Not being a reader of the Huffington Post, I had missed Christian ethics professor and evangelical left leader David Gushee‘s latest emission on the subject of the proposed mosque/community center near Ground Zero. Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy brought it to the attention of IRD supporters, however, so I took a look.
Wow. Can you say, “bogus historical analogies?”
Sometimes public policy disputes become transformed into symbolic conflicts that go to the heart of national identity. The “mosque controversy” was initially a mere zoning question. It is now a symbolic conflict over the place of Muslims in our national life.
As a scholar whose first book was on the Holocaust, I hear echoes of the Dreyfus Affair.
So, the exact placement of a building on the island of Manhattan echoes one of the most notorious cases of anti-Semitism in modern Europe? How is that, Dr. Gushee?
Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was the only Jewish member of the French General Staff in the late 1800s, a time when France was deeply infected with anti-Semitism, and its elites resented the admission of Jews into the higher reaches of French society, including the military.
Dreyfus was appointed to the General Staff in 1893. His appointment, and the advance of other Jewish army officers, evoked strong protests from anti-Semitic French newspapers which sought to whip up fears that Jews were not loyal Frenchmen, and were in fact potential traitors.
In 1894, it was discovered that a French officer was passing secrets to the hated Germans. Dreyfus was accused on the basis of the flimsiest of evidence, and when it appeared that he might be acquitted, leading officers — including the minister of war — forged documents to implicate Dreyfus and slipped them to the judges without the knowledge of the defense attorney. Dreyfus had been framed. He was convicted, sentenced to life in prison, publicly stripped of his rank and degraded before crowds shouting “Death to the Jews,” and shipped off to Devil’s Island.
That’s a fair description of what happened in the Dreyfus case. What it has to do with Imam Abdul Rauf’s proposed building is anybody’s guess.
The limits of my comparison between the Dreyfus case and the mosque controversy are obvious.
But the similarities must also be taken seriously. Those similarities include the identification of an entire religious minority as a threat to the nation,
An identification indulged in only by the most fringe characters, the vast majority of commentators having been careful to make clear that they aren’t talking about Muslims in general, but about the small (but vocal and violent) minority referred to as “radical Islamists,” whose existence is presumably undeniable to anyone who has ever looked in that big hole in the ground in lower Manhattan.
the harmlessness of both Captain Alfred Dreyfus and Imam Abdul Rauf, the role of major media voices in whipping up frenzied national fears,
Such as? I suspect Gushee isn’t a devotee of Fox News, so he’s likely simply repeating what all HuffPo readers know about the evils of Murdoch Media.
and the questionable capacity of the nation to honor its own legal and moral principles.
What legal or moral principle America is violating by questioning the geographic location of Rauf’s project I don’t know, since Gushee doesn’t specify any.
The other parallel is almost too painful to name: the role of the Christian majority and some of its most vocal and visible leaders in turning the religious “Other” into an object of infamy. In France a hundred years ago, these were Catholic demagogues leading the charge. Today they are mainly Protestant evangelicals.
Such as Mormon Harry Reid and UCC member Howard Dean. They don’t, however, include evangelicals lefties such as Gushee, who would never do such a thing, except to conservative evangelicals.
A close look at the Dreyfus case reveals that its outcome hinged largely on honorable leaders finally resisting demagoguery and standing on higher principle. We have seen such leadership from Mayor Bloomberg of New York and a handful of other leaders.
One of those leaders has been President Barack Obama. He made one forceful stand for the constitutional principle of religious liberty in this case. But he has been very careful. I think I know why. He himself is at risk of being “Dreyfused.” In fact, as last week’s much-discussed polling pointed out, he is already being Dreyfused on the “Muslim issue.” He has been called “Imam Obama” by Rush Limbaugh. One-fifth of the nation thinks he is a Muslim, and in this moment in American public life, that is a dangerously high number. A concerted effort is being made by extremists to “other” him right out of American public life. It is a truly shameful display.
Actually, the shameful display here is the performance of David Gushee. He demonizes those who disagree with him, impugns the motives of those who have a problem with the project, refuses to grant that there is a reasonable, unbigoted case to be made by opponents, dismisses by implication the concerns of 9/11 victims’ families, and makes a ludicrous historical comparison that doesn’t lack much of violating Godwin’s law. Perhaps we should start calling him “Rush Gushee.”