The right-wing media is attacking Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf for saying that opposition to the Park51 project creates “danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security,” by claiming, among other things, that Rauf's comments amounted to “threaten[ing] America.” But Rauf's comments echo those of national security experts, such as Gen. David Petraeus, who have warned of the security implications of anti-Muslim protests.
Rauf warned of possible backlash to perception “that Islam is under attack”
Rauf warned of “the danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security.” On the September 8 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, Rauf warned of the dangers of perceived anti-Islam sentiment in the United States, especially pertaining to opposition to his Park51 project. From Larry King Live:
RAUF: Yes, indeed. Because the United States, we are the only global superpower today. What happens here has enormous impact over the rest of the world. People all over the Muslim world admire America, love America, take America as an example in many, many respects. And the status of Muslims in America and how American Muslims speak to these issues and how America engages with its Muslim community has global ramifications.
RAUF: I am extremely concerned about sensitivity. But I also have a responsibility. If we move from that location, the story will be that the radicals have taken over the discourse. The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack. And I'm less concerned about the radicals in America than I'm concerned about the radicals in the Muslim world.
O'BRIEN: But isn't that also saying you're less concerned about the voices of opposition here?
RAUF: And if we do -- no, no, no, no. I'm sorry, I don't mean it that way. I meant it, the danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security, to the national security of our troops.
I have a niece who works in the Army and served in Iraq. The concern for American citizens who live and work and travel overseas will increasingly be compromised if the radicals are strengthened. And if we do move, it will strengthen the argument of the radicals to recruit, their ability to recruit, and their increasing aggression and violence against our country.
O'BRIEN: Then why is it hard to back up and say, and now that we've done it, let's undo it, let's just say we won't. Let's pick another spot that's been offered?
RAUF: As I just mentioned, our national security now hinges on how we negotiate this, how we speak about it, and what we do. It is important for us now to raise the bar on our conversation--
O'BRIEN: What's the risk? When you say “national security,” what's the risk?
RAUF: As I mentioned, because if we move, that means the radicals have shaped the discourse. The radicals will shape the discourse on both sides. And those of us who are moderates on both sides -- you see Soledad, the battle front is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. The real battle front is between moderates on all sides of all the faith traditions and the radicals on all sides. The radicals actually feed off each other. And in some kind of existential way, need each other. And the more that the radicals are able to control the discourse on one side, it strengthens the radicals on the other side and vice versa. We have to turn this around.
Right-wing media distort Rauf's comments to claim his words are a “veiled threat”
Carlson: Rauf “says move forward with the mosque near ground zero or we could face certain violence here?” On the September 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson teased an upcoming segment on Rauf's Larry King appearance by saying “the imam behind the Park 51 finally speaking out. ... He says move forward with the mosque near ground zero, or we could face certain violence here?”
Ingraham: “It's a veiled threat. Sounded like that to me.” Later on Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham said “the way he said” that there could be negative implications to moving the mosque, “I found it to be chilling.” Carlson asked Ingraham, “Is that a threat, Laura? Is that a threat?” Ingraham responded, “It's a veiled threat. Sounded like that to me. I mean, he's obviously seeing what he's seeing in the Middle East, which I think that should be the conversation,” and said Rauf's “attitude last night, I think, it frankly stoked more tensions, and he's the opposite of a bridge builder on this particular issue.”
Malkin: “I don't think it's any mistake that he used the word explode.” Later on Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade played a clip from Rauf's interview and said, “It's unbelievable that he would come to that conclusion. That to me is clearly a threat.” Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin responded:
MALKIN: No doubt about it. But it's not unbelievable. It's completely expected, and I don't think it's any mistake that he used the word explode. In so many of these cases over the years, predating and postdating September 11, we've seen the practice of many of these members of the religion of perpetual outrage. And they'll use any excuse to explode, whether it's the drawing of some cartoons of Mohammed or in the Middle East, everything from holding beauty pageants to building KFCs in their neighborhoods. It's always an excuse to explode. And this is the point -- this is the point of the opponents of the ground zero mosque. It's not just about the mosque. It's about this threat that hangs over Western civilization like a Damoclean sword at all times for all reasons.
Co-host Gretchen Carlson responded by asking Malkin: “That's what I was thinking when I was seeing this, and I hate to be cynical about it, but could it be -- could it be, if you were really cynical, that they're testing the waters, that they deliberately want to put a mosque that close to Ground Zero and then when they know there is some sort of outrage, then they claim what he claimed last night, that watch out, if you don't put it here, you're going to be attacked?” Malkin replied: “Well, yeah. I don't think that's cynicism, Gretchen. I think that's an informed conclusion, and it's certainly based on past behavior of Islamic imperialists and provocateurs who know what they're doing. I think -- we're headed towards the ninth anniversary of 9-11, and it's about time people become informed about what their true intentions are.”
Geller: “Ground Zero Supremacist Imam Rauf Threatens America.” In a September 9 Atlas Shrugs post, titled “Ground Zero Supremacist Imam Rauf Threatens America,” Pam Geller wrote "Fresh off his US taxpayer funded [fund raising] tour of the Middle East, Imam Rauf held command over the mainstream media. He rolled out with his unchallenged oped piece in this morning's NY Times (“We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House”), and followed it up with his not so veiled threats against America on Larry King...He said again that if he knew ahead of time the controversy this would create, he wouldn't have made the plans to build the center at the currently planned site. Liar. He loves it. Rauf's contempt for us oozes from his every enlarged pore."
Gateway Pundit: “Ground Zero Victory Mosque Imam Issues Threat: If You Don't Build It 'They Will Attack.'” In a September 9 Gateway Pundit post, titled “Ground Zero Victory Mosque Imam Issues Threat: If You Don't build It 'They Will Attack,'” Jim Hoft wrote that “Ground Zero Victory Mosque Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf issued a threat to America in his interview with CNN this week. The radical imam warned that if America did not get down on its knees and allow the victory mosque to be built on the bones of dead Americans that...'They will attack'" (emphasis in original).
Fox Nation: “Imam Threatens U.S., Says If Mosque Moves, Terror Will 'Explode.'” The Fox Nation linked to an ABC News article on Rauf's interview under the headline “Imam Threatens U.S., Says If Mosque Moves, Terror Will 'Explode.'” From the Fox Nation:
Fox hosts 9-11 firefighter to attack Rauf as “a tax-evading, terrorist sympathizing, Armani wearing slumlord” who is “try[ing] to extort America” and “wants to build a Tower of Triumph on the graveyard of my friends.” On the September 9 broadcast of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Bill Hemmer hosted Tim Brown -- a former New York City firefighter who participated in the response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- to respond to Rauf's comments. Brown accused Rauf of “try[ing] to extort America” in his remarks. Brown went on to reference Rauf's recent State Department-sponsored trip abroad and said, “We just paid to fly him around the world to gin up the Muslim world ... so that he could come back and threaten us.” Rauf was a participant in a State Department program focused on outreach with the Muslim world, a program he began participating in under President Bush. Brown went on to call Rauf “a tax-evading, terrorist sympathizing, Armani wearing, slumlord, who partners with criminals and wants to build a tower of triumph on the graveyard of my friends.”
But experts agree that protests against Park51 are aiding extremists
NPR: “Some experts worry the controversy plays into the hands of extremists.” On the August 24 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition, host Linda Wertheimer noted that “some experts worry the controversy plays into the hands of extremists.” NPR correspondent Dina Temple-Raston noted that “in password-protected forums run by extremists, there's a different view. All this controversy is welcomed. Extremists and radical clerics, including one who has become a kind of bug light of sorts, attracting young American jihadis, have posted a stream of 'I told you so' messages. They've long claimed that Islam is under attack by the West. The violent reaction to the center, they say, now proves it.” NPR played clips of national security experts, including Evan F. Kohlmann of Flashpoint Global Partners who noted that “this unfortunately is playing right into their hands, and as such, they're encouraging it. With glee.” And Brian Fishman, Counterterrorism Research Fellow at the New America Foundation noted that “some of the anti-Islamic tone that has been going on around the country in connection with the mosque debate feeds into this notion that people like Anwar al-Awlaki can take advantage of.”
Haass: World watching “to see whether Muslims in America have rights, have opportunities that Muslims in lots of other countries don't.” During the August 16 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former adviser to Colin Powell, stated that “this has now become an international issue” and part of “the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world”:
HAASS: The anti-American aspect of this -- this has now become an international issue. One of the great ironies is the people doing this mosque, this community center, want to develop an American version of Islam that competes around the world with the Wahhabi -- with the Saudi intolerant version of Islam. So this issue now is being watched around the world to prove or to see whether Muslims in America have rights, have opportunities that Muslims in lots of other countries don't.
So this has actually become an important aspect of our battle for the hearts and minds. It's no longer just a New York issue, it's no longer just a national issue. This has something really to do with the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world and whether there can be an American version of Islam that is more open and tolerant.
NSN policy analyst James Lamond: Attacking Islamic center is “counterproductive to our anti-terrorism efforts.” In a July 30 article, James Lamond, a policy expert for the progressive National Security Network, condemned Newt Gingrich's statements about Islam and against the Islamic cultural center as “counterproductive to our anti-terrorism efforts. First at a strategic level, it plays into al Qaeda's framework that the West is at war with Islam.” Lamond wrote:
But the frame that Gingrich is promoting is not only un-American and counter to our values, it is also counterproductive to our anti-terrorism efforts. First, at a strategic level, it plays into al Qaeda's framework that the West is at war with Islam. As Malcolm Nance, a former military intelligence officer and author of An End to al-Qaeda, recently told the American Prospect's Adam Serwer: “When you frame it as a fight against Islam and Islamic fundamentalism ... you're almost encouraging Osama bin Laden's line of thinking. He loves this idea that this is seen as a clash between Islam and the West; he wants that, he thrives on that.”
At another level, this fear mongering and overreaction serves to diminish America's resilience, an important component of America's counterterrorism strategy. The National Security Strategy says that resilience is, “the ability to adapt to changing conditions and prepare for, withstand, and rapidly recover from disruption.” There are many facets of this approach, from a resilient infrastructure to a resilience economy. However an important part is also a resilient society that does not abandon its core values as soon as they're challenged. Yet a decade after 9/11 Gingrich is ready to give up on America's strength and resiliency. In addition, Stephen Flynn, president of the Center for National Policy, who has been the leader for years on promoting resilience, says that there is also a deterrent value to resilience saying that, “if an adversary believes that Americans are well-prepared to prevent, withstand, and rapidly recover from acts of terrorism, the appeal of engaging in such acts would be diminished.” Basically, by his hysteria, Gingrich is feeding into al Qaeda's goal of promoting a hysterical reaction.
Amr and Singer: “The world constantly watches to see whether we actually live up to our ideals.” In a 2008 paper, Hady Amr, foreign policy fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, and Peter Singer, senior fellow and director of Brookings' 21st Century Defense Initiative, wrote that “a zero-tolerance stand against anti-Muslim statements and bias” is necessary “to be able to inspire the Muslim world to support our vision of 'liberty and justice for all' in the world”:
There are six broad principles that should guide our strategy to improve U.S. security through winning the war of ideas and broadening and deepening relationships between U.S. citizens and institutions and their counterparts abroad. These overarching principles include:
Confronting who we are. Harkening back to the civil rights era and the Cold War, unless we take a zero-tolerance stand against anti-Muslim statements and bias both in government and among our political elite, we risk being cast as undertaking a “war on Islam” instead of a “war on terror.” America must clearly confront its civil liberty concerns at home--and in our military campaigns--if we are to be able to inspire the Muslim world to support our vision of “liberty and justice for all” in the world.
In an age of globalized technology and communication, the world is watching to see if we live up to our ideals of civil liberties and constitutional values, and is waiting to see if we stamp out anti-Muslim bigotry at home. A series of anti-Muslim statements made by various policymakers and close Administration supporters have undercut President Bush's post 9/11 message that Islam was not to blame for the attacks. Even though media in the Middle East give extensive coverage to these sorts of statements, the Administration has usually failed to condemn them or separate itself from the speakers. Bigotry in our midst is not just distasteful; in the age of globalization, it directly undermines our security. We live in an era where the world constantly watches to see whether we actually live up to our ideals. At a time when many in the world expect the worst of us, such positions only support the enemy's propaganda and recruiting efforts. Efforts on this front alone will determine if we have the moral authority to build multi-government coalitions and can inspire other countries to follow suit.
Former Bush administration officials warned of the dangers of Park51's opposition
Gerson: Solidarity with non-radical Muslims is “a matter of national interest.” In an August 16 Washington Post column, former Bush official Michael Gerson wrote that "[p]undits have every right to raise questions about the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero," but added that “inclusive rhetoric toward Islam” is “a matter of national interest.” Gerson questioned how “our cause [is] served by treating the construction of a non-radical mosque in Lower Manhattan as the functional equivalent of defiling a grave”:
An inclusive rhetoric toward Islam is sometimes dismissed as mere political correctness. Having spent some time crafting such rhetoric for a president, I can attest that it is actually a matter of national interest. It is appropriate -- in my view, required -- for a president to draw a clear line between “us” and “them” in the global conflict with Muslim militants. I wish Obama would do it with more vigor. But it matters greatly where that line is drawn. The militants hope, above all else, to provoke conflict between the West and Islam -- to graft their totalitarian political manias onto a broader movement of Muslim solidarity. America hopes to draw a line that isolates the politically violent and those who tolerate political violence -- creating solidarity with Muslim opponents and victims of radicalism.
How precisely is our cause served by treating the construction of a non-radical mosque in Lower Manhattan as the functional equivalent of defiling a grave? It assumes a civilizational conflict instead of defusing it. Symbolism is indeed important in the war against terrorism. But a mosque that rejects radicalism is not a symbol of the enemy's victory; it is a prerequisite for our own.
There are many reasons to criticize Obama's late, vacillating response to the Manhattan mosque, and perhaps even to criticize this particular mosque. But those who want a president to assert that any mosque would defile the neighborhood near Ground Zero are asking him to undermine the war on terrorism. A war on Islam would make a war on terrorism impossible.
Former Bush official Armitage discussing mosque: Terrorists are winning “when we change our own ideals.” On the August 9 edition of The Charlie Rose Show (accessed via Nexis), former Bush deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage responded to the question, “We should put [the mosque] there and be confident about it?” by saying: “My own view is don't let the terrorists win. When we change our own ideals and our own principles, they're winning, we're not.” From The Charlie Rose Show:
ROSE: There is this also. What are the biggest challenges to America today?
ARMITAGE: The first and biggest challenge is to regain our confidence as a nation.
ROSE: Our confidence?
ARMITAGE: Our confidence.
ROSE: In ourselves?
ARMITAGE: Yes. I'm tired of running around being scared of my shadow, having time spent talking about 14th Amendments by pandering politicians who on the one hand say they want to be strict constructionists of the Constitution and on the other hand want to throw out amendments which have been pored over by the courts and I think validated over the years.
So I think getting our confidence back as a nation. I might say this also extends to the controversy over the mosque in the 9/11 site.
CHARLIE ROSE: We should put it there and be confident about it?
ARMITAGE: My own view is don't let the terrorists win. When we change our own ideals and our own principles, they're winning, we're not. So that's the most difficult thing.
Former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon: Anti-Muslim rhetoric surrounding cultural center is “reinforcing Al Qaeda's message we are at war with Muslims.” On the August 16 edition of Morning Joe, GOP strategist and former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon stated that the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the the cultural center is “stunning, and it is so contrary to our country's principles.” He later said that the anti-Muslim rhetoric is “reinforcing Al Qaeda's message we are at war with Muslims.”
Top military, law enforcement and administration officials have made similar comments when discussing other anti-Muslim protests
Odierno: Planned Koran burning on 9-11 “feeds right into what” the extremists “want.” On the September 8 broadcast of NBC News' Today, Gen. Raymond Odierno, former commander of US forces in Iraq, discussed plans by a Christian pastor to host “International Burn a Koran Day” on the anniversary of 9-11. Odierno said: “Most Muslims are very moderate, and what you have is you have extremists. And what this does is this feeds right into what they want. What -- they feed off of hate and fear, and they will use this to generate more hate. And what that will turn into is potentially more violence against U.S. troops.” He added: “I think there'll be some backlash, and I think you've started to see some already. And I worry that it'll turn into violence against our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, other places as well. ... It's extremists who try to gain from this, and they use it to recruit, they use it to create hatred, because everything -- what they've built is built on hatred of what we do here in the U.S.”
Petraeus: Quran-burning would “inflame public opinion and incite violence.” In an email to The Associated Press, Gen. David Petraeus responded to plans to hold a Quran book-burning by noting “Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan -- and around the world -- to inflame public opinion and incite violence.”
Clinton: “The fact is, it will have potentially great harm for our troops.” In a September 8 interview with Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Hass, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that “General Petraeus made the very powerful point that as seemingly, you know, small a group of people doing this, the fact is that it will have potentially great harm for our troops.”