Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Middle East expert and storied former CIA operative, has called, along with Fox News' Glenn Beck, for a litmus test to be given to Muslims anxious to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
In a classic conspiracy-riddled "chalk talk" this week, Beck reversed his earlier defense of the Islamic center on Constitutional grounds. He rallied his minions against the mosque and cited David Horowitz' test that "the fastest way to find out who you are dealing with" is to ask a Muslim to denounce Hamas. Fox's pontificator-in-chief then made a few splendid leaps of logic to show his viewers that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is in favor of Hamas' ambitions to kill all the Jews.
Gerecht, a leading intellect in counter-terrorism under George W. Bush and an early supporter of the invasion of Iraq as a way to foster moderation in the Middle East, provided a more direct test in an August 11 blog piece for The New Republic, entitled, "What is Moderate Islam?"
He argued that, "It would be morally obscene to allow Muslims to build a center near Ground Zero who had not unequivocally denounced (renounced, would be okay, too) the ideas that gave us the maelstrom of 9/11."
With a huff of hubris, Gerecht added, "So we need to know whether Rauf is a moderate Muslim."
Gerecht and Beck appear to both believe that "the maelstrom of 9/11" had little or nothing to do with the U.S. government's past policies in the Middle East or South Asia. Apparently, they both reject the now widely-accepted notion that Washington's once blind support to Pakistan's double-dealing intelligence services and for the "jihad" against Soviet aggression inadvertently abetted the rise of al Qaeda and the true perpetrators of the crimes at Ground Zero.
Instead, Gerecht and Beck would have us all believe that the "evil" perpetrated against the United States stemmed from an amorphous "evil" within Islam -- one that we must now force "them" to renounce.
To that end, they are both calling for a Spanish Inquisition -- American style.
Despite the First Amendment's clear prohibitions against government interference in the free exercise of religion, Gerecht insists that, "We (the People) get to use American definitions for anything that happens on American soil."
Gerecht defines "moderate" in his own words as "a believer who unqualifiedly rejects terrorism against anyone." Apparently we, "the people," need to put Imam Rauf in a room with Gerecht, who has - in the past -- expressed his support for enhanced interrogation, and listen closely as Rauf denounces -- or renounces -- what Gerecht defines as "terrorism."
All of this would -- no doubt -- be facilitated by the moderate application of a watered-down cloth to Rauf's face. Not to be outdone by his own hyperbole, Gerecht provides his readers with test questions, including, "Do you believe that rockets launched at Israeli towns by Hamas and Hizbollah are acts of terrorism, which will bring down upon the perpetrators Allah's wrath?"
Did he say, "Allah's wrath?"
It would not be too bold to speculate here that America's founders knew too well that men like Gerecht, who don't share a victim's faith, would want to help him understand his own God in this manner. Ergo: the First Amendment.
This would clearly make for some great reality television. Wait, where was it in the world that we've seen this show before? Spain, 1478.
Glenn Beck's litmus test is similar but -- as you might expect if you have taken a moment to watch him -- far more convoluted and hard to follow.
In May this year when the community center near to Ground Zero was just a small story, Beck expressed his dislike for the project, but said that the U.S. Constitution protected religious establishments from Uncle Sam's long arm. He mentioned that his own religion, Mormonism -- considered a bizarre (even threatening) religion by some Americans -- was often getting the run-around when it wanted to build a Temple in different U.S. neighborhoods.
But this week, Beck pulled a switcheroo and insisted that the mosque should be stopped and that the American public should awake from its stupor and weigh in against it.
Gloves off, Beck drew a diagram of Imam Rauf's ties to a group supporting the Turkish flotilla (boarded by the I.D.F. in May, 2010) that tried to run an Israeli blockade and whose passengers, he said, then "stabbed Israeli soldiers as they boarded the ship."
Beck warned his audience that a new flotilla was on the way and that it would be named, "the Audacity of Hope," an obvious advertisement, he said, for Barack Obama's last book and an actual quote from the "Jew-hating" Rev. Jeremiah Wright - the one who dared to mention in reference to 9/11 that America's "chickens have come home to roost."
As if that was not enough, Obama's old Chicago pal, Professor Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American historian, would be organizing the new flotilla "to get those Jews."
If nothing more, Beck's innuendo campaign is immersing his viewers in the murky waters and deep weeds of Middle Eastern strife. Indeed, the rants of Beck and Gerecht serve to highlight a conflict that drives anti-American animosity more than any other across the Islamic realm as I discovered while researching my book, "My Brother, My Enemy: America and the Battle of Ideas across the Islamic World."
So, maybe there is a silver lining somewhere in this mad maelstrom over an Islamic community center in New York City. If we're lucky some Americans will take time to study the issues more closely and examine how misguided U.S. policies helped give birth not only to bin Laden's al Qaeda network -- the phoenix that rose from the ashes of the otherwise successful war against Soviet aggression -- but also how later policies encouraged by Gerecht and his American Enterprise Institute after 9/11 helped to harden and strengthen Hamas' hand across the Holy Land. (As I recall, American tax dollars even helped to pay for Hamas' stunning post-9/11 election victory.)
Further study will also show that most groups that are interested in easing restrictions on Gaza and the West Bank -- the Muslim, Christian and (yes) Jewish embargo runners -- have no sympathy whatsoever with the violent ambitions of Hamas's leadership. Rather, they believe in non-violent efforts to counter Israel's hegemony over Gaza and the West Bank and to assist impoverished Palestinians.
To that end, many of these same activists support President Obama's efforts -- however dismal and failing due to right wing resistance -- to bring the warring sides in the Middle East together and move ahead with a two-state peace deal for Israel and Palestine.
After all -- by almost any sane man's litmus test -- it is America's role as a moderator in the Middle East and not as an inquisitor at home that will promote peace and undermine "global terrorism."