Amazing.

This morning I found this comment about “Moses and the Mosque” in the Review-Atlas forum:

The NRA convention was held LESS THAN 2 WEEKS after the Columbine shootings. It has been almost 9 years since September 11, 2001. Certainly one could make an argument regarding the scale of the respective events, but I still don’t think you’re making a valid comparison.

Muslims have been worshiping in the Pentagon for years, the prayer room they use a matter of feet from where Flight 77 crashed into the building. The building that is being renovated for the Park51 project in New York is ALREADY IN USE for Muslim worship and has been for some time. In December 2009, Imam Rauf’s wife appeared on Fox News & received glowing commendations for what they had planned. That segment recognized that the project had broad support from community leaders, including Christian ministers & Jewish rabbis.

Imam Rauf is widely recognized for his condemnation of terrorism and his interfaith activities with Christians & Jews. Yes, he has made some inflammatory statements, but actions speak louder than words and he & his wife have done a lot of good work. They don’t deserve to be demonized by you & others like you with innuendos of terrorist connections. Islamic charities and communications with Islamic countries are HEAVILY monitored by our intelligence services, and Rauf has NEVER been implicated in any wrongdoing.

Let’s also clarify that the Park51 project is going to be a community center WITH a mosque. From Wikipedia: ‘Plans are for the facility to include a 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare area, bookstore, culinary school, food court serving halal dishes, and prayer space for 1,0002,000 Muslims.’ Ooooh, a BASKETBALL COURT. A DAYCARE!!! Oh my lord, the horror!!! (ROLLING EYES). Yes people, Muslims work out, swim & play basketball. Shockingly, they are human beings, and they do the things many other New Yorkers do. Like many in this country they also pray, and one of the central requirements of Islam (the Five Pillars) is that one should pray five times per day. Of course this Islamic center is going to have a prayer room – and a rather large one for such a large facility in one of the largest & most diverse cities on Earth.

Let’s clear up a few more facts, like the fact that more Muslims were victims of the 9/11 attacks than perpetrated it. American Muslims serve in our armed forces loyally & have given their lives for their country. All of our soldiers in Iraq & Afghanistan are fighting ALONGSIDE Muslims to DEFEND other Muslims, in the hope that we can start those countries down the path toward freedom & democracy. Don’t you think that honoring those Muslims is ‘simple human decency’? Instead you spit on their graves & their service to their country.

Essentially what you’re doing, Mr. Bennett, is to lump all Muslims together and to blame them for the 9/11 attacks. This is both ignorant & entirely unfair. Because you are a Christian, would it be right to blame you for the crimes of the Crusades? The Inquisition? The Salem witch trials? The 30 Years War? You would have quite a lot of blood on your hands by those standards. You’re a Baptist minister, so do you hold the same opinions as Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church? Get my point yet?

You are also fanning the flames of ignorance & hatred that put the LIVES OF OUR SOLDIERS AT RISK. This may surprise some of those commenting here, but Muslims can read. They can watch TV & get on the internet. They can see & hear all the ignorant and hateful things being said about them, all the crass generalizations being made about them by people like WAKEupAMERICA. How do you think that affects our troops in harms way in Iraq & Afghanistan and other Islamic nations??? There’s a group of local National Guard in Egypt right now – our own sons & daughters. Ignorance like this makes their job a hundred times more difficult. It puts their lives in danger.

What I read here & from many other conservative pundits is a bunch of hand-waving & excuses that cover up the true underlying problem: intolerance of the ‘other’, hatred & fear of a ‘foreign’ religion, and frequently racism. I’m saddened to see you publicly wallow in that cesspool, Mr. Bennett.

So, against my better judgment, I wrote a response:

Dr. Weidman, while I respect your opinion, there are several statements in your post that should be addressed.

First of all, you seem to find a significant distinction in the fact that the NRA convention was scheduled two weeks after Columbine, and the 9/11 attacks occurred almost 9 years ago.

I don’t believe the virtues of discretion and propriety have an expiration date.

Furthermore, you acknowledge – and rightfully so – that “one could make an argument regarding the scale of the respective events,” but then you summarily dismiss that very salient point and give no reason for doing so. The difference in scale is highly significant regardless of whether or not you are willing accept that. More to the point, the September 11th attacks were an act of war; I’ll see your nine years and raise you nearly three thousand innocent lives.

Imam Rauf’s vile statements blaming America for 9/11 are not unlike blaming an attractive woman for “provoking” a rapist. Those declarations have never been retracted by him, nor has he apologized for them. The fact that he made those incendiary comments and actually believes such nonsense is, above all else, why I object to his building project and his role as a State Department cultural envoy. It is not, as you so disappointingly insinuate, because I am a bigot, a racist, or a hatemonger, but more about that later.

You wrote, “Because you are a Christian, would it be right to blame you for the crimes of the Crusades? The Inquisition? The Salem witch trials? The 30 Years War? You would have quite a lot of blood on your hands by those standards. You’re a Baptist minister, so do you hold the same opinions as Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church? Get my point yet?” I certainly do get your point. Now get mine: Every example you cited is something to which Christians ARE still being connected to this day, despite the fact that centuries, not just a few years, have passed since the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials and the 30 Years War. As for your reference to Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church, I would say that this is an example that makes my point, not yours. Does Phelps have the right to make his reprehensible statements? In America, he does. Does he have the right to make them near of the funeral of an AIDS victim or a dead soldier? Though the matter is still under legal debate, currently the courts affirm that he does have that right. But SHOULD he? He most certainly should not!

You wrote, “Muslims have been worshiping in the Pentagon for years, the prayer room they use [sic] a matter of feet from where Flight 77 crashed into the building. The building that is being renovated for the Park51 project in New York is ALREADY IN USE for Muslim worship and has been for some time.” I don’t dispute that, though I do find it irrelevant. That statement glosses over some very significant factors. Again, even the most cursory reading of my column reveals that my objections to the Ground Zero Mosque are not aimed against Muslim worship at that location per se, but largely against the man proposing it. You also make a glaring omission of the fact that Park51 will require the razing of a building that was damaged by wreckage from one of the hijacked planes, all to make way for a towering 13-story spectacle that many of those who lost loved ones in 9/11 view as confrontationally symbolic.

You wrote of Imam Rauf, “Yes, he has made some inflammatory statements, but actions speak louder than words and he & his wife have done a lot of good work. They don’t deserve to be demonized by you & others like you with innuendos of terrorist connections.”

Wow.

It’s hard to know where to begin with that.

With all due respect, a platitude like “actions speak louder than words” is breathtakingly disingenuous in this case. Doctor, you surely know that rhetoric has meaning and in the case of a preacher and commentator, his words ARE his actions. To pretend that the Imam, who has pursued and accepted the role of a spokesperson, should have his explosive utterances negated by what you perceive as his admirable “actions” is, quite frankly, ridiculous. I am both a preacher and, in my small way, a commentator; I understand and accept that in those roles, I have a heightened responsibility for what I say. Indeed, all of us are, and should be, as accountable for what we SAY as we are for what we DO.

You write, “Essentially what you’re doing, Mr. Bennett, is to lump all Muslims together and to blame them for the 9/11 attacks.” Are we discussing the same column, Doctor? I was very careful to confine my commentary to the secular issues at stake here. I deliberately wrote in strictly political, historical, cultural, and social terms. YOU, sir, are the one who has erroneously inferred the religious context, not I. Why are you unwilling to make your case on its merits? Why must you resort to distortions and insults?

More to the point, you have subjected me to an absurd double standard: In your view, the Imam’s heinous public statements in the wake of 9/11 are waved away because his “actions speak louder than words,” but my own comments are “fanning the flames of ignorance & hatred that put the LIVES OF OUR SOLDIERS AT RISK.” Doctor, I mean you no disrespect, but I have grown weary of this cheap tactic. I am disappointed that what began as your reasonable, albeit incorrect, response deteriorated into a pathetic ad hominem attack. The only “demonization” going on here, it seems, comes from you. In your world of extremes, taking an opposing point of view constitutes hate, religious bigotry and racism. Sir, if you must sling slander, could you at least do it correctly? You are ascribing views to me that I do not hold and views that were in no way communicated in my column. Are the many Arab Muslims who share my objections to the Park51 project racists and bigots? How about the general manager of Al-Arabiya television, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed? In his column titled “A House of Worship or a Symbol of Destruction?” published A-Sharq Al-Awsat, he criticized the wisdom of building a mosque so close to the “burial site” of 9/11. He wrote, “Muslims do not aspire for a mosque next to the September 11 cemetery.” Is he an anti-Arab racist? Is he an anti-Muslim bigot? When author Raheel Raza, a board member of the Muslim Canadian Congress, says, “I oppose [Park51] along with other members of the Muslim-Canadian Congress because it’s confrontational. It is in bad faith. And it doesn’t really set up any kind of dialogue or discussion on tolerance,” is she an anti-Arab racist? Is she an anti-Muslim bigot?

Also, I find nothing in my column that could be confused with “innuendos of terrorist connections.” If you are referring to my statement that the Imam has been “evasive” about his financial backing, I was making a fiscal observation. If you are referring to my statement that Rauf refused to characterize Hamas as a terrorist organization, that is not an innuendo, it is a fact and a matter of public record.

A visit to your very well-written and engaging blog, however, showed me that I am not the only one subjected to your extremist vitriol. For example, of those who are involved in establishing a Christian school in Roseville, you write, “If some Roseville residents want to contribute to the degradation of public education in Warren County and spit in the faces of their fellow villagers who can’t afford a private education for their children … by all means, start a new private Christian school.”

Let me get this straight: You are objecting to the establishment of a religious institution (the Christian school) at least in part because it will upset some people (“villagers who can’t afford a private education for their children”) but you can’t stand the fact that I object to the establishment of a religious institution (Ground Zero mosque) at least in part because it will upset some people (the families of those killed in the September 11th attacks). Great googly-moogly.

(This is beside the point, but how does starting a new private Christian school degrade public education? By reducing class sizes in public schools and favorably increasing the teacher-student ratio in public schools? How do those starting said private Christian school “spit in the faces of their fellow villagers who can’t afford a private education for their children”? Some people can’t afford a computer and an internet connection; does that mean you are spitting in their faces by writing a blog? And why is it that anyone who holds a view that you reject “spits in the faces of their fellow villagers” or “spit[s] on their graves & their service to their country”? Is it not possible, sir, that one can hold a view that differs from yours without being characterized as a malicious expectorator? There’s a whole lotta spittin’ goin’ on.)

But I digress. Lastly, though I am loathe to do so, I must address your disgusting assertion that I am a racist, a bigot, and that I spit “on the graves” of American Muslim soldiers and “their service to their country,” by writing what I have written. This is my final word on this entire matter: May I humbly suggest, Dr. Weidman, that my commitment to my fellow veterans and my support for the freedom of Arabs and Muslims were both established when I left hearth and home to defend Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait as a United States Marine?

Do those “actions” speak loudly enough for you?


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