UPDATED 27-08-2010, see below

This can be a very short entry. There isn’t going to come a Dutch mosque at Ground Zero. Or another mosque for that matter. In fact, it is not even about a mosque. So done, next topic. But there is more to it, of course. Just to give a few facts:

  1. July 2009 the real estate company Soho Properties bought a five-story building that was severely damaged during the 9/11 attacks
  2. The project is called Cordoba House, set up by the Cordoba Initiative and American Society for Muslim Advancement in order to improve relations between Islam and the West.
  3. It is a proposed 13-story Islamic cultural center and mosque, approved of in May 2010
  4. Located near (but not at) Ground Zero.
  5. The current building is used as a makeshift Muslim prayer space
  6. Prayer services are led by imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

The controversy is obviously over the fact that the building is located near Ground Zero. For some apparently a ‘not just a sign that live goes on but a ‘sacred site’:
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjGJPPRD3u0]
The message mixes Christian symbolic references with American nationalism. Some people find the idea of the Islamic center, framed as the Ground Zero Mosque, an insult and again others point to the alleged controversial background of Feisal Abdul Rauf being a wolf in sheep’s clothing with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood and still holding on to radical dreams. Sarah Palin has stepped into the debate as well and severely criticized for it too.

Of course such allegations lead to counter-accusations of xenophobia, racism and islamophobia as well. And certainly we should not be blind about the many difficulties Muslims face when they want to establish new initiatives, even when they are not located near Ground Zero and although Islam and Muslims have a long history in the US (at near Ground Zero as well). One of the main problems of many current debates about Islam and Muslims could be that the debate is so fierce, harsh and sometimes false towards Muslims and Islam in a way that resembles a smear campaign, that many Muslims close ranks when another organization is under siege, thereby blocking any debate that might considered to be necessary. Whether one agrees or not for many 9/11 is linked to Islam and Muslims and although the whole issue has been wrongfully framed, it is necessary to acknowledge that in order to understand people’s feelings.

So now what is the Dutch connection here, besides the fact that Manhattan is part of Dutch history of course? In May 2010 the Dutch section of the International Civil Liberties Alliance revealed in an article (Een moskee te ver / A mosque too far) that Feisal Abdul Rauf’s wife, Daisy Kahn, leads the organisation Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality. This organisation appears to have received 1.000.000 euro from the Dutch state:
American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) – MinBuza.nl

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA)

Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equity (WISE) Compact Program.

WISE Compact will work with local and national women leaders and the organizations they work in. The programme aims to provide: a) a global infrastructure for shared work among Muslim women’s groups, organisations, institutions, and networks, b) religious context for Muslim women’s dialogue about, and advocacy for, their rights, c) an institutional voice for gender equality, and d) accessible knowledge about effective ways to promote the equitable ethic of Islam. The activities planned for each of the results include development of WISE Compact design, develop partnerships with Muslim women’s organisations to develop learning and training resources, implement training with marginalised women and girls and create a comprehensive WISE Compact sustainability plan. The programme will focus on Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian Administrative Areas, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Turkey.
Amount granted

€ 1.000.000

Daisy Khan has received some criticism for her stance on polygamy: Some Muslims in U.S. Quietly Engage in Polygamy : NPR

According to Daisy Khan, who heads the American Society for Muslim Advancement and is married to an imam, polygamy is more common among conservative, less educated immigrants from Africa and Asia. It is rarer among middle-class Muslims from the Middle East. She adds that nowadays, imams do background checks on the grooms to make sure they’re not already married in their home countries.

Some clerics in the U.S. perform second marriage ceremonies in secret.

Khan, who does pre-marriage counseling, says she always raises the issue of polygamy with engaged couples.

“I also explain to them that as a woman, you have certain rights, and as a man, he may one day exercise his right to have a second wife,” Khan says. “And usually the man says, ‘No, no, no. I’m never going to do that.’ And I say, ‘Well, in case you ever get tempted, how about we put that in the contract?'”

Apparently she should have rejected it, full stop. The WISE project is aimed at furthering network building and exchanges and at improving the position and rights of women in conservative Islamic countries. Support for national and international religious organisations is certainly not new in the Netherlands and not only Islamic organisations receive such funding. Nevertheless since the whole secular-religious balance is under debate (not only with regard to Islam) such support at least raises eyebrows. In this case the support led to questions asked in Dutch Parliament by Dutch anti-Islam agitator Geert Wilders:
Weblog Geertwilders – Geert Wilders’ PVV discloses Dutch government support for ‘ground zero’ Mosque

Questions of the members Wilders and Fritsma (both PVV) to the Minister for WWI and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands about the co-funding of a mosque on Ground Zero.

Is it true that Dutch taxpayers’ money is used for the support of ASMA, the organization of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, who wants to build a mosque on Ground Zero?* If yes,

Do you acknowledge that it is absurd to build a mosque right at Ground Zero and that this is also an insult to (the families of) the victims of 9-11? If not, why not? If so,

Are you, given the offensive plan to build said mosque, willing to immediately withdraw the subsidy to ASMA? If not, why not?

Interestingly Feisal Abdul Rauf last year received the Peace Builders Award on behalf of the Alliance for International Conflict Prevention and Resolution together with a Dutch Liberal Jewish rabbi Soetendorp. Together they wrote an article in the journal Justitia et Pax (Act Now)

God speaks in the Quran of the righteous and unrighteous of the People of the Book [Christians and Jews] as well as of the Prophet Muhammad’s own followers. Spirituality is about learning to see with God’s eyes, and as we learn to do so, to recognize in this life Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others who emit the fragrance of Paradise, in whom God’s pleasure is evident, as well as people across the religious spectrum in whom we detect the odor of God’s displeasure. This simple insight brings us to the conclusion that challenges many believers: that among those who confess to be of other faiths are those who in God’s eyes
share the same ultimate destiny.
[…]
The same God created us all. And when, as human beings, we learn to recognize, identify with, and speak from the core human and spiritual values that we hold in common, we may transcend our superficial divisions and learn to embrace the cultural and theological diversity that only enriches the human family. Over time, interfaith dialogue can dissolve the concept of the ‘other’, replacing it with a deeper realization that we are all – in fact – brothers and sisters.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp

Wilders and, following him, much of the Dutch media has taken up the clearly false frame of ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ leading up to one Dutch columnist stating that the Ground Zero mosque crowns it all for Muslims after 9/11 and Dutch newspaper falsely stating that the Netherlands is funding the Ground Zero Mosque. It is in fact a racist frame: because Muslims did a violent thing, it is correct to criticize other Muslims for doing another (non-violent) thing. Until now Muslims in the Netherlands have remained silent on the topic although a few sites (in particular one related to my salafism research) have responded to the news and, while following the Ground Zero Mosque frame, stated (my translation):

We can see this as a true miracle because who would have ever thought that next to such a sensitive place a mosque would be build? Only one can give an answer to that, and that is Allah, the almighty, the allknowing. In the end Islam will prevail. No one, nowhere, can terminate the building of mosques.

Other Dutch Muslims, at the website Wij Blijven Hier (We are here to stay) have a more modest approach. They state (my translation):

And there you see how a center with the best of intentions, called Cordoba Initiative, will heavily invest in dialogue, community, culture, knowledge and meeting eachother, is labelled Ground Zero Mosque.

As mentioned above, it is necessary not to stop at this observation of racism. What kind of symbol is the sacred Ground Zero Mosque?

Although other atrocities in other parts of the world have caused much more in terms of human lives, such as the genocide in Rwanda (937,000 deaths ), the war and chaos in Congo (about 4 million deaths ) and the war Darfur (estimates vary between 70,0000 and 400,000 deaths ), ‘9/11’ is often considered as the event that changed the world as we knew it. The events of ‘9/11’ challenged not only the US but are seen as an attack on the Western world and all it stands for. For example in the Netherlands the Dutch government first asked for thoughtfulness but then also stated that 9-11 was tantamount to a declaration of war. Sylvain Ephimenco (a Dutch writer) pointed to Islam as the fertile ground which produces terrorists; Leon de Winter (a Dutch writer) claimed that the West was in a state of war with Islam; and Frentrop (a Dutch journalist) pleaded for a ban on Islam. The Dutch filmmaker and columnist Van Gogh would declare later that 9-11 was an eye opener for him. One of the main questions raised in many of these reactions was how ‘ordinary’ Muslims related to these extremist Muslims. Several reactions (some intended, some unintended, some distorted) added fuel to the fire: Is Islam compatible with a democracy based on the separation of church and state as well as equal rights for men and women? Though several Muslim opinion leaders tried to contribute to the debate but the scope of their contributions remained limited because they were much divided and none could be considered as truly representative of the Muslim community. Moreover, their hesitation to combine a condemnation of the attacks in support of democracy, together with solidarity with the US, worsened the situation according to many people.

In all the groups of the Ethnobarometer research ‘9/11’ stands out as the first landmark in the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, though certainly not the last landmark and not in all cases the most important one. With regard to the latter there was some disagreement about the importance of 9/11, although most of the participants saw 9/11 as an event of major implications. Certainly in the UK but to a lesser extent also in other European countries the ‘Islamic Revolution’ of 1979 in Iran or the Rushdie Affair in 1989 (Werbner 2002) had already put the spotlight on Islam and Muslims. Criticizing Muslims was still considered taboo in for example the Netherlands – chances were you would be labelled a racist –this taboo started to erode in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair. ‘Muslims’ became increasingly distinguished from the ‘Dutch’ people (whereas previously discourse was about allochthonous or ethnic minorities) and their loyalty towards the Netherlands was called into question. Also in the Netherlands in 1996 Pim Fortuyn released his book Against the islamization of our culture in which he elaborated on the issues other politicians such as Bolkestein had addressed earlier. Muslims, including liberal Muslims, were against the separation of church and state, against equality of men and women, and the main threat for world peace from which he concluded that Islam was a backward culture. Two weeks before ‘9-11’ and the day after ‘9-11’ he pleaded for a ‘Cold War’ against Islam. Although Fortuyn’s discourse was not exclusively ‘Islam-topic’ – he had strong anti-establishment rhetoric as well – his message concerning Islam became the most visible.

These are not unrelated incidents but they same part of an important, but largely invisible, undercurrent in contemporary societies. An important issue in this regard is that in the 1980s and 1990s there was no political party in the Netherlands with a clear anti-multiculturalist stand, making it difficult if not impossible for voters to voice their opposition to multiculturalism. Much of this changed after 9/11. It is clear that for Muslims and non-Muslims ‘9-11’ is important in the social construction of a conflict. ‘9-11’ is an important part of the answer to the question how do people know that there is a conflict. Before ‘9-11’ there may have been a latent conflict, surfacing occasionally after incidents such as the Rushdie-affair. An event like that is probably seen as an incident. In the case of ‘9-11’ all participants remember very vividly the attacks, seeing the planes flying into the WTC and the collapse of the Twin Towers. ‘9-11’ serves as the exemplary event for either explaining what is wrong with Islam or explaining what is wrong with the host societies of Muslim migrants. Muslims and non-Muslims recognize that since ‘9-11’ criticizing Islam and Muslims is no longer taboo and in some cases almost custom to this in the strongest way possible. The experience of ‘9-11’ and its aftermath can be seen as one of the underlying grammars in the construction of the Self and the Other. Writings such as those of Fortuyn and Sartori, perhaps already apprarent in popular thinking, have gained, in Gramsci’s words, plausibility because of ‘9/11 and after 9/11 such national discourses have merged with global discourses of the war against terror and Islam as a threat. These powerful discourses have merged with anti-islamic ideologies from people like Wilders thereby further complicating the national and transnational mixtures of politics and religion.

Update 27-08-2010
Recently conference in Singapore organised by the official Islamic Council of Singapore and the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore (MUIS). The conference brought together academics and activists from all over the world to discuss the issue of Islam, Muslims and multiculturalism in a globalised world. Besides people like Tariq Ramadan, Reuven Firestone and Abdullah Saeed, also Feisal Abdul Rauf participated. Below you find the link to a report about the conference by Yoginder Sikand (who also attended) with an excerpt (H/T one of my regular readers: MvB):

The American Muslim (TAM)

For me, the highlight of the conference was hearing the arrestingly charismatic Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, head of the New York-based Cordoba Initiative, speak. The soft-spoken but extremely articulate Egyptian-born and Britain-educated Imam has been in the forefront of efforts to promote dialogue between people of different faiths, inspired by a truly universalistic—and, so, to me, powerfully attractive—understanding of religion. He began by pointing out that Muslims are today perceived as a ‘problem’ the world over. Owing to the actions of self-styled Islamists, Islam is now regarded by many as a security threat. This perception, he said, cannot be denied or wished away simply through apologetic exercises. Across the world, Muslim groups, using the vocabulary of Islam, have spearheaded violent political movements in the name of Islam. This is why, he said, many non-Muslims perceive Islam to be synonymous with violence and even terror. This undeniable fact, he went on, is a challenge to Muslims concerned about their faith, who must act to rescue it from terrorists who use it to give it a bad name.

The Imam debunked certain key myths that many Muslims, wedded to a narrow, communal understanding of Islam, zealously uphold. He pointed out that the Quran addresses itself not to Muslims as a communal group, but, rather to what it calls ‘believers’ or muminun. And this, he argued, is what the companions of the Prophet Muhammad saw themselves as. Based on his interpretation of certain key Quranic verses, the Imam pointed out that the category of muminun was not limited to those who call themselves by the Arabic term ‘Muslim’, and who generally construe the term as referring to a particular community. Rather, he persuasively argued, the muminun that the Quran talks about, for which any other suitable term could be used in other languages, included everyone, no matter what rituals he followed, what language he worshipped in, or whatever name he called himself by, who believed in the one God and in divine accountability after death and practiced good. This, he said, was the basic religion taught by all the prophets of God. Various prophets might have had their own methods of prayer and rituals, but these should be seen not as separate religions or as the bases of separate communities. Rather, they were more like different schools of thought or, in Arabic, mazhabs, of the same religion, or different sunnahs or paths. ‘The various prophets had different signatures, but they shared the same message’, he explained. All the prophets, the Quran says, were of the same status, and, critiquing Muslim claims to supremacy, he argued that nowhere does the Quran declare the Prophet Muhammad to have been the best among them or the most superior—contrary to what many Muslims contend. In actual fact, he pointed out, the Quran warns people not to make any distinction between the prophets. To imagine that the ‘believers’, in the Quranic sense, referred to a particular community that practiced a particular set of rituals in a particular language, as most Muslims do, was, the Imam argued, not at all in accordance with what the Quran says.

The universalistic understanding of religion and the notion of ‘believer’ that he argued the Quran actually preached (which is in marked contrast to how many of those who call themselves ‘Muslims’ understand them), the Imam suggested, was a powerful counter to the communalistic interpretations of Islam that have been, and still are, powerfully dominant and that inherently conduce to conflict. It was, he contended, also a firm basis to bring together the muminun in different communities, no matter what communal label they defined themselves with, to work together for a better world.