OUTSIDE RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, IN A QUAINT-ASS GERMAN TOWN, Germany — I hate to say I told you so, starting way back in May. But now that the anti-Muslim bile against the unobjectionable Islamic center called Cordoba House has reached mainstream saturation, look what’s showing up on the internet:
Evan F. Kohlmann, who tracks militant Web sites at the security consulting firm Flashpoint Global Partners, said supporters of Al Qaeda have seized on the controversy “with glee.” On radical Web forums, he said, the dispute over the Islamic center, which would include space for worship, is lumped together with fringe developments like a Florida pastor’s call for making Sept. 11 “Burn a Koran Day.”
“It’s seen as proof of what Awlaki and others have been saying, that the U.S. is hypocritical and that most Americans are enemies of Islam,” Mr. Kohlmann said. He called the anti-Islam statements spawned by the dispute “disturbing and sad” and said they were feeding anti-American sentiment that could provoke violence.
To be clear: We should never do something or not do something based solely on the degree of enthusiasm exhibited by the bin Ladenist conspiracy theorists. And those who object to Cordoba House based on that are to be pitied and reasoned with in the spirit of comity and brotherhood, even if they won’t extend those sentiments to their fellow Americans.
But as Ali Soufan, who knows more about al-Qaeda than nearly anyone else in the U.S. national security apparatus, argues, Cordoba House is an example of religious pluralism that makes absolutely no sense in the bin Ladenist critique. To reject it will have the effect of conceding to bin Laden that Islam can only occupy a diminished and tenuous place in America. Except al-Qaeda won’t put that way. It’ll say “you cannot count on the message of solidarity you may get from a civic group or a political party, or the word of support you hear from a kind neighbor or a nice co-worker. The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens!” We know it’ll say that that because Anwar Awlaki already has.
The clear implication is that Islamic identity and Western identity are hopelessly irreconcilable, so you’ve got to choose; and then after you choose, you’ve got to mobilize. That’s what bin Laden believes. I cannot believe that Andy McCarthy actually agrees with that, even if he comes at it from the opposite perspective, but columns like these leave little other interpretation available. It’s time to step back from a dangerous precipice. The small-minded passions of Westerners who think that they’ve found a threatening global conspiracy emerging from an ancient Abrahamic faith now have damaging strategic implications. All of which is to say that old-fashioned American religious pluralism is a weapon against al-Qaeda. Or, as the 43rd president of the United States put it, America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.