A number of articles have been written about Park51 that drew some manner of analogy to the Danish Cartoon controversy (or as Abu Aardvark called it, the Cartoon StupidStorm). But none have made such an insight into the parallel as Lawrence Wright at The New Yorker – his somewhat blandly titled piece may possibly be the single smartest thing, and arguably the only intelligent thing, said to date about Park51.
When a dozen cartoons satirizing the Prophet Mohammed appeared in the conservative Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, in September, 2005, there was only a muted outcry from the small Danish Muslim community, and little reaction in the rest of the Muslim world. Six months later, however, riots broke out and Danish embassies were burned; more than a hundred people died. Assassination threats were made, and continue to this day.
Last year, when plans were announced for Cordoba House, an Islamic community center to be built two blocks north of Ground Zero, few opposed them. The project was designed to promote moderate Islam and provide a bridge to other faiths. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Sufi cleric leading the effort, told the Times, in December, “We want to push back against the extremists.” In August, the Landmarks Preservation Commission granted Park51, as the center is now known, unanimous approval. A month later, it is the focus of a bitter quarrel about the place of Islam in our society.
The lessons of the Danish cartoon controversy serve as an ominous template for the current debate. One reason for the initial lack of reaction to the cartoons was that they were, essentially, innocuous. [...]
So what happened? A group of radical imams in Denmark, led by Ahmed Abu Laban, an associate of Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian terrorist organization, decided to use the cartoons to inflate their own importance. They showed the cartoons to various Muslim leaders in other countries, and included three illustrations that had not appeared in the Danish papers. One was a photograph of a man supposedly wearing a prayer cap and a pig mask, and imitating the Prophet. (He turned out to be a contestant in a French hog-calling competition). Another depicted a dog mounting a Muslim in prayer. The third was a drawing of the Prophet as a maddened pedophile gripping helpless children like dolls in either hand. The imams later claimed that these illustrations had been e-mailed to them as threats–although they never produced any proof that they hadn’t made the drawings themselves–and so were fair representations of European anti-Muslim sentiment. The leaders saw them and were inflamed. The Sunni scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi demanded a Day of Rage. So far, we have had five years of rage. [...]
In the dispute over Park51, the role of the radical imams has been taken by bloggers and right-wing commentators. In this parable, Pamela Geller, who writes a blog called Atlas Shrugs and runs a group called Stop Islamization of America, plays the part of Ahmed Abu Laban. [...]
Geller framed the argument for the New York Post, which added the false information that Park51 was going to open on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Deliberate misrepresentations of Imam Abdul Rauf as a supporter of terror further distorted the story, as it moved on to the Fox News commentariat and from there to political figures, such as Newt Gingrich, who compared Abdul Rauf and his supporters to Nazis desecrating the Holocaust Memorial Museum by their presence. These strident falsehoods have undoubtedly influenced the two-thirds of Americans who now oppose Park51.
The entire article is worth a read in full, as Wright moves on from Geller and indicts other radical imams of Islamophobia with more parallels to the Stupidstorm. It’s also worth reading Abu Aardvark’s old essay on the StupidStorm, because so much of what he says therein is frighteningly applicable to the Park51 fracas – including, I might add, this observation:
The only bright side is that voices of reason are beginning to assert themselves in the Arab media, even if they may be having trouble getting traction in the hyper-politicized environment. I’ve seen at least a dozen op-eds in the last few days saying some variation of “shame on you for offending the Prophet, but shame on Muslims for reacting as they did.” A lot of ordinary Muslims – not extremists – are genuinely upset about this, and their legitimate anger should not be conflated with the manufactured “rage” of the extremists.
The PR team at Park51 need to keep that in mind, so as not to fan the flames being started by the radical imams like Pamela Geller even further.
I’ve already vowed not to comment on Park51 further, but this essay was so good I had to at least link – and now it basically has rendered moot any further commentary, by anyone.
(h/t freetoken at LGF)