Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong: Mosque Edition

I just want to make one point regarding the controversy surrounding plans to build a mosque in lower Manhattan, two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. Opponents have attempted to portray the Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, as a radical using a quote from a 60 Minutes interview in September, 2001 in which he said:

I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened. But the United States' policies were an accessory to what happened. [...] We have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.

Now, maybe he could have phrased his point more sensitively, but to deny any connection between US foreign policy and the attacks on September 11; to go along with the idea that, "They hate us for our freedoms"--which President Bush trotted out in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when a lot of stunned Americans were asking why, and which served as comforting self-deception--is to fundamentally misread the meaning of the attacks.

The attacks weren't aimed at centres of religious freedom and tolerance; they were aimed specifically at the economic and military institutions of the United States. The key word in World Trade Center is 'trade'. The twin towers were located in the heart of the country's financial district. For the attack to be an assault on freedom would mean first equating liberty with economic and military influence abroad.

The fact that the United States is the most powerful nation on earth means they have the power to impose their will on other countries, not always for the better. In the Middle East, the US financed and armed the Mujahideen when they were fighting the Soviets, and supported Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war--all towards the goal of protecting American business interests in the region.

In short, the controversy over Rauf's statement is simply another case of what happens when keeping it real goes wrong. According to the editors of the National Review, "While [Rauf] cannot quite bring himself to blame the terrorists for being terrorists, he finds it easy to blame the United States for being a victim of terrorism." So let's be clear: I don't think mass murder is ever justified, but the terrorists who crashed those planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon obviously thought differently. That's how they were able to do it, because they thought that American aggression in the Middle East justified killing a lot of innocent people. However, it's more comforting to believe that US foreign policy had nothing to do with it, and the terrorists hate America because it's too free and tolerant. Yeah, right. Have you seen the fuss they're making about this Mosque?

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