Re: Room to grow

gaffneyFrank J. Gaffney Jr. writes in an op-ed that the Saudi government uses American mosques to promote jihad. In the article I linked to in yesterday’s post on construction of Muslim mosques, the writer mentions deep into the story that the funds for one particular mosque were raised from the local community. But the story explains little about this other than delving into the particular difficulty Muslims have in constructing religious buildings due to the ban on borrowing money in Islam.

Now either the mosque being constructed in the Post piece is fairly unusual, the reporter is being deceived and has not been very thorough or the study isn’t as “superb” as Gaffney states:

A superb study released in January by Freedom House documented that the Saudi government is also using American mosques — by some estimates 80% of which have their mortgages held by Saudi Arabian financial institutions — to promote jihad. Materials officially produced and disseminated to such mosques by the kingdom are filled with calls to hate Christians and Jews. Those who fail to conform are threatened with violent punishment as apostates. Saudi-trained and -selected clerics serve as enforcers in our mosques and in our prisons and military as recruiters for a rabidly anti-American Wahhabi creed.

The point of Gaffney’s column is that the Saudis are not with the United States in fighting terrorism. But that raises the question of why and he does not answer it very well. What would be the motivation of the Saudi leadership to undermine our efforts to neutralize the more radical elements of Islam? In their public statements, they make efforts to show their support, but actions speak louder than words.

Unfortunately, under the leadership of King Fahd (actual or nominal), Saudi Arabia demonstrated that it was possible to be with us and with the terrorists.

Gaffney says that the Saudi leadership believes that promoting attacks outside their country will keep attacks from happening within their country. But that doesn’t answer the economic questions involved in a terrorist attack and its effect on the Saudis ability to sell their oil abroad.

The article also does not examine the lack of common sense in a theory that has the Saudi government directly funding terrorism. If this were true, wouldn’t the American government do something about it? We certainly did not hesitate in invading two large countries, spending billions of dollars in the process. Certainly the terrorist element in Saudi Arabia is alive and well, but that is different from official government endorsement. What gives?

Questions of faith

John G robertsWashington Post columnist E.J. Dionne believes that questions of faith should be asked of Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts. His argument is based on the idea that politicians invoke religion only when it benefits them, and for that reason Roberts should answer questions about his faith, just as any other candidate for office.

Conservatives typically praise religious activism on abortion and homosexuality but dismiss liberal clerics who offer theological insights on economics or social spending. Liberals love preachers to speak out for civil rights and economic justice. But they see “a church-state problem” the instant anyone in the clergy speaks out for vouchers or against abortion and stem cell research.

In the case of Roberts, Republicans appreciate the intense lobbying on his behalf by conservative Christian groups and see the nominee’s faith as part of his appealing personality. But when Sen. Richard Durbin took Roberts’s religious commitments seriously enough to ask him how they might affect the judge’s court rulings, the Illinois Democrat was accused of . . . dragging religion into politics.

Dionne believes that conservatives don’t want Roberts questioned on his faith and how it would affect his judicial philosophy because they fear it will impair his path to confirmation. Liberals want the questions asked in the confirmation process for the very same reason.

It’s all so political. Senators want Roberts on the record stating how he will rule on certain issues before they support his nomination, and for obvious reasons. If Roberts turns out to be the key vote overturning Roe, moderate Senators supporting Roberts will have their lunches taken from them in the Democratic primaries. Senators like Clinton and Edwards, people who desperately want to become president in three years, are in a bind.

Since religion plays such a key role in deciding how many people think on issues like abortion, shouldn’t those religious views be put on display for the country to examine? Actually, no, Dionne misses the entire point of having a court system independent of the other branches of government.

As my friend (and the person responsible for my start in blogging two summers ago) Lucas pointed out to me in an email conversation discussing this piece, Dionne and others are forgetting a basic principle governing the nomination of Supreme Court justices. They are not politicians; they are arbitrators of law who are charged by the Constitution to rule on cases on the basis of their legality, not morality, and certainly not for political reasons. On this basis, questions on a potential justice’s faith are out of line in a Senate confirmation hearing.

Appropriate questions would relate to the nominees’ attitudes towards interpreting the Constitution or why type of cases they would hope to bring before the court, giving Senators an idea of nominees’ legal priorities. Supreme Court judges are not policymakers. They are interpreters of the law, and asking questions relating to policy only hurts the Supreme Court through politicization. Roberts must refuse to answer any questions regarding his faith (and how he would rule on individual issues), because as an interpreter of the law, his faith should have no effect on his decisions.

Some would say that Roberts’ Catholicism could make the difference in a case like Roe, but this is also wrong. Roberts could quite easily argue that Roe was wrongly decided as a legal matter, but his convictions on the morality of abortion should have nothing to do with the decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia has said that if the Catholic Church ever required a vote contrary to what he would choose on a matter of legal principle, he would recuse himself from voting or possibly quit. This obviously hasn’t happened, and it is doubtful it would happen for Roberts or any other justice.

Room to grow

USA WashingtonDCThis morning’s Washington Post had a story that, believe it or not, I finished. Rarely is there anything in the morning paper, unrelated to my day job, that is interesting enough for me to finish (another example was this story on China).

Here’s the nut graph of the story. Muslims are moving to the suburbs like many other Americans on their way up the economic ladder and they are building mosques and, like many other religious groups, they are struggling financially.

The boom in exurban mosques has resulted from the migration of Muslims to the outer suburbs, as followers of Islam — just like other suburban emigrants — seek less-expensive housing and good schools.

The story deals with some of the tensions in a Muslim community in the suburbs of Washington. Some harassment, some bigotry, but for the most part, the author paints a pleasant portrait of a group of outsiders, trying to establish themselves as insiders. There is also the issue of radical Islamic terrorism, but the Muslims settling in Northern Virginia and Maryland have denounced the radicals behind the recent terrorist attacks. Underlying the whole story are the incidents in London and whether they could happen in the United States. A fascinating angle of the story is that, in building their mosque, these Muslims could not go into debt and used local fundraisers to bring in money.

The story represents a very similar experience I dealt with growing up in a conservative denomination, which did not believe in going into debt for church-related funding. When a new addition was needed, several years went by as we raised funds. Then, to defray costs, we choose to use people from within the congregation to finish the interior, once the frame was up, much like these Muslims in the suburbs of the nation’s capital.

While some would see this Mosque as a threat to their community, I would try to see it in a different light. Residents in a community are attempting to construct a center they can be proud of and, with this center, something they can base their community life on. As more Muslims in America live in communities like this, where they can come together to construct a building, it will be less likely that their youths will turn to extremism as we have seen recently in London.

Area mosques have tried to educate non-Muslims that extremist views are not a part of the religion of Islam. After the recent bombings in London and Egypt, the Woodbridge mosque and a mosque in Manassas jointly issued a statement condemning the incidents. “These actions are not sanctioned, nor justified, in Islam,” the statement read. Both mosques promised to nurture “interfaith understanding and diversity” in Prince William.

Yet connections between mosques and more militant elements of Islam have been unsettling for some members of the public. The FBI found that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers worshiped at Dar Al Hijrah in Falls Church for a short time. And Ali Al-Timimi, a popular lecturer at the Center for Islamic Information and Education in Falls Church, was recently sentenced to life in prison for inciting a group of followers to train for a violent jihad against the United States. The executive committee at Dar Al Hijrah supported him and called the federal prosecution overzealous.

In all, it’s a well-written, balanced story that favors a positive outlook, rather than a fear-mongering-future-terrorists-could-be-your-next-door-neighbors story that so easily could have been written. Favorite quote, involving a minor issue that keeps mosques in the area from sounding the traditional Adhan, or call to prayer:

“I’m laughing now,” he said, speaking from a coffee shop near his office in Falls Church as noontime chimes began ringing at a nearby church. “I can hear the church bells coming from Columbia Pike. . . . One day we will hear bells and the call for prayers. I believe that day is coming.”

About Daniel Pulliam

DanielP 04Greetings to the readers of GetReligion.

As some of you may already know, Terry Mattingly and Doug LeBlanc have asked me to join this blog as one of its writers. I want to thank them for this opportunity and have been asked to say a few words about myself.

I am a 2004 graduate of Butler University in Indianapolis with a degree in journalism. From August 2004 to July 2007 I was a reporter in Washington, D.C., covering the administration of our nation’s government for Government Executive. Past jobs/internships include stints at The Indianapolis Star, States News Service and The Roanoke Times.

In April 2007 I married my wife, Noelle.

As of August 2007 I started studying law at Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. I was raised in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and I am currently attending a Presbyterian Church of America congregation in downtown Indianapolis. I do not know exactly where a law degree will take me, but I plan to continue in some form or another in journalism.

My career has been heavily focused on hard news and I have shied away from commentary, though I did stray into the Star‘s editorial department for a semester internship and wrote a weekly column for my school’s student newspaper.

For GetReligion, Terry has asked me to help him write commentary about the nation’s newspaper coverage of religion and foreign coverage of religion. You should be hearing from me about once a day. I use the Web heavily for my news needs (though I do subscribe to The Washington Post), and once I’m online, it’s all just news to me, whether it’s U.S.-based or foreign.

Since my day job no longer involves covering the Bush administration (quite a broad range of issues, from the Pentagon to technology), I will be avidly looking out for stories that deal with the U.S. government. For instance, stories dealing with the Air Force Academy’s religious controversy will be areas in which I hope to provide extra insight.

I adhere to general journalistic principles, including full disclosure, thorough reporting, fair treatment of all subjects involved, the nature of the press as that of a fierce watchdog, utter care for the accuracy of facts and information and the eternal struggle for impartiality.

I hope to use this space, as it has been used so well in the past, to examine the work of journalists who write about religion, to see if it strives for the journalistic creed by which we work and attempt to hold people accountable when they make mistakes. In the tradition of this blog, I hope to praise as much as condemn. I also hope to find some way of deviating from the usual right versus left and traditional versus modern debates, which tend to permeate most religious discussions, by highlighting stories of individuals and how their personal religious experience has affected their lives.