A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Arab Commentators Distancing Themselves from Mosque Controversy

I haven't been writing about the Park51/Cordoba House controversy (the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque") because it strikes me as a manufactured/manipulated debate aimed more at influencing the midterm US elections in November than anything else. I basically agree with Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama (version 1.0 last Friday, not the revised and confused version 2.0) that religious freedom is paramount, and besides, it's just a prayer room in a community center. And, as has been pointed out, no one has objected to the Pentagon mosque, (technically a non-denominational chapel, but when used for Muslim prayer it's a mosque).and that actually was built in the location where the aircraft hit the building, not two blocks away.

The controversy is worrisome, of course, insofar as it incites and inflames hostility to ordinary Muslim Americans, and indeed, some regular towns with no connection to 9/11 are campaigning to keep mosques out. (Yes, you can't build churches in Saudi Arabia. America is not Saudi Arabia. That's the point.)

Since I had little to add that others with more readers than I haven't already said, I haven't posted. But I thought I'd point to an interesting development: while, quite predictably, most Muslims abroad seem to sympathize with the project, there are Arab voices taking a note of caution, either saying that this is a domestic US issue, or worrying that the debate will inflame anti-Muslim feelings. Here's a piece in Arab News, for example, and an English-language piece from Al-Sharq al-Awsat. True, those are both Saudi newspapers, and Saudi cautiousness is proverbial, but the experts quoted are not all Saudis; there are Egyptians for example.

Now one can argue that this caution is centered mostly in defenders of pro-US regimes who worry that the controversy will give ammunition to Islamists, But it's still a phenomenon worth noting.

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