In this week's New Yorker author Lawrence Wright tackles the Park51 controversy. Though the issue has been wrung dry by legions of pundits and politicians, Wright's perspective is worth a read. He's the historian and journalist behind The Looming Tower, an intensely interesting history of al-qaeda and radical Islam in general. Also it won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.


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Wright's column smartly observes that back in December, when one of the center's co-founders discussed the plans on The O'Reilly Factor, little attention was paid. It was the attention of the New York Post and then Newt Gingrich and other opportunistic politicians, trading in racism and extremism, that caused the uproar we are now sick of reading about. He goes on to compare this with the Danish cartoon protests of 2005, another incident where radicals stoked anger to pursue their own divisive agendas.

But if you're still not convinced that religious extremism is bad bad bad, move on to Karen Armstrong's The Battle for God. Written before 9/11 (though I think she's appended it since), Armstrong, one of our foremost religious scholars, traces fundamentalism through the ages in hopes of understanding why now, in our modern, "secular" age, it has taken hold worse than ever before.