Religious architecture used to yield erudite discussions about function and form. Now it leads to discussions about property rights, the First Amendment, religious bigotry and the colloquial definition of “McCarthyism.” Much like Switzerland’s silly and point-missing ban on minarets, the proposed Cordoba House mosque has turned the specific cultural urgency of combating Islamism into a general cultural complaint about Islam.

This has led to two unintended consequences. The first bolsters one of the paranoid claims made by Islamists, which is that the United States is tirelessly working to demonize and undermine Islam rather than fight a war against its most barbaric exponents. The second automatically improves the profile of Cordoba House’s chief cleric, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who, judging by his dubious statements and deeds over the past decade, deserves no such courtesy. By couching the present debate in terms of “sensitivity,” “symbolism” and “offensiveness,” certain elements on the right have taken up the uncharacteristic mantle of political correctness and, in effect, given a free hand to a subject worthy of more discriminating scrutiny. All I want to do, Rauf has been able to say, with high backing, is build a house of worship in the one country that takes confessional pluralism for granted. What could be more American than that?

For my own part, I have no problem with a mosque being built near Ground Zero and if that’s all that was at stake, I could rest comfortably in my opposition to Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Abe Foxman. But I do have a few unresolved questions about this particular mosque; more pointedly, about the man behind it.

Leave aside for now Rauf’s tone-deaf statements on 60 Minutes on September 30, 2001 that American foreign policy was an “accessory” to 9/11 and that Osama bin Laden was “made in the USA.” Noam Chomsky with a prayer mat may not be an inviting prospect in the heartland, much less a major metropolis, but he is not necessarily an imminent danger. Let’s also ignore for the time being Rauf’s inability to state that Hamas is indeed a terrorist organization. If the good imam feels compelled to hedge his bets on what to term a genocidal, anti-Semitic gang of suicide bombers and rocketeers because he’s afraid of offending Muslims who see Hamas as something nobler, then this makes him no different from those pleading against Cordoba House on strictly emotional or populist grounds.

More troubling to me are two episodes in Rauf’s career that suggest, if not a practical alliance with Islamism, then at least a strong eagerness to earn the trust of Islamists, whether out of financial or face-saving motive. The first is Rauf’s participation in the Perdana Global Peace Organisation, which bills itself as a pacifist lobby group seeking to “criminalize war” but is really the brainchild of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a man whose greatest compliment to the Jewish people was to credit them with a methodology for world domination that he thought instructive for the forthcoming Islamic attempt at same. To get a sense of Perdana’s commitment to ending militarism, consider that it was responsible for convening a portion of the ‘Free Gaza’ flotilla, whose declared purpose was not to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians but rather to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory -- itself an act of war.

The second troubling spot on Rauf’s c.v. is his certification of Iran’s theocracy. Here he cannot excuse himself with an air of scholarly neutrality since in his own writing he takes the precepts of Khomeinism at face value and describes the clerical oligarchy of Iran as a legitimate form of government. Following Iran’s sham presidential “election” in June 2009, Rauf penned the following editorial, which anyone can dial up on Cordoba’s website:

After the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took the Shiite concept of the Rightly Guided Imam and created the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, which means the rule of the jurisprudent. This institutionalizes the Islamic rule of law. The Council of Guardians serves to ensure these principles.

Before the election, the Iranian government allowed an unprecedented degree of political discourse so that the election would establish a legitimate ruler.

Now, on the streets of Teheran and undoubtedly in high political circles behind the scenes, Iranians are asking themselves, has this election confirmed the legitimacy of the ruler? President Obama has rightly said that his administration will not interfere with the internal affairs of Iran, unlike what happened in 1953. Now he has an opportunity to have a greater positive impact on Iranian-American relations.

He should say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution -- to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, that establishes the rule of law.

Vilayet-i-faqih in practice means that the people of Iran are possessions of the state. The Council of Guardians, Rauf neglects to mention, was responsible for vetting and approving the list of “acceptable” candidates for the wholly honorific role of president, a fact that rubbishes his boast of an “unprecedented degree of political discourse.” You can tell a lot about a government that rigs its own elections beforehand, and rigs them again once all the votes are in.

Rauf published this paean to the captive mind just as many hundreds of peaceful democratic activists were being clubbed and shot on the streets of Tehran. According to the Iranian “rule of law,” torture and rape are also permissible forms of punishment for people who exercise their right to be incensed at a pantomime of self-determination.

But how curious that Rauf, who believes that the U.S. Constitution is compatible with sharia law, should be encouraging the President of the United States to issue a statement “respecting” the guiding principles of an Islamist tyranny.

Is this really the best that moderate Islam can do?

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