"God blesses those who take out his sweet spirits." - Just Another Cassio
Question #59155 posted on 09/03/2010 7:18 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Re: Board Question #59042

As much as I respect him, I feel that Sauron is completely wrong, but as this is not my forum I will not diatribe as to why. To clarify his position on what is constitutionally right vs. what is a good idea, I would like to see his opinion on a couple of situations, both hypothetical and real life. Would he support a Christian church in, say, Atlanta building a church on the spot of an abortion clinic that one of their own congregation bombed, if they legally purchased the land? Would he support the LDS church building a temple at Mountain Meadows? What does he think about government memorials at places where the U.S. Army massacred Native Americans, places like Wounded Knee and Bear River?

-Just curious, not going to follow up antagonistically


Dear Just Curious,

Thanks for this question. These hypothetical situations provide a perfect opportunity to clarify and illustrate my point about the difference between the "tiny minority of jihadist Muslims" and the "entire, heterogeneous population that adamantly opposes violent jihad." I hope to show you why putting the Park51 mosque two blocks from Ground Zero is not at all analogous to the hypothetical situations in your question. And there appears to be no end to such analogies.

Let's start with a few facts.

There are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world—that's almost one out of every four people on earth—living in many nations and speaking many languages. And just like there are many different denominations of Christians, there are numerous divisions and subdivisions within Islam.

Here's a little chart to give you an idea of the vast diversity of the Muslim world (click here to read more on Wikipedia):



Pop quiz: Does Al-Qaeda belong to (A) the exact same Islamic denomination as the Park51 Muslims, (B) a related denomination, or (C) a completely different denomination of Islamic belief?

Do you know? Do you care? Does it matter?

To answer the question, and to illustrate, let me quote one blogger who relates the different factions of Islam to the branches of Christianity:

Pretty much all of the terrorist organizations in the world that are focused on the United States are Wahhabi, funded and trained by our allies in Saudi Arabia, and often closely coordinated with our allies in the Pakistani military.

Wahhabism is a crackpot fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam. Think of Sunni as being like Protestantism, a relatively liberal branch of the religion overall, and Wahhabism as being like the Protestants who dance with snakes and talk in tongues.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of the terrorist organizations in the world that are Islamic at all are Shi’ite. This is the largest of the three branches of Islam, and the most basic one, with an older lineage than Sunni Islam. Think of that as being somewhat like Catholicism…most Shi’ites are peaceful, but you have the crazies, like the Irish Republican Army is for Catholicism. You can’t really blame the rest for those nutjobs in the IRA targeting other peoples and religions.

And then you have the Sufi. These are a bit like the Mormons are to Christianity. They’re a “third way” sort of group, very peaceful and focused a lot on mysticism and spirituality, not the practical mechanics of the Big Two. No terrorist organizations, in the whole world, are Sufi. Some Muslims say they’re so different that the Sufi aren’t even Muslims, at all.

The people building the Park51 community center across from the World Trade Center are Sufi.

And, incidentally, the Sufi have been the targets of attacks by the Taliban. Do you see why treating the Muslims of Park51 as if they were in the same congregation as the WTC terrorist hijackers is a really stupendous logical fail? Are you starting to see why The Economist wrote that "Every single argument put forward for blocking this project leans in some way on the misconceived notion that all Muslims, and Islam itself, share the responsibility for, or are tainted by, the atrocities of 9/11." And, finally, can you see why the hypothetical situations you posed highlight the central logical fallacy of the anti-Mosque crowd? 

So let me make some adjustments to the hypothetical situations you posed, taking into account denominational differences.

  • Would you support a Christian Scientist church in, say, Atlanta building a church around the corner from an abortion clinic that a Catholic bombed, if they legally purchased the land?*
  • What do you think about the government building forest ranger outposts and fish hatcheries at places where the U.S. Army massacred Native Americans, places like Wounded Knee and Bear River?
  • Would you support the Episcopalian Church building a chapel at Mountain Meadows?

Doesn't that just take the wind out of the sails? How would you get anybody to show up for the protest?

Okay, now, you specifically asked about hypothetical situations in which killers belonged to the same denomination. I'll indulge you with a similar hypothetical situation:

  • What if after Timothy McVeigh—a born-and-raised Catholic who received his last rites just before execution, and who claimed his "bible" for the attacks was the violent anti-semitic Christian Identity book The Turner Diaries—bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, various Christian denominations built memorials within two blocks, and the Catholic Church itself built a memorial shrine right across the street? Would there have been a huge controversy?

Sorry, did I say hypothetical? This actually happened. The Catholic memorial is called "And Jesus Wept." The First Methodist Church, across the street in the other direction, built the Heartland Chapel. And, no, there was no controversy. Rightly so. Maybe because it's easy for us to see that despite his religious influences, McVeigh's violence is incompatible with the teachings of any mainstream Christian church. In fact we might reasonably say that McVeigh wasn't really a Christian at all, and look for the ways in which his actions contradict the teachings of the Bible.

We might even go so far as to say that any true Christianity strictly condemns any such violent acts, and that no Christian terrorist is actually Christian.  

Having seen this from the Christian perspective, can you see why many peaceful Muslims might say that Muslim terrorists are not Muslims at all?

The terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center were not members of the Muslim congregation in NYC. Quite to the contrary, Al Qaeda and the Park51 Muslims are religiously and ideologically incompatible with each other.

Here are some beliefs of Imam Rauf compiled by MediaMatters (visit the link for much more):

  • "We condemn terrorists. We recognize it exists in our faith, but we are committed to eradicate it."
  • Rauf "has denounced church burnings in Muslim countries, rejected Islamic triumphalism over Christians and Jews, and proposed to reclaim Islam from violent radicals such as Osama Bin Laden."
  • Rauf "condemns suicide bombings and all violence carried out in the name of religion."
  • After 9-11, Rauf "categorically condemned suicide bombers."
  • Rauf is "pro-American within the Muslim world."
  • Rauf argues that "American democracy is the embodiment of Islam's ideal society."
  • Rauf: "The teachings of Islam are very similar to the teachings of Christianity, of loving the one God and loving thy neighbor."

These kinds of Muslims are the ones Bin Laden fears.

and Sauron 


*The Google Maps links I posted are accurate and show that this exact situation exists today, though I can't tell whether the Christian Scientist church moved to that location before or after the bombing. The point still stands: widespread understanding of denominational difference in Christianity ensures that this possibly-not-hypothetical situation would never make a national controversy.

posted on 09/04/2010 5:52 p.m.
Dear and Sauron,

Your answer is simply amazing and it is so great to read such a thorough, well argued answer!

But I just thought that it should be pointed out that when the blog post you quote says that Shi'ite Islam is the largest branch of Islam it's wrong. In fact most muslims are Sunni, while only about 10 - 15% are Shi'ite. Shi'ite muslims are however the majority in Iraq and Iran (maybe why the original blogger got confused in the first place...)

Don't worry about posting this comment if you think it detracts anything from the answer (because it corrects the blog quote rather than you) but I just wanted you to know!