In mid-August 2010 the British weekly The Economist published an article “Arab Reactions to the Cordoba Mosque: What the Arab Papers Say”.
Covering a fair range of national newspapers and different arguments the article indicated that Arab journalists are voicing about as many different opinions as have been expressed in America and Europe.
One view cited came from Hossam Eitani, a journalist who writes for pan-Arab daily paper Dar al-Hayat. Eitani blames the Tea Party movement for what he perceives as American ‘anti-islamic’ sentiment behind opposition to the mosque.
“Key figures in the Republican Party” he writes “such as former vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, have come out in support of those opposed to the construction of mosques. The Tea Party movement supports them because it backs the Republican Party and is counting on a majority of Americans to contribute to the movement’s religious, social and racist chauvinism… it is taking an active role campaigning against building mosques.”
Whatever one thinks of the Tea Party and whether one is a Democrat or Republican, Eitani’s argument is disingenuous in equating opposition to a mosque at Ground Zero with opposition to “the construction of mosques.” No-one significant, as far as this writer can see, is campaigning against the right of American muslims to build mosques in the USA. There are arguments for and against the building of a mosque at Ground Zero and a debate about the rights and wrongs of building on that site, but Eitani is mischievous in suggesting Americans, in general, are opposed to building mosques, in general. With many hundreds of mosques functioning across the US it’s quite untenable to imply that opposition to the siting of one mosque is equals a campaign against mosques.
Taking a slightly different tack, Yasser Abu Halala writes in Jordan’s al-Ghad newspaper that the US has to decide whether it wants the site of the Trade Centre atrocity to stand for war with islam or the integration of American muslims into US society. “A rational person” he wrote “would prefer to build rather than tear down, but whoever said that public opinion is rational and democracy not fragile?”
A very different slant was published inOkaz, a Saudi paper. Journalist Hani Naqshabandi focuses on the backing given to the ‘Cordoba Initiative’ by New York’s local authorities when they gave permission for the islamic centre and mosque to go ahead. He congratulated America on its support for freedoms, saying the official acceptance of plans to build the mosque at Ground Zero was an example of tolerance that Arab nations should be prepared to follow:
“In the Arab world, freedom makes way for security. We have become overly paranoid about everything. Look at the story of this mosque that is set to be built in the financial capital of America. America was burnt by the fire of extremism in its own backyard when it was attacked by Islamic extremists. It is both the number one target for religious extremism and the leading nation opposing that extremism. But still it has overcome its fears by allowing Muslims to build the mosque.”
Among the many Arab voices supporting the building of the mosque were some opposed to the initiative. Salama Ahmed Salama, Egyptian columnist for the daily al-Shorouk, said this:
“I do not think that President Barack Obama’s intervention supporting the construction of a mosque and Islamic centre near the site of the World Trade Centre in New York was prudent or wise…. While it was based on the principle of defending freedom of worship in America and the rights of Muslims to practise their religion, the fallout from the campaigns inciting hatred against Muslims will be greater than the symbolic significance of his decision…. In my opinion, it is better for the Muslims of New York to build their mosque somewhere else, far away from this American commotion and harm.”
Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed went further. A writer for the Saudi-owned but London-based daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat and Managing Editor of Saudi-owned pan-Arab news channel al-Arabiya, he argued that New York muslims don’t even want a mosque to be built on the Ground Zero site:
“Americans don’t understand….that the battle with the terrorists behind 9/11 is not their fight, but a battle for muslims, as over twenty islamic states struggle against terrorism. Some muslims will consider the construction of a mosque there as a commemoration and immortalization of what the terrorists, who committed their crime in the name of Islam, did. I don’t think the majority of muslims want to build a symbol or a place of worship that could become a place for terrorists and their muslim followers to take pride in. Or a building that could become a shrine of hatred against Islam that turns public opinion against it, as seems to be the case at the moment, with claims that a mosque is being built on the bodies of three thousand dead Americans, buried alive as some people shout allahu akbar….There are no devoted Muslims who want a place of worship there.”
Looking at even a sample of the Arab voices and opinions published during the debate about the Park21 / Cordoba Initiative it seems fairly clear that Arab opinion is as diverse and nuanced as opinion in the United States and in Europe. Which may serve to remind us that, while there are islamic terrorists out there with a monolithic hatred of America, Europe, democracy, free speech, non-muslims, women’s rights, gay rights and every other secular or religious freedom, most of us are involved in an ongoing, free-for-all, international debate about all those issues and more and interested in the exchange of opinions and ideas – and the solutions eventually hammered out by discussion.