Liberty Commentary

Is the Muslim My Neighbor?

by William N. Grigg, Pro Libertate

As violence raged through Gaza, Esther Najjar feared that her family — which included two young girls — would be the next target of the mob that had just firebombed the local Catholic church.
Riled up through the expert ministrations of professional agitators, the mob of Palestinian Muslims assaulted several Christian houses of worship in protest of papal remarks taken as an affront to those who revere Mohammed. Esther, like many other members of Gaza’s embattled Christian minority, was all but helpless. If not for the intervention of their neighbors, she and her daughters may well have been massacred.

“I was afraid,” Esther later told a wire service reporter. “First they attacked the church, and then there was that protest against the pope…. Some of the protesters tried to come down this street, and we were terrified they’d attack the houses. But our Muslim neighbors stopped the protesters.” (Emphasis added.)

Those who acted to defend the rights of Esther and her children didn’t see them as adherents of an “infidel” religion — one they might regard as the fighting faith of their political enemies. Instead, they saw those Christian Palestinians as neighbors threatened by criminal violence.

Incomprehensible as it may seem to those whose bearings on reality are defined by Fox News and GOP-aligned talk radio, the government of the Palestinian Authority — which,thanks to the Bush administration’s intervention, was controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization created from the CIA-backed Muslim Brotherhood with the help of Israeli intelligence — didn’t exploit the controversy to call for a pogrom against the Christian minority.

In fact, Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister at the time, did exactly the opposite, admonishing his fellow citizens to rally in defense of the besieged minority: “All Palestinian citizens must prevent all harm to all Christian churches on Palestinian land. Our Christian brothers are citizens of Palestine. They are Palestinians.”

An unlikely Samaritan: Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

This incident could be mistaken for an updating of the parable in which Jesus of Nazareth used a Samaritan — a member of a despised, heretical religion — to embody the virtue of loving one’s neighbor.

But there is nothing hypothetical about the neighborly virtue displayed by the Muslims who protected Esther Najjar’s family in Gaza four years ago, or about Haniyeh’s commendable call for righteous interposition on behalf of Palestinian Christians.

Haniyeh’s actions were all the more remarkable, given that (not to put too fine a point on the matter) there is little in Hamas’s ideology or established tactics that can be reconciled with the Sermon on the Mount.

Americans who profess to follow the One who taught the parable of the Good Samaritan should soberly consider this question: Can we display toward our Muslim neighbors the same kind of Christian love that was extended — at least on that one occasion — by Haniyeh, a senior political leader of Hamas?

On the available evidence it would appear that a large portion of America’s Christian population, in dealing with our nation’s tiny and largely powerless Muslim minority, falls short of what we could call the Haniyeh Standard — that is, recognizing them as fellow Americans and preventing harm to their houses of worship. In fact, many Christians consider it their neighborly duty to rescue American Muslims from religious error by relieving them of their burdensome individual rights.

Thus it is that Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, perhaps the most influential Religious Right organization, demands that the government forbid the construction of any new mosques anywhere in the United States. Although he’s studiously coy about the matter, Fischer clearly would prefer to see the demolition of every existing mosque as well, since he considers them to be “improvised explosive devices” rather than actual houses of worship.

“If a mosque was [sic] willing to publicly renounce the Koran and its 109 verses that call for the death of infidels, renounce Allah and his messenger Mohammed, publicly condemn Osama bin Laden [and] Hamas … maybe then they could be allowed to build their buildings,” sniffs Fischer.  “But then they wouldn’t be Muslims at that point, would they?”

Fischer apparently believes that the only right Muslims possess is the right to refudiate their rights (as St. Sarah might put it).

What Fischer insinuates, Peter J. Johnson states with admirable candor. Johnson, a legal analyst for Fox News, is the living incarnation of Ellsworth Toohey, a columnist from Ayn Rand’s definitive novel The Fountainhead who serves as the fictional embodiment of collectivism.

Collectivism incarnate: Fox News legal analyst Johnson.

Standing in front of the site of the proposed Cordoba House in Lower Manhattan, his voice lacquered with cloying, condescending sanctimony,Johnson used his August 20Fox & Friends commentary to urge Muslims to prove that they are “good neighbors” by commiting metaphorical self-immolation.

“We are proud that we are one of the few countries in the world which allows the free exercise of religion,” mewled Johnson. Of course, this was merely a prelude to the inevitable qualifying conjunction — “but” — that nullifies everything coming before it: “… but when we resort to legalisms instead of common sense, or compassion, when we invoke our First Amendment as a sword, not a shield, it means we have lost sight of and broken faith with our national identity and strength.”

In a fashion that would have caused a knowing smile to crease Toohey’s overfed face, Johnson thus defined an unqualified assertion of individual liberty as a form of aggression against the collective. He then asserted that sacrifice of one’s individual rights is “the essential principle of our nation’s endurance”: “When it comes to our national interest, we are neither Christians, nor Jews, nor Muslims; we are Americans first, who make sacrifices for each other.”

There is nothing essentially “American” about that formulation; in fact, it could very easily be transposed into the idiom of Soviet propaganda during Stalin’s “Great Patriotic War”: “When it comes to our national interest, we are neither Christians, nor Jews, nor Muslims; we are Soviet citizens first, who make sacrifices for each other.”

What distinguishes the American ideal from any variety of nationalist collectivism is the sanctity of individual rights, not the supposed virtue of self-sacrifice in the service of the putative common good. Johnson, however, is firmly committed to the Soviet perspective.

“Why has the notion of `we’ been replaced by `me’?” whines Johnson, who — borrowing a riff from Big Brother’s “Two Minute Hate” —  goes on to offer a tortured insinuation that the Park51 community center would have some connection to “our implacable enemy,  the nation of Iran.” (Note that he indicts the “nation,” not the government ruling that country.)

The only way that those seeking to build the Park51 facility can behave as “neighbors becoming good neighbors,” according to Johnson, is to surrender their rights.

“Any American can assert a right,” Johnson concludes. “Great Americans give up their rights to help those they share nothing else with but a love of this country.”

Like Rand’s literary creation Ellsworth Toohey, Johnson appears to have made a deliberate choice to evangelize on behalf of collectivism in terms calculated to appeal to the basest impulses of the mob. After all, if “sacrifice” is a virtue, why doesn’t Johnson urge critics of the Cordoba House to offer their hurt feelings as a sacrifice in the defense of individual rights?The logical answer is that Johnson is paid to promote statist militarism, not individual liberty — and do so in a nearly pitch-perfect imitation of Toohey.

“Look back at history,” commented Toohey in The Fountainhead. “Look at any great system of ethics. Didn’t they all preach the sacrifice of personal joy? Under all the complications of verbiage, haven’t they all had a single leitmotif — sacrifice, renunciation, self-denial? Haven’t you been able to catch their theme song — give up, give up, give up? Every system of ethics that preached sacrifice grew into a world power and ruled millions of men.”

In the parable taught by Jesus, the Good Samaritan exposed himself to risk by ministering to the victim of mob violence; he likewise used his own funds to obtain lodging and treatment for his wounded neighbor. This was compassionate charity. It was not the collectivist counterfeit called “altruism.” The Samaritan’s generosity didn’t involve a renunciation of his own individual rights and fundamental worth; rather, they were carried out in harmony with the Great Commandment to love one’s neighbor “as himself.”

Ayn Rand may have had a similar distinction in mind when she warned: “Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others.  These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible.  The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice — which means: self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction — which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as the standard of the good.”

Some might insist that Rand would be offended by the suggestion that her individualist ethics can be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I suspect that Rand would take much greater offense over the fact that her supposed “intellectual heir,” Leonard Peikoff, is up to his wattled neck in subjectivist heresy regarding the “Ground Zero Mosque.” In his comments about the contrived controversy, Peikoff has asserted the primacy of hurt feelings over the principle of property rights — to the point of suggesting that in the event the facility is actually built it should be destroyed in an act of state terrorism.

Rand’s description of altruism as metaphorical self-immolation is uniquely appropriate to this discussion.

Peter J. Johnson Jr. Esq. didn’t urge Imam Rauf and the others behind the Cordoba Initiative to strap on dynamite vests and blow themselves to a bloody mist, in the fashion of “martyrs” deployed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However, his formula for self-sacrificing “patriotism” — “great Americans give up their rights” — is close kindred to the exhortations used by schismatic Muslim clerics to recruit suicide bombers.

Whatever else can be said about the teachings and practice of Islam, this much should be understood: The evil practice of murder-suicide bombing has been condemned by traditionalist Islamic clerics as an apostate innovation of recent vintage that isincompatible with Koranic teachings condemning suicide and assaults on innocent non-combatants.  This reflects the fact that terrorists and those who support them account for a tiny percentage of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims.

By way of contrast, most conservative American Christians support unending military aggression against the Muslim world, including the use of tactics (such as bombing civilian population centers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the imposition of murderous blockades against Iraq and Gaza) that can only be described as state-sponsored terrorism against the innocent.

Muslim extremists are the ones who countenance criminal violence against the innocent — whether they’re “infidel” Christians and Jews, or Muslims perceived to be apostates. The marginalized “extremists” among American Christians are those of us who see American Muslims as our neighbors, and oppose criminal aggression against the rights of Muslims living abroad.

(Note: The final paragraph was slightly expanded from the original version. Also, the fifth paragraph has been expanded with additional details regarding the origins of the Hamas terrorist organization. )

A personal note

It has been roughly one year since my near-death experience and, coincidentally, the end of my most recent long-term freelance writing gig. Since that time, this blog has been my family’s only consistent source of income. Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity.

There is a very good chance that in this coming week I will be starting a new part-time editorial position that will provide a consistent, if modest, income. This is a timely and most welcome development.

In recent weeks I’ve been working at various part-time jobs as they have become available, and not merely as a writer or editor: I recently spent a Saturday morning collecting, and disposing of, canine digestive residue — something I was eager to do, because there was a paycheck involved.

Even in better times it is a challenge to provide for a family of eight, even when the sole breadwinner has a steady job. Even in better economic circumstances my employment options would be limited on account of Korrin’s difficulties: My wonderful wife is a diagnosed schizophrenic who often simply cannot function as a mother. This helps explain the occasional irregularity of my output here at Pro Libertate.

Assuming that everything falls into place, my new job will relieve some of the pressure — but we’ve reached a point in our household finances where the bucket is bringing up sand from the bottom of the well.

Korrin is receiving assistance for her medical needs (a decision that was taken from me the first time she was hospitalized in 2006), but I have refused to make a hypocrite of myself by accepting food stamps or other forms of government “welfare.”

Where I can offer charity, I eagerly do so; when it is offered to my family, I thankfully accept it. But as far as I have any say in the matter, I will not knowingly receive stolen property.  My family and I will be profoundly grateful for any help any of you can offer us to get through the coming month. Thanks again, and God bless you always.