Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf unashamedly told CNN that relocating the Ground Zero Mosque will proximately cause havoc: "The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack. But if you don't do this right, anger will explode in the Muslim world." He predicted that "the reaction could be more furious than the eruption of violence following the 2005 publication of Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad ... Our national security now hinges on how we negotiate this [emphasis supplied]."
The Imam chooses his words carefully. Let's look at the "reaction" he recalled to publication in a Danish newspaper of twelve cartoons depicting Muhammad. In summary, more than two hundred people were killed and many more injured as embassies and churches (yes, churches) were burned. As late as 2008, eight people were killed in a bombing outside Denmark's embassy in Pakistan. Where energized Muslims could not find embassies or churches to attack, they found other targets, i.e., a U.S. airbase in Afghanistan, the Italian embassy in Libya, an anti-government dissident in Yemen, fast food restaurants elsewhere. This is the carnage which the imam promised (I didn't say "threatened" -- draw your own conclusions).
Silencing Yale With Threats of Violence
Four years later, the violence intimidated Yale University, one of my almae matres (the other is Northwestern, which retains a Holocaust-denier on faculty in deference to academic freedom). Last December, I unforgettably attended a meeting at Parliament in London, sponsored by the Henry Jackson society (named for our sorely missed late senator from Washington). The speaker, Danish-born Brandeis Professor Jytte Klausen, discussed her book about the cartoon controversy, titled The Cartoons that Shook the World. She lamented that despite her insistence, Yale University Press, her publisher, deleted the cartoons from the book. Yale publishing chief John Donatich said he had consulted "a range of experts," each of them anonymous, who "all confirmed that republication of the cartoons by the Yale Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence [italics supplied by me]." Note carefully the publisher's chosen verb: instigate! Christopher Hitchens acerbically observed in Slate:
Now we have to say that the mayhem we fear is also our fault, if not indeed our direct responsibility. This involves inverting the honest meaning of our language as well as our concept of moral responsibility...What shame that the campus of Nathan Hale should have pre-emptively run up the white flag and then cringingly taken the blood guilt of potential assassins and tyrants upon itself.
Granting a Veto to the Mob
In my callow youth, I was an ACLU lawyer, in the halcyon days before the mission of the organization became preventing the United States from eliminating terrorists who murder our citizens. Defending the First Amendment, we successfully assailed "the heckler's veto" (a phrase invented by my one-time colleague, brilliant University of Chicago Professor Harry Kalven), i.e., the notion that speech can be suppressed for fear of violent reaction. Could any force in the world -- other than Islam -- have successfully blackmailed Yale? Can you imagine Yale's censoring portrayals of Shylock or Iago if Jews or blacks threatened violence? The imam now "suggests" that refusing to relocate the mosque will produce a "reaction ... more furious" than that which took two hundred lives. There are plausible arguments on both sides of the mosque controversy. But what does it tell us about the imam's brand of Islam that he explicitly invokes the heckler's veto to coerce the decision?
I inveterately rely on Justice Holmes' teaching that in seeking to understand a complicated problem, "a page of history is worth a volume of logic." In trying to understand the imam, I recalled Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 fatwa mandating death for Novelist Salman Rushdie for his portrayal of Muhammad in The Satanic Verses. The British authorities commendably guarded Rushdie. But the toll elsewhere was gruesome. Rushdie's Japanese interpreter was stabbed to death, his Italian translator was beaten and stabbed, his Norwegian translator was shot, 37 people died in a hotel fire in Turkey which targeted his Turkish translator, and The Riverdale Press, a Bronx weekly, was firebombed for editorially defending the right to read the novel. But in this instance, the hecklers -- some would call them murderers -- did not succeed in their demands that the book be expurgated.
Will American Public Policy be Decided by Threats of Muslim Violence?
Will the threats of violence which intimidated Yale likewise resolve the locating of the mosque, as the imam seems to urge? If threatened violence decides this issue, when will the next occasion arise when threats of Muslim violence will be unleashed to influence our public debates? The imam could have rested his case on the reality that he has the support of influential cheerleaders in the White House and Gracie Mansion, as well as at the New York Times and CNN.
I understand that the prestigious blocking backs for the Ground Zero project call it an "Islamic cultural center" rather than a mosque. But in the Muslim world, it is always called a mosque, and one is entitled to speculate whether Muslim mobs will kill for a "cultural center." I publish this in full awareness that opposition to the mosque is routinely derided -- by people who should know better -- as bigotry. I suspect that the articulate imam will find a way to refine his "predictions." Are those Americans who insist that the mosque should not be relocated comfortable with threats of violence? Are President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg dismayed -- as I am -- by the stark failure of the imam to say that it is totally impermissible to commit mass murder in support of his project?