in the United States. I guess we’re painted with those brushes because a MINORITY of invididuals are right fucking bastards…

      Christians routinely support Israel’s apartheid, human-rights-abusing State. SOME of them CHEER when the Israelis run over peace workers with bulldozers. They laugh when women and children are bombed and make little quips about how that’ll be one less “rag-head” to become a terrorist.

      I guess every Christian is a right-piece-of-shit because a SMALL minority of Christians are fuck-tards…

      1. Whataboutery of a high order. Lying whataboutery to boot, Israel is not an apartheid state and it isn’t just Christians who support Israel, this atheist does too. In fact as you know full well Christianity has a two thousand year history of virulent antisemitism and Islam isn’t much better.

        1. Nonsense. MosesZD is merely pointing out that simply because some people in Gaza were happy at 9/11, that does not mean that “support of 9/11 was fairly uniform in Muslim countries.”

          As for Israel being an apartheid state: I would suggest that people like Desmond Tutu are probably more qualified than either of us in recognizing apartheid.

    5. Thanks for the replies that ignore every one of my points in order to argue over specific word choices. Yes, I realize words like “every” and “all” are bound to fail with a single exception. Thanks for not being aware of hyperbole and focusing on the exceptions to avoid any substance.

    6. Huh? Islam has more violent tendencies? Visit Israel and meet some of the various orthodox Jews. They’re not all funny and friendly people like Jon Stewart, Mel Brooks, and so on.

      1. So the fact you think Jews are worse than muslims excuses muslims for appalling behavior? Why do you find it so hard to condemn them?

    7. I mostly agree with Lorax here. I think complaining about the placement of a mosque 2 blocks from ground zero is silly, unless you’re going to complain about all of the other religious buildings in the area (which I would gladly do). And saying that it’s being build on the “site” of ground zero is inaccurate at best.

      Personally, I oppose the building of any religious building because it provides a tax-free location for the spreading of ignorance and lies. The cost to society is way too high, regarless of the sect that the building will hold when it is complete.

      I agree with Sam Harris that Islam has been different in recent history, but I think that we give a pass to other religions at our own peril. History has shown that religous people can justify nearly anything with their texts, regarless of what they actually say.

      If atheists are asked their opinion on the building of this particular mosque, they should use the opportunity to demonstrate why all religions are damaging to society, not just Islam. I think both Harris and Hitchens missed this opportunity here.

    8. The landing gear from one of the airplanes actually struck the building proposed for location of the mosque.

      At a routine airplane crash site the building would be considered part of the debris field.

      Here’s a thought: on its trip through the WTC did the landing gear pick up any parts of murdered office workers?

  4. Argh. I knew you were going to find that typo. This blog lights up my feed reader like a birthday cake with trick candles.

  5. “It was Islam, after all, that propelled those planes into the World Trade Center nine years ago.”

    I’m no apologist for Islam, but to paint Muslims living in NYC, many of whom were no doubt present at 9/11 and lost friends and families in it, in the same brush as the jihadis who crashed the planes is the worst kind of rhetoric.

    Say what you want about Islam as a religion- I certainly hold no love for it- but try to remember that Muslims are people as well, and however you and Sam Harris and bin Laden choose to interpret the religion, millions here in this very country live peacefully among us. They should be denied a cultural center because other Muslims in the world didn’t rebuke al Qaeda enough, or because a large minority of British Muslims support sharia (which itself is subject to interpretation)?

    I truly believe what we are seeing is fear of the other turned to cultural bigotry, and it’s unfortunate, though not altogether surprising, to see that it can affect the unbeliever just as easily as the believer. Here we have an imam who by all indications practices a relatively liberal form of Islam, trying to serve both his Muslim community, as well as the general community, with a cultural center that yes- big surprise- consists of a mosque.

    And why should we give a hoot what Muslims in other countries think about the center? They’re not going to be using it. Why don’t we consider what the Muslims in this country think, and by and large, the Muslims in this country are not violent jihadis seeking the overthrow of the government.

    These comparisons to Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima are really quite tiresome. I expect that malarky from the likes of Newt Gingrich, not Jerry Coyne. America’s military was behind the Hiroshima bombing, not a cell of disaffected extremists. The Empire of Japan was behind Pearl Harvor. American Muslims weren’t behind 9/11- in fact many of them died in the attacks. Can you really not tell the difference between American Muslims who live and work in the community from jihadis who executed the attacks of 9/11? Or, as I suspect, you can tell the difference, but require the generalization to rationalize an irrational distaste for a community you don’t know because of their adherence to a faith you don’t like.

    If it’s WWII anaologies you want, I think this is more fitting: punishing American Muslims for the actions of Islamist terrorists from foreign countries is like rounding up Americans of Japanese descent into internment camps.

    1. I just wonder why we hear deafening silence from moderate muslims in the face of extremists who act in their name? Where is the “moderate muslims against female genital mutilation” group? How about “moderate muslims publicly condeming acts of violence and terrorism”?

      Seems to me that “moderate muslims” want things both ways. They want others to respect the value of their “moderateness” whilst choosing to remain silent on the critical issuea that define them.

      1. I don’t think that people get the basic fact that “Muslims” are not monolithic and do not form a state (though some would like to); Why would one expect Indonesian or Bangladeshi muslims, for example, to apologize for a practice that is common among some east african muslims? And why should Yemeni, or Lebanese, or Iranian muslims apologize for acts carried out by Pakistanis? Incidentally what you seem to be implying is precisely what some Wahabis would like to achieve some day in their dreams, viz., unify and command all muslims under their strangely fundamentalist version of Islam. Finally, I should also register my strong agreement with Lorax and the Science Pundit below: the violence and unfreedom you see in some islamic states has very little to do with religion per se and a lot more to do with who has political power and how they came to get it (Hint: it does not make American, and before that British policy look very good)

        1. I wouldn’t expect Yemini Muslims to “apologize” for acts carried out by Pakistani muslims. But I would expect them to condemn these acts. You appear to be excusing them even this responsibility.

          1. And how many times do you condemn your co-coreligionists (or whatever) for things they do elsewhere in the world? I mean seriously this is a completely absurd demand. In what universe do Yeminis have any right (or duty) to comment on the acts of Pakistanis? I mean, do you expect Anglicans in England, or Lutherns in Germany to condemn people belonging to the same sects in Nigeria or Zambia (without on top understanding the political situation there that might lead to religious conflicts there)? Or for Balinese Hindus to condemn right wing Hindu nationalists in India? Do you really want to stretch the concept of “responsibility” that far? Of course the foregoing was rhetorical and moot since none of us follow the standard you seem to imply.

            1. If you have decided to abandon empirically based critical thought and package up your belief system and label it Islam or Christianity etc. it would behove you to stand up and say this is not my religion, this is not what I believe, when extremists and radicals hijack it and commit atrocities in its name, no matter where they live.

              And let’s face it, there is not a lot of hijacking being done of Islam, all the nasty stuff is there in the koran and hadith. Like any other holy book, they are so full of contradictory statements that they can be used to rationalize any action.

            2. I condemn all irrational belief systems. That makes me an equal opportunity condemner. So I have absolutely no difficulty condemning any and all violent behavior, whether it be terrorist attacks or genital mutilation of girls. Clearly you don’t do this, nor do you see a need to do this, and your ignorance excuses it. You should be ashamed

          2. Why? Why should you expect Yemeni Muslims publicly condemn acts committed by Pakistani Muslims? Why do you not take it as a given?

            If a member of the BNP says something stupid (it’s the BNP, if they’re saying something, it’s stupid), it’s not expected that every white man must condemn whatever racist bile has spewed forth; it’s taken as a given that most people are not utterly deluded racists. Yet if an extremist Muslim says something stupid, we demand an apology or condemnation from moderate Muslims. Why?

            I am sick to the back teeth of hearing the refrain “where are the moderate Muslims”, or “why don’t the moderates speak out”. Even if they should be expected to speak out – do you really think they are going to be given a platform?

        2. Thank you Tveb, at last a post by someone that gets it and is not infected with the tribal islamophobia that has been cultivated in the “west”. Fundamentalist Islam has been promoted by the US to achieve it’s global political objectives.

          The Shiite Ayatollahs were paid by the CIA to organize the riots in Iran that brought down the Moussadegh government which had nationalized the oil wells. Osama bin Laden was a CIA asset who was used to organize the Saudi Salafists to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

          Whether it was just “blow-back” or deliberately orchestrated the 9/11 attacks gave the PNAC the new Pearl Harbour it desired to galvanize popular support for new world wide military adventures aimed at consolidating US global hegemony.

          1. The link I provided, to, had links and references. I don’t know what else you want, so I guess you’re too busy shoving wads of chewing gum in your ears.

            1. You mean the “let’s help religious people play happy together” site? Their own “Statement of Belief” begins…”As of 2010-FEB, we consist of one Atheist, Agnostic, Christian, Wiccan and Zen Buddhist.” So, no muslims there then. You do understand what a “source” is don’t you? I’d shout and tell you, but with this chewing gum in my ears it’s difficult to hear myself speak.

      2. There is no “market” in the Corporate News World for the “moderate Muslim view-point.”

        They want shock. They want hate. They want protest. They want violence. They want bigotry and intolerance.

        And they want it so they can exploit to drive their ratings and to sell advertising. Which is the primary business of all media organizations.

        No, really, it’s not about honest, factual reporting. That naive assumption, I hope, has gone the way of big ’80’s hair… Which is, btw, when it went away…

        Today the “news” is all about generating adverting dollars. And once you wrap your mind around that, you really understand that, you understand why dip-shit ‘news’ organizations like Fox do so well with such biased and shitty reporting.

        Peace and people going about their daily lives acting like nice next-door neighbors does not sell advertising. Nor does moderation, honesty and analysis float the boat.

        Really, why do you think the McNeil Leherer News hour never got any viewers? Damn few people want to watch a story being analyzed by wonks being wonkinsh…

        Rather, people want missing white women! Missing white girls! Sex scandals (but only if they’re Democrats)! They want clear-cut “bad guys” to hate! They want to be portrayed as the “good guy” or the “victim” so they can excuse their bigotry and hatred.

        So there is a lot of reasons there you’re not hearing about “moderate Muslim” groups. But it mostly boils down to NOBODY IN POWER CARES. The agenda is stillborn.

        Here is a case in point:

        We hear about the Muslims in Denmark. The intolerant ones. Until, some of us at least, are seriously fucking tired of the issue.

        But we don’t hear about Demokratiske Muslimer founded to oppose those radicals. Whose members must sign and live by these six principles:

        1. Democracy, constitution and human rights are fundamental.

        2. Non-partisan basis to representing the broad-base of Muslims (e.g. non-sectarian) in Denmark.

        3. Freedom of expression.

        4. Tolerance for the lifestyles and beliefs of others.

        5. Separation of Church and State.

        6. Opposition to Capital punishment.

        Have you heard ONE word about them? Because there are THOUSANDS of members in that association.

        No, but you hear about the small number of religious nut-jobs who protested the Mohammad cartoons. Weeks and weeks of it until I thought I was going to puke from the hearing about it all the fucking time, I might add.

        Absence of evidence, is not evidence of absence. It’s just that those who wish to stir the pot just don’t make the narrative available.

        1. Are these “moderate muslim” groups all undercover? They do an incredibly good job of hiding from view. Are you seriously suggesting that a group of muslim demonstrators against, for example female mutilation, would not be newsworthy? The reason we don’t hear about such groups is that they either don’t exist, or they are so frightened about violent reprisals from their “religion of peace” fellow believers that they dare not say anything. We don’t even see these public demonstrations in western cities where they are “safe” to speak freely.

      3. I agree with the sense that many moderate Muslims seem hesitant to loudly decry horrific actions taken in their religion’s name. While I don’t expect the average Muslim to have to answer for such actions, I would like to see more from the leadership. But here we have a liberal imam who has spoken out in support of liberal interpretations of Islam and reconciling Muslim beliefs with American principles, and the response he gets from many is that he isn’t welcome. You can’t expect people to maintain a strong allegiance while you marginalize them.

        There have been prominent Muslims who have spoken out against the extremists. (Note also the female genitalitilation is primarily a cultural problem from Africa, not as prevalent among Arabs and Asians,though it does exist).

        Imam Rauf equivocated on labeling Hamas a terrorist organization, but Hamas is a complex organization that remains the elected government of the PA, under elections promoted by the US and Israel. Incidentally, nobody demands that Peter King denounce the IRA as a terrorist organization, in fact King was an outspoken supporter of the IRA while they were still conducting attacks, directly contributing to groups that transferred weapons to the IRA in the 80s.

        1. I use to think that my father and his family were locked in a relocation camp simply for being of Japanese descent and living in California immediately after Pearl Harbor. But perhaps it was because they didn’t protest loudly enough about the Japanese attacks.

          I guess that makes their interment seem much more reasonable now. It wasn’t irrational prejudice of others or Machiavellian political and financial interests; it was my family’s own damn fault for making others uncomfortable with their mere presence and squinty eyes.

      4. What about the “moderate christians” against child rape in the catholic church? As far as islam’s bad treatment of women goes, there are numerous women’s rights groups in various muslim states fighting that stuff – from Indonesia and Malaysia and even in Iran. Iran had actually gone backwards since the Islamic Revolution; the women had a lot more freedom in their choice of clothes before. We just never hear of these things because it’s just not news for us (or not considered news by the press). Muslim women wanting to get rid of the bhurka or similar (or at least the niqab) just don’t scare us so it’s not news.

        Besides, I have never seen any large scale effort such as what you describe even within chistian cults – the world just doesn’t work that way. It’s always small groups here and there making a difference locally.

    2. I scrolled down looking for someone who already said it so I didn’t need to.

      Thanks for saving me the typing. I find this Pat Condell-esque generalization repugnant. It is as absurd to compare all muslims to al qaeda as it is to compare all christians to Fred Phelps.

    3. Say what you want about Islam as a religion- I certainly hold no love for it- but try to remember that Muslims are people as well

      But making an observation about Islam does not entail making the same observation about Muslims.

      1. I completely agree. Criticizing Islam is completely acceptable and justified, whether for the sort of fantastical miracles that most religions assert (Muhammed ascending to heaven on a flying horse?) or for pronouncements that we find particularly objectionable. I dislike the religion of Islam probably more than any other mainstream religion.

        But my point is that this is a proposed cultural center for a specific Muslim community in New York, their friends and neighbors. Saying that they should accept blame and keep a low profile for the actions of jihadis with which they share no association is confusing the religion as practiced by the most extreme adherents and the Muslim individuals who are already integrating into our society. Islam didn’t take down the WTC, zealots of a particularly distasteful interpretation of Islam. Conflating the two is ugly rhetoric and it’s lazy thinking.

        If Revolution Muslim was trying to build this center, I’d be on the other side of the issue. But they’re not, probably because they don’t have the money or support to do more than moe veiled threats in blog posts. Let’s keep groups like Revolution Muslim the lunatic fringe by welcoming the moderate mainstream to assimilate and thrive in our society.

  6. Sadly, everything about 911 fade into insignificance when compared with the American retaliation on a nation that had NOTHING to do with 911.
    So while feeling sorry for the people who were killed, the US as a nation was well deserving of the attack from mostly people from one of its forced allies, the in all respects backward Saudi-Arabia!
    When Bush, Cheney, most US generals, Rumsfeldt, and the rest of the war criminals are hanged, then 911 will deserve some consideration.
    As is, it is a minor incident!
    And for the mosque, like most churches, it is superfluous.

    1. What a completely screwed up perspective. In what sense was “the US a nation…well deserving of the attack…”?

      And are you excusing 9/11 because of your post hoc rationalization of the Iraq war?

      1. Learn some history. Learn about the democracies we over-threw — Iran and Iraq for starters.

        And then imagine.

        Imagine the hundreds of thousands of people killed and tortured by those regimes we installed and supported. Consider that, because of our support, those regimes existed for decades.

        Realize that the men who tortured people to death were trained, many times, in America by Americans. Or, sometimes we’d fly our torture experts to them.

        Imagine how you might feel if you were born in one of those countries. And your mother and father were executed by one of these US-backed dictators. How your sisters or daughters were raped, repeatedly, by their henchman until they went insane. And maybe they were, later, killed. Or just dumped on the street.

        Imagine being impoverished as the wealth of your country was being exploited. That you live in a mud-brick house while the head of BP lives in mansion built on the deaths of your family.

        I think that’s what he was talking about. Not a post hoc rationalization, but WHY SO MANY OF THEM HATE US.

        After all, if you did that to me… I’d fly a fucking plane into your house. Because I’d have nothing to live for and, by gosh, I’d want some revenge before I died.

          1. So every Muslim is a victim ?


            which part of what he said was factually incorrect?

            that the US directly supported and funded dictatorships in the Middle East?

            That many of these regimes utilized fear, rape, and torture as control mechanisms?

            That the wealth of these nations has been exploited by those outside of them?


            1. Factually incorrect? Well let’s start with “the democracies we over-threw — Iran and Iraq” – a touch ironic coming after his plea for others to “learn some history.”

      2. There’s no need for post hoc, America has been financially supporting Israel since its inception.

        Much as how those who send money to terrorists are enemies of America, those who support Israel are enemies of Al Queda.

        In short, America picked a side in a war that most people didn’t even know about. As evidenced by 9/11, joining a war carries certain risks. 9/11 was an atrocity, I won’t argue that it wasn’t, but it certainly wasn’t some unprovoked attack.

  7. Hi All

    There are only two kinds of people, the good ones and the bad ones. People doing bad deeds and people doing good deeds. Regardless of your religion.

    Watch “My Name Is Khan” starring Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan

    Don’t judge if you lack the knowledge
    Loads of people have done horrible deeds all in the name of religion and only those are responsible. Nothing and no one else.

    1. There are only two kinds of people, the good ones and the bad ones.

      which one are you?

      Loads of people have done horrible deeds all in the name of religion

      “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

      -Steven Weinberg

  8. Sam Harris said:

    Yes, it is true that the Old Testament contains even greater barbarism—but there are obvious historical and theological reasons why it inspires far less Jewish and Christian violence today.

    There’s only one reason and it has nothing to do with the religions themselves. The simple fact is that there exist modern Islamic theocracies while the Christian theocracies are only to be found in the pages of history. When there were Christian theocracies, they were in fact much more barbarous than contemporary Islamic theocracies. They started bloody wars and committed wholesale genocide. In many Christian theocracies, your penalty for committing imaginary crimes was that they wuld tie you to a stake then set you on fire.

    No, there is no theological reason why contemporary Islam inspires more violence than the other Abrahamic faiths. It’s really as simple as their religious leaders having more political power than those of the other religions.

  9. I’ve only followed this at arms-length. Who is going to actually do the construction? An ordinary contractor or the Muslims themselves a la Amish barn-raising? If the former, where will they find a company willing to insure the site during construction? And in either event who will supply the materials. Since it seems most likely that the project will go forward, these sorts of details may prove far more interesting and have a far greater impact on the final result.

  10. I’m at the point where I strongly support the construction of the mosque simply because the alternative would be to give too much aid and comfort to those who want to prevent it from being built.

    I view the matter largely as a trumped up rallying point for bigots.

    There’s definitely a dichotomy for skeptics in how to look at Islam in the US. On one hand, I really, really dislike it as a religion. On the other hand I really, really want its members to peacefully assimilate into US culture. And I’ve come to realize that the process by which it assimilates will involve precisely the sort of dishonest apologetics that so greatly annoy me: outright denial of the actual content of their holy texts, historical revisionism, aggressive no true scotsman-ism, etc.

    The ultimate problem for me is that I’ve started to recognize that I have two conflicting ethical commitments. As a secularist, I want all religions to get along, and to do battle within the prescribed means of our Constitutional freedoms. As an atheist, I want people to stop being religious. From the perspective of the first ethical commitment, I am sitting outside of the fray trying to decide the rules on which the social conflict takes place. From the second I am down in the mix. There is a degree of inherent conflict in those two positions.

    Anyways, I haven’t solved those entirely. But I am firmly convinced that the whole reason that this Mosque thing has become an issue is because the right wing took something that could easily be ignored (a Muslim community center in New York) and turned it into a phantom fear of a giant mosque planted right on top of the wreckage of the twin towers, or looming over them, demonstrating “dominance” or some other psychological boogeyman that Americans somehow must battle.

    And I’m just sick of that. Absolutely sick of it.

    1. Patrick, you’ve summarized my feelings more concisely than I could hope to.

      I’ve gone from total indifference toward Park51 to complete support for it, primarily as a reaction to all the ugly bigotry and harassment of those opposed, whether it’s openly espoused cultural hate, or wrapped in intellectual rationalizations.

    2. Exactly and well said. I changed my mind from some sympathy to WTF when I saw an overview map showing where it actually was going to be built. Not “at” the site, and not even “in the shadow” of the site. I mean look at the map here:

      Then I had to ask why in the world everyone was running around all outraged like it was being built in the ashes of the towers or something. Well because we are being told that by politicians quick to take a page right out of the George Wallace handbook of politics.(“I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about n*****s, and they stomped the floor.”)

      That community center/mosque should go up pronto.

    3. As a secularist, I want all religions to get along

      hell, as a secularist, I just want them to get… out!

  11. For the record, Mohammed led armies into war, massacred entire villages, and married over 40 women, one 6 year old, and also his own son’s wife. Islam is undoubtedly more violent because it is not only a religion, but unlike the other Abrahamic religions, it is also a political and legal system. And because it is a mandatory political and legal system (Muslims are technically not allowed to live under non-Islamic law, hence the desire for Sharia everywhere), it lends itself to violence far more easily and quickly in the name of Islam than the others do in the name of Christianity or Judaism.

    Now, being an atheist, I could care less about a mosque near “Ground Zero”, a name which I find ridiculous, btw. Being a woman from the Middle East, I can say that there are no moderate Muslims, there are only Muslims doing Islam wrong. And that’s a good thing, just like it’s a good thing when Christians do Christianity wrong. That’s when we get some peace and quiet. But moderate Muslims are afraid of even their own friends and family members to speak out against the extremists, in a way unlike Christians or Jews (especially the women). That’s why you don’t see them anywhere. That’s why you won’t see moderate Muslims organizing and protesting against the Taliban or al-Qaeda.

    As for the mosque, it’s distasteful, and one almost gets the feeling they’re quite enjoying taking advantage of the democratic freedoms for Muslims in the US they know very well would not be granted to American non-Muslims if they lived in Muslim countries, but hey, democracy is hard.

    Just don’t become pushovers like the UK and start allowing parallel religiou legal systems in the US. Seriously.

    1. Another thing – I realize my post implies there’s a “right” way, which really, there isn’t, because interpreting the will of an invisible fictional character is impossible. My point was that it’s a good thing when things in holy books which wreak havoc in society are ignored and “changed” to mean something peaceful, so at least we can coexist. In Islam, that is far more difficult to do because there are no interpretations allowed, and if they were to simply follow the footsteps of the inventor, mohammed, they’d be murderous, pedophiliac, lunatics. Hence the fatwas, jihadis, and child brides in the Middle East.

      1. Thank you sister (may I call you that?) for hitting the nail right on the head.
        As a former muslim, I must say, it is hard to talk about the reality of Islam-the way I learned it, during my childhood-without being accused of “islamophobia”. People who have never studied islam as part of their educational material, who never had to sit for an exam on the subject, think they know more about it than I do. Most ridiculous of all, perhaps, is the notion that Islam means peace, whereas it means submission.
        With all said, I am not against the construction of the mosque. But it is a matter of poor taste which many find offensive. So next time a muslim asks you, does freedom of expression mean freedom to insult? The answer is yes, you guys are doing that yourselves.

    2. Is it possible that muslim communities in the west will be “subverted” by western enlightenment values before the same democratic systems based on enlightenment values are subverted by muslim jihadists seeking to impose a sharia based theocracy in the west ?

      Assuming you think such a thing is possible.

      I recently saw a video of a talk by Roy W. Brown at the AAI Copenhagen 2010 conference, in it he claims that due to the insular nature of muslim communities in the west, for example the prohibition on marriage outside of the community, mosque controlled local schools etc, they are very resistant to integrating with and adopting the values of the host countries.

      1. It is difficult for Muslim communities to integrate. Even among the more moderate individuals may feel threatened by their own communities to assimilate fully (especially women). But it is not impossible, and there are fully assimilated Muslims in the West who are just like any other American/Brit/Frenchman/etc. But as we still see pockets of Jewish communities which refuse to assimilate and insist on living by Jewish law in Jewish tradition, there will be Muslim communities which do the same. Unfortunately, in the latter, it is a compulsion in the religion to convert others and impose Islamic law.

        In the UK, Muslims were successful in setting up Sharia courts because there were already Jewish courts for the Jewish community. There are Islamic madrassas because there are Catholics schools. There are mosques because there are temples, and so on and so forth.

        Secularism and enforcement of democratic values from an early age in schools (assuming faith-based schools would be outlawed…hopefully) may slowly create a culture of change. But it’s hard to engender understanding of democratic values when we have right-wing Christian nutters screaming about God and Jesus in American politics.

    3. “For the record, Mohammed led armies into war, massacred entire villages, and married over 40 women, one 6 year old, and also his own son’s wife.”

      And this is different from, say, the Carolingians how, exactly?

      Or the Byzantines? Byzantine history is full of usurpers blinding their father and seizing power, killing their siblings, etc.

      Marriage was mainly about establishing political and tribal alliances, so age doesn’t really matter.

      Also: I believe the Bible says that you’re supposed to marry your brother’s wife if your brother dies. (Or, rather, that your widow is supposed to marry your brother.)

      And, there’s nothing contra-Biblical about polygamy. How many wives did Solomon have? His problem wasn’t that he had a lot of wives, but that he had non-Jewish wives, and he supported whatever their religions were in his territories.

      1. Comparing Mohammed to Christians isn’t an apt correlation. You should, rather, compare him to Jesus. That is the point. The argument is always “WWJD?” Well, WWMD? We know: rape, kill, murder, force conversions. When did Jesus do these things, according to Biblical accounts? How many wives did Jesus have? Basically, when people begin comparing what “real” Christianity is vs. “real” Islam, the way the creators of the religion (the Prophets/Messiah) lived the faith is an excellent place to start. The Muslims post mohammed and the christians post jesus aside, the men themselves set very different examples.

        That’s how it’s different.

    4. Multi:

      Your statement that the individuals exercising their inalienable rights as American citizens may be “enjoying taking advantage of the democratic freedoms for Muslims in the US . . .” is repugnant.

      Muslim Americans who fight in our military, pay their taxes, work, and vote actually support those very freedoms for others to exercise as well. They are not cartoonish parasites on the body of democracy; they are participant citizens—individuals—who vote (mostly Democratic), pay taxes, work in the economy, and serve in the military.

      The very basis of the Enlightenment is to regard people as individuals, not as members of collectives, and as individually responsible for their actions, not as collectively guilty for the actions of others. Any Muslim who nonviolently embraces American citizenship has already implicitly squared this principle with his or her religion.

      Muslim American citizens are as emotionally and intellectually complicated as you. We must exercise reason here and not submit to our darkest visceral emotions. Instead, we must make a determination to treat each Muslim that we meet as an individual in a process of emotional and intellectual evolution (as we all are).

      No Muslim American bears, in any way, shape, or form, collective guilt for 9-11, and as such the building of the mosque will represent the highest expression of our determination to remain an Enlightenment based nation.

      As atheists, agnostics, and humanists, we should be finding out where to write our $20 checks toward the building of this center. This is a time for solidarity with a despised minority precisely because they are so widely despised. To do otherwise is to buckle to Christian nationalist forces that mean to weaken our Bill of Rights:


      1. Well said. I completely agree. And let me add that we’re under attack far more by, and in far greater danger from, dominionist Christians than we could ever be from Muslims.

        That Christian rot comes within, and I say this as a devout Christian who takes “my kingdom is not of this world” and “render unto Caesar” very seriously.

      2. “Muslim Americans who fight in our military, pay their taxes, work, and vote actually support those very freedoms for others to exercise as well they are participant citizens—individuals—who vote (mostly Democratic), pay taxes, work in the economy, and serve in the military.”

        And every once and awhile go onto an American military base and start blowing people’s heads off. Or fly planes into buildings. Or try to blow up planes into Chicago…

        1. Perhaps you are thinking of postal workers. laid off factory or office workers, dungeons & dragons players, etc, etc. Humans turn out to be the most common perpetrators of random violence.

          You would probably be safer with a pack of wolves or on a fishing trip with a great brown bear, than with any randomly selected group of more than a couple of hundred Homo sapiens — if it is safety you seek.

  12. You seem to think that muslims are the only ones who want to impose theocracy – but a quick look at Israel’s fundamentalists and christian fundamentalist activists here say this is not the case. And the subjugation of women common to all fundamentalists.

    To remove religious affiliation and motivation from right wing extremists here in the U.S. is to treat Islam and Christianity differently and I can only guess you do it because the latter is more familiar to you.

  13. When I saw the picture of the now famous protest sign “DON’T GLORIFY MURDERS OF 3000 – NO 9/11 VICTORY MOSQUE, I thought it just didn’t seem like glorifying murder to me. The basic problem of humans is that the ego demands enemies to maintain it’s sense of other. Extreme indigence, how dare you serve me cold soup or build a mosque in my neighborhood. Jerry said it best in his last paragraph.

    [Do I oppose the center’s construction? No. Do I think that building it on that site is a good idea? No. It’s no better an idea than would be building an American cultural center near Ground Zero in Hiroshima. It was Islam, after all, that propelled those planes into the World Trade Center nine years ago. ]

    There plenty of things that don’t seem to smart but wouldn’t be big deal until people who need a war make them into a war. The far right and the far left in America need their enemies too, and they have each other.

  14. They can want to impose theocracy as much as their hearts desire. Only in Islam is theocracy a compulsion in their religion. It is mandatory. It is not Islam without it. You cannot honestly describe the nature of the Christian or Jewish superstitions that way. If you want to defeat religious crazies, then be honest about their nature. I’m not excusing Christian or Jewish bigots or extremists, I’m explaining the difference in the nature of their religions.

    1. It’s official, I have a full-size girl crush.

      Would you consider to write for If so, just send these comments of yours to the contact address and say that logicel asked you to do so. The owner of the site requests sample of writings, and your comments here are good enough to fulfill such a request. Of course, you can send other samples.

      We need someone familiar with Islam on our stable of writers. The questions are sent to you via email automatically, and you can only answer the ones you want. It does not take much time. We have had a very heart-rending question recently from a young Muslim–it would be be so appropriate if you would reply to that one.

      1. Wrong. In fundamentalist Christianity those not in keeping with Christian law, as interpreted by them, are not true Christians and will not be saved. Because Judaism as a faith and being Jewish as an ethnicity are entangled an orthodox Jew would not say an atheist Jew or a Reform or Conservative Jew is not a Jew, but would say he his not keeping the law. And all do attempt to force that law on others, whether of the faith or not. Underestimate the theocrats in Christianity and Judaism at your – and particularly my – peril.

        1. ” Because Judaism as a faith and being Jewish as an ethnicity are entangled an orthodox Jew would not say an atheist Jew or a Reform or Conservative Jew is not a Jew, but would say he his not keeping the law.”

          Wrong. There’s a law under discussion in Israel that would put the Orthodox in charge of deciding who’s a Jew among converts to Judaism seeking citizenship in Israel under the ‘right of return’.

          Orthodox don’t think a convert is Jewish if the conversion wasn’t handled by an Orthodox rabbi. (Or something to that effect. It was in the news recently, so google it.)

        2. Yes, according to some Christians. But not according to the theology of Christianity nor the “Messiah” Jesus, who clearly stated to separate the two.

          Whereas mohammed very clearly and distinctly said NOT to separate the two, and Islamic law is mandatory in a way Christian and Jewish law absolutely is not.

          Again, Christians and Jews may be xenophobes, mean, evil, have a history of murder and imperialism and forcibly spreading their religion, but there is a valid argument in Christianity by the man they believe to be the Son of God to SEPARATE GOVERNMENT and RELIGION, whereas in Islam it is mandatory and compulsory. In other words, whereas both Christianity and Islam forcibly spread their religion and both probably have Bible verses/Koranic verses to support this Crusade/Jihad – only in Islam is it forbidden to live under secular law, whereas in Christianity it is not.

          So, no, not wrong, I don’t think you understand the difference in the structure of the religions, DESPITE what the history of the religions has demonstrated.

    2. You forget the historical concept of “Christendom” and how it led to the forcible conversion of Jews and Moslems in Spain in the 15th and 16th century.

      In Britain only a couple of hundred years ago church attendance on Sunday was compulsory.

      The very concept of the Divine Right of Kings universal throughout Christian Europe in the middle ages is essentially theocratic.

      1. Islam describes political structure, even economic structures. It has edicts on what one does from the moment one wakes up to the moment they sleep. It does not differentiate in public life between the governing system and Islam. They are on and the same.

        Christianity has often forced a governing system onto its adherents, yes, they have given “divine rights” to monarchs, yes, they have forcibly converted and murdered no-Christians, YES, but it is not part of the theology the way it is in Islam. To behave as though “it’s all the same thing” is to ignore reality.

        The largest Christian organization (the Catholic Church) at least pretends to stay out of politics because they know they are meant to keep separate. There is no such thought in Islam, because there is no difference between Allah’s will in the religious sense and in the political sense. Fundamental Christians may BEHAVE in the same way, but the behavior is a particular decision/interpretation of how they want to “enforce” Christianity, but there is no “decision” on whether or not to do this in Islam, there is no “vein” or interpretation in Islam that can even pretend to separate the two: Governance/Legal System/Religion = the same.

    3. Ah, ha ah aha haahahaa… You haven’t read the Bible (Romans Chapter 13: 1-7) or St. Augustine, or Martin Luther, or any of the other passages (rend unto Caeser…) then.

      Where did you think the whole “Divine Right of Kings” came from anyway? Jeeze…

  15. Anyone who elides these distinctions, or who acknowledges the problem of jihad and Muslim terrorism only to swiftly mention the Crusades, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the Tamil Tigers, and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma, is simply not thinking honestly about the problem of Islam.

    Sam Harris has a tendency towards black and white, with us or against us oversimplification of the sort I find objectionable in certain recent political leaders.

    1. Of course the fact that he’s absolutely right is of no consequence is it? Compared to your lofty disapproval

      1. Of course the fact that he’s absolutely right is of no consequence is it?

        “Of course”? – you have a mighty high opinion of your own opinion. I do not think calling anyone who disagrees with you “dishonest” is amenable to being “absolutely right.” It is amenable to being “absolutely a douchebag.”

  16. “It’s no better an idea than would be building an American cultural center near Ground Zero in Hiroshima. It was Islam, after all, that propelled those planes into the World Trade Center nine years ago.” I like this. I do not think the comparison is apples to apples but you make a good point.
    Why give anyone religion more significance than another at a place of war? Have we lost the ability to stay on point and honor those that lost their lives and their families in the whole ordeal if we are going to put anything there? Are we acutally ONLY honoring the religion of those that planned the attack by placing a mosque at the location? Maybe I am missing the point. Who owns the site now?

  17. One just wonders whether it’d be at least remotely possible to build the damn Mosque somewhere else! New York City is quite big and I don’t see why it is so necessary that the Mosque be built, in Harris’ words, right upon the ashes of the WTC.

    This is one exemplary instance of the distinction between ethics and law. While it is certainly not illegal to build a religious temple anywhere on public landscape, it is decidedly not desirable given what it represents to the most seditious of our neighbors.

    1. Because it’s not right on the site. It’s two blocks away, which is a long way in NYC. There are gay bars closer to the WTC site than this center will be.

      Anyway, Muslims (other than the hijackers) died at the WTC.

  18. “Just don’t become pushovers like the UK and start allowing parallel religious legal systems in the US. Seriously.”

    Too late. Several American cities already have Islamic courts integrated with “real” courts. Only Muslim believers use them, and I believe, for the time being, they are limited to “family” issues like divorces, etc. One wonders what will happen when some guy wants to stone his little sister to death for “adultery”.

    1. I’ve tried to research this and have come up empty on Sharia courts in the US. I have doubts as to whether this is true. The only thing I have found is a judge in Texas who ruled that a couple could use their personal, religious (Islamic) laws to decide some marriage/divorce dispute they were having…but that decision was overturned by a higher court I believe. I don’t think there are actual Islamic laws that are integrated with US law anywhere here.

  19. If anything, I think it’s more likely that militant Islam will see it as a victory.

    I seriously doubt this, since “militant Islamists” are more vehemently opposed to the milquetoast Muslims who are building the center than they are to western infidels (they certainly kill a lot more of them), they will more likely feel this is two steps back for their idiotic goals.

    I’m a New Yorker; I watched the WTC go down in flames in real time from the ground. I’m probably more anti-theist than some the most ardent Gnu Atheists…

    But if we let the hurt feelings of WTC families dictate whether we revoke a fundamental American value, THEN the jihadists will declare victory — and rightly so.

  20. Whats with calling them “gnu atheists”? Im familiar with the term “new atheists”, but “gnu”? Is it ok to call them “wildebeest” atheists?

    1. If you read this site frequently, I’m sure you’ll notice that Jerry likes to be creative with his spelling several times a week. When the post concerns cats, all spelling rules go out the window.

      1. What’s all this got to do with the Free software movement? I know rms is an atheist but GNU is not Unix

  21. Hitchens: I don’t support the mosque, but I SUPPORT THEIR RIGHT TO BUILD IT.

    Harris: I DON”T SUPPORT THE MOSQUE, but I support their right to build it.

    Coyne: OMGZ-schism among the gnu athiests!!!

  22. “You cannot honestly describe the nature of the Christian or Jewish superstitions that way. If you want to defeat religious crazies, then be honest about their nature. I’m not excusing Christian or Jewish bigots or extremists, I’m explaining the difference in the nature of their religions.”

    Before the western Renaissance, and even as late as the European Enlightenment, much of Christianity, even amongst the gentler sects, was like modern Islam in its desire to control their own governments with extremely harsh laws. Most of the early emigrants to our soil came with the belief that they would be able to form a new nation in their own image. And there is a population (nearing the dreaded 40% of Muslims in England), who would love to control the government and change the laws (like the 14th Amendment for example). The founding fathers, educated by the secular Enlightenment, had to fight tooth and claw (led by the intensely Christian John Adams) to keep religion out of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

    1. Which Declaration did you read; “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” yeah right…separation my gnu.

      1. Declaration of Independence has zero weight. The same with the first government formed under the Articles of Confederation.

        They are not the legal basis for our country.

    2. To refer to John Adams as “intensely Christian” is a serious overstatement. According to his correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, Adams, like Jefferson, rejected the Virgin Birth, rejected the Resurrection, rejected the miracles alleged performed by Yeshua of Nazareth, and rejected the deification of Yeshua. A more accurate description would describe him, like Jefferson, as a non-Christian theist.

      1. Jefferson described himself as a Unitarian. Joseph Priestly the English chemist and Unitarian minister, who had fled England as a result of being persecuted for his support for the French Revolution, became a pastor for Jefferson and Franklin.

            1. No, dude. I am simply saying Christians and Jews may also have the desire to make a theocracy wherever they feel like, but only in Islam is it compulsory. I’m aware of the founders (lack of) religious fervor and/or belief.

      1. And please understand YOU ARE WRONG. You look at the modern interpretation/body of Christianity.

        You ignore the history of it.

        You look at the FUNDAMENTALIST Muslims, who would agree with you. You IGNORE the moderate Muslims WHO DO NOT agree Islam is interpreted in that manner.

        That Christians have CHANGED their religion, doesn’t mean Romans 13: 1-7 disappeared out of the Bible. It doesn’t mean that the “natural order” of the “Divine Right of Kings” was not the predominant interpretation/dogma of the Christian until, relatively speaking, modern times.

        The modern moderate Muslim, for what it is worth, is pretty much like his modern, moderate Christian — he ignores most of the bullshit and changes the way he interprets his texts based on his “modern understanding of the METAPHOR of the holy text” instead of the “fundamentalist, it’s not a Metaphor” understanding.

        Neither holy book changes. But the people do. Their wealth increases. The pressue decreases. Decadence sets in.

        Boom, the religion gets all warm and fuzzy and the fundamentalists decline as a percentage of the population.

        The big difference between the two faiths today, in this type of issue, is moderate-to-liberal Christians are the vast majority. While in Islam they are still the minority.

        But 300 years ago… Not such a big difference. And, some day in the future (and if we stop radicalizing/eploiting them) they’ll be like us, in this kind of issue, again.

        1. Also, what “metaphors” are you aware of in Islam? “Take not Jews and Christians as your friends, but slay them where you find them” is not a metaphor for anything, considering mohammed actually murdered people as well. The Koran was written in Mohammed’s lifetime, by him, he recited it (that’s what “Qur’an” means – recitation) as Allah’s exact words – it isn’t a “divinely inspired” holy book written by divinely inspired men. It is Allah speaking through Mohammed, at once, written down. This is why it is memorized cover to cover and not allowed to be translated out of Arabic (apparently, Allah’s language). There are no metaphors the way their are in the Bible, there are only orders and discussions about every aspect of life – which the “Prophet” himself lived through violent murder.

  23. 1. There are already two mosques near Ground Zero. Why aren’t the opponents of the third mosque calling for demolition of the pre-existing ones?

    2. No one in this discussion has offered evidence against the Sufi mystic sect that is proposing the new mosque. Condemning this sect for the sins of Wahhabism and Sunni Islam is like condemning Quakers and Episcopalians for the sins of Southern Baptists.

    3. If we’re really so concerned about the threat of Wahhabism, then why are we still sending trillions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and destroying its rival neighbors a decade after 9/11?

  24. As pointed out on The Daily Show, the entire anti-mosque sentiment/argument is ridiculous and pointless because there’s already another mosque 2 blocks away, and it’s been there for 40+ years with no problems.

    1. Well that “because” doesn’t really work, because mosques aren’t just interchangeable parts; one mosque could cause problems where a different mosque hasn’t and wouldn’t.

      I’m not saying this one will, I’m just saying precedent isn’t a guarantee of anything.

  25. To say that this mosque and community centre is being built on “the ashes of the WTC” is bullshit. It’s no more a part of ground zero than the other businesses in the neighborhood are.

    To say that all Muslims are like al queda or the Taliban is, as someone said above, akin to saying all Christians are like Fred Phelps.

    Moderate Muslims DO exist, and they did decry 9/11 – are they to blame if you did not hear them? I certainly heard them in the Canadian MSM – if you didn’t hear them in the US, maybe you should ask the MSM about that.

    Who are the moderate Muslims? You can start with the Ismailis – followers of the Aga Khan. 15 million moderate Muslims who do not subjugate their women, hate Western culture, or espouse violence. Most North American Muslims are moderates – by and large they are well-educated, do not actively practise institutional misogyny (at least no more than moderate Christians), and decry violence.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m an atheist who thinks Islam is as stupid as every other religion, and is more dangerous than most in that it is still in it’s adolescent phase…but it does bother me to see people who should be rational and logical behaving like those they deride.

  26. It was Islam, after all, that propelled those planes into the World Trade Center nine years ago.

    Ugh. Shameful.

    And… what Matunos said above.

  27. Multicollinearity said on The “mosque” in New York said:

    “I don’t think there are actual Islamic laws that are integrated with US law anywhere here.”

    You may be right and I may have misspoke myself. Apparently the issue was that several divorce American courts have been allowed to enforce Islamic laws on divorce to allow Islamic men to get easy and inexpensive divorces, using a federal dodge called the doctrine of “comity”. I am a bit vague about whether we have actual court proceedings in the US or whether an American Islamic man can go to an Islamic country to get an easy divorce which then can be enforced in the USA.
    Sorry about my sloppiness. Maybe I need a nap!

  28. Harris is entirely wrong about this.

    Religions have certain liberties under our structure of law. In my view, they often take advantage of these to pollute public institutions, education, and so on, but those liberties are not gauzy nor difficult to understand.

    Harris is chasing several canards – the first is that this place is being built on Ground Zero. He has adopted the language of Pam Gellar, an irrational, hate filled person who has decided that anything that has the name or association “Islam” is an existential threat to, well, something (or, conversely, anything she doesn’t like magically becomes associated with Islam).

    The site is two blocks away. This is not “on top” of anything. Talk about giving in to false framing. Mooney would be so proud of Harris and consider this progress.

    I think religion is stupid and backwards, and I get to say that any where and any time I please. A private religious organization that can satisfy local zoning and permitting boards and raise the cash to build a center and prayer space *two blocks away from Ground Zero* gets to do that. Period.

    Conflating building such a place with some vague war on terror or existential battle between reason and religion is to toss out the window our own rationality, something we allegedly pride ourselves upon.

    This project has nothing to do with 9/11 and Ground Zero.


    Reading what people write and say about it is turning into a rather interesting Rorschach test of rationality and an understanding of our Constitution, and in this case, Harris fails miserably, and in some respects, so do you.

    Please, if “that site” as you put it (falling quite neatly into the right wing framing of this non-issue) is not right for such a thing, built by a person the Bush administration reached out to in the wake of 9/11 as a “moderate Muslim”, then what else should be impermissible? The strip club that operates within the same radius? Coffee shops? Sex shops? Bond houses?

    Why is it appropriate to build a gigantic monument to maximalist capitalism, another source of so much human misery, literally right on top of the graves of thousands of atomized bodies? How is this any less offensive than a mosque two blocks away and out of sight? Is it nominally because more capitalists than Muslims died in the Trade Center buildings?

    See how absurd this becomes?

    Buying into right wing ignorance, fear, and intolerance because you share a distaste for religion is a sure path to Rationalist’s Hell, where reality is what we assert it is, up is down, left is right, what people may feel trumps what we know…just like religion.

  29. “Whats with calling them “gnu atheists”? Im familiar with the term “new atheists”, but “gnu”? Is it ok to call them “wildebeest” atheists?”

    No. That would be racism.

  30. Regarding the Mosque Near Ground Zero

    There are many who oppose the building of the Mosque near Ground Zero on absolute terms. They want to “prevent” it from being built and some even go so far as to say that they shouldn’t exist in the United States at all. I am not one of these. My view is simply that it was a decision that lacked sensitivity and was in poor taste. Consequently, I’m now labeled a bigot by some of my fellow liberals. I have to wonder if those who immediately throw out the term bigot are doing so in order to flaunt their liberal credentials in the same way that conservatives used flag pins to flaunt their patriotism. In both cases, views are automatically reduced to a dumb dichotomy. You’re either a good Constitution-loving American or an Islamo-phobic bigot.

    Leaving aside the subjective nature regarding the sensitivity of the Mosque’s construction, I was hoping that we, as a society, could open up the conversation a little more about some of the problems with religion in general, problems that we ignore at our peril. But how can we even ask questions or raise criticism when every attempt is met with an immediate claim of oppression or appeal to special respect?

    For instance, the Catholic Church has a pedophile problem. This was a claim that was first met with much opposing anger, claims of oppression and bigotry, and excuses. Now, after a mountain of testimony and evidence, it has become a fact that makes those clinging to those excuses, look sad and irrational. Does it mean that every Catholic is a pedophile? No. Does it mean that most Catholics are pedophiles? No. I have little doubt that most are good people who despair over this issue. Nevertheless, the problem exists and for the sake of those who can’t defend themselves, we should figure out why and not shy away from the search in fear of being called a bigot.

    Baptists have problems with homosexuality. It varies according to each person and denomination but, by in large, they oppose it. There are many who oppose it so much so that they want to deny basic rights to anyone who is gay. There are some who disown their own children upon learning that they are gay or even send them to psychological abuse camps to “cure” them of their “disease.” However, I would venture to say, although I don’t know, that most are less militant about it and take the “we’re all sinners” approach and accommodate somehow, rather than turn on their own children. I was raised Baptist and can attest that most are good, moral, hard-working people in most regards, despite their fear and loathing of homosexuality. But I think it’s safe to say that as the civil rights of homosexuals progress, Baptists are going to have to accommodate a little more in order to get along in our society.

    Muslims have been known to commit incredibly violent acts in the name of Islam. Am I referring to all Muslims? No, of course not, but there have certainly been enough of these acts for one to sit-up and take notice. Beheadings, noses, ears, and limbs chopped off, stonings, female castration, beatings, and one notable incident in New York, have all been, and are being committed in the name of Islam, a specific religion. The majority of Muslims are indeed the good, peaceful people that they claim to be and regard such acts as deplorable misrepresentations of Islam. Nevertheless, some self-described Muslims commit brutal acts of violence. Some self-described Catholics rape children, and some self-described Baptists abhor the civil rights of gays. Some portion of their fellow-believers are either not on-message, or have gotten the message loud and clear. Maybe certain “bad apples” are attracted to certain religions. Maybe there’s a problem in the inherent structure of the religion. Maybe it happens for reasons we have yet to even consider. The point is that certain behaviors are clustering in certain religions and the results are too horrifying to not figure out and we can’t even begin to get answers if each question is met with the term “bigot.”

    I’ve read some of the excuses given for separating Islam from some of the horrible acts of Muslims, such as the fact that Muslims were themselves killed in the attack on 911 or that Muslim terrorists kill other Muslim and are therefore more “terrorist” than they are Muslim. I’m not swayed. Can you imagine a Catholic parent defending her religion by appealing to the fact that even her own Catholic children were raped by priests, so the priests must not have been true Catholics? Believe it, it happens. It’s a nice little shift of category but offers little consolation to the victim or future victims who will suffer from our lack of curiosity, concern and open investigation into the problem.

    So, build the Mosque (or multi-cultural center, if you prefer) but let’s make it one dedicated to the true study of Islam and other religions. Open the halls to the most open and honest debate about religion that we’ve ever seen. Conduct studies and inquiries into the nature of violence within Islam. Invite other faiths in to work on some of these problems together. Lead the way to solving these problems. What could be more American?

  31. If the zoning ordinances allow religious buildings to be built there, people have as much right to build a mosque as they would a church.

    I would rather not have any new religious buildings built, full stop, but the government can’t favour or impede any particular religion.

    Of course Islam is full of the problems that Harris points out, and I’d like to see its influence decreased. But the law can’t do that for us.

  32. Nevertheless, while not all faiths are equal in content, they are, and should be, equal under law…Freedom of religion, like freedom of speech, is a non-negotiable, bedrock principle of our country.

    Actually I think that overstates it a little. What of a religion that teaches a murderous doctrine? Really murderous – “All Xs should be killed.” Even if all clerics of the religion are scripturally prohibited from acting on the doctrine, that’s still a dangerous religion.

    Or what of a church like that of Helen Ukpabio in Nigeria, that promotes the belief that some children are possessed by witches, and encourages child-witch hunts?

    1. Christian Identity. World Church of the Creator.

      White supremacist religions certainly do exist, and they are free to do so as long as they don’t break the law.

    2. Precisely. A faith is a faith as long as it remains constrained to beliefs. As soon as it becomes a reason for action, it ceases to be a faith and becomes an ideology. An ideology that teaches intolerance should not be tolerated.

      1. We should practice intolerance where intolerant religions are concerned – is that what you are saying? I don’t really know what you mean by a faith that is ‘constrained to (sic) beliefs’, but you seem to be saying that so long as a religion remains innocuously private, then that is fine, whatever the content of the beliefs… But religion necessarily is and always has been a public and not something that is private to the point of being a sort of harmless solipsism, and that really does need to be recognised. Beliefs have real and public consequences, and are always reasons for action: the dear old fuddy-duddy Anglican church, for example, has a quite disproportionate influence in the UK where things like gay rights and assisted suicide are concerned. There simply are no easy answers, and the only defence is a strongly secular state that is willing when necessary to assert its authority where religions are concerned. It is a question of power and authority.
        That said, and despite my dislike of Islam and other monotheistic religions, I do think Jerry is wrong here, both to tar all Muslims with the same brush, in implying that there are no moderate Muslims and that virtually every Muslim in the world was delighted by 9/11, and to suggest that ‘Islam’ was responsible for bombing the Trade Center, rather than a group of fanatics. He wouldn’t accept such a blanket approach to something in a student essay…

          1. Sorry about the grammar. I’m not a native speaker. Anyway, I think you and I agree on the substance: yes, I do believe religion is harmless as long as it remains confined to the private sphere. Yes, I think all religions are harmful when they encroach on the public sphere.

            Whre we disagree is on the nature of “moderate” Islam. Modern Christians are mostly moderate because they were forced to, not because Christianity suddenly saw the light and decided to discard their old dogmas. Islam has not gone through that process yet, so moderate muslims are mostly to be found amongst immigrants in liberal societies: they are not moderate because Islam is moderate, but because they are forced to by their context.

            1. I do suggest meeting some Indonesian or Chinese Muslims, in particular (not all – of course there are some dreadful types).

              I think you slightly misunderstand what I was saying: religion is not and never has been a private affair, but necessarily is a public affair and, particularly in the case of the monotheistic religions, does and always involved being active and influential in public matters. The private nature of religion is a myth that has been created particularly in the States because of the constitutional separation of religion from the affairs of state. A look at the activities of Fundamentalist churches, the Catholic church and the Mormons would show that Christians are extremely active as it were unofficially in influencing public policy.

      2. I’m not asking about facts, I’m asking about shoulds. Jerry said “all faiths are, and should be, equal under law,” and I’m not so sure about the should be. Do you think a church that preaches “all blacks should be killed” should have a First Amendment right to free exercise for that? I’m not talking about beliefs, I’m talking about preaching. And I’m not talking about white supremacist, I’m talking about preaching genocide.

          1. Yes. Any religion that violates the law in its practices is illegal – they are all treated equally in that way.

  33. I certainly count myself as a Gnu Atheist, but speaking personally, I’m rather disappointed and more than a bit appalled at the level of discourse here. Surely if thoughtful people in the West oppose militant Islam, we do so precisely because militant Islam is against a liberal, pluralistic, tolerant society. So how does being intolerant of moderate Islam help that fight? Doesn’t that instead concede the very thing we’re fighting for? Not to go too cliched, but doesn’t that mean the terrorists have won?

    And I’d take Harris’ complaint about “the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity” more seriously if the site were indeed supposed to be a memorial, but frankly if one is going to erect a Starbucks and McDonalds and FedEx outlet on the “ashes of this atrocity”, one has to wonder just how much of a sacred space it actually is. “Ground Zero” is ultimately just going to be a commercial skyscraper, full of the standard tacky commerce of such locales. The superficiality of the sentimentality and outrage is unconvincing.

          1. All your comment boils down to is simply saying that I’m wrong, without clarifying why. Religion is not just some abstraction — it is a social and cultural practice by real people in real contexts, and Islam varies just like Christianity and Judaism and Hinduism and Buddhism etc. etc. etc. Yes, some Muslims are militants intent on destroying decadent liberal democracies and setting up a worldwide Islamic state, just as some Christian evangelicals are terrorists who plot the overthrow of the US government to set up a Christian theocracy.

            Judge people, even religious people, by their actions, not by your interpretation of what you think their religion tells them to believe.

      1. Isn’t there a problem, though, Ophelia, with the whole idea of ‘Islam’ as a sort of trans-historical essence? And if there is, doesn’t that make your question – ‘what is moderate Islam?’ a dubious one? (Seems to me yes and yes).

        I know people who I guess class themselves as ‘moderate Muslims’, and short of entering into a theological/exegetical debate with them, I don’t see how I’m really supposed to do anything other than accept their word for it.

        I can argue with them about basic propositions – is there a God, should there be only secular law, and what not; I can argue that religion should be kept out of politics, etc. But I can’t see what the point is in insisting that I have a better understanding of how ‘Islam’ should properly be understood than they do – as something divorced from the actual social practice of it.

        1. Sorry to butt in. I know you were addressing Ophelia, but it seems to me that the easiest way to test a moderate muslim living in the West is to ask him or her whether they think the West is decadent and why (or why not).

  34. Democracy is a cancer and only a true Catholic Nation can survive… There’s a premise…

    But he has a solution: A Catholic Monarch for the United States!


    I’m surprised he didn’t bring Romans 13 and Augustine into the discussion. Maybe a new hate-tape will cover them…

  35. I am in almost total agreement with what this post says. Where I have questions is where Ophelia Benson seems to have questions, namely, over whether freedom of religion, without qualification, is, or should be, the bedrock of the settlement of religion in any country. It may be so in the US, because of the constitution, but it could be a dangerous rock to stand on.

    Islam, despite so many claims that are made for it, has never been a peaceable religion. One of its fundamental principles is warfare between believers and unbelievers. It is written in the Qu’ran; it is reexpressed in the Hadith Qudsi’, the sacred words of Allah not in the Qu’ran reported by Mohammed. Despite the claims that Islam was a tolerant religion, the history of Islam in relation to adherents of other religions within the conquered territories of what became the dar-al-Islam does not bear this out, though there are indeed some exceptions to the almost universal practice of humiliating and exploiting the People of the Book, and the complete intolerance for those who do not belong to the Jewish-Christian tradition. And until there is a general acceptance by Muslims that this is not a prescriptive part of Islam (and there is no sign of this taking place), Islam will remain a serious danger to those who do not belong to the umma, the collective of Muslim believers. For that reason, I believe that, in the absence of such agreement, large settlements of Muslims in democratic countries will continue to be a danger to the future stability and continuity of those societies as societies of free and equal citizens.

    In other words, I believe there are moderate Muslims, but I do not believe that there is anything like a moderate Islam. I would have to have examples of moderate Islam pointed out to me. People talk about a moderate Islam. I have yet to see one. Tulse has experessed concern over the intolerant tone of this thread, but I think that Tulse, having said this, is under some obligation to give us an example of tolerant Islam. The history of Islam does not provide much sustenance for such an idea, but I may be simply ignorant of tolerant Islams which have a chance of informing the beliefs and attitudes of contemporary Muslims in the West.

    As to the Ground Zero mosque, I do not have a serious opinion. This is for Americans to settle amongst themselves. It’s establishment will, however, be thought, I think, as Sam Harris suggests, to be an Islamic victory, and those who supported the attack on 9/11 will celebrate it as such. This in itself could be a danger, and it could easily resurrect some of the forces that motivated the attack in the first place.

      1. No, this is not what I meant. I have already said that there are historical examples of times and places where Islam was moderate. Bali may be one of them today. But is there an example of Islam, the religion and its teaching, which is inherently moderate, and in which the Qu’ran’s demand of Muslims to join in jihad against unbelievers and subdue them is negated? If there is such a form of Islam, on what basis is this negation permised, and how stable is it?

        1. Islam is as Islam is practiced, just as Christianity is as it is practiced. Is there any other way to look at it except empirically? Are we to take Christianity as inherently against mixed fibre clothing just because such is forbidden by Leviticus?

          I find it extremely disappointing that those who would defend rationality against superstition and ignorance would adopt this kind of view regarding the “inherent” nature of Islam.

          1. Nobody said anything about “inherent.” On the contrary, in my view, it’s highly contingent. Islam could have developed in such a way that a lot of it is just a dead letter, as a lot of Leviticus is (except of course where it isn’t…). But it hasn’t done that. Maybe it will; I certainly hope so; but it hasn’t yet.

            Do you know of any place where there is total freedom for Muslims to leave Islam? The extreme difficulty of leaving is one thing that makes it almost impossible for Islam to be genuinely and broadly moderate.

            1. Islam could have developed in such a way that a lot of it is just a dead letter, as a lot of Leviticus is (except of course where it isn’t…). But it hasn’t done that.

              Except of course where it has. Unless you think that every Muslim-majority country is a theocracy carrying out jihad against its infidel neighbours, wrapping all its women in niqabs, and murdering all Christians within its borders.

          2. Precisely, Islam is Islam as practiced, just as Christianity is Christianity as practiced. But Islam and Christianity cannot be separated from their self-understanding and intellectual self-conception, and it is important to see these working in tandem.

            Take Christianity first. The last three centuries, at most, Christianity has become, largely, a benign force in the world. Prior to that Christianity tended to be theocratic, rapacious and cruel. Of course, there were also all the religious dimensions, where religious virtues and practices were valued, but the overall structure of Christianity was not humane, and is still, arguably, not humane.

            Islam has never gone through a Reformation period as Christianity has done, and it has not shared in the liberal revolution of the Enlightenment and the subsequent experience of the rights revolution and the democratic experiment. Islam as practiced has been thoroughly imbued with its own self-conception as the perfect society, and as the heir apparent to world rule. Jihad was at the very centre of Muslim self-understanding, and it is still arguably at that centre.

            My question about a tolerant Islam is whether there is in existence a widespread intellectual self-understanding of Islam as moderate and peaceloving, in which human rights are acknowledged and respected, and some commitment to democratic polity and toleration of diversity has replaced the model of Islam as this has expressed itself in an exceedingly violent history?

            I don’t know the answer to that question. That’s why I ask it. But just giving examples of moderate Muslims, whether in Indonesia (where I suspect it is less moderate than some people suggest), or anywhere else. Sometimes Tariq Ramadan is offered as an example of moderate Islam, but if that is the best we can do, then we have every reason to be concerned.

            And so far, Tulse, your attempt to make me feel embarrassed about the tone of my concern, which includes contemporary Christianity as much as Islam, is not working. I want answers, not just a suggestion that I am morally off base because I am concerned about a militant Islam. I think there are good reasons for being concerned, and if the best that we can do in response is moral disapproval of such concern, then we have even more reason to be concerned.

            1. There are good reasons to be concerned about a lot of things, but we generally don’t throw out core Western liberal values in response to those concerns.

              More to the point, how will preventing the building of a cultural centre for a group of moderate Muslims in this particular location be helping the cause of jihad? If we take your point seriously, that Islam is an existential threat and thus we are justified in tossing out the basic founding principles of the nation to deal with it, we should be outlawing the building of mosques everywhere (and presumably deporting Muslims, since there are no true “moderate” ones, after all). Are you really willing to compromise Enlightenment principles so much to do that?

            2. My remarks had nothing to do with the Muslim “cultural centre” at Ground Zero. Indeed, I explicitly divorced my considerations from that, though remarking that building such a centre would doubtless be taken, by a large number of jihadi Muslims, as a victory over effete Western liberalism. But having said that, my remarks simply have to do with the nature of Islam, and whether, as so many people are accustomed to claiming, there is a real distinction between Islam, a moderate religion, and politicised Islam, represented by extremists and fanatics. I’m not sure that there is such a distinction, just as I am not sure that there is a distinction between the bad old pre-Enlightenment Christianity, and the peaceable religion of love and compassion that is thought to have taken its place.

            3. However, I should add that I do think, as you suggest, that Islam does represent an existential threat to liberal forms of governance. I do not know how to solve that problem, and I do not want to see the freedom, equality and tolerance of liberalism to be abandoned. But I think there may be a contradiction in fact here, and that democracies, in permitting the growth of large Muslim communities, may be signing their own death warrant. It may, on the other hand, turn out — and I hope it does — that Islam itself will undergo a transformation through intimate contact with more liberal forms of governance. That Christianity itself is showing the reverse tendency, and is becoming more strident and anti-liberal, is not an encouraging sign.

            4. OK, then, Eric, so what’s your final solution to this problem? To be honest, I see the kind of earnest hand-wringing you’re engaging in to be profoundly disingenuous if you’re not going to say precisely what principles you’re willing to abandon to deal with it. Don’t dance around the issue, don’t be vague — have the courage of your convictions to work out the consequences of your position. What should the West do about Muslims in its midsts? If native Muslims are a genuine existential threat, what concrete steps do you propose to deal with it, and which parts of the US Constitution would such steps violate?

            5. Tulse, I don’t have an answer to that question. I wish that I did. I think it’s probably a very deep problem with liberalism in confrontation with a religion which is also a political project. (As I have suggested, there are aspects of catholicism which are also political and theocratic, and the increasing radicalisation of evangelical Christians, and its theocratic overtones, are of some concern as well.)

              Of course, I may be wrong. Perhaps it isn’t a political project. But I have yet to be convinced that it is not. I have not heard a significant Muslim voice which disavows jihad, and denies, which it must do in order to do that, that the Qu’ran and the Sacred Sayings of the Prophet (the Hadith) are the final words of God to the people of earth.

              However — and this is what I have been saying — I am prepared to be convinced that there is such an Islam. I just do not see evidence of such an Islam in practice anywhere in the world, and history is not encouraging. (Paul Berman speaks of some moderate Muslim voices in his Flight of the Intellectuals, but they are, as yet, very muted, single voices for the most part, and their implications for public life unclear.)

              Indonesia under Sukarno may have been able to keep Islam in check, but there are signs that this settlement is beginning to dissolve. Britain, and even the Soviets, kept Islam in India and in Central Asia in check for some time, but the radicalisation of Central Asian Islam, or the history of Pakistan show how very perilous these kinds of controls have been.

              I have concerns, obviously, but that, unfortunately, does not mean that I have the answers. I have liberal instincts, and I deplore the limitation of individual freedoms. Indeed, it is from these concerns that I write. However, there may, in the case of religions, be good reasons to establish limits to their liberties to live in ways of their own choosing, and to socialise children entirely according to their beliefs. I guess my concern is that this question is not obviously on the table, and I think it should be. But to suppose that I have a ‘final solution’ to the problem (which unfairly implies some kind of relationship between my concern about Muslim ideology and the Nazi Endlosung of the Jewish problem), is either asking too much, or is asking in the wrong way.

            6. I just do not see evidence of such an Islam in practice anywhere in the world

              Sure you do, in America every day. There are up to 7 million Muslims in the US right now, and I’d be willing to bet that most of them aren’t beheading Christians for being infidels or actively plotting the overthrow of the government to install a new Caliphate. Honestly, one has to be in the grip of an Islamic panic to think that over 2% of the citizens of the US are posing an active existential danger to the country.

              I appreciate you believe you are being serious and thoughtful about this, I really do. But honestly, Eric, however paved with good intentions, this path is the road to a hell of civil liberties violations and undermining of the foundations of Western liberalism.

              And let’s really get down to brass tacks. Flying some planes into some buildings is not an existential threat to the US. Fighting extremists in some far off desert is not an existential threat to the US. No majority-Islamic country has a military that poses the slightest danger to the homeland. Whatever militant radical Islam might be able to do, it can’t threaten the actual physical existence of the US. But what panic about Islam can do, and has done, is threaten the moral and legal foundations of the US. In my view, the response of the US to the WTC bombings did far more damage to the country than the actual attacks — it is the ultimate example of asymmetric warfare, and the damage was almost all self-inflicted. I care far too much about the project of Western liberalism to see it destroyed through vague fears that feed bigotry and hate.

            7. Oh, please Tulse. You keep bringing up cases where Muslims are living in peace. I’ve acknowledged that right up front. Of course there are lots of moderate Muslims around. That’s not the issue — never was.

              I am speaking about a theoretical or, if you like, theological understanding of Islam, an Islam that is prepared to abandon the ‘word of god’ aspect of a ‘sacred text’ which is, not to put too fine a point on it, a standing danger to anyone who lives near those who accept these words as holy. There is simply nothing comparable to it in any other ‘sacred text’. I would like to see examples of Islam which acknowledge the dreadful history of Islam’s relations with non-believers and women, which clearly identify the aspects of Islam which led to that history, and is prepared to suppress those features of Islam in the interests of peace with its neighbours. I see no evidence of this as yet, and I do not see why it is so hard to understand what I am saying.

              I think religion is a standing threat to democracy, and Islam is not an insignificant part of that threat. Like Nazism, most religion does not respect democracy. It is by its very nature theocratic. The problem with Islam is that theocracy is written into the foundational texts of the religion, which makes it even more dangerous to the democractic project. I do not think that we should be ignorant of the dangers that this poses. And that’s all that I am saying or wish to say.

            8. I am speaking about a theoretical or, if you like, theological understanding of Islam

              I know, and I have repeatedly challenged that as an appropriate measure. By that criterion, all Christians “theoretically” avoid wearing mixed-fiber clothing, don’t eat shellfish, keep concubines, and practice genocide.

              Religion is as religion is practiced. That is the only way to assess it in the real world, the one in which we live. As you admit, there are plenty of “moderate” Muslims by that criterion.

            9. Tulse, since the New Testament dispensation is supposed to be a fulfilment of the Old, and since the Jewish law is assumed, by classical Christianity, to be superceded by the Christian law of love, etc. etc., there is no obligation for Christians to follow the mitzvot of the OT. This is simply a misunderstanding of Christianity. There are at least theological reasons why Christians may justly hold themselves to be not bound by OT prescriptions.

              However, religion is not just as it is practiced, because practice of religion is affected by scripture and theology. And your choice of a marginal note in the OT as binding on Christians is very revealing. Christianity recently went through a very liberal period, but it has been hauled back to scriptural rules by the sheer presence of scripture and its place in Christian faith and practice. So, theology is always vital to an understanding of religion. It is always the most conservative interpretation of religious doctrines which forms the backbone of renewal and revival movements within religions. So the theology can never be simply ignored. That is why it is absolutely vital that clarity be achieved about a religion’s theological centre and its bounds.

              I could not disagree with you more about this matter. We are at completely opposite poles on this one, and, just to add to this, I have seen these forces at work right up close, and it is not a pretty sight. Never trust religions of the book, because when push comes to shove, and it will, the book will win every time.

            10. I could not disagree with you more about this matter. We are at completely opposite poles on this one

              I think we can at least agree on that 🙂 Thanks for engaging with me on this issue.

      2. Bali is not Muslim, apart from some Muslim communities in the north-west of the island chiefly, but largely Hindu. Indonesia as a whole is largely Muslim, however.
        The Hindu Balinese have small liking for Islam, in my experience; more particularly since the bombing incident of some years ago.
        Nevertheless, Indonesian Islam is in the main far more tolerant and moderate than it is in many Near Eastern, Middle Eastern and North African countries, perhaps because of the nature of Indonesian society and an underlying polytheistic frame of mind deriving from the former Hindu beliefs of the islands.

          1. But this is a political issue, really, isn’t it? It’s not about ‘Islam’ in some abstract sense; it’s about the growth of Islamist political movements – which has a social cause.

            1. There seems to be an idea about that Islam and politics are separable, and yet, from the very institution of the religion, the religion of Islam and the politics of jihad and the administration of conquered territories was a religious issue. Is it clear that this separation can be made within the self-understanding of Islam?

          2. Ophelia:

            You don’t seem to be buying the moderate Islam idea, but let me try an argument on you:

            Would you buy that religion can speciate? In other words, when you isolate Muslims on the North American continent, and they raise children as American citizens who vote (mostly Democratic, by the way), pay taxes, serve in the military, and contribute to the economy nonviolently, isn’t that a moderate strain of Islamic practice evolving in our very midst that is completely in keeping with Enlightenment individualism? And isn’t this the kind of Islam that about 10 million Muslim Americans practice every day?

            It’s true that, in a survey, a majority of them might profess, say, kooky things about evolution (as Evangelicals also do), but in practice isn’t it obvious that we’re dealing with moderate people who have figured out how to function, and even prosper, in the country that they were born in, and no doubt love?

            I think we should treat Muslim Americans as individuals and not as cartoonish bearers of collective guilt for 9-11. I presume you agree. And that means making room for life’s complexity, and how individuals square circles and figure out how to carry on, and what to tell their children.



            1. This is to Eric:

              You’re right at a certain level – Islam is about government in a way that (modern) Christianity doesn’t have to be.

              But you for sure can, in the real world, separate out specific political movements which are aiming for a state run according to their interpretation of Islamic principles, etc (more than one movement). There are, that is, Islamist movements. They see themselves as distinct from ‘normal’ (or whatever) Islam, and are seen by millions of Muslims as distinct.

              Surely it’s unhelpful to collapse these distinct, and historically and socially contingent (and relatively novel) movements into ‘Islam’ as a general category.

      3. The population of Bali, Indonesia is over 90% Hindu. How exactly does it serve as an example of moderate Islam?

  36. I agree with Hitch on this one. If we are to ban the mosque we must also ban all christian churches, Jewish synagogues, and Indian temples. This is a matter of the law. Where were all those moderate christian churches when the muslims of Bosnia and Sarajevo were murdered? Where were all those moderate christians when Timothy McVeigh murdered all those people in Oklahoma? All religions provide a non-thinking environment in which kooks may flourish, so I oppose all religions. At the moment though our laws say people are free to practice whatever religions they please (as long as the religious practices are within the law). As I see it that law must stand; the challenge is to convince everyone that religion is bullshit so that the law becomes one of those idle curiosities that future generations look at and say “why would anyone ever have such a stupid law”?

    1. Oh, as for muslim states not condemning the 9/11 terrorist attacks, you watch too much Fox news. Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and others condemned the terrorist acts. A few (I can’t remember which figures now) said something along the lines of “that’s horrible, but those ‘murcans have got to think about what they might have done to provoke this”. But of course Fox news (and CNN too) showed nothing but Hamas lackeys dancing in the streets and they combed the Middle East and Africa for people cheering on Osama.

    1. I had the same thought. American cultural influence in Japan is hardly difficult to find, and that includes in Hiroshima.

      1. But of course it’s even better than that. The US has a sizable military presence in Japan, including a Naval base in Nagasaki prefecture and several Army depots in Hiroshima prefecture.

        That aside, the analogy fails at a more basic level. The Muslims looking to build the cultural center in Manhattan aren’t conquerors or victorious soldiers. They are not of Al-Qaeda. They are Americans, who have lived here, not some insidious foreign presence.

  37. Plenty of non-religious people around the world were also, how can I put it, smug perhaps, after the September 11th attack. That was anti-Americanism rather than any religious sentiment. I know many very lovely & charming people who are muslim (deluded by religion), or at least appear to be in that they wear headscarfs. I do not doubt that they are for the most part religious largely by the assimilation of cultural propaganda rather than conviction. “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks”.

  38. “Which Declaration did you read; “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

    I have most of the several versions of the Declaration and the Constitution. The “God” and the “Creator” of this document (besides being added late over the protests of such men as John Adams and Jefferson) was not the God or the Creator of any of the revealed religions. This god or creator was the god or creator of the Deists, and played no active role in the affairs of this earth. He/it had created the whole shebang, set it turning, and then left it alone. There is not a fundamentalist of any of the religions under discussion who would accept the Deist god for a minute. (Why do you think Texas threw Thomas Jefferson out of their history books?
    (To deliberately use a word, such as “god” or “creator” to mean two entirely different things, by the way, is a logical fallacy called “equivocation” and is one of the most popular fallacies some folks use to “prove” creationism or that the nation was founded on their own brand of Christianity.)

  39. SLC: “To refer to John Adams as “intensely Christian” is a serious overstatement. . . .A more accurate description would describe him, like Jefferson, as a non-Christian theist.”

    I agree with you in general, but he attended church nearly every Sunday his whole life (regularly attended church throughout his stay in Holland and France). He taught Sunday School classes and did other things any decent Christian would do. He was often consulted by members of the early convention on matters of religion. If he finally became a Deist it was only after a lifetime of struggle with the religion of his childhood. That he managed to do so is strongly to his credit. Near the end of his life he was apparently asked what he had learned about religion, ethics, man’s place in the universe, etc. He answered simply, “Be good. Be just.” I believe that it was largely because of his own struggle with fundamentalist religion that may have made him so adamant a defender of the ideal of the secular state.

  40. Multicollinearity said:
    Again, the “desire” may have been the same: only in Islam is it COMPULSORY. Please understand the difference.”

    Torturing and burning heretics, rolling Heugonaughts down the mountainside, launching incredibly violent crusades, etc. are not matters of desire, but matters of terrorism and compulsion. Try to understand the similarities.

  41. artkcat: quoted and replied… the fight to keep god out of the declaration wasn’t entirely successful, but god is out of the constitution.”

    “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven”

    Unless you want to make the western calendar into a religious document and consider consulting a calendar a religious act, you have to accept “the year of our lord” as not being anything more than an exact translation of anno domini (AD.) A formal document, such as a constitution or any other major legal document, requires a full translation of such abbreviations. Would you have responded with this quote of the authors had said 1787 AD?

  42. I completely agree: while the construction of most any religious building is likely the biggest waste of real estate, we have something known as the freedom of religion.. If people own the land and want to build a mosque so be it…

  43. “And where was moderate Islam nine years ago? I saw lots of worldwide celebration after September 11, but few condemnations of the perpetrators, and none from Islamic countries. (Yes, I know there must have been a few of them, but they weren’t exactly prominent.)”

    The condemnations were prominent and many compared to the support. Yet we keep hearing people say this sort of thing. The media, whose coverage did not always reflect the full reality (and still doesn’t), surely played a role. But I think we hear it more because people tend to forget or ignore facts that don’t fit their narrative, in this case about Islam.

    As for the discussion here about a moderate form of Islam, I’m surprised to see nobody has mentioned Turkey.

  44. You and Sam Harris manage to think the smae way: the West invades and destroy two Islamic countries yet somehow they are the violent barbarians which we must very seriously analyze and condem.

  45. Islam is, what, 700 years younger than Christianity? What was Christianity like 700 years ago? Violent, politicized, oppressive, illiberal…

    Maybe Islam is not nearly as special as Sam Harris thinks it is after all.

    By the way, I can’t think of a better way to delegitimize the grief of Muslim victims of 9/11 (including first responders who no doubt died rescuing humanists, Christians, and Jews)than insisting that they’re also the perpetrators. These American Muslims — the ones that are actually being persecuted and demonized with this “ground zero” nonsense, are the ones who didn’t want to wait 700 years for Islam to become “liberal.”

    To make it a little easier to read: the victims of the campaign against this mosque are not the Taliban or Al Qaeda. The victims in this case are the Muslims living in NYC, the ones who suffered every bit as much as Jews, Christians, Hindus, and others on 9/11 and suffered a whole lot more afterward. If there is any group of Muslims in the world that would push for a more enlightened Islam, it is these very people Harris is so “ambivalent” about.

  46. About noon on August 15, when I was in an interesting discussion of John Adams and god in the constitution, my comments ceased to appear. I had posted about four of five before I realized that I was no longer talking to anybody.

    Would someone explain to me if I was blocked, and if so why? Or if I was not blocked there may be some problem with the WordPress software or my own address stuff.
    Thank you.

      1. Thanks for the reply. I found the problem and apologized. I had posted early in the morning here (Mountain Savings Time), worked all day, and started down through all the postings in order and when I was exhausted I gave up and thought my stuff hadn’t been posted (date and time of posting aren’t a good guide to order of events). After not sleeping for an hour or so I started in again from the bottom and soon found all of the missing postings. That’s when I thought I ought to apologize.

        I docent at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science and have convinced several of my peers (and even some hosts) to buy Why Evolution Is True. I have given two away as gifts. So go buy a hamburger or a beer or something on my dime!

  47. Why don’t we be fair to all religions and admit that religion itself creates strife and separates people. Let’s agree to ban not just mosques but any other religious institutions in Manhattan. That seems most sane. As a child of Holocaust survivors, I definitely think we should ban any more Catholic churches in this country.

  48. I got here via Sullivan. I’m not impressed. I am not religious – am, in fact, hostile to it. But anyone who believes that problems with Islam are so obviously greater than those with Christianity doesn’t know what they’re talking about. What good is being militantly anti-religious if your understanding of religion is so shallow?

    Hitchens is right, and Harris/Coyne are stupidly wrong.

  49. I’m just floored, at this knee jerk anti-Muslim bigotry.
    Islamic societies have had strong secular parties since the mid-19th century. The Ottoman Empires Hatti Hamayun gave Jews and Christians and all religions an equal place before the law in 1856, 90 years before Christian Europe murdered 2/3s of its Jewish population.
    To this day bishops have seats in the British parliament and half the states of Western Europe have official churches and often the head of state is the head of the faith (in the UK, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark).
    The history of modern political awakening in the Muslim world is much more complex than you give credence to, and I pity your ignorance.

  50. In response to jerry on August 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm:

    “The question should be whether this is going to be a Shia or Sunni Mosque/cultural center? If it doesn’t matter can we blame Jonestown on the Sister Sarah and the Evangelicals?”


    From what I have read, and to the limits of my understanding, Sufi is very similar to 8th or 9th Century Ch’an or Zen. Mystical attempt to become one with the divine presence through a combination of monastic asceticism, meditation, and extensive training from a direct intellectual/spiritual descendant of the traditional founder.

    This attempt to “purify the soul” would normally preclude involvement in “worldly” issues therefore make them less likely to try to blow us up. It seems likely to me that Sufis would be likely to honestly be thinking of their new sanctuary as a Memorial to both sides.

  51. Isn’t it tacky to have a Burlington Coat Factory “built on the ashes of Ground Zero”? Obviously the whole of downtown New York should become sacred to the memory of the 3,000 and everything not echoing the disaster should be demolished.

  52. “40% of British Muslims want sharia law introduced into the UK”

    I really wish people would stop touting the f-ing 40% of British Muslims statistic.

    While many would wish to note that this figure comes from quite a conservative thinktank, I think a far more sensible response is to note that Munira Mirza who worked on the report (and of whom I am a big fan) considers the fuss over this statistic to be misleading.

    Please note that the kind of sharia law that the Muslims wanted in that figure is the kind they now actually HAVE in the UK. What has since been set up is a system by which civil sharia court rulings can form a binding agreement but are checked against British law. Personally I much prefer this system than that within unofficial sharia courts which rely on religious dogma and peer pressure without checks being made against the statuatory rights of UK citizens.

    Jewish members of the UK also have religious rulings (once again only in civil law, not criminal law) as dictated by the Beth Din. Strangely this didn’t cause anything like the same level of fuss.

  53. Its not that we don’t want them building a mosque but it is WHERE they want to build it. There are many places where they could build their mosque but they chose a site where 3500 Americans were killed by Terrorists with Muslim descent. It is just too much pain for Americans to bear right now.

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