On the one hand, Ross urges us not to believe that “all religious cultures are identical, or that the intellectual climate in contemporary Islam is no different from the intellectual climate in Judaism or Christianity,” but he wants to apply “a high standard” to high-profile moderate Muslims, which in practice means that they are supposed to act and speak as if their religious culture is no different and the intellectual culture in Islam is the same. At least, that’s what his call for “swift pushback” against “forays into dubious territory” suggests. If all religious cultures are not identical, might it be the case that what Ross judges to be a foray into “dubious territory” is actually a “necessary part of the moderate Muslim package”?
The call for pushback brings us once again to the matter of what constitutes “dubious territory” and whether or not American Muslims are going to be permitted to say politically controversial things without being absurdly vilified as fanatics. As far as I can tell, what Rauf’s critics want is not merely someone who is a moderate Muslim, which presumably means someone moderate in his interpretation of Islam as a religion. What they would apparently also like is someone who has no sympathy for the political causes or grievances of any other Muslims in the world. If moderation is defined in that unreasonable way, there probably aren’t very many moderate Muslims after all.
Of course, I think Larison is absolutely correct. But I can’t help feeling that the more we wander off into this territory – essentially into a debate over the Imam Rauf or over moderate Islam and so forth – we’re straying away from the crux of the matter which is: do they have a right to build the Park51 project near Ground Zero? The answer to that question is simple: yes, they do. All the rest of this is just a sideshow – an important discussion to have, maybe, but still a sideshow. Yes, of course critics have a right to do whatever they like, say whatever they like about the project, about its planners. But that’s not really the point either – nobody is telling them they don’t have this right. The only people interested in waylaying rights are the critics of the project.
Furthermore, the only reason Imam Rauf is setting up shop “as an arbiter of Muslim-Western dialogue” is because this so-called scandal was manufactured in the first place. Prior to this, hardly anybody knew or cared one way or another about Rauf or the Cordoba House plans. Sans the manufacturing of this scandal, nobody would know still and nobody would care.