Because I've been dealing with a horrible family tragedy, I have not been reading or contributing to MoJ for the past ten days or so. During a visit to South Africa, my brother Edward's fiance, Helen Elaine Hill, was thrown from a horse and severely injured. After lingering in a coma for several days, this charming, beautiful, and brilliant young woman died. Her obituary appeared in last Sunday's New York Times. I returned to Princeton last night after attending her funeral in Lewisburg, West Virginia. As you can imagine, my brother is utterly grief-stricken and our entire family is devastated. It has been a rough period for us.
When I opened MoJ this morning to catch up, I found your report that Michael Winters, who seems to have some sort of obsession with me, has found a pretext for launching yet another vicious, flailing, personal attack at his blog. Thanks for defending me, but, honestly, the guy is plainly not interested in reasonable debate. You won't get anywhere with him. I have no idea whether what is driving him is ideological or psychological, but it is certainly not devotion to truth. He seems to have some sort of score to settle with me---what it is I can't say, since I don't know the man---and he's not going to let truth get in the way of settling it.
The last time you called attention to one of Winters' bizarre attacks, I posted a response on MoJ noting that "[w]e can go step by step to show how he willfully twists and misrepresents an interlocutor's words in order to create a false impression of what his opponent is saying." This, as it turns out, is his modus operandi. As his conduct consistently shows, he is a deeply intellectually dishonest person. This time he is trying to smear me by drawing preposterous inferences from the fact that I haven't yet published anything on the New York mosque controversy.
As a matter of fact, I'm writing an op ed with Jennifer Bryson, an outstanding scholar of contemporary Islam with whom I've worked closely in the cause of Muslim-Christian understanding, concerning controversies about mosques not only in New York City, but across the country. We are submitting our piece to the Wall Street Journal. Although we have not yet finalized the draft (precisely because I have been occupied with my family's bereavement), here are the opening sentences:
Across the country in recent months, from California, to Louisiana, to New York, anti-Muslim sentiment has become a prominent feature of opposition to new mosques. At risk in this is religious freedom itself. But not just religious freedom. Also threatened is the respectful civility that enables constructive public discourse in religiously pluralistic democratic societies. First, an attitude of "freedom for me but not for thee" rings the death knell for liberty itself. Freedom of religion is a right of all human beings, including Muslims. People who oppose the building of mosques in their communities out of anti-Islamic animus are guilty of intolerance and a lack or respect for religious freedom. Such hostility assaults the human dignity of both the hater annd the hated.
Now, Dr. Bryson and I recognize that many, many of our fellow citizens in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere who oppose the location of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, especially the families of 9/11 victims, are not bigots. They are not driven by animus against Muslims or the Islamic faith. That is why President Obama is correct to distinguish the question of a right to locate the Center at Ground Zero from the wisdom of exercising that right. And that is why many serious Muslims oppose building the mosque. (See, for example, the comments of Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid in Al-Sharq Al Aswat here: http://www.aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=2&id=21980. ) But there are other places in the country where opposition to the building of mosques is plainly not rooted in considerations of the sensitivies of families of victims of the 9/11 attacks. And that is something that Dr. Bryson and I believe all friends of tolerance and religious liberty should be deeply concerned about.
Since it is apt, I'll repeat here what I said the last time you called my attention to one of Michael Winters' vicious outbursts: "Mr. Winters' behavior is, alas, very much in line with his conduct in the only other case in which I had dealings with him. That was when he misrepresented what I had said in a public exchange with Douglas Kmiec at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. regarding the Obama administration's policies on abortion and embryo-destructive research. Since I don't know the man, I have no idea what's behind it or what he hopes to gain by conducting himself in this way. It doesn't advance the discussion of points of disagreement and it makes him look bad."
You will know better than I, since you know him, but his pattern of misconduct---the vitriolic personal attacks, the falsifications, the leaping to unwarranted conclusions in an effort to smear people he doesn't like or disagrees with---leads me to suspect that there's just something wrong with the guy. Now, I myself don't want to leap to any unwarranted conclusions, but the truth is that never in my nearly ten years of participation in efforts to promote Muslim-Christian understanding and cooperation have I heard anyone involved in the work mention Mr. Winters' name. Could it be that, though he is happy to throw stones at others, he himself has done nothing to advance the cause? Perhaps you know. Has Winters' troubled himself to do anything to actually further the understanding of Islam among Christians and to promote mutual respect? Or does the issue engage him only when he thinks he can seize on it as a pretext for smearing people he regards (for whatever reason) as his enemies?
August 18, 2010 | Permalink
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