Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Muslims Know the Symbolism of the Ground Zero Mosque

by James Zumwalt

Symbolism is at play in the debate over a grand mosque being built near the site of Islamic extremism’s greatest terrorist victory against a democracy.

While many embrace its construction as symbolic of a democratic society’s tolerance, there is danger in not understanding the symbolically sinister side of its construction as well.

As much as we hear about Islamic extremists only representing a small percentage of the Muslim community, it is difficult to forget the images of euphoria in many Muslim countries as news of the 9/11 attacks spread. Thousands of Muslims were seen rejoicing over the violent deaths of more than 3,000 innocent victims. While Islamic extremists had dealt the devastating blow, more than just Islam’s extremists joined in the euphoria over the pain and suffering it inflicted upon non-believers.

At some point after 9/11, cropped photographs of the New York City landscape near the World Trade Center began circulating on the Internet in Muslim circles. Cropped into the photographs were the minarets and domes of numerous mosques dotting the area surrounding the 9/11 site.

Many Muslim believers understood the symbolism—the assault against a key bastion of the non-believer’s world had started; the push to place that bastion under Islam’s world caliphate umbrella by establishing a foothold on territory that 9/11 had made hallowed was now in progress.

If we choose not to blame Islam for the violent acts of Islamists—instead accusing extremists of having hijacked this religion of peace—we should at least listen to the insights Islam’s moderates share with us about their religion.

Modern day Turkey is among the most moderate of Muslim states. As such, it was welcomed into the NATO alliance as sharing some of the values of its Western members. But comments by Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his beliefs about Islam and the symbolism its mosques represent, should give us pause for concern. “The mosques,” Erdogan has said, “are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the believers our army.” Nothing in “moderate” Muslim Erdogan’s description of Islam suggests it is a religion of peace.

Furthermore, Erdogan takes offense at even using the term “moderate” to describe Islam. Such a description, the prime minister has asserted, is “very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” By Erdogan’s definition, Islamists and moderates are of the same ilk. If so, a dangerous mindset now permeates NATO’s den.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, assisted by his wife Daisy Khan, heads the American Society of Muslim Advancement (ASMA). ASMA leads the effort to build a $100 million, 13-story mosque, less than 200 feet from the World Trade Center. Both Rauf and Khan describe themselves as moderate Muslims. While such a label suggests a tolerance for Western culture and beliefs, their actions/inactions reveal something far different.

An organization known as Former Muslims United (FMU) has launched a campaign to appeal to Muslim leaders to repudiate sharia law’s more extremist views—i.e., such as executing former Muslims who leave Islam for another religion. FMU asked Rauf and Khan to sign a “Muslim pledge for religious freedom and safety from harm for former Muslims.” Ten months later, ASMA has failed to do so.

More recently, during a live radio interview, Rauf refused to condemn violent jihadist groups as terrorists. While refusing to admit Muslims carried out the 9/11 attacks, Rauf has not hesitated to condemn U.S. policies as the root cause.

In 2004, Rauf wrote a book entitled, according to the English translation, “What’s Right with America is What’s Right with Islam.” Such a title suggests a moderate perspective is taken. However, the book’s Arabic translation—“The Call From the WTC Rubble: Islamic Da’wah From the Heart of America Post-9/11”—suggests otherwise. Rauf, denigrating the loss of American life in calling it “rubble,” seeks to use 9/11 as a springboard for selling Islam to America.

Also closely linked to Rauf’s AMSA and topping its list of supporters is a charitable organization known as Carnegie Corp. It is headed by Iranian-born scholar Vartan Gregorian who, in his own book, espouses the Islamist goal of world domination. Thus, both Rauf and Gregorian promote replacement in America of the U.S. Constitution with sharia law. This is quite evident by Rauf’s assertion, “Throughout my discussions with contemporary Muslim theologians, it is clear an Islamic state can be established in more than just a single form or mold. It can be established through a kingdom or a democracy. The important issue is to establish the general fundamentals of sharia that are required to govern.”

Still unclear about the mosque initiative is the source of its $100 million funding. AMSA has yet to fully disclose how an organization whose financial well has been relatively dry is suddenly flush with funding. It is critical that the source of this funding be disclosed and verified it has no link to the same groups to which Rauf refuses to attach a terrorist label—such as the violent Muslim Brotherhood to which Rauf is said to have ties.

As non-Islamic religious houses of worship flounder in Muslim nations prohibiting freedom of religion, mosques flourish in non-Islamic states promoting such freedom. Muslim moderate leaders, such as Erdogan, seek to achieve the goal of their extremist brethren of subjugating the West to sharia law—the only difference being they have cloaked their ultimate objective under a “moderate” label.

Muslims understand symbols. The name initially selected for this mosque building effort is “Cordoba House.” Cordoba is a Spanish city where a victorious Muslim army destroyed a church, building a mosque in its place.

In 2001, President Bush initially referred to the war on terrorism as a crusade—later apologizing for the negative connotation it had for Muslims and never using it again. Yet in naming this mosque building effort after Cordoba and claiming it is a cultural center to promote religious tolerance, its initiators purposefully continue to reference a name having a very negative connotation for non-Muslims.

The construction of this mosque, so close to the World Trade Center site, will symbolize yet another victory for Islam over Western values.

James Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam and Gulf wars who writes often on national security and defense issues, is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will: Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" (found at: