Maybe the only virtue of the warp speed with which information flies at us these days is that we can see, right before our eyes, how prejudice burns away the facts as it hardens into absolute conviction. The facts about the Islamic center that is slated to be constructed near ground zero were reported just months ago. They are part of the public record, there for everyone to see. Now they have disappeared in the fires of invective that the Internet loves to kindle and keep fanning. In this ugly debate, you will find no mention of them. The distorters and defamers are having too much fun.
One such funster— he could not possibly be serious—is someone named Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in “Entanglements,” the usually excellent new blog at The New Republic that is edited by the excellent Lawrence Kaplan (among other pleasures, I can on it read the work of David Rieff, one of the most original and brilliant thinkers around). According to Mr. Gerecht, Feisal Abdul Rauf—the imam who runs the center—is a shady character driven by dark ulterior motives. This is because, as Mr. Gerecht explains, “some of [Rauf’s] more tentative, if not deceptive commentary about terrorism against Israelis, America’s culpability for 9/11, and the nobility and value of the Holy Law for Muslims living in the West…” Remarkably, however, Mr. Gerecht never quotes a single line from Mr. Rauf’ s “tentative, if not deceptive commentary.” Instead he goes on to charge that Mr. Rauf’s defenders “may… not have done much due diligence on Mr. Rauf.” Then he goes on to portray Mr. Rauf with wild inaccuracy himself, speculating that the FBI and the CIA have damning information about him, and that Mr. Rauf is most likely not a “moderate Muslim.”
When The New York Times implements its paywall, I am going to treat Mr. Gerecht to a one-year subscription. He can use it to, first of all, bone up on the facts. Then he can use his new password to go to the paper’s archives, where he will find an article published December 8, 2009 and written by Ralph Blumenthal and Sharaf Mowjood. Here are the facts they presented: Beginning last October, Mr. Rauf was using a building in the very space where he wants to construct the Islamic center as a place where Muslims could gather and pray and, in his words, “send the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.” Mr. Rauf added: “We want to push back against the extremists.” No doubt people like Mr. Gerecht would laugh this away as a cunning ruse to hide… well, what would these Muslims gathered in prayer be hatching and hiding?
If Mr. Gerecht doesn’t think that every law-enforcement agency in the country has by now triple-checked a group of Muslims gathering near ground zero, he’s been living on Pluto. But, then, the FBI has investigated Mr. Rauf. At least, we can assume it did because a spokesman for the FBI told Messrs. Blumenthal and Mowjood that Mr. Feisal had “helped agents reach out to the Muslim population after 9/11.” “We’ve had positive interactions with him in the past,” the FBI spokesman said, “positive interactions” quite possibly meaning giving the FBI information about various Muslim-American figures. Double agent? That would be a pretty dangerous game to play. If so, Mr. Rauf would have to be playing it with his wife, Daisy Khan, who is an official advisor to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, set to be constructed at the heart of ground zero, not far from her husband’s planned Islamic Center. Are these two of the most committed spies the world has ever known? Or are they two people truly ashamed of what fanatics did in the name of Islam and ardently committed to a kind of reparation and penance for crimes committed by others?
As for the question of Mr. Rauf’s status as a moderate Muslim, he’s a Sufi. In other words, he is committed to Islam as an inner, spiritual experience with a strong mystical dimension, not as a social experience with political ambitions. Experts can correct me if I’m wrong, but I doubt that there is a single Sufi among the terrorists waging jihad against America. Those are the facts. That is the fact-based, verifiable truth. But facts vaporizing into fantastical venting and defaming and insulting, well, that’s not an argument, or rational skepticism, or “the other side of the story.” That’s entertainment.