Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the soi-disant Cordoba Initiative, has gotten all the attention he deserves for his astonishingly insensitive attempt to build a thirteen-story mosque and community center at the site of Ground Zero.
Rauf has largely escaped attention for his efforts to build a sawed-off version of the same on the grounds of the venerable and historically Christian Chautauqua Institution in western New York State. Although the resistance to Rauf at Chautauqua has not made the news, it is deeply supported, and it is coming from both Christians and Jews. As shall be seen, the forced feeding by Rauf of the unwilling masses at Chautauqua represents progressivism at its most paradoxically self-destructive.
For the record, the Chautauqua Institution was founded on Chautauqua Lake in 1874 by a Methodist minister as a campground meeting for summer school teachers. It proved popular enough to imitate. By century's end, traveling "chautauquas" were educating and enlightening people all across the country.
As happens to virtually all institutions where the leadership is not vigilant, Chautauqua began a slow leftward drift, in this case both politically and theologically. In 1985, an informal group, now incorporated as Chautauqua Christian Fellowship (CCF), sprung up on the grounds of correcting the drift.
As it happens, I set the climatic scene of my one and only novel, 2006: The Chautauqua Rising, at the Institution. Set, as the reader might surmise, in 2006, this mildly futuristic action thriller tells the tale of a grassroots insurrection that in many ways anticipated the Tea Party insurgency of 2009. As an aside, those thinking of writing a book should be sure to give it a title that people can pronounce. I learned this the hard way. The Institution is pronounced sha-TAWK-wa.
At the time of the book's publication, the year 2000, I was unaware of the CCF resistance at Chautauqua and focused instead on its reigning zeitgeist:
TJ [my protagonist] was of two minds about this place. No doubt, Chautauqua was gorgeous, a perfectly preserved wish dream of late 19th century Americana, a village of shaded streets, small, gingerbread homes, grand hotels, theaters, libraries and ornate three and four story walk-ups built around a village square, all of it along a spectacular lakefront. ... But even as a boy TJ knew he could never have lived there, even for a week. For all the Institution's charms, the place was too quiet, too calm, too relentlessly civilized.
In the previous decade or two, much of the tension between progressives and conservatives on the grounds revolved around the former's embrace of Chautauqua's growing gay population. The left's fondness for imputing bigotry to others was, however, about to find a new focus.
The same year that my novel was published, the Institution chose the former head of the National Council of Churches, Joan Brown Campbell, to be its Director of religion. The year before, Campbell had made a name for herself for doing her Christian best to deliver young Elian Gonzalez to the godless purgatory of Castro's Cuba. An apologist for Castro, Campbell has made some forty trips to the island.
Upon her arrival, Campbell embarked on two contradictory missions, one public, one private. Publicly, she championed "interfaith dialogue," specifically an "Abrahamic Initiative."
"We didn't have a Muslim presence," she told a reporter for a local newspaper this summer, "but we knew if we wanted to talk about the Abraham link, we needed to have all three legs of the stool."
Privately, Campbell began to crack down on the CCF. Whereas the group had once been able to run its own programs freely and without interference, Campbell now limited the CCF to three speakers a year, whom she would vet in advance and monitor when they spoke. Campbell had a distinctly leftist take on the word "dialogue."
"She can call it what she likes," one former CCF leader told me. "We call it censorship."
I stumbled into the trenches in the summer of 2002, when the CCF invited me to speak at the Institution. At the time, I was not aware that Campbell had settled in or that she had started her gratuitous stool-building. I would learn soon enough.
Addressing what I called the "illiberal orthodoxy of the American media," I explained how the media make one notable exception to their illiberal stereotyping of the religious right.
"Islamic extremists in America have proven to be exactly the bogeyman that the media have long imagined the Christian right to be -- patriarchal, theocratic, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice, and openly anti-Semitic," I said. "And according to at least one brave Muslim moderate, Sheik Muhammad Kabani, 80% of the mosques in America are in the hands of genuine extremists, some of whom are not above encouraging murder to get their way."
"We base our own support at Chautauqua on the freedom of religion," Campbell would tell a reporter a few weeks prior, "and it is part of our Christian responsibility to protect the faith of everyone." In 2002, she was not so obliging. Soon after my talk, Campbell wrote an op-ed in Chautauqua's daily newspaper saying that "I had crossed the line" that protects free speech and should not be allowed to speak on the grounds again.
I was learning what the CCF already knew: Campbell plays hardball. Of the more than a half-dozen dissident Christians and Jews I spoke to for this article, none was willing to speak on the record. They feared reprisal. "She has eyes everywhere," one told me.
In that same summer of 2002, unknown to me, the wily Feisal Abdul Rauf had started lecturing on campus. Campbell has invited him back nearly every year since and has had Feisal's wife, Daisy Kahn, propagandize the willfully blind on women's issues under Islam.
"There is no doubt Campbell is driving conservatives off the grounds," one dissident told me. She has her reasons for doing so. "There is among the Jewish groups, and some conservative Christian groups as well, an objection to Islam," Campbell said recently.
It is hard to build a stool when two of the legs object. If and when Chautauqua's LGBT types find out what Sharia law holds in store for them, Campbell and her progressive allies will not have a leg to stand on.