National Catholic Register


Douthat on Moderate Islam & Imam Rouf


| Posted 8/30/10 at 2:25 PM


Just a quick follow-up to last week’s mega-post series on the “Ground Zero Mosque” and Imam Faisal Rouf:

Catholic blogger Ross Douthat recently wrote a couple of measured, sensible posts (post 1, post 2) about Imam Rouf and moderate Islam—at least, I find them measured and sensible, since they coverge nicely with my own take on the subject.

On the tricky business of building bridges and the tendency of such pioneers to seem shifty and two-faced, Douthat writes that some Western critics insist that “moderate Muslims” must prove their “bona fides” by “making a frontal assault on Islamic culture as it currently exists.” Would-be “bridge builders” like Rouf are seen as “suspect, and possibly beyond the pale” because of their tendency to “use different language and strike different notes” depending on the audience. Douthat writes:

This school of thought strikes me as misguided. … If such bridges are going to be built, much of the work will necessarily be done by figures who sometimes seem ambiguous and even two-faced, who have illiberal conversation partners and influences, and whose ideas are tailored to audiences in Cairo or Beirut or Baghdad as well as audiences in Europe and America. That’s how change—religious, ideological, whatever—nearly always works.

Douthat also notes, though, that there is a difference between not automatically consigning ambiguous figure like Rouf to secret-jihadist status and not critiquing them at all:

…would Rauf really “destroy his credibility” with the world’s Muslims if, say, he didn’t bend over backward to avoid saying a negative word about Iran’s regime when it was in the midst of a brutal crackdown on dissent? Or if he hadn’t offered an inflammatory analogy—using the kind of rhetoric that fuels the poisonous “America’s at war with Muslims” narrative—between al Qaeda’s campaign of terror and the sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s regime? Or if he’d found a way to say something critical about Hamas when an interviewer put him on the spot—not about the Palestinian cause in general, but just about Hamas?

Reasonable people can disagree on these questions. Maybe, as Larison claims, Rauf’s remarks on Iran should be read as a bland do-gooder call for dialogue, rather than a contortionist’s attempt to avoid reckoning with the realities of the clerical regime. Maybe his non-comments about Hamas were just an attempt to a duck a “gotcha” question. Certainly I don’t see the imam as a deeply sinister figure, or a brilliant machiavel with vast and dark designs. But he does seem like the kind of person who makes excuses for sinister figures, and curries favor with them, and bobs and weaves where their crimes are concerned, all in the name of dialogue and evenhandedness. And that seems like sufficient grounds for criticism and mistrust.

I think that’s just about right. Your thoughts?

Further reading: My take on Cordoba House (the “Ground Zero Mosque”)