HAT TIP: Desert Rat
Why can't Barack Obama tell the world about American tolerance?
The controversy over the 'Ground Zero mosque' has portrayed the United States as a land of bigots. Toby Harnden wonders why the US President has helped fuel this myth.
Toby Harnden's American Way Telegraph
Published: 2:00PM BST 28 Aug 2010
It took a Manhattan taxi driver called Ahmed Sharif to speak out for America, which is being vilified as bigoted and Islamophobic because of the controversy generated by opposition to the so-called "Ground Zero mosque".
The United States was his dream country, he enthused, and he loved New York City. "I feel like I belong here. This is the city actually [for] all colours, races, religion, everyone. We live here side by side peacefully."
Which was a pretty noble sentiment coming from a man whose throat had been slashed by a drunken, deranged passenger who had inquired whether he was a Muslim before pulling out a knife and shouting "Peace be upon you" in Arabic.
As the whole world knows, there is a furore raging over the proposed building of a 15-storey Islamic community centre, containing a mosque, two blocks from Ground Zero, site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda.
America's liberal elites have been falling over themselves to denounce their country and fellow citizens as anti-Muslim xenophobes who don't understand that it was not all followers of Islam who were responsible for the atrocities of 2001.
Certainly, some Americans opposed to what is now known as the Park51centre (its previous name of Cordoba centre, a reference to a mosque built in Spain on the site of a Christian church to symbolise a Muslim victory, did not quite strike the right public relations note) are motivated by bigotry.
But it was the centre's Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf himself who linked its purpose to its proximity to the Ground Zero site. It is entirely valid to question whether this is the right approach to building interfaith bridges.
Rauf, who once described the US policies as "an accessory to the crime" of 9/11, stated in Bahrain last week that all the "attention is a sign of the success of our efforts" – an utterance that shows he is stupid, mischievous or worse.
Even if the aim of building the centre there was to encourage religious understanding, that is clearly no longer a possible outcome. So what kind of success was Rauf referring to?
To want to debate such matters, however, is judged as beyond the pale. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York tried to shut down discussion by saying that opponents of Rauf's initiative "ought to be ashamed of themselves". Presumably, that includes Bangladeshi-born Sharif, who doesn't support the Park51 centre.
President Barack Obama said that the US constitution guarantees religious freedom (which no one disputes). The American mainstream media and commentariat has stridently and almost uniformly championed Rauf's cause. In doing so, they've happily trashed their fellow Americans, stating they're motivated only by intolerance.
In fact, most evidence points to the US being one of the most tolerant countries in the world. A poll from you won't see cited much because it doesn't fit the prevailing narrative was recently conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute.
It found that 76 per cent of Americans would support Muslims in their community building an Islamic centre or mosque provided they followed the same rules and regulations required of other religious groups. But the 9/11 site is seen as different. After the 9/11 attacks there was no anti-Muslim backlash in the US.
Obama's ill-judged intervention, and the shrill outrage of his allies in the intelligentsia, has damaged America's standing in the world by fuelling anti-American stereotypes.
Aides to General David Petraeus, commanding troops in Afghanistan, say he is livid about the portrayal of the US as a hotbed of anti-Muslim bigotry and fears it may undermine the war effort, which is based on partnership with an Islamic regime.
Many Americans are incensed by the way that legitimate protest and questioning of Obama's policies is routinely branded as racist or ignorant. They are tired of being told what to think and when to think it.
During the 2008 campaign, for instance, you were a bigot if you mentioned Obama's middle name or his Muslim background. Yet once he was elected, he went to Ankara and Cairo to proclaim that his full name was "Barack Hussein Obama".
Ahmed Sharif, a victim of real anti-Muslim bigotry, stated that the attack on him was an aberration and that America is a land of tolerance and opportunity. What a shame that Obama, despite his much-vaunted gift with words, appears unable to speak about such things with similar eloquence.