J.J. Goldberg

Peretz-Wieseltier Smackdown! The Islam Menace! (Also, Yours Truly on NPR, Sunday)

By J.J. Goldberg

  • Print
  • Share Share

(My NPR details: ‘On the Media,’ Sunday Sept. 5. In NYC, 10 am on 93.9 FM, 3 pm on 820 AM. Elsewhere, check the show’s schedule.) (Update: here is the broadcast, streaming audio plus transcript.)

On to tachlis: The New Republic has a particularly seething confrontation on its website between the editor in chief, Martin Peretz, and his chief deputy, literary editor Leon Wieseltier, on the place of Muslims and Islam in America. Actually, that’s putting it too mildly. The debate is really over the question of whether or not Muslims can be trusted around our children. It gets pretty raw.

To be fair, Peretz doesn’t exactly say they can’t be trusted. But he did say, in a September 2 post on his blog, “The Mosque Is In Trouble, Very Big Trouble,” that the people fighting against the Islamic community center planned near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan are a fine bunch of folks fighting the good fight against bad people of various sorts.

In my view, the really modest struggle against the mosque is probably the closest thing we’ve had to a genuinely grass roots effort against the casual and elitist First Amendment fundamentalists. “No” to admitting in schools that Christmas has something to do with Christianity. But “yes” to public financing of what looks to me like a sleazy venture combining religion, marriage catering, sports activity, political propaganda and what would pretend to be kultcha.

Did I just hear the editor of The New Republic condoning Christian celebrations in pubic schools? That would be big news if he meant it. But he’s just getting carried away in his rhetoric. He’s after bigger game. First of all, Sharif El-Gamal, “the real estate hustler who is behind the project,” who has been “endlessly taken to court by his tenants” and owes back taxes. Imagine that. Who ever heard of a landlord, and a religious one at that, being taken to court by his tenants? Look what happens when you let infidels into your backyard.

And then there is the theological desperado, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, whose intellectual history is so flexible that no one (except, of course, Mayor Bloomberg) can tell what kind of Muslim he is. And, yes, there are different kinds of Muslims as there are different kinds of Christian Fundamentalists. (Emphasis mine.)

Wieseltier offers what sounds like a sharp rebuke in his “Washington Diarist” column, “Mosque Notes,” also dated September 2 (though the timing suggests he hadn’t read Peretz’s post before he wrote his piece).

He starts off indirectly by discussing Baruch Goldstein, “one of the most accomplished Jewish terrorists of our time.” He recalls that critics who called for introspection by the wing of Orthodoxy from which he sprang were denounced as slanderers of religious Zionism or Orthodoxy or Judaism itself. You can see where he’s going with this. But read on:

The killer, we were angrily instructed, was an aberration, and any generalization from his action was an unwarranted imputation of collective responsibility. I disagreed. Baruch Goldstein murdered in the name of Judaism, with an interpretation of Judaism, from a social and intellectual position within Judaism. The same was later true of Yigal Amir. They did not represent the entirety of Judaism, or of the Jewish institutions that formed them — but the massacre in Hebron and the assassination in Tel Aviv were among their effects.

He goes on to say that he has

no quarrel with the construction of Cordoba House, but not because Islam is a religion of peace. It is not. Like Christianity and like Judaism, Islam is a religion of peace and a religion of war. All the religions have all the tendencies within them.

And just as he believes it’s right to examine the Jewish roots of Baruch Goldstein’s beliefs, it’s “not Islamophobic” to put bin Laden and the 9/11 killers within the context of their stream of Islam. “Apologetic definitions of Islam will not avail anybody in this struggle.”

O.K., so Islam as a whole is as flawed as other religions. It follows that it is entitled to the same First Amendment freedom of religion due to other faiths. It’s fundamental American principle.

In matters of principle, moreover, polling is beside the point, or an alibi for the tyranny of the majority, or an invitation to demagogues to make divisiveness into a strategy, so that their targets come to seem like they are the ones standing in the way of social peace, and the “decent” thing is for them to fold. Why doesn’t Rauf just move the mosque? That would bring the ugliness to an end. But why don’t Palin and Gingrich just shut up? That, too, would bring the ugliness to an end. Certainly the diabolization of Rauf, an imam who has publicly recited the Shema as an act of solidarity and argued that the Declaration of Independence “embodies and restates the core values of the Abrahamic, and thus also the Islamic, ethic,” must cease. In a time when an alarming number of Muslims wish to imitate Osama bin Laden, here is a Muslim who wishes to imitate Mordecai Kaplan. Turn away, from him?

(The full Wieseltier piece is behind the tnr.com subscription firewall, but you can read it in full on this blog. It’s worth it.)

If you thought Peretz was going to take that lying down, you were wrong. He came back two days later in a September 4 blog post tersely titled “The New York Times Laments ‘A Sadly Wary Misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans.’ But Really Is It ‘Sadly Wary’ Or A “Misunderstanding” At All?”

His ostensible target is a Times poll of New York City residents “which found that 33% of them thought Muslim-American ‘more sympathetic to terrorists’ than other citizens.” Peretz thinks that’s an underestimate, first because respondents are frequently less than frank, and second because Heartland Americans are probably more suspicious of foreigners than New Yorkers are. He also thinks the country at large is all but silent in the face of the Muslim threat because people afraid to speak out.

In fact, there has not been a single rally or demonstration in America aimed at Muslim or Arab interests or their commitments to foreign governments and, more likely, to foreign insurgencies and, yes, quite alien philosophies. I suggest that this is largely the case because Americans are so fearful of being accused of bias, however the injustice of the charge might be.

Indeed. Somebody really ought to be doing something about those religious minorities with their insidious commitments to foreign governments. I’m sure Marty will have no trouble finding people ready to line up behind him on that. I hear John Mearsheimer has already sent in his dues.

Peretz writes that Muslims have been slaughtering each other en masse for decades, even centuries, and nobody ever bothers to protest.

Why do not Muslims raise their voices against these at once planned and random killings all over the Islamic world? This world went into hysteria some months ago when the Mossad took out the Hamas head of its own Murder Inc.

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood.

And so, dear Leon,

yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Take that, Brooklyn boy. Henry Ford couldn’t have said it better.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mordecai Kaplan, Leon Wieseltier, Martin Peretz, Islam, Imam Rauf, Ground Zero

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.