Islam is not America's enemy.
The current controversy over a Muslim cultural center with its prayer facility — dubbed a mosque by opponents — has exacerbated tensions between people of faith and stoked the pain-seared memories of the Sept. 11 attacks.
President Barack Obama has embraced the idea of such a Muslim center in “lower Manhattan” as he puts it.
While I agree that President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world is wise, I disagree with his support of this center at this location. Former New York Mayor Ed Koch said it best: The Muslims have a right to build a mosque near ground zero, but city officials like Mayor Bloomberg, should encourage its backers to move it elsewhere.
The ground zero mosque has raised larger issues about America’s way of dealing with Islam, a faith represented by about 1.6 billion adherents around the globe. Here in America, there are about 2.5 million Muslims — and their numbers are increasing.
Having traveled to several Muslim countries and maintaining friendships with Muslims, I have found them to be among the most hospitable, charitable, and hardworking people. As a Christian, I am accepted by Muslims because their ancient faith recognizes that Christians and Jews are "people of the book" and should be treated with respect.
Likewise, my faith teaches me to respect the freedoms of others. But I am not naïve to the fact that a small number of Muslims are extremists. Among them are Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida group, as well as others that wish to revive a medieval-style “jihad” with the West. However, these are fringe groups.
Americans of the Muslim faith played no role in the 9/11 attacks and throughout the “war on terror” they have been extremely loyal citizens. Save for Col. Hassan's massacre and other isolated incidents, American Muslims as a whole want to identify with America’s mainstream.
President Obama and others make a serious mistake when they fail to differentiate these mainstream Muslims from the radicals.
The brilliant journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave put it best in the days after Sept. 11, "America did not declare war on Islam, radical Islam declared war on us."
So far, President Obama has difficulty grasping this concept, believing somehow that even criticism of radical extremists of Islam is a slap in the face to their religion as a whole.
Such an approach, I believe, has further stoked anger among many Americans that the president has not taken the war on terror seriously enough. His endorsement of the Muslim cultural center near ground zero seems to deny the terrible reality that 19 Muslim radicals killed 2,977 Americans and others — including many Muslims.
In an effort to woo over the Muslim world (as I said, I generally applaud his efforts here), Obama and his top administration officials won't even utter the word "Islamic radicalism."
President Bush also sought to reach out to the Muslim world. But he was clear to make the distinction between most peace-loving Muslims and a tiny, radical element that is not only at war with us, but often with its own brethren.
The president should use his bully pulpit to condemn extremism of any faith, be it Christian, Jewish, or Islamic. (Let’s start with a definition of “extremists” as any group that uses violent, illegal means to achieve its goals.)
President Obama and anyone who cares about this issue should read two books that can shed some light.
The first is Stephen Schwartz’s "Two Faces of Islam." Schwartz is a convert to Islam and gives the most balanced and clear understanding of the current crisis that I have read.
While acknowledging Islam's original period of jihad and conquest, he also notes that Islam has a long history of peace with the West, where their culture flourished and their peoples made enormous contributions to science, mathematics, the arts, architecture, and other fields.
Interestingly, the Islamic world was for a long time a refuge for Jews fleeing intense persecution in Christian Europe.
But Schwartz sees the growth of the Wahhabi sect of Islam and their enormous access to petroleum wealth as the primary force of Islamic terror. This sect, he says, has fueled radical Islamic movements across the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the U.S.; in fact, almost everywhere.
There’s an old saying in journalism, “Follow the money.” This Wahhabi money trail has been key to radical Islam's success.
Another book that Obama and Americans might want to read is “Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union” by author Peter Schweizer.
Schweizer’s book reveals the inside story of how President Ronald Reagan, working with his then-CIA Director William J. Casey in conjunction with many Muslim states, defeated the Soviet Empire.
As Schweizer details, Casey believed in the “follow the money” dictum. Early on, Casey studied how the Soviets were funding their global efforts in places like Afghanistan, Cuba, and Nicaragua. The CIA’s stunning conclusion: The whole Soviet empire was being funded by about $10 billion in oil revenues from Azerbaijan.
The canny Casey concocted a plan. Get the Muslim world to unite against the Soviets’ land grab in Afghanistan while getting Arab oil-producing states to increase oil production, forcing petroleum prices to collapse. Essentially, he wanted to put the Soviets out of business by cutting their money supply.
Casey and his team were able to convince the Arab states to join the plan, led by our close ally Saudi Arabia. As oil prices tumbled during the 1980s, the Soviet Union unraveled, just as Casey predicted.
We accomplished this task with the help of many Arab and Muslim states who allied with us, despite our differences over Israel.
Today, Obama’s vision should lead to a clear, sensible plan, one that is honest about the dangerous reality of Islamic radicalism that we witnessed at ground zero, but one that also puts the mainstream Muslim world on our side.
Posts by Christopher Ruddy
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