The Complexity of Islamic Identity

Pamela Geller, the extremist blogger at “Atlas Shrugs” responsible for the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy, provides this “exclusive audio” of a question and answer session involving Imam Rauf. Most of the snippets she provides are too short to provide certainty that the characterizations she offers are anything but “quote mines.” Almost all of the leads could be followed by a conjunction, and an explicit disclaimer of her characterizations, and the convenience of the edits suggest that they’re just that. Let’s focus on the first bit, though:

The National Review characterizes this, Imam Rauf’s suggestion that “the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims,” as suggesting that the U.S. is “worse than Al Qaeda.” Given what little context we have, and Rauf’s history as a spokesperson for the United States, that cannot be the point he’s making. Rather, he’s speaking against the notion that the United States is a passive player in the War on Terror, and one entitled to the moral high ground not as a result of its actions, but because of some implicit entitlement to existence.

If that’s the subject of his remarks — and I think it is — then he’s clearly right. The minute a great nation becomes complacent in its morality, or its hegemonic position, it loses both. This narrative has played out throughout human history, time and again, and we flirt with its repetition at our peril. Especially because the War on Terror implies a conflict of ideas — if we convince the East that America deserves to survive, we win, separate of any military conflict — we need to be conscious of our moral integrity in waging and defending that War. When we authorize disproportionate force, and level a hospital to eliminate one target, or when we torture without necessity (is it ever necessary?), we forfeit a portion of our entitlement to survive.

American Muslims — with a vested interest in both the integrity of the United States, and the survival of Islamic culture — must feel this tension very keenly, and take the balance it requires more seriously than the rest of us. Because Imam Rauf comes from this background, he’s abnormally qualified to speak to it, but more likely to be distrusted by the Islamophobic element in our society. That’s too bad, because this is a lesson we deserve to hear, time and again.

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One comment

  1. One of the big problems with national exceptionalism (aka, American exceptionalism) is we cannot confess to doing anything bad, immoral, or wrong for fear of damaging our own view of our “national superiority”. I’m beginning to believe that dealing with the American public is less a matter of politics and more a matter of psychological theory and therapy.

    Iman Rauf is absolutely correct – the US is an active player (not a passive victim) that uses disproportionate force against the civilians rather than the actual combatants. Simply put, we’re the bully, and bullies don’t have a implicit right to bully other countries.

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