In their own more subtle ways, the WTC mosque organizers end up serving the same aims of the separatist and supremacist wings of political Islam. In this epic struggle of the 21st century, we cannot afford to ignore the continuum between nonviolent political Islam and the militancy it ultimately fuels among the jihadists. ~M. Zuhdi Jasser

When I first read Jasser’s piece, I wanted to laugh at it, but the trouble with this sort of thing is that it is so easy to underestimate how seriously many people will take it. When many people read Jasser’s argument, they don’t find a lot of tendentiousness and hyperbole. Instead, they conclude that this is a very reasonable interpretation of the situation, and Jasser’s religious affiliation makes it even easier to credit what he is saying. It’s worth noting that Jasser is one of the “authorities” cited in Newt Gingrich’s new bit of fearmongering, America at Risk. The argument Jasser is making in this op-ed is very much along the same lines as the one Gingrich made against Park51 last month. Jasser has been arguing against the project at least since May, but he has significantly escalated his rhetoric against the project’s backers since then.

Jasser’s op-ed serves as a good example of where the emotional demagoguing of the Park51 project was always leading: conflating and confusing non-Islamist Muslims with Islamists, and then treating all Islamists as little more than jihadists-in-waiting or as the inspiration for jihadists. In this way, a proposed building that will apparently include areas for Christian and Jewish worship can be described as an “Islamic edifice” and its proponents can be treated as aggressive provocateurs rather than over-eager ecumenists. Everything that distinguishes Rauf from advocates of political Islam is simply wiped away, and anything that might be viewed as benign or innocuous is treated as an insidious, more “subtle” form of threat. Perhaps Jasser is so preoccupied with his own cause of combating political Islam that he sees its manifestations even where they do not exist, but his arguments against Rauf will probably come back to haunt him.

It will just be a matter of time before someone else comes along to declare that Jasser and his “reformist” efforts are insufficient or are really just a “more subtle” way to advance an agenda of supremacism and domination. Once it is taken for granted that it is acceptable to impute bad faith, deception and ill will to someone from the start because he holds different or controversial views, there will be no end to the use of such people as punching bags for political gain. Today it is Rauf’s turn, but tomorrow it could be Jasser’s. Of course, that might require wildly distorting and misrepresenting his record, but that is exactly what he is participating in right now.