As Scott noted this morning, Feisal Abdul Rauf has taken to the opinion pages of the New York Times to reiterate his intent to build the Ground Zero mosque. Rauf is no stranger to those pages. On February 27, 1979, the Times published Rauf’s letter to the editor in which he criticized American for failing to apologize to Iran for past misdeeds. Rauf added that “the revolution in Iran was inspired by the very principles of individual rights and freedom that Americans ardently believe in.”
When it reported on this letter, the Wall Street Journal, trying to be fair to Rauf, wrote that at the time of his letter, “Iran’s revolution hadn’t revealed all of its violent, messianic character.” But a closer analysis of the timing of Rauf’s letter undercuts this excuse and casts the imam in a worse light than the Journal supposes.
For, as Barry Rubin, has pointed out, Rauf’s public cheering of the revolution came just weeks after the Ayatollah Khomeini returned triumphantly to Iran. To be precise, the Ayatollah returned on February 1, 1979. Welcomed back by a crowd of several million, he immediately became the undisputed leader of the revolution. On the very day of his return, Khomeini appointed a new prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan, and told his followers it was their duty to God to obey him. Here are his words:
I hereby pronounce Bazargan as the Ruler, and since I have appointed him, he must be obeyed. The nation must obey him. This is not an ordinary government. It is a government based on the sharia. Opposing this government means opposing the sharia of Islam … Revolt against God’s government is a revolt against God. Revolt against God is blasphemy.
Rubin is thus correct in observing that Rauf’s expression of support came at the precise moment when the revolution’s extremism had become clear. Read in this context, Rauf “wasn’t endorsing the overthrow of the shah or the emergence of democracy but the triumph of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and everything that entailed.”
The distinction here, as Rubin has also said, is like the difference between extolling the Russian Revolution while Kerensky was in power and endorsing it after Lenin had taken over. Rauf wasn’t moved to defend the Iranian Revolution in the pages of the Times until its Lenin was in control.
To be sure, Rauf’s letter in praise of Khomeini’s revolution was written more than 30 years ago. But even today, he will not say, as he might have, that while he endorsed the Iranian revolution at first, he has come to realize that it is far too extreme and repressive, and that he does not favor an Islamist theocratic form of government. Instead he stands by what he wrote in 1979, claiming that the letter expresses his longstanding and ongoing concern for the humane treatment of Iran. But anyone concerned about humane treatment of Iranians would long ago have denounced Khomeini and his successors.
Therefore, let us not be under any illusions as to whose side Rauf is on, or what the real meaning of the Ground Zero Mosque is. Rauf may be urbane, but he is not moderate. One cannot be both an apologist for Iran’s theocratic regime and a proponent of interfaith understanding.