Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mosques and the Politics of Make Believe

by Norman Markowitz

The two most profound statements about religion for me anywhere were the following and I am paraphrasing: "I am a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Jew." That came from Mohandas K. Gandhi, in which he upheld all that was cooperative, humane, peace loving and healing in all religions while rejecting all that was chauvinistic, fanatical, my religion is the truth yours is false in your religion, along with caste systems, segregation and subjugation of women, etc.

The second is that religion is the opiate of the masses, the heart in a heartless world, the unreal refuge where human beings express hopes and dreams denied them in class divided societies. The second is of course Karl Marx, who was no friend or apologist for the institutional expressions of religion which were either partners in pre capitalist ruling classes in the exploitation of the masses, or largely servants to foster that exploitation. But he understood that religion filled a need for something beyond the narrow materialism what later theorists would call possessive individualism(the more I accumulate the freer and more powerful I am) that capitalist society encouraged people to accept, much less the clearly unjust rule of landlords, aristocrats, and other pre capitalist ruling groups, who found it useful to use "divine right" to justify their rule.

I thought of this as I read about the Alice in Wonderland politics surrounding the building of a Islamic Community Center and Mosque out of the devastation that was the World Trade Center. The Muslim Group that has sought to do this is the Cordoba Initiative. According to its website, it seeks outreach with non Muslims, particularly those in the Jewish religious community, espouses what rightwingers would call an "ultra-liberal" outlook toward religion's role in the world, and seeks communication, dialogue, friendship and common purpose with non Muslim groups. This group has as much to do with Al Qaeda as Unitarians would have with Christian clerical fascists.

In fact, many progressive people in Muslim countries have contended that the U.S. would do a great deal to fight Muslim clerical fascist groups like Al Qaeda by promoting progressive forces within the Islamic clergy, much as the Saudi royal family for decades has spent billions of its oil money to promote ultra right Islamic groups throughout the Muslim world. That would be part of a serious policy to fight against the Taliban Al Qaeda,like minded groups to the world, at least in the battle of ideas (working to raise the living standards of the masses in Muslim countries along with establishing in these countries the civil liberties standards advanced by the United Nations Charter) is the foundation for fighting these forces.

But our Republican Jingoes, Colonel Blimps, Yahoos (the Swift creatures) don't look at it this way. They have seized upon President Obama's statement defending the right of groups like the Cordoba initiative to undertake such projects. Newt Gingrich(who dreams that this election, like 1994, will produce a Second Republican Reich) denounced Obama for "pandering to radical Islam," even though this group has planned a center that challenges everything that the Muslim right represents and has a chance to weaken it. John Boehner, the Republican House Leader, called the decision to build the mosque and Republican Representative Peter King accused Obama of "caving in to political correctness" a term that the post 1960s right picked up from the New Left which initially made fun of the theorizing of the Communist left. A religious center that promotes ecumenicism, cooperation and understanding between communities, is the opposite of "jihadism," both the rightwing Muslim kind, and the secular Republican kind, which in this country continues its seventy year Jihad against liberalism, the welfare state, government social spending, which have taken the nation away from the Holy McKinley-Coolidge-Hoover Empire or Caliphate or, if one is a Jewish rightist, the great Kingdom of David or William, Calvin, and Herbert.

The Republicans are accusing the President of "siding with the Muslims." Actually, he defended the right of those who are advancing the project to do so, which is not the same as endorsing the project, a religious and civil liberties concept which might be difficult for the Republican Right to grasp.

Obama would have shown more leadership had he mentioned that those who have come forward with this project are fighting against those who attacked the World Trade Center among the very people that the Muslim right seeks to reach. If they build this center, those who bombed the world trade center would be among the first to try to attack it.

As for the anguish of those who lost loved ones in the attack, they are the ones who have the most to blame by not blaming Muslims in general for the attack, by coming to this center if and when it is built. By doing that, they will strike a blow against Al Qaeda --they will show that they will not be provoked into the kind of response that Al Qaeda sought in 2001 and which politicians like Bush gave them.

Finally, in reading that the Anti-Defamation League had issued a statement in opposition to the center, I thought of this. My mother's family who stayed in the heavily Jewish town of Pinsk, first in Czarist Russia, then in postwar Poland, then in Soviet ByeloRussia, now in ByeloRussia, were murdered in large numbers by the Nazis. If a German group, emphasizing the humanism of German culture, built a center to advance tolerance, understand, peace and brotherhood, near the killing fields where my mother's relatives perished, I would consider that a blow against the fascist murderers, not anything that would caste aspersions on their victims.

Given the real economic and social issues we face, this is very minor. Hopefully, Obama will seize the initiative to educate people on the question rather than retreating before the the GOP "holy warriors."

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