Foreign Policy Watch

Geopolitical musings through a progressive lens …by Matt Eckel and Jeb Koogler

Orrin Hatch on Cordoba House and "Islam"

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah recently gave a reasonably strong defense of the construction of the Cordoba House Muslim community center, saying that “if the Muslims own that property, that private property, and they want to build a mosque there, they should have the right to do so.” He spoke further about the importance of religious freedom in American society, noted that plenty of Muslims were killed on 9/11, and called Islam a “great religion.”

Hatch’s statements weren’t without problems (I’ll get there in a moment), but given the pathetic silence of most of the Republican establishment in the face of the increasingly open, intense and virulent anti-Islamic sentiment emerging in American political life, I think it’s important to recognize when someone is willing to cut against the grain and stand on principle, especially when doing so entails political risk. So, for the most part, bravo Mr. Hatch.

My one quibble might seem a bit semantic, but I think it’s a symptom of a larger problem in the way Muslims are represented and thought about in American society. Hatch, when asked about the high level of public opposition to the Cordoba House project, said, “there’s a huge, I think, lack of support throughout the country for Islam to build that mosque there, but that should not make a difference if they decide to do it… I’d be the first to stand up for their rights.” Again, the overall sentiment expressed here is as admirable as it is underrepresented in contemporary discourse. Hatch’s reference to “Islam” in such agentic terms, though, threw me a bit. He speaks of Islam as though it is not only a unified school of thought, but a relatively unified organizational body, one that is capable of strategically directing mosque placement as one might move pawns on a chessboard. I’m sure Hatch was just using verbal shorthand, but that’s the point. People conditioned to think of “Islam” as a unitary entity in the mold of, for example, the USSR or even international communism will be much more susceptible to thinking of Islam as inherently dangerous. Though Hatch seems to have avoided this trap, at least in its ugliest manifestations, his word choice is telling.

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  1. Cue anti-Islamic comments from posters Jeff and Michael LeFavour in 3, 2, 1…

  2. To quote Nelson Muntz, "Ha ha."

  3. done.

    i will say this for the web-site owners. they have never censored me, whether because they believe in free speech (as i think they do) or because they imagine that most folks interpret my entries as ranting. "Let him go on. It helps the cause of progressive politics." Or maybe, progressive deterioration.

    the anti-Islamic entries sometimes strike a chord, with at least some readers saying, "maybe we are failing to make an appropriate distinction, since islam really isn't only a religion in the western sense. and maybe we need to update our immigration law to reflect an understanding that some kinds of immigrants are more likely to help america prosper than are other immigrants, who (given the behavior of second- and third-generation muslims in europe) are more likely to undermine prosperity and cohesion."

    as the first clinton campaign might have said, "It's the sharia, stupid."

    the increase in anti-Islamic sentiment is healthy.

  4. I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. All of us ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated, but this is not the case.

    I know those opposing the NY Community Center continue to say that that the majority supports them, but as history has taught us the majority is not always right. Would women or non-whites have the vote if we listen to the majority of the day, would the non-whites have equal rights (and equal access to churches, housing, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, schools, colleges and yes water fountains) if we listen to the majority of the day? We all know the answer, a resounding, NO!

    Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics and do what is right, not what is just popular with the majority. Some men comprehend discrimination by never have experiencing it in their lives, but the majority will only understand after it happens to them.

  5. Benito, you undermine the basis of tolerance if you let in large numbers of people who adhere to a doctrine that is inherently intolerant.

    America can lose it all by imagining that calls to tolerance will protect her from the implications of letting in the unassimilable.

    Too many decisions are being made on the basis of personal experiences (of course many muslims are inoffensive) and not enough on the larger context of a european/Christian society, made prosperous by a set of culturally specific values yet opening itself to a vile tradition — a POLITICAL tradition of dominance — and to a Muslim leadership that is motivated by culturally specific values that are incompatible with the American heritage.

  6. I believe that Senator Hatch argument is fair.