In Defense of Feisal Abdul-Rauf

Feisal Abdul-Rauf, founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, two of the three organizations involved in the Park51 project, is coming under increased scrutiny. Despite detailed stories in the New York Times and The Washington Post, there is still an undercurrent of distrust. While it may seem like the attack of Park51 by proxy, it is really an attack on American liberalism by proxy.

While I may criticize Abdul-Rauf’s leadership of Park51, it is important to understand that he does have a following in the United States. In fact, I find myself sympathetic to many of his points regarding the future of Islam in America. The reason he has this following is that he tries to be thoughtful and knowledgeable about things he is asked to speak about. He has said things that have been controversial, not for their content, but for their inelegance. In many ways his thoughts and criticisms of US foreign policy are very much in line with liberal critiques. And Abdul-Rauf’s opinions on our engagement in Iraq are even shared by Ron Paul, a libertarian/conservative politician.

He has become a focal point for the opposition to Park51 because those maligning him use him as punching bag for a proxy attack on liberal thought generally. Some Christians on president’s faith advisory council are under similar attack because they disrupt a narrative of a faith conflict between Christians and “others.”

The attack structure against Muslims in particular is fairly simple. You begin with the game of “six degrees of Bin Laden.” In this game, you connect a Muslim you don’t like through a connect-the-dots scenario to Bin Laden. For example, did you know that the Cordoba Initiative sent election monitors to Sudan, and Bin Laden was once believed to have been in Sudan? It is a game that trades in absurdity and conspiracy theories. The other approach is to take quotes out of context and use them to prove that the speaker or author is duplicitous. The term for that is now “Sherroding.” Then, finally, is the ever popular and constant smearcasting, where one just hurls mud and hopes one does not get called on the misinformation.

While the immediate goal is to discredit Abdul-Rauf, the long-term goal is to link liberal thought in this country to terrorism. If a Muslim has politically liberal thoughts, he or she can be made out to support radical jihadism, therefore liberal politics must support jihadism. It is a faulty logic based on the politics of destruction. The assault on President Obama’s Christianity is also another manifestation of this phenomenon. If the President is speaking from a liberal and Christian position, then the expression of liberal thought by Muslims becomes harder to attack. Therefore, Obama’s Christianity must be attacked as well.

It is unfair for an individual like Feisal Abdul-Rauf, like Mazen Asbahi before, to be subject to such vicious personal attacks. But it’s also important to know that in defending these individuals against false accusations, we are also standing up for the larger principle of being allowed to be liberal without being cast as traitors.