This is no more evident than in a recent episode of "The Atheist Experience", a live call-in and discussion show broadcast from Texas. The show features Matt Dillahunty, former Baptist Minister-in-training-turned-hardened-atheist, along with other panelists and commentators, who discuss various religious issues from an atheistic point of view and take calls from viewers, often leading to heated debates with theists.
In the November 21st episode, Lee from Virginia takes the team to task for being soft on Islam. While I won't comment on the presenters' presentation of Islam in general, what does come up during the discussion is the issue of the Ground Zero mosque project that caused so much controversy over the summer. And as much as I enjoy their logical and philosophical discussions with theists, Matt and his co-presenter Martin Wagner's "analysis" of this issue is both arrogant and ignorant.
They spend much of their time emphasising the legal and Constitutional right of the mosque developers to go ahead with construction. While I am not convinced that the Constitutional right to religious freedom has ever been understood as granting any group the absolute right to construct any building anywhere, this entire argument misses the point anyway. No one has ever disputed the fact that it is perfectly legal for Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf to build his mosque. The issue has always been about whether it is appropriate to build a triumphant monument to the ideology that motivated the worst terrorist attack in American history on the site of that same attack. No one would have permitted a Shinto shrine to be built on the site of Pearl Harbour, no matter what "building bridges" claptrap its proponents spouted, so why is the mosque different?
Dillahunty and Wagner think they have an answer: the people who are building this mosque are "not the same people" as the terrorists who carried out 9/11. They are "moderates" and therefore it is wrong to tar them with the same brush. They claim that there is "no evidence", except on "conspiracy sites", that the mosque developers are in any way connected to the 9/11 hijackers.
That may be strictly true, but in their ignorance they ignore mountains of evidence that the main man behind the project, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, is indeed a jihadist - albeit not quite of the same stripes as those hijackers, but not far off.
When asked if he condemned Hamas as a terrorist organisation (which it clearly is), Rauf ducked and dodged and, ultimately, refused. Even more tellingly, in his book Islam: A Sacred Law, Rauf gives a positive account of the nineteenth-century Muslim leader Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. For Rauf, Abd al-Wahhab is a reformer, a rationalist, and a “rejuvenator of the Hanbali school” who simply wanted to “return to the religious spirit of the forefathers who, for the basic principles of their religion, referred to the Qur’an and the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet, and who fought against the blind imitation that ‘had killed among the Islamic people serious thought and the spirit of independence and had extinguished the flame of activity.’ He was a bitter antagonist of those who held to the excuse ‘we found our fathers so doing’ without subjecting such a heritage to the dictates of reason. Commentaries, texts, opinions and whims containing any of these elements were repudiated.”
And who was Abd al-Wahhab? Why, he was the founder of the Wahhabi sect, the most viruently puritanical and intolerant form of Islam, which the 9/11 hijackers followed. So Rauf has lionised the prominent figurehead and ideology behind the same form of Islam that perpetrated the 9/11 atrocities.
And that's not all. Far from it.
Rauf is also a bald-faced liar. Despite telling the Western media that he is interested in religious dialogue, on March 24th he was quoted in an article in Arabic for the website Rights4All as saying: "I do not believe in religious dialogue.”
Rauf is also an open proponent of sharia law, including within the United States, claiming that "the American political structure is sharia compliant". This is most notable in Islam: A Sacred Law:
God’s role in the explicit philosophical construct of the law makes a big difference between the modus operandi of a righteous Muslim judge in a Muslim court and a righteous Western judge in a Western court. The judge who sits in judgment in an Islamic court sits in lieu of God as His worldly representative [khalifa] and is held responsible by God to His values. The Muslim judge explicitly ‘reports to God.’ The judge who sits in a Western court is only explicitly responsible to the Constitution, the interpretations of a civil law and its rules...
And since a Shariah is understood as a law with God at its center, it is not possible in principle to limit the Shariah to some aspects of human life and leave out others...
The Shariah thus covers every field of law—public and private, national and international—together with enormous amounts of material that Westerners would not regard as law at all, because the basis of the Shari’ah is the worship of, and obedience to, God through good works and moral behavior. Following the Sacred Law thus defines the Muslim’s belief in God...
Here Rauf is clearly calling for an implementation of a religious theocracy that would eradicate the Constitutional requirement of a separation between church and state. He has emphasised this call many times in his writings and during interviews.
The form that this sharia governance, as envisioned by Rauf, would probably take could be deduced from the following fact: In 2009, the group "Former Muslims United" issued the "Freedom Pledge", a document demanding absolute religious freedom for those who choose to leave Islam. The pledge included the delcaration: "I renounce, repudiate and oppose any physical intimidation, or worldly and corporal punishment, of apostates from Islam, in whatever way that punishment may be determined or carried out by myself or any other Muslim including the family of the apostate, community, Mosque leaders, Shariah court or judge, and Muslim government or regime." The intention was to drum up explicit rejection among mainstream American Muslim leaders of the classical sharia teaching that apostates from Islam must be executed.
The pledge was sent to hundreds of Muslim leaders throughout America, with a space for a signature and a return address. Included among the recipients were Faisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan. And as indicated by this page on "Former Muslims United"'s website, neither Rauf nor Khan ever signed the declaration (and neither, for that matter, did any other American Muslim leader, with the exception of one).
Rauf's ultimate worldview conforms with that of the Muslim Brotherhood, the original Islamic terrorist organisation founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna. One edition of Rauf's book What’s Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West, published by HarperCollins, contains a note on its copyright page informing us that "this edition was made possible through a joint effort of The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and the office of Interfaith and Community Alliance of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Funding for this project was provided by IIIT.”
Both the IIIT and ISNA are named in Muslim Brotherhood internal documents declassified by the US State Department as "friends and allies" of the Brotherhood. More of Rauf's connections to the Brotherhood are explored here.
In its 1991 "Explanatory Memorandum On The General Strategic Goal For The Group In North America", linked above, the Brotherhood describes its plans in the US as "a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions."
One of its many well-developed methods for doing this is the creation of "Islamic centres" across the United States. The document states:
This is in order for the Islamic center to turn - in action not in words - into a seed "for a small Islamic society" which is a reflection and a mirror to our central organizations. The center ought to turn into a "beehive" which produces sweet honey. Thus, the Islamic center would turn into a place for study, family, battalion, course, seminar, visit, sport, school, social club, women gathering, kindergarten for male and female youngsters, the office of the domestic political
resolution, and the center for distributing our newspapers, magazines, books and our audio and visual tapes.
This sounds strikingly similar to the building Rauf has planned for Manhattan. And the document goes on:
In brief we say: we would like for the Islamic center to become "The House of Dawa"' and "the general center" in deeds first before name. As much as we own and direct these centers at the continent level, we can say we are marching successfully towards the settlement of Dawa' in this country.
Meaning that the "center's" role should be the same as the "mosque's" role during the time of God's prophet, God's prayers and peace be upon him, when he marched to "settle" the Dawa' in its first generation in Madina. from the mosque, he drew the Islamic life and provided to the world the most magnificent and fabulous civilization humanity knew.
This mandates that, eventually, the region, the branch and the Usra turn into "operations rooms" for planning, direction, monitoring and leadership for the Islamic center in order to be a role model to be followed.
Da'wa is Islamic proselytising. In other words, the purpose of the "Islamic centre" is to spread Islam throughout the United States and help to ensure that Islam is "made victorious over all other religions." It is also worth noting that earlier in the document, the Islamic centres are described as "battalions".
Is this, then, Rauf's intention behind building his own "Islamic centre" on the site of America's worst ever terrorist attack? Perhaps he has different plans for his own project, but it is certainly interesting to note that his book What's Right With Islam was originally published in Malaysia as A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America post-9/11.
The bottom line is that there are perfectly good reasons (and this post hasn't even covered them all) why people can quite legitimately be concerned and oppositional towards the construction of this mosque, without being bigoted or driven by ignorance.
Despite their protestations to the contrary, the two intelligent and articulate presenters of "The Atheist Experience" are manifesting profound and dangerous acceptance of the propaganda peddled by snake-oil salesmen like Faisal Abdul Rauf. In that sense, whatever their overall attitude towards Islam, they have unfortunately discredited their otherwise well-deserved reputation as rational thinkers and debaters. If they wish to retain their integrity, they ought to be ashamed and they ought to apologise.