Sometimes editors like to have fun with their writers, like last week when City Paper Managing Editor Chris Haire declared that controversial Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and yours truly are actually the same person.
Haire writes: “You want proof? Well, here goes: As you know, Rauf is the guy behind the so-called Ground Zero mosque. Not surprisingly, Sean Hannity doesn’t like him. On his Monday afternoon radio show, Hannity played an audiotape of Rauf, one which Sean believes proves just how anti-American the imam is … The funny thing is, the main point that Hannity offers as an example of Rauf’s virulent anti-Americanism is more or less the same point that the City Paper‘s own Jack Hunter has been saying for years now … namely that the United States has killed more innocent Muslims than Al-Qaeda has killed innocent Americans.”
This is true regardless of who says it. Rauf specifically cites “the U.S-led sanction against Iraq [that] led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children” in the 1990s. The number of deaths was confirmed by the United Nations, approved by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (who said it was “worth it”), and apparently deemed irrelevant by Hannity. If one uses math instead of emotion, one will easily understand that these deaths are equal to about 167 9/11s. Despite Hannity’s outrage, the imam is absolutely right.
Trying to get Americans to comprehend the weight of the damage their government sometimes causes overseas is comparable to how some wives react upon learning that their husband is a child molester: Many simply shut down, emotionally and morally, refusing to believe the truth despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The very thought is so traumatic that they go into denial, preferring to ignore or endure the tragedy rather than let it upset their worldview.
There are other, similar examples of such denial. Many now ask questions about the decades-long sexual abuse allegations against the Catholic Church: Did church leaders not know or did they simply not want to know? Some question whether or not Germans were aware of the death camps during World War II: Did they not know or did they simply not want to know?
A half-million dead children is not an insignificant number, in Iraq or anywhere else. Yet did Americans not know or did they simply not want to know? Separated by an ocean from the situation and captive to a media that barely reported it, for most Americans, it was probably a mix of apathy and ignorance, but the degree to which that ignorance remains willful is worth noting.
Haire adds: “For both Jack and Rauf, this simple stat — that 500,000 innocents died as the result of American actions — is proof that the U.S. has blood on its hands too. But for Hannity, to point out this fact is to commit chicken hawk heresy. It is a challenge to Hannity’s unchallengeable worldview, and as such, it must be wrong.”
Naturally, most Americans want to believe their nation acts in a largely benevolent manner abroad, something conservatives hardly ever believe about their government domestically, and any stark evidence to the contrary is often too heavy to absorb or too hurtful to consider. Pundits like Hannity spend hours keeping their audiences focused on relatively trivial controversies like whether some random mosque should be built next to Ground Zero, but they consider it heresy to consider that overseas, the U.S. puts ground zeros next to mosques all the time.
In an audio clip Hannity features on his website intended to condemn the now-famous imam, Rauf makes a more salient and valuable point than any of his critics: “What complicates the discussion … is that the fact that the West has not been cognizant and has not addressed the issues of its own contribution to much injustice in the Arab and Muslim world. It’s a difficult subject to discuss with Western audiences, but it is one that must be pointed out and must be raised.”
Many Americans might dismiss, as Albright did and Hannity does, the death of a half-million children as an unfortunate, yet necessary casualty of war. Funny enough, this is exactly what many in the Islamic world consider 9/11.
Blood is on the hands of both the U.S. and the Muslim world, something that too many Americans still refuse to acknowledge, weigh, or even consider, and now Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is being attacked for merely pointing this out.
There will continue to be reasonable arguments on both sides of the Ground Zero mosque controversy, but far more detrimental is the extent to which its central figure has become even more controversial simply for making a perfectly reasonable argument.