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Censoring Moderates Fuels Radicals

08/20/2010 06:16 pm 18:16:41 | Updated May 25, 2011

Even though the legal options to block the Cordoba House mosque from being constructed two blocks from Ground Zero have dwindled away to nothing, conservatives are still using the issue to stir up the base. Currently, Gingrich and others are trying to figure out how to brand their inevitable defeat, and they seem to have settled on the idea that the very existence of the mosque is enough to discredit its proponents. If Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf continues with the project, even though it may cause offense, Gingrich et al will take it as proof that Rauf is not really committed to building bridges between Islam and the United States.

Part of the opposition to the Cordoba House mosque seems not to be rooted in any objection to the actual ideologies of project leaders like Raul but in the fear that the Imam may have a secret agenda or, possibly, in the future, the mosque will be taken over by jihadis. Christopher Caldwell wrote in the Financial Times that

Islam - which is, like Christianity but unlike contemporary Judaism, an evangelising and expansionist religion - is a bigger challenge. A radical school of it views the US as its main enemy. Because that school is amply funded by Arabian oil, there is a standing fear that radicals will capture any large international project involving Islam, no matter how good its original intentions.

According to Caldwell (and others) Every mosque, even those outside Newt Gingrich's zone of exclusion, is a potential security threat. This isn't an argument against the Cordoba mosque but an argument against allowing mosques to exist anywhere in the United States, and, across the country, some Americans have rallied against new mosques in an outpouring of Islamophobia.

Perhaps it would be instructive to consider what no-holds-barred propaganda looks like. This month, North Korea resumed its propaganda war against South Korea by posting satirical videos on YouTube and setting up a Twitter account. The clips are far from persuasive; they write off Hillary Clinton as a "minister in a skirt" and call the South Korean defense minister a "servile dog."

Nevertheless, South Korea's censors have blocked access to North Korea's accounts; visitors see a page describing the censored material as 'illegal content.' Having read the banned tweets (or at least Google Translate's interpretations of them), I cannot believe that the puerile messages are more disruptive than the idea that South Korea's government felt threatened by them.

The United States cannot eliminate jihadi propaganda. It already exists online, and the construction of a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero will do nothing to change this fact. What the current conflict does is to supply those online jihadists with talking points about how terrified America is of Islam and how the War on Terror is really a War on Muslims. How, no matter what American Muslims do, be it serving as a goodwill ambassador under Bush or speaking at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the journalist killed by the Taliban, they will never be accepted as Americans, will never be afforded shelter under our laws.

The talking points I've outlined above are at least as good for Bin Laden's propaganda as the jihadists-will-view-the-mosque-as-a-triumphalist-desecration storyline the GOP's been pushing. No matter what we do or say about the Cordoba mosque, Al Qaeda will try to find a way to play it to their advantage. We will never achieve victory by trying to silence Islamic radicals. Ideas can be suppressed only by a stronger, competing idea. Unfortunately, Gingrich and Palin are out of ideas. In an effort to win a PR coup, they and other conservatives are pushing moderate Muslims out of the discourse.