The National Security Implications of Park51
Posted by Shadi Hamid
Over the course of the week, I'll be offering some thoughts and reflections on the Park51 “mosque” controversy here at Democracy Arsenal. I’ll also continue tweeting my less formed observations here, which I did, for example, when I had the rare privilege of seeing Imam Rauf speak in the flesh the other day. The “missing Imam” had finally appeared. In this post, I’d like to delve deeper into the national security implications of the debate.
As I’ve mentioned previously, many of my liberal colleagues are making the case that failing to build the mosque will empower extremists. When I first started hearing this argument, I found it a bit odd. After all, we do a lot of things that, either indirectly or directly, empower extremists in the Muslim world, but rarely do we let that stop us.The things we do that really undermine “moderates” – sadly becoming one of the most misused words in the American political lexicon – rarely garner headlines. No one in the U.S., for example, really seems to care about the upcoming, critical Jordanian elections, although the result of that, if it goes as expected, will almost certainly have a more pronounced effect on radicalization (at least in Jordan) than the anti-mosque movement could ever hope to have.
That said, I was perhaps too quick to dismiss arguments such this one from Jonathan Chait:
The key fact is that we are fighting a war for the hearts and minds of non-radical Muslims, and the Park 51 uproar is helping drive potential allies into the arms of the enemy.
Yes, a narrative is being built. And while the narrative - that America is at war with Muslims - was already there, there’s something particularly disconcerting about this episode. One of the few remaining arguments I still have left in my rapidly depleted defend-the-U.S-arsenal is that Muslims arguably have more freedom to practice their religion in America than perhaps anywhere else in the world. I guess that one’s not gonna work anymore.
Marc Lynch, in this post, gets us closer to understanding of how the whole thing is playing in the Arab media. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on. Just because our image in the Middle East is perilously negative – the U.S. has lower favorability ratings under Obama than it did during Bush’s final year – does not mean we should let it become even more so.But I think the greater worry should be directed a bit closer to home. The anti-mosque hysteria may, in fact, undermine moderates and moderation abroad, but it is more likely to do so at home, where American Muslims, at least up until now, have been uniquely well-integrated. What’s so troubling about the developments of this summer is that they are casting doubt, in a rather striking way, on the argument – and the reality – that American Muslims have, for the most part, escaped the problems of their European counterparts.