Hostility to Plans for New Mosques

It has been said before that Al-Qaeda’s greatest victory was not September 11th but Abu Ghraib. Indeed, the images of Americans reveling in the humiliation of Arab prisoners enhanced the potency of al-Qaeda’s narrative and won it scores of new recruits.

But to achieve this propaganda victory, the terrorist organization first had to accomplish something more basic: provoking a vigorous hatred of Arabs and of Islam among Americans. In that sense, September 11th was not so much a lesser victory as it was preparation for the real goal.

As Muslims in New York are learning, that preparation continues to exercise a powerful effect.

Some New Yorkers—egged on by Israeli loyalists who are eager to intensify American animosity toward Muslims—are expressing increasing hostility to plans for new mosques.

To take one example, The New York Times reported yesterday on a meeting Wednesday night on Staten Island, where tensions have erupted because of a Muslim group’s plans to convert a Catholic convent into a mosque; the church’s pastor has signed an agreement to sell the property. but a slew of administrative hurdles remain.

The meeting, held by the local civic association with the aim of defusing tensions, merely shed light on the mob mentality of much of the audience. The three invited Muslims, leaders of the Muslim American Society, were interrogated, jeered, shouted down, and booed by an audience that included rabid supporters of Israeli colonialism such as Robert Spencer, the presiding ayatollah at Jihad Watch.

Spencer, following the neoconservative rulebook to the letter, lobbed predictable smears and loaded questions, asserting that MAS had ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood. In a touching display of restraint, he apparently did not assert the three guests were hiding Osama bin Laden under their beds.

But Spencer, along with more than a dozen other audience members, did insist that MAS was on some sort “terrorist watch list.” As the Times noted, that is false:

“The State Department maintains a terrorist watch list for foreign organizations, and the Justice Department has identified domestic groups it considers unindicted co-conspirators in various terror-related prosecutions. The American Muslim Society is on neither of those lists.”

The interrogation session ended abruptly when it “eventually collapsed in shouting around 11 p.m., prompting the police and security guards to ask everyone to leave.”

Before that happened, however a shamefully revealing exchange took place:

“But just 20 minutes earlier, as Bill Finnegan stood at the microphone, came the meeting’s single moment of hushed silence. Mr. Finnegan said he was a Marine lance corporal, home from Afghanistan, where he had worked as a mediator with warring tribes.

After the sustained standing ovation that followed his introduction, he turned to the Muslims on the panel: ‘My question to you is, will you work to form a cohesive bond with the people of this community?’ The men said yes.

Then he turned to the crowd. ‘And will you work to form a cohesive bond with these people — your new neighbors?’

The crowd erupted in boos. ‘No!’ someone shouted.”

It is dispiriting to see these Americans—who probably imagine themselves to be patriots—united in hostility to fundamental First Amendment rights. But Muslim organizations have nonetheless adopted a posture of engagement, secure in the conviction that, in America, bigotry slinks away under the enduring gaze of fairness.

“We are newcomers, and newcomers in America have always had to prove their loyalty,” Mahdi Bray, MAS’s executive director said. “It’s an old story. You have to have thick skin.”