How Not to Read Harry Potter

I’m in the middle of preparing my notes for a talk on the religious themes of Harry Potter. I came across some material that I thought about citing but that’s a bit too goofy to use in the talk. So consider this an outtake.

On her web page, Denise Roper quotes some material from her book, The Lord of the Hallows:

“How in the name of heaven did Harry survive?” asked Professor McGonagall at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (SS 12) This is the first of many examples of how the language of Christianity is used throughout the series. … In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Mr. Weasley asks, “Good lord, is it Harry Potter?” (CS 39) Draco refers to Harry as “Saint Potter, the Mudbloods’ friend.” (CS 223) Dumbledore even leads the Hogwarts students and faculty in “a few of his favorite carols” at Christmastime. (CS 212) In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the manager of Flourish and Blotts says “thank heavens” (PA 53)… and Remus Lupin says “My God.” (PA 363) … In these numerous references and in many others, there is evidence of a belief in the Christian God in the world of Harry Potter. (The Lord of the Hallows pages 69-70) [Various page numbers Roper cites include abbreviations for the relevant Potter book.]

My initial response to that is simply: “Oh my God.”

For good measure, Roper adds:

[T]here are jokes about a wizard being “saint-like” or “holy” (George on page 74 [of Deathly Hallows]). That George Weasley would call himself “holy” (“hole-y”) refers to his missing ear, which was cursed off during a battle with the Death Eaters. St. George was a Christian saint…”

Sorry, but that’s just silly.

To take but one example, Lupin says “My God” when he discovers that Scabbers the rat is actually Peter Pettigrew. Obviously he’s using the phrase as an expression of surprise, akin to “unbelievable.” We live in a culture with deep Christian roots, so it’s not surprising that people often use religious-sounding language in basically non-religious contexts. Tons of people say things like “God damn it,” “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Almighty,” “Lord help us,” and so on, when they don’t actually intend any religious meaning.

If religious humor is enough to indicate religiosity, then I have a few to tell you about the priest who walks into a bar.

Now, it’s true that the mere presence of words like “Christmas” in Rowling’s magical world indicates a shared religious tradition with the Muggles. That’s not surprising; the stories are set in England, and wizards do not formally segregate themselves from the non-magical Muggle world until 1689 (see page 13 of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.) But the incidental use of Christian language indicates nothing more profound than that.

Roper also makes some valid points about the religious themes in Harry Potter, but, to learn about such topics, you’d do much better to read my essay for eSkeptic“Religion in Harry Potter.” Or read my book.


Anonymous commented August 2, 2011 at 7:52 AM
Hi Ari,

When viewed through a strict Christian lens, Harry Potter is nothing more than black magic and witchcraft.

Ari commented August 2, 2011 at 8:02 AM
The comment by anonymous is false, for reasons I explain here:


Anonymous commented August 4, 2011 at 7:44 AM

According to the Holy Bible, if it is not the Holy Spirit, it is Black Magic.

You pick where Harry gets his power.

Anonymous commented August 4, 2011 at 8:02 AM
I followed the link you provided. I read it. You are a good writer however this is no substitute for your lack of Biblical understanding and lack of Biblical Faith. Using David Kopel, a man I know and respect, is no excuse. David’s comparison of Harry Potter and CS Lewis is a mistake by David. CS Lewis purposely used subject matter children could relate with, to spread the message of the Holy Bible. The chosen tactics of CS Lewis are questionable as he did have a past with the occult prior to conversion. To compare CS Lewis to Harry Potter implies J.K. Rowling was also using an understandable subject matter to transport the Christian doctrine. David Kopel and his comparison are irrelevant and misleading. Shame on David.
As an avid reader of the Holy bible, I can say this. God is incredibly possessive. If it does not originate with Him and glorify Him, it is from the dark one. In Gods Eyes, there is no in-between.

Ari commented August 4, 2011 at 9:21 AM
… and I think “anonymous” has successfully self-parodied!

antiplanner commented June 21, 2012 at 9:21 AM
So automobiles, computers, and refrigerators, none of which “originated with Him,” must all be from “the dark one.”

The Pope and Harry Potter

Did Joseph Ratzinger condemn the Harry Potter novels before he became Pope?

In my book Values of Harry Potter, I write on page 10: “Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger warned Catholics to beware the books’ ‘subtle seductions,’ according to Catholic News Service.” My source is a January 15, 2008, story by Cindy Wooden titled, “Writers in Vatican newspaper debate lessons of Harry Potter novels.”

In my article published just yesterday by eSkeptic, “Religion in Harry Potter,” I use a different source to make the same point. I write, “Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger said the books threaten to ‘corrupt the Christian faith’…” For this I use a January 16, 2008, article by Katherine Phan of Christianity Today, “Vatican slams Harry Potter as ‘wrong kind of hero.'”

However, in his 2008 book How Harry Cast His Spell — which I also cite in my eSkeptic piece — John Granger claims the story about Ratzinger is false (see pages 266-67). Is it true that “Pope Benedict XVI has condemned Harry Potter,” Granger asks? He writes that LifeSiteNews “started this absurd Skeeter effect that won’t go away.” (Rita Skeeter is the corrupt and deeply dishonest journalist in the Potter series.) To Granger, claims that Ratzinger “commented on [the Potter novels] critically” is “laughable.”

Granger writes, “[A]n article in the Catholic News Service the week the LifeSiteNews post was made… denied the Pope had taken a position on the matter.” Granger continues, “The Harry Potter books… have not been opposed, condemned, or criticized by any agency or person of authority in the Vatican… The Pope certainly hasn’t spoken on the subject. … The Pope doesn’t oppose Harry Potter.”

However, while Granger accuses LifeSiteNews of bogus Rita Skeeter-like journalism, in fact it is Granger who is distorting the record.

The LifeSiteNews article of July 13, 2005, “Pope Opposes Harry Potter Novels” (which was apparently updated at some point) includes a translated transcript of Ratzinger’s letter. (Granger suggests the letter may have been written by “a page in [Ratzinger’s] office,” but regardless the note carries Ratzinger’s name.)

The web page makes available a scanned copy of the letter. It is written on the letterhead of “Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger” and dated March 7, 2003. While English translations may vary, the letter clearly talks about the possible “subtle seduction” (“subtile Verführengen”) of the novels. The letter also talks about corrupting the soul (“das Christentum in der Seele zersetzen”).

Is Granger correct that another article “denied the Pope had taken a position on the matter?” No.

It turns out that Cindy Wooden also wrote the July 14, 2005, article forCatholic News Service, “New attention given to 2003 Cardinal Ratzinger letter on Harry Potter.” Here is what Wooden writes:

In the cardinal’s letter, excerpted on [recipient Gabriele] Kuby’s Web site and published widely since late June, he praised the author’s attempt to ‘enlighten people about Harry Potter’ and the possible ‘subtle seductions’ that can distort children’s thinking before they mature in the Christian faith.

Contrary to Granger’s suggestion, the article does not deny that Ratzinger took a position on the Potter novels. Instead, Wooden writes:

Although the Vatican press office July 14 said it would have no comment on the letter since Pope Benedict XVI and his secretary were on vacation in the northern Italian Alps, a former Vatican official said Harry Potter books must be read as children’s literature, not theology.

Granger seems to be playing something of a game here. He says “the Pope” has not taken a position on the Potter novels, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ratzinger in fact took a critical position, before he became Pope. And that remains the interesting point.

Could It Be… SATAN?

Apparently Satan is making a comeback these days. First came an over-the-top silly article from First Things titled, “The Fountainhead of Satanism,” in which Joe Carters claims, “[Ayn] Rand’s doctrines are satanic.” The argument goes something like this: because a crazy person liked Ayn Rand, therefore Rand’s ideas reflect the beliefs of the crazy person. (Thankfully, no crazy or homicidal person has every claimed to find motivation in or affinity with Christianity.)

Then I was shopping in Costco and saw Ann Coulter’s new book, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America. Perhaps, I thought, she’s using the term “demonic” metaphorically, to mean something like “Many leftists are so bad they almost seem demonic.” Apparently not. Flipping through the book, I found lines like this one: “The mob is satanic and Satan can only destroy.” This occurs in the final chapter, titled, “Lucifer: The Ultimate Mob Boss.” So, you see, the left is mob-like, and mobs are satanic, therefore, you can complete the little syllogism.

On Twitter, I mentioned that lines like the one quoted make it hard for me to take Coulter seriously. (Incidentally, I briefly met Coulter in 2006 when she spoke in Colorado.) Immediately somebody replied that mobs have put innocent heads on pikes, eaten human hearts, and strapped bombs to babies; does that not demonstrate Coulter’s thesis?

My reply is two-fold. First, demonstrating that mobs generally are bad is not the same thing as demonstrating they are satanic. Second, I would point out that, in many cases, mobs have been motivated to expunge what their members thought were satanic forces in their victims. Take, for example, the witch hunts and the Inquisition.

Consider this 2009 headline from the Associated Press: “African Children Denounced As ‘Witches’ By Christian Pastors.” The father of one of the boys allegedly possessed by demons tried to pour acid down his throat, “burning away his face and eyes.” The boy died soon thereafter.

Invocations of alleged satanic activity among one’s enemies prove the perfect motivator for many mobs. And is that not precisely the intended effect of Coulter’s book?

I find it hard to believe that Coulter takes herself seriously when, in aninterview about her book, she excoriates leftists for “their tendency to demonize all those that disagree with them.” Because, you know, we wouldn’t want to demonize the opposition!

But sometimes you just have to laugh at such silliness, which is why this is such a great time to review Dana Carvey’s classic skit, “The Church Lady.”

What’s a Horcrux?

On the same day Atlas Shrugged came out in theaters, the seventh film of the Harry Potter series arrived on DVD. I’m very interested in both films; see my reviews of Atlas I and Hallows I.

Central to the plot of the Potter novels is the Horcrux, an object of great evil that manifests the major characteristics of the villains: viciousness toward others, an obsession with physical objects, and a pathological fear of death. I released a short video further explaining the Horcrux:

For a more detailed account, see my book, Values of Harry Potter.

Three Arguments for Blocking Cordoba House

Cordoba House, the proposed Islamic center within the damage zone of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, richly deserves moral condemnation. Whether it should be forcibly blocked is another matter. Here my goal is to explain and engage the three most important arguments for blocking the construction of Cordoba House. I conclude that, while two arguments don’t succeed, a third might.

1. “The organizers of Cordoba House promote bad ideas.”

Advocates of blocking Cordoba House frequently cite the horrible views espoused by the center’s lead organizer, Feisal Abdul Rauf (an Imam and United States citizen). As I have reviewed, Rauf has failed to condemn Hamas (though he has condemned terrorism in the abstract), partly blamed America for the 9/11 attacks, and openly advocated Islamic Sharia law in the U.S.

The problem with blocking Cordoba House because of the views advocated by its organizers (as I have reviewed in a first and second article) is that thousands of other American Muslims, leftist intellectuals and activists, and libertarians have expressed identical or substantively similar views. Thus, the same case should apply to all those other thousands of American citizens, who, logically, also should be forcibly stripped of their property or use of it to promote their ideas. Yet, to date, I have heard not a single advocate of shutting down the Islamic center claim that they want to also target all those other American citizens.

Here I am addressing the promotion of ideas, not criminal acts. I have seen no evidence that the organizers of Cordoba House (the property’s legally recognized owners) have engaged in any criminal or terrorist activity. Anyone who commits violent acts, shelters or finances terrorists, or directly promotes terrorist acts has committed a crime, and, as Steve Simpson notes, existing criminal code already addresses such matters. In cases of such crimes, appropriate action extends far beyond merely blocking the criminal’s use of property. Anyone guilty of such crimes should be prosecuted and imprisoned upon conviction, and at least all property related to their crimes should be confiscated. In such cases the central issue is the crime, not the use of property, which would be restricted only as a consequence of the criminal sanctions.

Amy Peikoff has pointed out that it is possible to argue that promoting Islam is itself a criminal act:

[T]here probably are good legal arguments that could be made to stop this, arguments that need not presuppose that our government has formally declared war. This approach is tricky, of course, because you can’t say that someone doesn’t have a right to property, simply because his views, which he plans to promote via use of his property, at root negate the principle of private property. Plenty of ideologies do that. So this gets back to the problem of recognizing the unique nature of Islam in this regard. To make the proper sort of legal argument I have in mind – something along the lines of a well-defined trade embargo, or perhaps a charge of conspiracy to commit a crime, or, as James Valliant has suggested, solicitation to murder – one has to recognize that the distinguishing characteristic of Islam as a religion is its doctrine of Jihad, which is, in effect, an incitement to violence, even though many individual Muslims aren’t violent and never will be. If you don’t believe this about Islam as such, then you will naturally reject this approach.

However, if this argument succeeds, then the logical conclusion is that all Muslims in the United States who advocate Islam should be branded criminals. Yet nobody who advocates the forced blocking of Cordoba House argues that all Muslims who advocate Islam should be targeted with criminal proceedings.

Indeed, the very implication reduces the position to absurdity.

The reason the position implies absurd applications is that the mere advocacy of an idea does not inherently or automatically lead to violent actions. Consider some comparisons.

Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff argue that Kant is inherently evil (because willfully dishonest), and that his views logically imply the total abnegation of individual rights. And yet nobody argues that advocates of Kantianism are criminals because of the ideas they advocate.

In her talk, “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” “Ayn Rand explains why mysticism is altruism’s precondition, and why dictatorship is its product.” She argues that faith as such logically implies the outright “destruction of the modern world.” And yet nobody argues that all Christians are criminals because of the ideas they advocate.

Communism explicitly demands the sacrifice of the individual to the collective. And yet nobody argues that all Marxist university professors should be branded criminals because of the ideas they advocate.

Even if someone openly advocates an idea that logically entails violent actions, that person need not become violent (as Peikoff notes). Ideas motivate people to action, but not in any deterministic sort of way. Often people decline to enact (or they simply fail to comprehend) the logical consequences of their ideas.

What violates rights is force, an action. An idea cannot violate rights. While a bad idea can motivate one to criminal action, the mere advocacy of an idea is not itself criminal.

This applies even to ideas held by America’s enemies. I agree with Leonard Peikoff when he states:

Treason… is giving aid and comfort to the enemy in wartime. And the enemy has to be defined in objective, physical terms, as a reality of physical attack, or the objective threat of physical attack. I better clarify what I mean by “aid and comfort.” If you give material assistance, or weapons, that is aid and comfort. If you urge the [American] soldiers to desert, that is aid and comfort. If you propagandize, urging specific actions, riots and strikes, etcetera, at home, like the Beatniks did during Vietnam, that is aid and comfort. … If you send food packages to the insurgents or the Iranis in the Iraq war, all that is aid and comfort. … [Y]ou have to draw a line between physical, concrete aid and comfort, and a broad moral stand on an issue of national concern which you have every right to take. … You are certainly entitled on intellectual grounds to denounce a war, and even to say the enemy is morally superior to us. You’re entitled to say this. But what you’re not entitled to do is then go out and specifically help that enemy win the war. That is the big difference. It’s a crime to advocate a crime, to help perpetrate, to be an accomplice. It is not a crime to advocate a legal change in the policy that is leading to it. You get the difference between sending food to the insurgents and condemning the war in Iraq.

(As an aside, Peikoff also argues that “it has to be a declared war” for a charge of treason to stick. He says, “All wars which are not declared have no status.” Absent a declaration of war, he states, “no rules of war or treason can apply… unless it’s an emergency” preceding a formal declaration of war. However, my understanding is that charges of treason may be brought in spy cases even when the United States is not at war, so I think that in certain cases treason can apply outside a formal declaration of war.)

If the advocacy of certain ideologies is deemed inherently criminal, consider what such a legal precedent would mean for the rest of us, say, if fundamentalist Christians gained even more influence over government. Paul Hsieh has offered some good examples. Here’s another: in his new book To Save America, Newt Gingrich argues that secularism is inherently socialistic and that it poses an “existential threat” to America (p. 6). If we’re going to turn people into criminals for the ideas they advocate, secularists may be among the first in the gulags, however misguided the attack on them.

Absent concrete evidence linking Cordoba House’s organizers to crime or terrorism, then, they cannot be prosecuted as criminals, and their center cannot properly be blocked on those grounds.

2. “Cordoba House would embolden America’s enemies.”

Advocates of forcibly blocking Cordoba House, however, can offer some other reason for doing so, besides the views advocated by its organizers. For example, they can argue that building an Islamic center within the damage zone of the 9/11 attacks inherently emboldens America’s enemies, apart from the particular ideas the organizers advocate. I think that is the approach Leonard Peikoff is taking in his recent podcast on the matter.

By my understanding, Peikoff would advocate blocking Cordoba House, regardless of the particular views expressed by its organizers. Even if Rauf enthusiastically condemned Hamas, declared America’s complete and utter innocence regarding the 9/11 attacks, and openly opposed Sharia law, I think Peikoff still would advocate blocking Cordoba House. By this view, the case for blocking Cordoba House does not depend on the particular views of those organizers (beyond their general endorsement of Islam); it depends solely on the location of the proposed center.

Advocates of blocking Cordoba House have made some extraordinary claims about its construction. Leonard Peikoff suggests that our “metaphysical survival is at stake.” Amy Peikoff suggests that to allow Cordoba House would be to “let ourselves be wiped out as collateral damage.”

At initial glance, such claims seem like wild hyperbole. If Cordoba House is built (as it most likely will be, all of our debate notwithstanding), Western civilization will not immediately come crashing down around our heads. The buildings of New York City will not suddenly crumble into dust. American women will not all start wearing burqas the next day. Cordoba House might encourage America’s enemies to rejoice, gloat, and redouble their commitment, but it will not put food in their bellies, improve the lethality of their weapons, or strengthen their muscles.

Moreover, blocking the construction of Cordoba House (extremely unlikely in today’s political context) would not somehow magically make Iran’s nuclear facilities disappear, grant Obama the spine to stand up to America’s enemies, or remove the deadly restrictions placed on America’s soldiers. For most militant Islamists and Americans, life will continue as before whether or not Cordoba House reaches completion. (Indeed, most Americans never even will have heard of Cordoba House upon its construction.)

What, then, are those claims getting at?

The central argument, I believe, is this. The location of Cordoba House is indeed supremely relevant. Its location was selected expressly because the building was damaged by the 9/11 attacks. Regardless of the views and intentions of the center’s organizers (actual or stated), an Islamic center, within the damage zone of the 9/11 attacks, cannot help but embolden America’s Islamist enemies and signal America’s moral capitulation. The message to America’s enemies is essentially this: “You are strong, and America is weak. If you attack us, you can profit from your attacks. If you destroy our buildings, you can build a shrine to your ideology there as a sign of your conquest.” Such a center can only spur on our Islamist enemies to further violence. Such a principle of capitulation indeed threatens our long-term survival, according to this argument.

Notice that the argument about location depends solely on the impact of the Islamic center on the motivation of America’s enemies, not on any material benefit it might bestow to those enemies. The relevant impact takes place entirely within the heads of the Islamists.

Thus, the building of Cordoba House represents a symbolic victory for America’s enemies, and blocking it would constitute a symbolic victory for America’s self-defense.

The question, then, is whether a symbolic display may ever properly be proscribed legally. My initial reaction is to say no; the First Amendment properly protects symbolic expression, and only actions (including active provocation of violence) properly may be criminalized.

Consider protests involving the burning of the American flag. Many conservatives want to pass a Constitutional amendment banning the disrespectful burning of the American flag. (Burning a worn flag to respectfully dispose of it constitutes proper etiquette.) I learned about flag etiquette from my grandfather, who fought in the Pacific Rim during World War II. Whenever I see an American flag, I think about how my grandfather had to walk a field picking up body pieces of his friends after the Japanese bombed his camp. I will not tolerate the disrespectful burning of an American flag in my presence; if I can maintain sufficient composure to do so, I will leave the scene. Conservatives argue, and I agree, that disrespectfully burning an America flag symbolizes a hateful attack on the essence of America. Nevertheless, I do not advocate legally prohibiting the disrespectful burning of an American flag, and I know of no Objectivist who advocates banning it.

The fact that I experience revulsion toward the burning of an American flag does not justify outlawing the activity; likewise, revulsion towards Cordoba House does not justify forcibly blocking it.

Does the situation change in time of war? During all-out war, our very society, along with the legal system that protects our rights, stands at risk of utter destruction. May certain symbolic expressions therefore be prohibited in times of war?

Peikoff and others offer the example of Pearl Harbor: should the United States government have allowed a Shinto shrine near the site of the attack during WWII? (At first, I presumed that such a scenario was impossible because Pearl Harbor is a military base. However, looking at the map of the harbor, it is clear that it is surrounded by neighborhoods, golf courses, and farms. I have never been there in person.)

While others seem to think it is perfectly obvious that such a shrine should be prohibited in times of war, even if the shrine’s organizers are known to have no ties to violence or the enemy, it is not obvious to me. I don’t see what difference such a shrine would make either way. Think of it this way: should the United States government expend energy, during time of war, to forcibly stop construction of some ridiculous shrine? When the United States government is developing atomic bombs and blowing the holy hell out of Japan, is a shrine really what either side is going to be worried about? I submit that if the Japanese are gloating about the shrine (in this hypothetical situation), if they spend even a minute thinking about the shrine, then the United States has failed to effectively prosecute the war. If the shrine is a big deal to the enemy, then that signifies America is already losing the war.

There may be other very good reasons for blocking the Shinto shrine — see the third argument below — but its symbolism does not strike me as a forceful one.

Imagine you witnessed a street fight, and Fighter A spits on the shoe of Fighter B (who cannot escape the fight). What would you think if Fighter B agonized over the spittle and tried to carefully clean his shoe before proceeding with the fight? I submit that Fighter B should ignore his shoe and concentrate on smashing in the face of the aggressor.

Likewise, I submit that it is precisely this obsessive agonizing over Cordoba House that reflects a posture of defeat and surrender. Why would people spend one minute of their time trying to get rid of some damned prayer center, when they could spend that minute urging the United States government to take decisive action against America’s true enemies? What exactly are our priorities, here? (I do think the debate over Cordoba House is useful insofar as it helps reveal the nature of America’s enemies.)

I should address a couple of arguments from the other side. Amy Peikoff argues that symbols can indeed be important, and she points out that the U.S. ought not have handed over the Panama Canal to Panama. However, I fail to see how the U.S. handing over a U.S.-built structure to a foreign nation is comparable to the federal government not taking action regarding Cordoba House. In his podcast, Leonard Peikoff suggests that building Cordoba House is comparable to somebody who violently attacks your house, then later buys your house for a shrine. But there is an obvious difference: the builders of Cordoba house, however bad their ideas or evil their intentions, are not the same individuals who planned the 9/11 attacks.

We may criticize Cordoba House for its symbolic significance, but I fail to see how blocking a symbol accomplishes any serious goal or in any way compensates for failing to execute a real war.

3. “Cordoba House is uniquely positioned to promote violent Islam.”

Even though Cordoba House’s organizers have explicitly denounced terrorism, at least in the abstract, and even if they actively discourage terrorism, still Cordoba House might prove to be an especially strong lure to would-be terrorists, precisely because of its location. Even if Cordoba House’s official policy opposes terrorism, the center’s managers cannot hope to monitor the private meetings that take place within its walls. It might, then, become a place where potential terrorists meet and hatch their plans.

This seems to be the point Edward Cline is arguing in his recent, thoughtful article.

Those who find such threats implausible need only look to recent headlines; a couple of examples should suffice.

On May 4, the Washington Post reported:

A man was arrested late Monday night in connection with the failed Times Square bombing, administration officials said. The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old U.S. citizen from Pakistan, allegedly purchased the sport utility vehicle that authorities found packed with explosives in New York on Saturday night. …

An FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force had taken over the investigation Monday amid growing indications of a possible international connection, U.S. officials and law enforcement sources said.

A June 18 follow-up article reports: “The suspect in the attempted bombing of Times Square received $12,000 from the Pakistani Taliban to carry out the plot, according to a federal indictment released Thursday that formally charges Faisal Shahzad with receiving training and support from the militant group.”

On June 29, Bloomberg reported:

A Guyanese man, on the eve of his trial, pleaded guilty to his role in a plot to blow up New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Abdel Nur, 60, entered a guilty plea to a single count of providing support to terrorists before U.S. District Judge Dora Irizzary in Brooklyn, New York. The judge said the trial of Nur’s two co-defendants is scheduled to begin tomorrow. The three hatched the plot in January 2006 and circulated their plan to an international network of Muslim extremists, prosecutors said.

Rauf himself has granted that special effort is required to “make sure mosques are not recruiting grounds for radicals.” But what if Rauf’s efforts prove inadequate at Cordoba House, which due to its location will prove a particularly strong draw for such “radicals?”

Moreover, some have speculated that Cordoba House will receive international money, probably in some cases tied to nefarious governments. The fact that tainted funds may be available again represents a failure of U.S. foreign policy. If the funds are tainted in a serious enough way, that might justify legal proceedings against Cordoba House based on existing laws. The point here is that if tainted funds indeed go to Cordoba House, that might accompany especially nasty influences.

To me, this third argument is by far the strongest rationale offered for blocking Cordoba House. The United States government could essentially state, “Look, we have good evidence that at least some people who would attend Cordoba House have evil intentions, and, given we are in the middle of prosecuting a war, we don’t have the resources right now to investigate all the related issues. Therefore, until we have decisively won the war, your religious center is on hold, on the grounds of wartime emergency.”

Of course, given the United States government has not, in fact, declared war on America’s enemies, and indeed refuses even to recognize the ideological motivation of America’s enemies, and even actively appeases many of America’s enemies, I do not imagine that the current administration would actually invoke such an argument.

Moreover, I think the United States government could both prosecute a successful war and investigate possible terrorist plots at Cordoba House. Indeed, if it is true that Cordoba House would prove especially appealing to would-be terrorists, then it might even be advantageous for the U.S. government to watch them collect all at one spot.

If would-be terrorists aren’t meeting at Cordoba House, they’re not simply going to disappear. They’re probably going to meet somewhere else. The premise of this third argument — that Cordoba House would attract terrorist plotters — actually seems to justify letting the center be built, so long as the United States government actively tracks suspected terrorists there.

On the other hand, perhaps Cordoba House would embolden more Muslims to plot violent attacks than otherwise would do so, even if they did not actually visit Cordoba House. However, this seems tentative and speculative to me, like the second argument reviewed above, and therefore a weak basis for legal action. In any case, Cordoba House might embolden more terrorists only in the context of a weak overall U.S. foreign policy. If the U.S. government decisively demonstrated the failure of militant Islam, no symbolic structure could overcome that.

However, as noted, I regard this third argument as a forceful one.

* * *

I have described what I see as the three major arguments for blocking Cordoba House. As I’ve indicated, I’m not persuaded that any of the arguments succeeds, though the third argument could gain force depending on the circumstances. If any critic believes that I have missed an important argument, or failed to see the strength of an argument, I hope that critic will explain the error.

Whether or not Cordoba House is built, I think it is important that those concerned about the Islamist threat refrain from blowing the significance of Cordoba House out of proportion. We must remain focussed on making the case to the American public and to its government that we need to get serious about defending the nation from militant Islam.



Anonymous July 3, 2010 at 9:19 AM

Regarding argument #3: “It might, then, become a place where potential terrorists meet and hatch their plans.”

From a practical standpoint, doesn’t that make it easier to infiltrate and monitor terrorist groups than at a comparable location that is not on U.S. soil?

Ashley King July 3, 2010 at 3:09 PM

Hi Ari,

Thank you for this analysis.

A couple of quick responses: regarding #1, I agree that Islam itself cannot be considered a criminal activity. I don’t know where this would be in the law, but Rauf has apparently given $300,000 to the flotilla attacks on Israel. That was to give aid and comfort to Hamas in Gaza. So right there Rauf has gone beyond simply promoting ideas.

Regarding #2, I have no doubt from my reading that this mosque will embolden jihadis specifically. I like your spittle-on-shoe point. We get new attackers here in the US all the time and yet we refuse to put a hammer down on Iran, Saudi Arabia, or even Pakistan. Perhaps we could start a campaign with sympathetic folks, using the mosque for urgency sake, to push for some kind of official Congressional resolution about a threat from Iran.

Regarding #3, I was wondering if there is a similarity to the point someone made on one of the threads that this was like a public nuisance. I brought up the Phelps Baptists wrecking the funerals of our fallen soldiers. I thought there could not be a defensible free speech right to protest at someone’s funeral because that violated the mourners right to peaceful assembly. There is no right to a disruptive nuisance. That ground in New York is a national “cemetery” or sorts. I am saying a mosque would be a nuisance to the families visiting the former WTC, like having a militia movement office near the Oklahoma Federal Building. You are saying, and I agree, that this mosque would be a magnet to killers, especially American jihadis. It would perhaps qualify as a nuisance that way too.

Ari July 5, 2010 at 2:55 PM

Ashley, It would be very useful if people provided links. Where is the evidence that Rauf funded the “flotilla,” and what was the directness of the funding?

As to “nuisance” laws, apart from some instance of concretely disrupting the rights of others, I am exceedingly wary of giving bureaucrats the unbridled power to declare things “nuisances” and therefore banned. I’m quite sure that numerous bureaucrats regard much of what I do as a perpetual nuisance. -Ari

Ashley King July 5, 2010 at 9:10 PM


Here’s three:

The link is his check to Perdana; from them to Free Gaza Movement. That last one is linked to Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorists. See the Hotair link.

Regarding nuisance, I thought it might be applicable but you are right about potential abuse. Do you agree though that the Phelps Baptists have no right to distrurb funerals?

Ashley King July 5, 2010 at 9:28 PM

Also, a link to the Phelps Baptist case:

Ari July 5, 2010 at 10:16 PM

Thanks, Ashley. Granted that Rauf’s connection to the “flotilla” is indeed extremely troubling, the New York Post’s article (the main source for the other two links) describes “the indirect ties of the imam to the protesters who confronted Israeli forces.” This feeds into the third argument described above.

I still think you’re off-base with the “nuisance” comparison. The problem with disrupting a funeral is not that it is a “nuisance,” but that it violates people’s rights to freely assemble. I do not see how that compares to Cordoba House. -Ari

ZAC D. August 31, 2010 at 12:14 AM

If it’s not a Mosque then why do they keep bring up freedom of religion and tax exemption? Obviously if it is not a Mosque then freedom of religion and tax exemption does not apply here. Yet it does? Makes no sense. They can fall back on the argument from private property rights if they want to, but no one with intelligence is arguing against that point. I say they have a legal right to build it, but that doesn’t make it right.

eg. If the non-violent KKK (eg. the david dukes) who share a similar ideology as the violent KKK that carried out the bombing on the 16th Street baptist Church announced plans to build a shrine at the site of the 16th Street Baptist Church, would one be supporting their right to build it?

All those christians that conquered this land from the indians and set up churches wasn’t right. Can I change that? I would like to. What I am trying to say is I am suprised that some in this debate think two wrongs make a right. They have no rational ground to stand on with this argument. It’s a hindsight bias fallacy and non sequitur. How can they agree that it should follow that this Radical Muslim (Rauf) should be allowed to do this to the families of 9/11 victims like the Christians did it to the Indians and blacks? Why do they use history so obtusely to promote similar wrongheaded behavior?

Why not use this example from history to promote good prudence instead?

eg. The Catholic Church abandoned the convent at Auschwitz. The church ultimately bowed to concerns that well-meaning nuns served as a hurtful distraction to the memory of the many Jews killed at the camp, despite the fact Catholics also died there.

They didn’t have to do this but it was an act of good purdence to do it.

Front Page

Do you see nothing wrong with a casino being built on the Gettysburg Battlefield? Not to mention “275 historians including Pulitzer Prize winning Civil War historian James McPherson, other national historical preservationists continue to support in opposing the casino.”
This just another example of ignoring purdence.

ZAC D. August 31, 2010 at 12:15 AM

The argument I make is one from prudence because this mosque is being built at ground zero. This point isn’t even up for debate. I don’t care who’s lied to whom about it. It is a observable fact based on evidence. The landing gear and fuselage came out the north side of the tower and crashed through the roof and two of the floors of the Burlington Coat Factory.

Please look at my links…

Rauf isn’t some Muslim that wants to reform Islam. He’s about creating division. This Mosque isn’t going to bring peace ethier way. He’s even on record saying he wants to replace secular governments with Sharia law…

“In his interview on Hadiyul-Islam by Sa’da Abdul Maksoud, Abdul Rauf was asked his views on Sharia (Islamic religious law) and the Islamic state. He responded:

“Throughout my discussions with contemporary Muslim theologians, it is clear an Islamic state can be established in more than just a single form or mold. It can be established through a kingdom or a democracy. The important issue is to establish the general fundamentals of Sharia that are required to govern. It is known that there are sets of standards that are accepted by [Muslim] scholars to organize the relationships between government and the governed.”

When questioned about this, Abdul Rauf continued: “Current governments are unjust and do not follow Islamic laws.” He added:

“New laws were permitted after the death of Muhammad, so long of course that these laws do not contradict the Quran or the Deeds of Muhammad … so they create institutions that assure no conflicts with Sharia. [emphasis in translation]”

Rauf is not only a double talker but he has been involved in bad stuff as well. (read the links below). He sounds no different than Osama bin laden. As an atheist-objectivist I just don’t trust his motives one bit. I realize none of this means he can’t still legally build it there, but I also understand as a sensible atheist-objectivist I don’t have to pimp his cause like some are doing. I also have a ethical obligation to protest it based on bad purdence.

Click to access Feisal_Abdul_Rauf_Investigative_Report.pdf

Cordoba House and the Real Feisal Abdul Rauf

The proposed Islamic center near the World Trade Center site is called “Cordoba House,” apparently in honor of Islam’s conquest of Spain. [August 18 Update: Christopher Hitchens says the name instead invokes a period of “astonishing cultural synthesis; Jacob Sullum agrees.]

The Washington Times reports:

The building was purchased in July 2009 for $4.85 million in cash by Soho Properties, a real-estate investment firm tied to developer Sharif El-Gamal. One of the investors was the Cordoba Initiative, an organization chaired by Ms. Khan’s husband, Faisal Abdul Rauf. The initiative listed less than $20,000 in assets in 2008 and has received less than $100,000 in contributions since it was founded in 2004. The ASMA has assets of less than $1 million. The principals will not explain how their cash-poor organizations can hope to undertake such a major project, but Ms. [Daisy] Khan [executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement] claims that, “Cordoba House will be a new entity whose funding sources will be independent from the funding sources of ASMA and Cordoba Initiative.” Odds are the money will come from overseas.

The Daily Mail offers more details:

The mosque is part of a proposed 13-storey Muslim community centre, which will include a swimming pool, gym, theatre and sports facilities.

The building, which was damaged by the fuselage of one of the hijacked planes, is at 45 Park Place — just two blocks from Ground Zero.

It formerly housed a Burlington Coat Factory store. The store’s two selling floors were destroyed when the landing gear from one of the planes tore through them during the attacks.

Construction is due to begin on September 11 next year – the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack.

The New York Times adds:

The Sept. 11, 2001, attack killed 2,752 people downtown and doomed the five-story building at 45 Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center, keeping it abandoned for eight years.

But for months now, out of the public eye, an iron gate rises every Friday afternoon, and with the outside rumblings of construction at ground zero as a backdrop, hundreds of Muslims crowd inside, facing Mecca in prayer and listening to their imam read in Arabic from the Koran.

The building has no sign that hints at its use as a Muslim prayer space, but these modest beginnings point to a far grander vision: an Islamic center near the city’s most hallowed piece of land…

The location was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims who bought the building in July. A presence so close to the World Trade Center, “where a piece of the wreckage fell,” said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric leading the project, “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.”

“We want to push back against the extremists,” added Imam Feisal, 61.

Several facts become clear from these accounts: the site of the proposed Islamic center was, in fact, damaged by the 9/11 attacks; the store that used to occupy the space left because of the damage; the location was purchased specifically for the construction of an Islamic center within the zone of destruction; and the center’s lead organizer publicly declares that his purpose is to oppose terrorism.

How far can we trust Feisal Abdul Rauf’s proclaimed intentions? And how much do his real intentions matter?

The Imam states:

My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. …

People who are stakeholders in society, who believe they are welcomed as equal partners, do not want to destroy it. … And there’s no better demonstration of our desire to build than the construction of this center. …

The project has been mischaracterized… It is not a mosque, although it will include a space for Muslim prayer services. It will have a swimming pool [etc.] …

And, yes, the center will have a public memorial to the victims of 9/11 as well as a meditation room where all will be welcome…

The center will be open to all regardless of religion. …

What grieves me most is the false reporting that leads some families of 9/11 victims to think this project somehow is designed by Muslims to gloat over the attack.

That could not be further from the truth.

My heart goes out to all of the victims of 9/11. …

Freedom of religion is something we hold dear. It is the core of what America is all about, and it is what people worldwide respect about our country. The Koran itself says compulsion in religion is wrong.

American Muslims want to be both good Americans and good Muslims. They can be the best assets the United States has in combatting radicalism.

They know that many American values — freedom of religion, human dignity and opportunity for prosperity — are also Muslim values. …

I have been the imam at a mosque in Tribeca for 27 years. … My work is to make sure mosques are not recruiting grounds for radicals.

To do that, Muslims must feel they are welcome in New York. Alienated people are open to cynicism and radicalism. Any group that believes it is under attack will breed rebellion. The proposed center is an attempt to prevent the next 9/11.

While he does publicly condemn terrorism, notice a couple of peculiarities with his claims. First, he grants that, without active intervention, mosques do, in fact, become “recruiting grounds for radicals,” i.e. violent Islamists who hate and want to destroy America and impose universal Islamic law.

He also claims that Americans must make Muslims “feel they are welcome” in order to “prevent the next 9/11.” However, not feeling welcome is no good reason to commit terrorist acts. Muslims are morally obligated not to commit acts of terrorism, whether or not they feel welcome. Many groups have come to America that have initially felt unwelcome, and they have nevertheless refrained from slaughtering others and learned to enter the culture. Perhaps Muslims would feel more welcome if more Muslims would publicly denounce Islamist terrorist acts and organizations.

While Feisal Abdul Rauf claims that he “hates terrorism” in the abstract, he could not in fact bring himself to condemn the terrorist organization Hamas. He declined to declare Hamas a terrorist organization when repeatedly given the opportunity during a June 18 radio interview.

Moreover, while the Imam claims to endorse freedom of religion, he has explicitly called for Sharia law, arguing that religion should help shape “the nation’s practical life” and that “religious communities [should have] more leeway to judge among themselves according to their own laws.” In other words, he calls for the enforcement of explicitly Islamic law, at least among Muslims in Islamic “religious communities,” as the Taliban continues to accomplishes in Afghanistan, and as various Islamic leaders have proposed for parts of Canada and Europe.

He is all for “freedom of religion,” if that means religion’s leaders are free to forcibly control their followers. Indeed, in his defense of Sharia law, which he laughably asserts comports with secular law and the Declaration of Independence, Feisal Abdul Rauf grants that he would forcibly impose “a certain amount of modesty” on the faithful (as defined by Islamic leaders). He states bluntly: “What Muslims want is a judiciary that ensures that the laws are not in conflict with the Quran and the Hadith.”

I do believe the Imam about one thing: I do not think he intends Cordoba House merely to promote Islamic gloating over the 9/11 attacks. I believe his core purpose is vastly more sinister.

June 30 Update: A comment on Amy Peikoff’s blog tipped me off to another detail about the Imam’s views. He indeed partly blamed America for the 9/11 attacks, telling 60 Minutes: “Fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam… I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.”

What About the Forty Other Islamic Centers?

As I note in my updated article about the proposed mosque near the World Trade Center, passionate debate continues on the question of whether the mosque should be allowed. I have a few questions for those who would forcibly block the building of the mosque. These are not rhetorical questions; I’d appreciate some real answers.

1. If the United States seriously waged war against the state sponsors of Islamist terror, would the proposed mosque even potentially be able to get tainted funds, and would its building present any real problem?

2. With the Obama administration actively appeasing America’s enemies, handcuffing American soldiers in Afghanistan, and standing idly by while Iran develops nuclear weapons, do you seriously believe that the addition of yet another mosque on American soil is what will make America appear weak to its enemies?

3. If you give the federal government, or any local government, the authority to deprive United States citizens of property rights, without trial or due process of law, do you seriously believe that such power would be limited to blocking the building of the mosque?

4. Granting that at least some of the organizers of the mosque sympathize with at least some dangerous Islamist goals, what do you think government policy should be with respect to the many college professors and leftist leaders who have sympathized with the 9/11 attackers?

5. If you believe the mosque near the World Trade Center site should be forcibly blocked, what do you think should happen to the forty other Islamic centers a short distance from that site? (I composed my list simply by searching for “mosque” in New York on Google maps; obviously which sites are included in the list may be open to debate.) What about all the other mosques and Islamic centers in America?


Update: I posted three brief comments to Diana Hsieh’s Facebook page, and I thought them worth repeating here:

I think Diana’s point about formally declared war is relevant; how can the United States government convict someone for treason for aiding an enemy the United States refuses to recognize?

I see the two sides largely converging. The first side essentially argues: The mosque should be blocked, because it would support America’s Islamist enemies, and it can be blocked by just means. The second side argues: The mosque should not be blocked, unless it can be shown to support America’s Islamist enemies, and then only by just means. The remaining debate is over what constitutes relevant support for America’s enemies, whether the mosque’s organizers in fact offer such support, and, if they do, what means would be just to block the mosque.

Final thought: I can think of little that would make more of a mockery of the United States than to fight Islamist terrorism with zoning laws. “You better stop killing us, or we’ll zone your asses!” We cannot fight a war with zoning laws, and the attempt is both futile and embarrassing.

June 29 Update: Paul Hsieh has made some excellent observations about the debate. He summarizes the crux of the problem:

Objectivists generally agree that Americans are being threatened by Islamic Totalitarian ideologues who seek to destroy the US. And we agree that the proper response would be for our government to identify that threat and wage a proper war with the goal of defeating and destroying the enemy. …

Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of government right now. Instead, we live under a government that refuses to properly identify the enemy, refuses to wage a proper war of self-defense, and refuses to protect our individual rights.

Given that unfortunate fact, we are left with no good life-promoting options — only bad death-promoting choices.

On one side are those who argue that allowing the NYC mosque to be built would further weaken the few remaining restraints stopping the bad guys from killing us — and the result would be our destruction.

On the other hand are those who argue that stopping the building of the mosque by allowing the government to exercise force in a grossly non-objective fashion would further weaken the few remaining restraints keeping us from descending into tyranny — and the result would be our destruction.

Both sides raise important concerns, particularly about the dangers of adopting the course endorsed by their opponents. That’s precisely what happens when the only good option (of waging a proper war against our enemies) has been taken off the table. Once that happens, all we are left with arebad options.

Perhaps the benefit from the debate is that its participants will redouble their efforts to create better options.

June 30 Update: Amy Peikoff has written a well-argued article in favor of blocking Cordoba House. In a comment there, I granted, “This particular center is different from the other mosques in the immediate area, because it was selected to be within the damage zone of the 9/11 attacks. I did not initially realize the significance of this fact… However, I still remain unpersuaded that even the strongest argument for blocking the center ultimately succeeds in the current political context.”



David June 28, 2010 at 11:22 AM
You make a great point about the university professors: who are the larger existential threat: the American academics or the mosque builders?

I think this focus on the harm caused by the mosque as a SYMBOL is based on a primacy of consciousness premise. Who cares what is in the mind of the crazy Muslims?

Josh June 28, 2010 at 11:37 AM
“2. With the Obama administration actively appeasing America’s enemies, handcuffing American soldiers in Afghanistan, and standing idly by while Iran develops nuclear weapons, do you seriously believe that the addition of yet another mosque on American soil is what will make America appear weak to its enemies?”

Yes, especially because of the symbolism of it.

“4. Granting that at least some of the organizers of the mosque sympathize with at least some dangerous Islamist goals, what do you think government policy should be with respect to the many college professors and leftist leaders who have sympathized with the 9/11 attackers?”

Here’s a quote from Ayn Rand: “Do anything that supports an enemy during an actual war, and you are a murderer” (Ayn Rand Answers Page 92) “You take on your hands the death of every solider” (Ibid) “If you, as civilians, take the side of the enemy, that is as low and unspeakably immoral as any attitude I can conceive of.” (ibid)

My answer, jail the bastards.

-Joshua L.

Judie June 28, 2010 at 11:48 AM
I think allowing the mosque to be built would be a SYMBOL of our surrender and that is the real harm.

I think the case could be made that American academics are just as much of an existential threat as Islam but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage all threats to our survival as a nation.

David June 28, 2010 at 12:01 PM
The real existential threat is not the aggressor–aggressors are a dim a dozen. The real existential threat is the decision not to defend the country.

Judie June 28, 2010 at 12:46 PM
@David. That is why I think we should defend our country even if we cannot get our government to do so by traditional means. The citizens of NYC can use existing zoning laws to block the building of the Islamic victory site mosque near what was before Islamic aggression the WTC and I think they should.

Anonymous June 29, 2010 at 2:14 AM
defending the country by imposing zoning laws to violate property rights isn’t exactly the way to go.

Scott Freeman June 29, 2010 at 6:37 AM
America is fighting a war on terror, not Islam. Islam is not fighting a war with America, terrorists are. A mosque is not a symbol of terrorism or of America’s enemies, it is a symbol of Islam.

I’d add another question to Ari’s list:

6. If, given that they have not been convicted of any crime, the same people who want to build this mosque wanted to build something secular like a restaurant, a house, a school, a store, or a community centre, should we object to that too?

If a Christian who sympathised with the 9/11 attackers wanted to build a house or a restaurant, should that be blocked?

It seems the worst kind of collectivism that because some people of a particular religion commit terrible crimes, all members of that religion have their freedoms curtailed, and the worst kind of statism that because a man disagrees with his government (or a majority of his peers) that he should be denied the freedom to peacefully do as he wishes with his own land (or that which someone is willing to give him).

What Do American Muslims Think?

As I recently pointed out, many conservatives want to block the building of a mosque near the World Trade Center, largely on the grounds that the mosque would be a beachhead for the eventual establishment of sharia law within the U.S. This is a widespread view that I have read in several conservative outlets, though obviously many conservatives would reject such claims. I argued that the mosque should be allowed on the basis of property rights.

I thought it would be useful for conservatives (and the rest of us) to hear what American Muslims say in response to such conservative claims. So I asked a prominent Colorado Muslim who is active in political circles (and whom I’ve briefly met). In a reply that struck me as shooting the messenger, he said that I am ignorant, my questions are offensive, and therefore he will not answer them. Yet it seems to me that, if American Muslims believe they are widely misunderstood in the culture, a good way to address that would be to join the dialog.

I could expand the questions. What do American Muslims think about sharia law in the Middle East and in select regions of Europe? What do American Muslims think about Ahmadinejad’s oppressive regime in Iran, and what do they think about the student protesters there? What do American Muslims think about the rights of homosexuals? What do American Muslims think about those who (like a student at the University of California, San Diego) call for the obliteration of Israel? What do they think about Faisal Shahzad’s attempted bombing in New York and the Islamic death threats against the South Park creators?

Perhaps others will comment about what they take to be typical Muslim American views on such matters, or link to more detailed survey results.

In the meantime, I pulled up a 2008 report from Pew, “Portrait of Muslims [in the U.S.] — Beliefs and Practices.” While the report does not offer findings on the substantive matters I’ve described, it does offer some interesting tidbits.

While 82 percent of Muslims profess to believe in God with absolute certainty, five percent “do not believe in God.” Nine percent said their religion is not very or “at all important” to them. Thus, at least some Muslims treat their religion as more of a cultural affiliation than a belief system.

While 40 percent of American Muslims attend religious services at least once a week, 34 percent attend services seldom or never. While 71 percent pray daily, 16 percent pray seldom or never.

Half of American Muslims think the Koran is the literally true word of God, 36 percent think it’s the word of God “but not literally true word for word,” and eight percent think it’s “written by men, not the word of God.”

Interestingly, 60 percent of U.S. Muslims said “there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion,” and 56 percent said “many religions can lead to eternal life.”

While these findings do not reveal particular, substantive views, they do indicate (as one would expect) that American Muslims tend to be relatively liberal and pluralistic with respect to religion.

While practically all Americans have an opportunity to regularly and intimately interact with Christians, fewer have such an opportunity with Muslims, due simply to the demographics of the nation. If American Muslims wish to be better understood, I can think of no better way to accomplish that than for them to publicly articulate their views.



Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 4:39 PM

“Half of American Muslims think the Koran is the literally true word of God,”

That means that at least half of them, when push comes to shove, believe or are sympathetic with the aims of Sharia. This goes against your claim that “American Muslims tend to be relatively liberal and pluralistic with respect to religion”. I would not draw that conclusion.

B. White

Ari June 20, 2010 at 6:27 PM

B., apparently you missed the qualifier, “relatively.” -Ari

Ari June 20, 2010 at 6:34 PM

Also, B., just because somebody claims that some text is the inerrant word of God, doesn’t mean they know what that text actually says, or that they what they think it says matches what you think it says. Likewise, many Christians claim that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, yet they either don’t know what the Bible says, or they explain away its controversial parts .-Ari

Evil Red Scandi June 21, 2010 at 10:14 AM
Speaking about polls of Muslims, there have been a few that have produced results along these lines:

That is to say, roughly 1/3 of Muslims (students in this poll; other polls have sampled larger demographics) think it’s OK to kill in the name of Islam. That’s not an insignificant number.

Leaving aside the obvious assaults on reason, any religious belief can be twisted towards evil ends, and most of the major ones have been at one point or another. Islam requires less twisting than most, because it requires that its adherents emulate the life and behavior of Muhammad, and his behavior throughout his life was inconsistent. He was peaceful when he had no political or military power, and bloodthirsty when he had it. It’s certainly true that there are Muslims living peacefully in places where they have little or no political or military power. The question is: if they had it, would their behavior change accordingly?

It’s the Religion of Peace*.

*until they get the upper hand.

Ari June 21, 2010 at 10:21 AM

The report cited above pertains to British Muslim students, whom I suspect are more fundamentalist than are typical American Muslims. Tthe findings are indeed frightening: “Almost a third of British Muslim students believe killing in the name of Islam can be justified, according to a poll. The study also found that two in five Muslims at university support the incorporation of Islamic sharia codes into British law.”

Let Them Build the Mosque

I oppose Islam for the same basic reason I oppose all religion: supernaturalism is false, and people ought not believe things that are false. In today’s world, Islam is a particularly destructive force, in many sectors sanctioning the abuse of women, totalitarianism, mass murder, and terrorism. Thankfully, Islam also has a more enlightened, Aristotelian tradition, and in the modern world at least some Muslims promote political and religious freedom and peace among nations.

I absolutely endorse freedom of conscience, which entails freedom of religion. I may disagree with your views on religion, politics, or whatever else, but, so long as you peacefully advocate those views, I will fight for your right to do so. As Ayn Rand eloquently argued, property rights are an integral aspect of any right; one cannot speak if forbidden to use one’s pen, voice, or printing press, and one cannot freely practice religion if one cannot build a suitable meeting facility using one’s own property and resources, or rent a facility from a consenting provider.

The implications of this seem pretty clear: individuals and voluntary organizations have the right to build religious structures on their own property, using their own resources, regardless of what anyone thinks about it, provided the religious practitioners do not violate anyone’s rights in the process. Christians have the right to build Christian churches in Muslim neighborhoods. Atheists have the right to build centers in religious communities. Satanists have the right to build a church near a cathedral in a Catholic country. And Muslims have the right to build mosques even when some of the neighbors take offense. It’s called freedom.

In fact, Muslims plan to build a mosque near the World Trade Center, as USA Today reports. (Trey Givens points out the proposed site is a couple blocks away from the WTC.) Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, said the purpose of the facility is to amplify “the voices of the mainstream and silent majority of Muslims” and “be part of the rebuilding of downtown Manhattan.” A local supporter added, “This is a tremendous gesture to show that we’re [Muslims] not all full of hatred and bigotry.”

Naturally, others strongly oppose the idea, seeing it as insensitive and a statement of Islamic victory over the West. And of course people have the right to express their views on either side.

What people do not have the right to do (using “right” in its fundamental sense as the standard of a society’s laws) is forcibly block the building of a religious structure on private property. (As the USA Today article points out, the developers in fact own the building.)

While a number of people (including a few I respect) have argued that the mosque should be legally blocked, I do not find any of their arguments persuasive. Let us consider them.

Gotham Resistance claims that forbidding the mosque would preserve “decency, fairness, and the American way of life” and strike a blow against “radical Islam and political correctness.” Yet, if we take the First Amendment seriously, then decency, fairness, and the American way of life means protecting religious liberty. If by “radical Islam” we mean violent Islam, then obviously the government should protect U.S. citizens from that. But I have seen no evidence that the building of the mosque will be a violent activity. People have the right to nonviolently practice Islam and political correctness.

Certainly the fact that some Americans are offended by the building of a mosque near the World Trade Center is no good reason to prohibit the mosque. Similarly, the fact that many Muslims are offended by images of Mohammed is no good reason to prohibit such images, and I participated in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.

Over at the eclectically conservative Townhall, John Hawkins essentially argues that everybody’s rights properly are subject to majority rule or nationalistic concerns. Hawkins argues that rights are not absolute; for instance, the First Amendment protects neither protests at funerals nor the burning of the American flag at a protest. But he is wrong. Americans have every right to protest whatever event they see fit, though the right of free speech does not imply that one may interfere with somebody else’s use of private property or sanctioned use of public property. Thus, a protest that physically disrupts a funeral is the practice of violence, not free speech. Likewise, while one does not have a right to burn somebody else’s flag, one has the right to treat one’s own property at one’s discretion (in consonance with others’ rights).

If the right of free speech may be curtailed because the target of a protest might be offended, then there is no such thing as free speech. For instance, Christians could be forcibly prohibited from protesting abortion clinics because the owners and patrons of the clinic take offense.

Hawkins continues, “For other Muslims to try to benefit from that act [the destruction of the World Trade Center] by building a mosque on that spot is insensitive, disgusting, and utterly vile.” I am not persuaded that the Muslims involved in the project intend to benefit from the destruction of the WTC. Whether or not they do, Americans have the right to do things with their own property and resources that others regard as “insensitive, disgusting, and utterly vile.” (If that weren’t the case, then Townhall also could be outlawed.)

Hawkins further argues, “Traditionally, Islam has built mosques on historical sites as a sign of conquest.” The New York mosque will be named Cordoba House, according to Hawkins and others in honor of the mosque build in Spain that heralded the Islamist takeover of that nation. Moreover, the building of the mosque will encourage “radical Islam” overseas.

If there is real evidence that the builders of the mosque actively plan to forcibly overthrow the United States government or harm its citizens, then they should be prosecuted and imprisoned by the government. I have seen no such evidence.

If we are merely talking about some symbolic statement, then obviously Christian churches, “traditionally,” have signified something very similar. (Try asking Central American Indians.) Free speech protects the right to make symbolic statements.

In fact, many Christian churches in the United States preach the conformity of U.S. law to Biblical law. Should all of those churches also be forcibly shut down?

It is true that the U.S. government has made only a pathetic, self-defeating effort to destroy America’s enemies abroad. But the notion that the way to solve this problem is by domestic property restrictions is laughable.

Hawkins makes one final argument: regions of Europe have fallen to Sharia law, where local ruling Muslims act in defiance of regional law and blatantly violate the rights of locals. This I do not doubt. The U.S. government (in concert with local governments) should protect everyone in the country from violence and threats of violence. But violating property rights is neither an effective nor a just way to prevent the forcible imposition of Sharia law.

Hawkins’s arguments illustrate that the opponents of the mosque wish to use their activism against the mosque as a proxy for fighting violent Islamists, a ridiculous approach. The way to fight violent Islam is to fight violent Islam, not restrict the property rights of apparently peaceful Muslims.

Another argument made against the mosque is that, allegedly, “the president of the Cordoba Initiative, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf calls for sharia law in America.” Moreover, Rauf’s father “was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.” (I have not independently verified these claims.)

Let us grant that, in America, we do not punish children for the sins of their fathers.

Do the organizers of the New York mosque in fact actively conspire to violate the rights of people within the United States? If the answer is yes, then the government should investigate and prosecute them. If the answer is no, then violating their property rights is unjust, unpractical, and frankly unAmerican.

A final argument I have heard is that we do not know who is funding the mosque, and perhaps at least some of the funding is coming from Saudi Arabia, money that could be tied to terrorist organizations. Again, the way to solve such a problem is NOT to restrict the property rights of people within the U.S. The fundamental question is this: why do international terrorist organizations continue to threaten the United States? Does anyone seriously think that restricting New York property will strike a blow against international terrorists?

If the organizers of the New York mosque were willfully tied to terrorist organizations, then that would be a matter for government action. I have seen no evidence that that is the case. If they unknowingly and indirectly receive funds with ties to terrorist organizations, then the appropriate response by the government is to destroy the terrorist network, seize the network’s assets, and thereby prevent the transfer of those funds. But then the New York Muslims should be free to continue building their mosque and to seek funds from other sources.

I fully support public education efforts and peaceful protests to make known the dangers of violent Islam. If the property were mine, certainly no mosque would be built there. But the property isn’t mine. And, here in America, we defend rights of speech, religion, and property.

Frankly, the campaign to forcibly shut down the mosque reeks of scapegoating. Consider this incident (via Salon) reported by a New Jersey columnist regarding an anti-mosque rally:

At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.

“Go home,” several shouted from the crowd.

“Get out,” others shouted.

In fact, the two men – Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry — were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called “The Way.” Both said they had come to protest the mosque.

“I’m a Christian,” Nassralla shouted to the crowd, his eyes bulging and beads of sweat rolling down his face.

But it was no use. The protesters had become so angry at what they thought were Muslims that New York City police officers had to rush in and pull Nassralla and El Masry to safety.

Is this the sort of behavior that Americans now sanction?

In her post on the matter, Diana Hsieh makes clear the horrific consequences of violating people’s rights based on their religious convictions:

People should not be judged guilty by the law and stripped of their rights just because they accept or advocate certain ideas. A person has the right to hold whatever beliefs he pleases — however wrong — provided that he does not attempt to force them on others. He has the right to practice the religion of his choosing, so long as he does so without violating the rights of others.

Even in times of war, a government cannot justly treat all immigrants from the enemy’s country or all adherents of the enemy’s religion as enemies. To strip a person of his rights to life, liberty, or property without some concrete evidence of his sympathy for or assistance to the enemy is to punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty. It’s pure collectivism. …

If, without any known terrorist or criminal connections, the government need not respect the property rights of the Muslims seeking to build this mosque, then why respect the property rights of any Muslims? Can the government prevent the building of mosques elsewhere? Can it destroy existing mosques? Can it seize the home of Muslims? Can it shut down Islamic web sites, even if unconcerned with the infidel? Can it ban Muslims from advocating their religion? Can it imprison Muslim leaders? Can it intern Muslims in camps? Can it execute people for refusing to renounce Islam? …

Personally, I regard the principles underlying the call to ignore the property rights of these Muslims as a major threat to my liberty. Suppose that Muslims are stripped of their rights and shipped off to the gulag. Do you imagine that our government — statist behemoth that it is — wouldn’t use those same powers to silence other critics?

If anyone has evidence that the organizers of the New York mosque are involved in some criminal conspiracy or terrorist network, then let them bring forth the evidence. (If such evidence existed, the appropriate response hardly would be merely to restrict the property rights of the parties.) Otherwise, the property owners have the right to build whatever they wish on their property, regardless of who may take offense.

What is wrong with violent Islam is that it violates individual rights. It cannot be fought through additional violations of individual rights. If we wish to defeat violent Islam and its ideals, we must first commit ourselves fully to the protection of rights.

June 27 Update: My analysis basically lines up with that of Steve Simpson and Jim Woods. For the contrary view, listen to Leonard Peikoff’s (pre-dated) June 28 podcast. I stress here that the underlying agreement among all those commentators is that the U.S. should in fact bring a real war to the nation’s enemies, the state sponsors of Islamist terror. However, I continue to press two points: first, if such a war were brought, then the mosque near the World Trade Center would be an utterly moot point, and, second, giving the Obama administration the power to bomb American properties (as Peikoff suggests) strikes me as extremely horrifying.

June 28 Update: Diana Hsieh responds to Peikoff’s podcast:

[T]he fact remains that our government is not at war with our Islamic enemies, not in any real sense. … As a result of that failure, the actions of the government toward those enemies are limited. For example, our government cannot prosecute imams for treason when they give aid and comfort to enemy terrorist groups like Hamas. …

The solution is not to pretend as if war has been declared — and thereby empower the government to violate people’s rights willy-nilly. The solution is not to eliminate the few remaining limits on government power that protect our capacity to speak freely. The solution is press hard for a proper war — a war against our true enemies, a war fought purely on the basis of American self-interest. …

I have also posted five questions for those who want to forcibly block the mosque.

June 28 Update: Paul Hsieh has posted excellent commentary about the nature of the debate.


amynasir June 16, 2010 at 3:50 PM
VERY well said! Thanks for posting this excellent summary of what is going on.

Adam Thompson June 16, 2010 at 9:19 PM
I agree, very well said.

Grant Jones June 17, 2010 at 10:19 AM

Funny how some people apply David Kelley’s views on Objectivism as an “open philosophy” to Islam. There is no theological or historical reason to make the distinction between a peaceful, enlightened Islam and a “violent Islam.” As the Prime Minister of Turkey has stated, there is only one Islam as defined in the Koran and Hadith. It is violent, irrational, vicious and intolerant.

Warfare takes many forms. In a lengthy interview Andrew McCarthy notes how the building of the Cordoba Mosque is part of the Stealth Jihad. Enemy agents, which the mosque builders are, have no rights on American soil.

Objectivists who think the war against Islam can be won using the same strategy that defeated Nazi Germany need to take a long, hard look at the enemy’s strategy and tatics. Just because they don’t wear a uniform and work directly for a government doesn’t make the Muslim Brotherhood and freelance Jihadists any less dangerous or anymore entitled to Constitutional rights.

Ari June 17, 2010 at 12:58 PM

Do you deny that Islamic regions rescued the works of Aristotle and bequeathed them to the West?

Do you deny that Averroes worked largely in the Aristotelian tradition?

Do you deny that “at least some Muslims promote political and religious freedom and peace among nations?”

In fact, what you are promoting is ideological determinism. You contend that, because somebody self-identifies as a Muslim, that person must take the violent and totalitarian impulses of Islam to their logical conclusions. Obviously that is false.

Likewise, self-identified Christians do not necessarily take the violent and totalitarian impulses of Christianity to their logical conclusions. Indeed, Ayn Rand identified one Christian philosopher, Aquinas, as among the greatest philosophers of all time.

I point out that McCarthy seems to be against not only the mosque near the WTC, but against building of any mosque. He states, “Yet there are 2,300-plus mosques in the U.S. and scores in the New York metropolitan area alone. No one has tried to stop that…”

So do you, Grant, believe that every mosque within the United States should be forcibly shut down? Do you believe that every Christian church in the United States that advocates the subjugation of U.S. law to Biblical law likewise be forcibly shut down? You you believe that every private college with “anti-American” professors should be forcibly shut down? Do you believe that philosophers who advocate ideas with totalitarian or anti-American implications should be imprisoned? Such a policy is the logical conclusion of your argument.

If you have a single shred of evidence that the mosque’s builders actively participate in criminal or terrorist organizations, then state that evidence. (If such evidence were forthcoming, then the government should act accordingly, in which case the building of the mosque would be a moot point.)

Otherwise, your claims that nonviolent United States citizens should be stripped of their Constitutional rights, because of their professed religion, is pure totalitarianism.

While your reference to Kelley constitutes an ad hominem smear, in fact the case illustrates the error of ideological determinism. Just because Rand’s philosophy is inherently rooted in reality and reason, doesn’t mean that all self-identified Objectivists look to reality or employ reason. Your post certainly proves that!

Thanks, -Ari Armstrong