Monday, August 30, 2010


*** An excellent article. MS ***

Bitter religious fighting over mosque plays right into al-Qaeda's hands

By Evan F. Kohlmann

The way that renowned Christian preacher Franklin Graham portrayed Muslims on a nationally-televised news broadcast last week, one would imagine that Islam is some sort of insidious cancer devouring the civilized world. Between his nauseating description of Islam as a "devilish" faith and his nonsensical discussion about the "Muslim seed" of President Obama, Graham managed to shame not only himself, but also the very democratic, pluralist ideals that we as Americans aspire to. I watched in disgust as his uninterrupted tirade continued, and it suddenly occurred to me that some viewers might not recognize that Graham speaks only for a prejudiced minority, whose numbers have been artificially inflated by the cynical recent tactics of various political candidates. To that segment of viewers, Graham instead represents the larger, ugly face of American xenophobia and prejudice--and in doing so, this self-described "man of God" has merely provided extra ammunition for al-Qaeda to use in its battle against us, our constitutional ideals, and our ethos of personal freedom.

Indeed, al-Qaeda's leaders understand better than most that their own twisted political philosophy is terribly unpopular, amongst the vast majority of both Muslims and non-Muslims. This being the case, al-Qaeda and its global affiliates have embarked on a desperate search for English-speaking envoys who can successfully reach out to Muslims and somehow convince them to abandon their American homeland. Jihadist pundits including Adam Gadahn and Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki have attempted to paint a gloomy and foreboding future for Muslims in the U.S.--forcibly corralled into "concentration camps" and otherwise treated like errant Jews under a revived Nazi regime. These militants have scoffed at the election of a supposedly transformational figure like President Barack Obama and instead urge Muslim Americans to withdraw from a society that refuses to accept them in order to become the next "heroic" iteration of Nidal Hassan or Faisal Shahzad. Essentially, the mission of Americanized al-Qaeda spokesmen like Gadahn and al-Awlaki is quite simple: to provoke us into tearing ourselves apart.

For nearly a decade, despite the tremendous emotional fallout from 9/11, ordinary Americans have, by-and-large, resisted any serious impulse towards scapegoating and Islamophobia. Conversely, only a fringe scattering of extremists have managed to emerge from the Muslim community in the United States. Indeed, even when they have emerged, it is often other American Muslims within the community who are the first to warn law enforcement about the potential danger. Despite the raucous protests of demonstrators outside the proposed location of Cordoba House in New York, the simple reality is that there is no "fifth column" of extreme Muslim fanatics waiting in the wings to take over America and impose harsh interpretations of Shariah law. But if mainstream American politicians continue in their bids to score cheap points by pointlessly demonizing Islam, and if mainstream media continue to give such views an uncritical national platform, then the risk of social alienation will edge higher amongst Muslim youths--who can rightfully ask what kind of place is there for them in an America which is openly and virulently hostile to their culture and faith. This kind of radicalization cannot be traced to a particular mosque, sermon, or even a charismatic Imam. No, should this kind of radicalization eventually occur, then we really have nobody but ourselves to blame for it.

Setting aside the exceptionally poisonous rhetoric of late, there are perhaps rational, sensible arguments both for and against the building of Cordoba House near Ground Zero. Certainly, the families of 9/11 victims have a right to express their views, and it would seem that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his colleagues failed to consider the larger consequences of inaugurating an ambitious project in such an emotionally-charged piece of real estate. Given the explosion of controversy and invective, one wonders whether building this mosque will really help ease the divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims. Nevertheless, it is worth considering that, in the view of al-Qaeda's hardcore constituents, for America to accept and embrace such an institution in the heart of Ground Zero would be the worst possible outcome. One such miscreant, in expressing his views on Cordoba House in an online al-Qaeda chat, said, "the game is clear--damn Obama and his goal of building this mosque. The purpose of building the mosque in that place is for America to regain its dignity."

Evan F Kohlmann is a Senior Partner at Flashpoint Global Partners,
a New York-based security consulting firm. He is the author of "Al-Qaida's Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network."

By Evan F. Kohlmann | August 27, 2010; 1:36 PM ET