The Wall Street Journal today highlights (subscription required) a letter written by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in 1977 after Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Israel. WSJ quotes:
“For my fellow Arabs I have the following special message: Learn from the example of the Prophet Mohammed, your greatest historical personality. After a state of war with the Meccan unbelievers that lasted for many years, he acceded, in the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, to demands that his closest companions considered utterly humiliating. Yet peace turned out to be a most effective weapon against the unbelievers.”
Says the author:
He’s referring to a treaty in the year 628 that established a 10-year truce between the Prophet Muhammad and Meccan leaders and was viewed by Muslims at the time as a defeat. But Muhammad used that period to consolidate his ranks and re-arm, eventually leading to his conquest of Mecca. Imam Rauf seems to be saying that Muslims should understand Sadat’s olive branch in the same way, as a short-term respite leading to ultimate conquest.
Also interesting is Rauf’s view of Israel:
“In a true peace it is impossible that a purely Jewish state of Palestine can endure. . . . In a true peace, Israel will, in our lifetimes, become one more Arab country, with a Jewish minority.”
On the Iranian revolution, in a letter written in 1979:
“The revolution in Iran was inspired by the very principles of individual rights and freedom that Americans ardently believe in.”
The piece juxtaposes this with the Rauf’s widely reported advice to Obama in 2009 (after the Green Revolution protests) to:
“…say his administration respects many of the guiding principles of the 1979 revolution—to establish a government that expresses the will of the people; a just government, based on the idea of Vilayet-i-faquih, that establishes the rule of law.”
WSJ points out that Vilayet-i-faquih “means Guardianship of the Jurist, which in practice means that all power resides with the mullahs.”
Queried for comment, Rauf responded as follows:
“It is amusing that journalists are combing through letters-to-the-editor that I wrote more than 30 years ago, when I was a young man, for clues to my evolution. As I re-read those letters now, I see that they express the same concerns—a desire for peaceful solutions in Israel, and for a humane understanding of Iran—that I have maintained, and worked hard on, in the years since those letters were published.”
Rauf is absolutely, 100% entitled to his opinions, just as the rest of us are. He is not, however, entitled to have his opinions whitewashed, by the media or by himself, nor is he entitled to hold them without incurring public opposition.
I disagree with him on every particular here: I do not regard it as a good thing for Muslims to see the Israeli-Egyptian accord as an “effective weapon against the unbelievers”; I do not agree that peace means Israel losing her status as a Jewish state, and her Jews becoming a minority in an Arab state; I do not agree that the Iranian revolution was inspired by the American idea of rights and freedom; and I do not agree that Vilayet-i-faquih is a predicate for the “rule of law” as Americans or other Westerners understand it.
Rauf repudiates none of those assertions, just as he has declined to criticize the terrorist organization Hamas. If he were a freckled blond from Ottumwa named Joe Smith, I’d disagree with him and regard his positions as wrong and potentially dangerous, should too many of my fellow Americans adopt them.
Rauf is no more entitled to the assumption that his opinions have changed than is any other public figure who has made his name in the intellectual realm: as a cleric, academic, philosopher, political leader. If his opinions have changed, he could simply say so – as many others have done. People switch from Democrat to Republican and from socialist to libertarian. People become Christians, or reject their Christian upbringing as adults. People convert to Islam, and away from it. People start out embracing Marxism and end up quoting Hayek and Friedman. When they do any of these things, they acknowledge their changes of mind and heart.
Nothing about Rauf’s opinions – at least what we know of them – should prevent him from founding an Islamic center and putting a mosque in it. But to insist that the public has no equity in the location or political prominence of such an enterprise, and that the public is wrong to care what Rauf’s opinions are, given those factors in the case of the Park 51 center, is to assert an idea of the public interest that is decidedly out of character for the American polity. It is abstractly and extremely ideological, to suggest that the people are not allowed to care about the implications of their community’s public face. We don’t apply that principle in other cases. We are, rather, pragmatic and generally in favor of compromise, with the understanding that no one – most certainly not majorities of Americans across demographics – starts out ineligible to have his views taken into account.
Update: The WSJ post contains no author attribution; this post is updated to reflect the officially posted version.
Cross-posted at Hot Air.