Items of interest in the news media's coverage of "moderate Muslims" by Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal
• The New York Times, Oct. 19, 2001: "Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki, spiritual leader at the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Virginia, one of the nation's largest. . . . is held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West."
• NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, Dec. 9, 2004: "It's the TV industry's newest experiment, 'Bridges TV,' billing itself the 'American-Muslim lifestyle network,' featuring movies, documentaries, cartoons. . . . It's the brainchild of Aasiya Hassan, an architect, and her husband, Muzzamil Hassan, a banker, who are disturbed that negative images of Muslims seem to dominate TV, especially since 9/11."
• Boston Globe editorial, Aug. 4, 2010: "The simple fact is there's nothing threatening about the proposed Islamic center, which is being spearheaded by Feisal Abdul Rauf, one of the most respected moderate Muslim leaders in the country."
See where this is going?
Most readers probably know of Awlaki as the U.S.-born imam who presided over the mosque attended by two of the 9/11 hijackers. Awlaki also served as theological mentor to Fort Hood killer Nidal Malik Hasan, would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. President Obama has authorized the military to assassinate Awlaki, now thought to be living in Yemen.
As for Bridges TV, the saccharine story told by Brian Williams and reporter Ron Allen (complete with scenes of the family's domestic bliss in their modest home in Buffalo, N.Y.), came to an abrupt end in February 2009, when Mr. Hasan beheaded his wife after she had filed for divorce, evicted him from their home, and won an order of protection. Last week, Mr. Hasan's attorney defended her client on the grounds that he was, of all things, a "battered spouse."
Now we have the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque, opponents of which are being widely branded as bigots. As, no doubt, some of them are: There are bigots in any crowd.
Then again, is it bigoted to oppose bigots? Consider an interesting historical antecedent. In 1993, a controversy similar to the current one unfolded when residents of a Washington, D.C., suburb sought to use zoning laws to shut down the local mosque, ostensibly on grounds that it was a traffic nuisance. "Worshipers of many faiths said closing the popular mosque . . . would amount to discrimination against one of the area's fastest growing religions," the Washington Times reported at the time.
The mosque in question? None other than the Dar al-Hijra, later to be known as the "9/11 mosque." So were the petitioners who sought to shut it down bigots? Or is it that they got a whiff of its extremism, and didn't like the smell? "We are appalled at the ill will and friction," the paper quoted one Sylvia Johnson, "who said mosque-goers have yelled at her and blocked her driveway."
Here, of course, the argument will be made that, unlike Awlaki, Mr. Rauf really is a moderate. And that might well be so—by the standards of his native Kuwait. But a man who claims to condemn all forms of terrorism yet refuses to call Hamas a terrorist group is not a moderate by American standards, which happen to be the relevant ones when you're trying to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. Mr. Rauf still has a perfect legal right to go ahead with his scheme. But his supporters need to choose between defending him on grounds of his alleged moderation (in which case his views are relevant), or on the principle of religious liberty (in which case they're not). They can't have it both ways.
Which brings me to the fundamental problem with too many self-described moderate Muslims. A few years ago, my friend Irshad Manji made the point to me that "moderate Muslims denounce terror that's committed in the name of Islam but they deny that religion has anything to do with it." By contrast, she noted, "reform-minded Muslims denounce terror that's committed in the name of Islam and acknowledge that our religion is used to inspire it."
That's a distinction worth pondering. It's also a considerable comfort to know that there are Muslims in the U.S. like Irshad who are working, tirelessly but mainly out of view, toward the cause of reform. They could use more support and recognition. As for the professional charlatans and secret radicals who claim to be moderate, it would be well if their cheerleaders in the media could inspect their credentials a little more carefully before lavishing them with praise. Because, when it comes to heralding the arrival of the long-awaited moderates, there's nothing more embarrassing than a case of premature congratulation.
Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal