Moderate and Radical

Monday 2 June 2014

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a N. Y./Region piece by Sharon Otterman on the National September 11 Memorial Museum.  The article concerns various discontents with how Al Qaeda and terrorism are represented in a short film documentary there. The chief complaint of visitors, reports the Times, is that there is insufficient distinction made in the film and Museum between Islam and jihadist violence. “Most worrisome, some said they thought a Muslim might feel uncomfortable visiting.” A couple visiting from Australia “worried” that “Muslims would not feel welcome.” Of course, emotional comfort is now our highest criterion in so many areas of public life.

On a different angle, an inter-faith panel, brought together by the good Mr Peter B. Gudaitis, holds that using such epithets as “Islamist” and “jihadists” actually plays to the advantage of our bandana-wrapped AK-47-toting suicidal maniac friends. It “could lead people to believe that the group’s violent, radical beliefs were indicative of the wider religion.” Mr Gudaitis prefers the phrase “Muslim extremists.” Says Mr Adrian Cabreros of San Francisco, “[The Museum’s presentation] kind of gives Islam a bad vibe.” Indeed. As do other facts.

Mr Ron Speedbey, a retired NYC cop from Queens, and his friend Mr Ben Schwecke, a New York disabled veteran, felt that “[t]he exhibits they did see ‘did not really make clear that this is a fringe organization that really has corrupted much of the Quran.” Mr Schwecke made the helpful suggestion “that the museum should find a local imam and let him do a brief film for the museum ‘about this is who Muslims really are.'”

On the other hand, Ms Debra Burlingame, whose brother was a pilot murdered in those attacks, and who is on the Museum board and “helped design museum programming even though she holds controversial views about Islam,” has a somewhat different perspective. She feels quite strongly that Islam is a transnational threat and that our government is putting us all at risk by playing nicey-nice with Islam. When Megyn Kelly of Fox News proposed to Ms Burlingame that her opinions might cause her to be considered an “Islamophobe,” Ms Burlingame accepted the epithet: “‘I am hard pressed to deny it,’ she responded. ‘There’s no such thing as an irrational fear of Islam or Muslims when we know that virtually 80 percent of terror attacks in the world are committed by radical Muslims.’” (I concur, though her usage is unclear. The -phobe suffix usually does indicate a psychologically morbid fear, if not an irrational one.)

For thoughts and words such as these, Ms Burlingame does not merit the approval of one Richard Idriss, an Arab-American debate coach from Berkeley. He seems fond of cats, which I do approve. Anyway, Mr Idriss seems to be an adherent of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, those fine folks who recently got Ayaan Hirsi Ali disinvited from a commencement speech at Brandeis. And he uses their favorite “debate” strategies: claim that the crime of disagreement is “hate speech” and get it banned via petitions and lawsuits. He has a petition going to remove Ms Burlingame from her position on the Museum board. This, therefore, is “moderate” Islam for you: Shut Up, Infidel!

Just one question: in the absence of a “moderate” Islam, would radical, violent Islamism exist in the first place, or continue to exist, spread, and thrive in the second? As good debate coaches know, that’s a rhetorical question. We will all be better off to share Ms Burlingame’s justified and cautious skepticism rational fear, and the 9/11 Memorial should remind us all of the continuing need to do so.

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