William Dalrymple in the New York Times talks some sense about Islam and the “war on terror”, a message singularly ignored by many politicians and media hacks:
President Obama’s eloquent endorsement on Friday of a planned Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center, followed by his apparent retreat the next day, was just one of many paradoxes at the heart of the increasingly impassioned controversy.
We have seen the Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to ending “unjust and unfair discrimination,” seek to discriminate against American Muslims. We have seen Newt Gingrich depict the organization behind the center — the Cordoba Initiative, which is dedicated to “improving Muslim-West relations” and interfaith dialogue — as a “deliberately insulting” and triumphalist force attempting to built a monument to Muslim victory near the site of the twin towers.
Most laughably, we have seen politicians like Rick Lazio, a Republican candidate for New York governor, question whether Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the principal figure behind the project, might have links to “radical organizations.”
The problem with such claims goes far beyond the fate of a mosque in downtown Manhattan. They show a dangerously inadequate understanding of the many divisions, complexities and nuances within the Islamic world — a failure that hugely hampers Western efforts to fight violent Islamic extremism and to reconcile Americans with peaceful adherents of the world’s second-largest religion.
Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors.
Yet many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion.