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

Time to Draw Mohammed

“Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” is May 20. I have already published my entry and explained my reasons for participating. I have also explained why critics of the campaign are full of hot air.

I am pleased that other prominent organizations also are promoting the campaign. Michael Moynihan is leading the charge at Reason, while Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard is also publishing drawings.

And yet some critics remain miffed about the effort.

Eboo Patel worries that college students who chalked images of Mohammed needlessly offended Muslim students who don’t support violence. Patel writes, “Muslim Students Associations (MSA) on all three campuses [Northwestern, Illinois and Wisconsin] said they believed in free speech and were opposed to fringe groups who threaten violence, too.”

Patel argues that attacking a “sacred cow” is not a good way to defend free speech. For example, making fun of a sick grandmother or a cancer patient, or using the “N” word, would also attack a sacred cow, but doing so obviously would be wrong.

Further, argues Patel, drawing Mohammed “intentionally and effectively marginalize a community” and hurts the Muslim students.

Shahed Amanullah argues that the death threats made against the South Park creators (who used images evoking Mohammed) are not representative of the Muslim community. With the “Everybody Draw Mohammed” campaign, “these Muslim-Americans are being subject to mass insult.” Amanullah likens drawing Mohammed to drawing “vile stereotypes of blacks.”

The arguments of Patel and Amanullah are entirely bogus.

The first critical point is that, while most Muslims (especially in America) do not make death threats or try to murder people for drawing Mohammed, a significant number of Muslims do exactly that. Let us review, shall we?

* Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Versus was met with Islamist rioting, death threats, and a fatwa by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

* A violent Islamist murdered Theo Van Gough for daring to create a film critical of Islamist oppression of women.

* The Danish cartoons of Mohammed also were met with widespread Islamist rioting, death threats, and acts of violence.

* Violent Islamists threatened to murder the creators of South Park.

* A violent Islamist planted a bomb in New York City, perhaps partly in response to South Park.

* A violent Islamist recently tried to burn down the house of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.

* A violent Islamist recently broke into the home of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

* A violent Islamist recently attacked Vilks at a university lecture for daring to show a controversial film. (See also the AP’s account.)

* Violent Islamists have threatened to murder an organizer of the “Everybody Draw Mohammed” campaign.

Claims that the threats like those against the South Park creators are totally atypical and just the result of a couple of New York nut jobs are, put simply, lies. A frighteningly large portion of the Muslim community threatens, condones, or openly practices violence.

Let the majority of peaceful Muslims take a stand, denounce violence and threats of violence, denounce terrorist organizations, and strongly advocate individual rights and freedom of speech.

Are Muslim students at American universities all peace and light? Then let them openly and loudly condemn the Muslim student at the University of California, San Diego, who sympathized with the Nazis and Islamist terrorist organizations and called for the extermination of the Jews.

Moving on to tangential matters, I have already explained why drawing Mohammed is not like expressing racism or making fun of a sick grandmother or a cancer patient. Racism is inherently evil. Making fun of sick people is inherently wrong. But there is nothing inherently wrong about drawing Mohammed, the fact that some people take irrational offense to it notwithstanding.

Indeed, there is great moral virtue in drawing Mohammed in the current climate, for doing so offers some protection and moral support for those threatened by violence.

Moreover, religious beliefs are inherently ideological. One’s race or illness is not derived from ideology. The primary purpose of freedom of expression is to protect ideological discussions. Do Muslims ever criticize other religions? Obviously. Likewise, “infidels” and Muslims alike properly have every right to criticize Islam, just as I have the right to criticize socialism, Christianity, etc. Drawing Mohammed can be a way to express views about that figure and the religion he developed. Muslims who condemn such drawings essentially are claiming that their ideology uniquely may not be criticized.

Contrary to Patel’s claims, drawing Mohammed does not marginalize Muslims, but instead treats Muslims exactly the way that members of every other religion in America are treated. For example, South Park has relentlessly mocked Christianity. What Patel actually is demanding is special treatment of Muslims. But I refuse to marginalize Muslims by failing to subject them to the same level of criticism to which I subject Christians, socialists, and every other group with which I disagree.

What of the claims that drawing Mohammed hurts and insults Muslims? Well, what of them? If people are irrationally offended by some drawing, that’s their problem.

Perhaps Muslims should work on expressing less outrage about drawings of Mohammed, and more outrage against Islamist violence and terrorism, Islamist abuses of women, Islamist mutilation of little girls, Islamist murders of homosexuals, Islamist censorship of speech and art, and Islamist oppression of Muslim peoples.



Prometheus May 18, 2010 at 4:42 PM
Another outstanding article. Well done, Ari.

David McBride

Harsha May 19, 2010 at 10:00 AM
Too good !

Vinnie May 20, 2010 at 2:57 PM
Couldn’t decide how to draw it… until now

Anonymous May 21, 2010 at 5:56 PM
Announcing Show Mohammed Day June 3rd: Rallys in Celebration of Freedom of Speech & Religion.
I hadn’t expected much to come of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day once the instigator canceled it and there was no organized effort for rally’s in support of it. Little did I know there were so many in favor of censorship that would arise and capture the day instead. I’d planned to to announce the new event yesterday on the wall of the Everybody Draw Mohammed day facebook page… only to discover when I was ready that it had disappeared. I thought it would be back today but since it isn’t I need to find other ways to get the word out to suggest people being organizing real world rally’s in support
of freedom of speech and religion. I was hoping you might consider helping announce and spread the word about the group.

The facebook page is at

and a backup of the welcome page is at

Unfortunately with the Everybody Draws Mohammed facebook page and its > 100,000 people following it perhaps having been censored.. I seem
to be suddenly starting from scratch to find sources to spread the word.


Bryan May 30, 2010 at 5:30 AM

Celebrations June 5th!

Resurrection, Interrupted

Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted is filled with fascinating insights into the Biblical scriptures. Today it seems appropriate to touch on some of his notes about the resurrection of Jesus.

Ehrman points out, “[W]e don’t have the originals of any of these Gospels, only copies made later, in most instances many centuries later. These copies all differ from one another, very often in the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection” (pages 47-48).

The scholarly consensus, Ehrman notes, is that “the final twelve versus of Mark’s Gospel are not original to Mark’s Gospel but were added by a scribe in a later generation” (page 48). This is particularly interesting given that Mark was the primary source for Matthew and Luke.

Because the Gospels draw on the same narratives, they “agree that on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. But on virtually every detail they disagree” (page 48).

For instance, who went to the tomb? After he rises from the dead, to whom does Jesus appear, and what does he say?

For instance, in Mark Jesus tells “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome” to “tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (16:7). In Luke, Jesus says, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise” (24:6-7). Ehrman points out that Luke also authored Acts, which states that Jesus charged his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem” (1:4). (See Ehrman page 49 for commentary on this point.)

Of course many will see this as missing the forest for the trees: is not the central narrative the resurrection, and the rest detail? Perhaps, but the details do matter when evaluating the nature of the overall narrative. (Obviously, looking at this resurrection story from the perspective of its canonized representatives hardly exhausts the types of criticism to which it may be subjected.)

Though it strays from the resurrection narrative, another interesting point that Ehrman makes is that Matthew had an odd way of fulfilling Old Testament prophesies (see page 50).

Zechariah 9:9 says: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! [Note the repetitive verse.] Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt and the foal of an ass.” (I’m using a different translation than Ehrman uses.)

The last part of the line modifies the first instance of “ass” or donkey. “But Matthew evidently did not understand this poetic convention in this place,” Ehrman notes; thus Matthew writes, “The disciples… brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon” (21:6-7).

I have no doubt that, in the Gospels, Jesus fulfills (select and vague) Old Testament prophesies, for the Gospels were written precisely to make him do so.

But the narrative of Jesus’s resurrection is itself only a tree in the broader forest of spring-time life-generation myths. It is a lovely, sunny day, the earth (in my part of the world) is returning to summer life, and it’s time to celebrate plants, fertility, bunnies, eggs, and long life!

Conservative Deceit About Christian Liberty

Some of my fellow Coloradans wish to outlaw the birth control pill and subject my wife to the death penalty if she takes it, yet today David Limbaugh dismisses as “paranoia” concerns about “the intersection of Christianity and the public square.” Limbaugh is amazed by “how much [critics] fear something that represents such a little threat to them.”

Let us review, shall we? Many Christians in the United States advocate the following political goals:

* Outlaw all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and risk to the woman’s health, from the moment of fertilization, with criminal penalties extending to execution.

* Outlaw all fertility treatments, birth control (including the pill), medical research, and medical treatment that may involve the destruction of a fertilized egg.

* Impose mandatory waiting periods and ultrasounds before a woman may obtain an abortion. (This is a marginal step toward the goal of complete prohibition.)

* Outlaw all expression involving consenting adults that is arbitrarily deemed “obscene.” (Various Christians want to outlaw all material deemed pornographic.)

* Force Americans to subsidize religious institutions for “faith based” welfare.

* Expand welfare (the forced redistribution of wealth) because of Biblical principles of helping the less-well off.

* Imprison American adults for consuming various drugs, including marijuana taken for medical purposes, regardless of the level of police powers necessary to achieve this goal. (Some Christians even want to return to alcohol prohibition.)

* Require religious prayer and religious instruction at tax-funded schools.

* Deny equal protection under the laws to homosexuals, including the right to form romantic contracts and adopt children.

A few Christians want to execute homosexuals and adulterers and explicitly call for theocracy (see Christian Reconstruction or the comments of a Christian radio host.)

No, nothing to worry about!

Limbaugh makes a couple of basic mistakes in his article. First, he pretends that the only relevant issue is freedom of expression. Second, he pretends that the only debate is between “the left” and Christian conservatives. Obviously the left with its campaign censorship laws and media controls at least matches conservative Christianity in its hostility toward free expression. Unfortunately, as seen with President Obama’s expansion of President Bush’s “faith based” welfare, the left increasingly mingles politics with religion as well.

True, many Christians fight for liberty in at least some areas. Whether that effort flows from Christian doctrine, or is ultimately incompatible with it, is a debate for another day. But for Limbaugh to dismiss as “paranoia” concerns about the efforts of many Christians to base politics on religion is ludicrous.

Come On, You Homosexual Demon

No need to go to uncivilized, pestilence-ridden hovels at the far corners of the earth for crazy. We’ve got plenty of that right here in the U.S. of A.

Witness for yourself a “gay exorcism;” the attempt to cast a “homosexual demon” out of a teenage boy. The religious scene features a disgusting display of bigoted ignorance.

(It’s unclear to me whether the alleged demon in question is itself homosexual, or if it merely causes homosexuality in its purported victim. I suppose a gay demon that also causes gayness would be particularly hard to exorcise.)

The Stoning of Soraya M.

Who was Soraya M.? She was a young woman murdered by Islamist thugs in 1986. She is every woman who continues to suffer under Islamist tyranny around the world.

Most of the horror stories we never hear about. One story has been made into a film, The Stoning of Soraya M. I am not looking forward to watching it. But watch it I must.

[September 14, 2014 Update: The video in question is no longer available at YouTube.]