Christopher Hitchens on the 'Ground Zero' Mosque
As can be seen from the photo above, Christopher Hitchens is suffering side-effects from the chemotherapy that he's undergoing as treatment for his cancer, and he writes about this in an article, "Topic of Cancer," for the September 2010 issue of Vanity Fair:
The oncology bargain is that, in return for at least the chance of a few more useful years, you agree to submit to chemotherapy and then, if you are lucky with that, to radiation or even surgery. So here's the wager: you stick around for a bit, but in return we are going to need some things from you. These things may include your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest, and the hair on your head. This certainly appears to be a reasonable trade.The tradeoff so far appears to be mainly hair loss since Hitchens is still quite lucid in his powers of concentration, as is also apparent from another article that he's recently penned for Slate, a piece titled "A Test of Tolerance" (August 23, 2010), for he raises there some clear-headed, pertinent questions about 'tolerance' in Islam(ism) in response to those who defend the proposed 'Ground Zero' Mosque against its sometimes vociferous critics:
Emboldened by the crass nature of the opposition to the center, . . . defenders [of the mosque] have started to talk as if it represented no problem at all and as if the question were solely one of religious tolerance. It would be nice if this were true. But tolerance is one of the first and most awkward questions raised by any examination of Islamism. We are wrong to talk as if the only subject was that of terrorism. As Western Europe has already found to its cost, local Muslim leaders have a habit, once they feel strong enough, of making demands of the most intolerant kind. Sometimes it will be calls for censorship of anything "offensive" to Islam. Sometimes it will be demands for sexual segregation in schools and swimming pools. The script is becoming a very familiar one. And those who make such demands are of course usually quite careful to avoid any association with violence. They merely hint that, if their demands are not taken seriously, there just might be a teeny smidgeon of violence from some other unnamed quarter . . .Hitchens elides from Islamism to Islam in this passage, but he's making a subtle point, I think, on the difficulty of cleanly separating the two, for Islam itself too often elides into Islamism as we find so-called 'moderates' to be less than moderate. Hitchens thus wonders aloud about the moderate Imam Rauf, first quoting the imam's earlier advice on how President Obama should treat Iran:
He should 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-faqih, that establishes the rule of law.About this, Hitchens remarks:
Coyly untranslated here (perhaps for "outreach" purposes), Vilayet-i-faquih is the special term promulgated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to describe the idea that all of Iranian society is under the permanent stewardship (sometimes rendered as guardianship) of the mullahs. Under this dispensation, "the will of the people" is a meaningless expression, because "the people" are the wards and children of the clergy. It is the justification for a clerical supreme leader, whose rule is impervious to elections and who can pick and choose the candidates and, if it comes to that, the results.Narrowly construed, Hitchens is correct to note that the expression Vilayet-i-faquih is here untranslated, for in the passage quoted from Imam Rauf, it is untranslated, but more broadly considered, Hitchens is not quite right on this point, for in the text from which Imam Rauf's quote is lifted, the imam has already translated the expression:
After the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took the Shiite concept of the Rightly Guided Imam and created the idea of Vilayet-i-faqih, which means the rule of the jurisprudent. This institutionalizes the Islamic rule of law. The Council of Guardians serves to ensure these principles.But Hitchens is still correct to note that this "rule of the jurisprudent," which "institutionalizes the Islamic rule of law" -- two euphemistic juridical expressions along the lines of "lapidation" -- really means "that all of Iranian society is under the permanent stewardship (sometimes rendered as guardianship) of the mullahs," thereby rendering "the will of the people" void of any substance. Hitchens therefore rightly observes:
I do not find myself reassured by the fact that Imam Rauf publicly endorses the most extreme and repressive version of Muslim theocracy.And Hitchens is equally justified in expecting Imam Rauf to answer a few questions:
I would like to see Imam Rauf asked a few searching questions about his support for clerical dictatorship in, just for now, Iran. Let us by all means make the "Ground Zero" debate a test of tolerance. But this will be a one-way street unless it is to be a test of Muslim tolerance as well.And that would need to be tolerance by Western rather than by Islamist standards . . . or even than by Islamic ones, depending on which camp the imam belongs to. I'm assured by many, of course, that Imam Rauf is a moderate, and perhaps he is, but the statements of his that I've read appear opaquely ambiguous to me in the way that Tariq Ramadan's suggestion of a moratorium on stoning is ambiguous. When Imam Rauf advised Obama to respect the institution of the Vilayet-i-faqih established by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, perhaps he was offering purely pragmatic advice on dealing with a bitter foe with whom one must negotiate. But what if he truly believes in the supremacy of sharia (i.e., "the Islamic rule of law") as interpreted and enforced by the "rule of the jurisprudent"? That wouldn't be very moderate, would it? Would Imam Rauf's views then respect the will of the American people?
I'm with Hitchens on this. Let's pose a few "searching questions" to this imam about his fundamental religious views to see if we can locate his own personal 'ground zero'.