The controversy over a prospective mosque and community center in lower Manhattan reached fever pitch late last month, starting when former vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin called on "Peaceful Muslims" to "pls refudiate" the project via her Twitter feed. She was soon joined by Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's call to prevent the building of any mosques near Ground Zero "so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia" -- thereby embracing Riyadh's medieval notions of religious freedom.
Bizarrely, the Anti-Defamation League embraced their cause last week, if not their arguments, putting out a statement "recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center" on the grounds that the project had become too controversial. (Peter Beinart discusses the ADL's strange turn in the Daily Beast today.)
What's particularly tragic about all this is that the people behind the so-called Ground Zero mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, are precisely the moderate Muslims that everyone recognizes are an important bulwark against extremism. They say their aim is, "steering the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect and away from heightened tensions." Here's the head of the Cordoba Initiative, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, speaking to FP in a 2006 interview about some controversial remarks Pope Benedict had just made about Islam:
The burning of churches and things like that are completely antithetical to the teachings and principles of Islam. While we may have our grounds for disagreeing and some of us may disagree strongly with the remarks that the Holy Father quoted, and while it might be offensive, destruction was not warranted by Islamic thought or jurisprudence.
The United States has largely avoided sectarian strife thus far, to Americans' great credit. But that may be changing, if even a guy like Imam Feisal is considered beyond the pale.
So what are we to make of this latest outburst of stupidity?
To me, the most interesting question is: Why now, nearly a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has anti-Muslim sentiment on the right gotten so virulent? There are clearly a couple factors at work -- primary season, the election of Barack Hussein Obama, the recent failed attacks in Chicago and Times Square -- but perhaps the most decisive is the absence of the most powerful voice for tolerance among American conservatives.
That's right, I'm talking about George W. Bush. Much as Muslims around the world may have despised his foreign policy and his interrogation and detention policies, the former president spoke out repeatedly and eloquently against attacks on Muslims, and visited an Islamic center several days after 9/11 to send the message that Muslims were not the enemy. He may not have much standing in the Islamic community today, but he still retains a broad following on the right.
But with Dubya now offstage, there are no conservatives left of stature who can push back against the insanity. Here's hoping Bush speaks out.