Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday - Scary Muslim Edition

Marshall (TPM): Getting Some Facts On The Table

Over the weekend, in the numerous articles written in response to President Obama's comments on the mosque furor, you'll notice that a frequent refrain is to the purported opposition to the Cordoba House project (aka the 'Ground Zero Mosque') from families of 9/11 victims. And as evidence of this opposition you'll frequently see quotes from a woman named Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot aboard the plane flown into the Pentagon on 9/11.

Always in such cases it's important to recognize that unlike most of us who experienced 9/11 as a national or communal tragedy, she suffered it as a personal one. That's real. I respect that grief. And I believe in giving people stricken by overwhelming loss a wide berth in assessing the lessons they draw from the tragedies that affected them.

That is not the same, however, as turning a blind eye when lazy journalists present her as representing or even being representative of the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks. The most cursory googling shows that she's been advocating a string of right-wing positions going back over the last decade. Indeed, she's the cofounder with Liz Cheney of Keeping America Safe.

Also very worth noting is that none of the 9/11 Families groups who actually seem to be membership organizations made up of families of the victims seem to have taken positions on the mosque issue at all. I looked at the websites of several such organizations. And they each contain 'about' pages with some information about the organization, its membership and in most cases boards of directors. The website of Burlingame's group, 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, contains no such information. But it's statement of purpose does give some sense of viewpoint: "The war against sharia is a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity."

Marshall (TPM): Embracing the Holy War

A few weeks back I asked whether we weren't seeing a perceptible rise in Islamophobia, paradoxically many years after the 9/11 attacks. And if we are, why? There are many potential and probable reasons. But of all the emails I received, the couple that struck me most were the ones that pointed to George W. Bush. Yes, him, George W. Bush. Whatever his other errors and shortcomings, with the exception of a few very poorly chosen words at the outset (calling the War Against Terror a "crusade"), Bush was quite consistent in arguing that America was not in a war against Islam. And that put a real brake on the forces of xenophobia, extremist religion and religious hatred, almost all of which were in his own party.

For those of us who believe his policies in the Middle East were close to catastrophic, this fact may seem of somewhat trivial importance. But in the US I think it was actually a pretty big deal. Conservatives' ability to play on xenophobic fears about President Obama's race and Islamic ancestry has clearly played into the politics. But as TPM Reader CB wrote last month ...

His being President and the nominal head of the GOP basically kept a lid on many of the fanatical Islamophobes and the few who did rear their ugly heads (Tancredo, Bachmann and others) were essentially kept away from the Party and to some degree the media (by being told to keep their mouths basically shut on the issue or just being ignored by the media because they were viewed as merely the fringe).

Which brings me to a very interesting piece in Politico today. In this piece by Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman argue that the GOP's harsh turn against Islam represents an effort to repudiate the former president's legacy on this front and embrace the 'Clash of Civilizations' worldview or what might more properly be termed a Holy War between America and Islam.

Easley (Politicsusa): 40 Religious Leaders Denounce Sarah Palin and Fox’s Hate Speech

Forty different Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders and scholars came together to release a statement condemning the hate language of Fox News, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich as it relates to the so called Ground Zero mosque, “Fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric only undermine treasured values at the heart of diverse faith traditions and our nation’s highest ideals.”

The statement released by Faith In The Public Life condemned the religious bigotry of Gingrich, Palin, and Fox News, “As Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders and scholars committed to religious freedom and inter-religious cooperation, we are deeply troubled by the xenophobia and religious bigotry that has characterized some of the opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near where the World Trade Center towers once stood.”

It continued, “Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, is the most recent prominent opponent to cast this debate in a way that demonizes all Muslims and exploits fear to divide Americans.”It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way,” Gingrich said in a statement. Sarah Palin called plans for the center a “provocation.” Fox News has aired a steady stream of irresponsible commentary and biased coverage that reduces what should be a civil debate into starkly combative terms.”

Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President of the National Council of Churches said, “We are deeply saddened by those who denigrate a religion which in so many ways is a religion of compassion and peace by associating all Muslims with violent extremism. That’s like equating all Christians to Timothy McVeigh’s actions. This center will reflect not only the best of Islam, but the enduring hope that Christians, Jews and Muslims can together find common ground in addressing the most urgent challenges of our time.”

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby said, “It’s simply wrong for Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin to malign all Muslims by comparing this cultural center and mosque with a radical ideology that led to the horrific attacks of 9-11. We fail to honor those killed by terrorists when we betray the bedrock principle of religious freedom that has guided our democracy for centuries.”

The statement concluded by calling for an end to the fear mongering and hate filled rhetoric, “Mr. Gingrich, Ms. Palin and other prominent voices privileged to have the ear of the media would make a more lasting contribution to our nation if they stopped issuing inflammatory statements and instead helped inspire a civil dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims committed to a future guided by the principles of compassion, justice and peace. Fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric only undermine treasured values at the heart of diverse faith traditions and our nation’s highest ideals.”

I wish more people of all faiths would stand up and denounce the divisive hate filled tactics employed on a daily basis by Gingrich, Palin, and Fox News. Gingrich and Palin are trying to create a wave of hate to ride to the presidency, and Fox News has found that peddling paranoia and hate is very, very profitable. Playing upon religious tensions is bad enough, but to intentionally create disunity for political gain, with no regard for the consequences to our nation is almost criminal.

The politics of division and hate are the tactics that political movements always resort to when they are out of ideas and they possess no other means to motivate and inspire their supporters. Palin and Gingrich’s willingness to take us down this path is a reflective of their own personal ambitions combined with a complete lack of interest in actually solving our nation’s problems. A plea to our lesser emotions is easy, and sometimes effective, but by doing so, both Palin and Gingrich are demonstrating why neither one of them will ever be capable of inspiring the birth of a better America.


For months, the Republican message has been vague but focused -- the economy matters more than everything else. The GOP doesn't necessarily have an economic agenda, or credible ideas on how to improve the economy, or even an explanation as to why they want to go back to the some policies that got us in this mess in the first place, but the focus is still there.

That may be changing. Republicans have seized on a plan to convert a shut-down clothing store into a community center in lower Manhattan, believing the plan can help pit Americans against each other and give the GOP a boost in the midterm elections. President Obama's spirited defense on Friday of the First Amendment and the American tradition of religious liberty has made Republicans even more anxious to embrace demagoguery for electoral gain.

Time's Mark Halperin published a letter to the Republican Party, acknowledging the "political potency" of the issue, and taking note of the fact that the president's support for American principles puts him at odds with public opinion. Halperin concludes, however, that it would be in America's interests for Republicans to show restraint.

Yes, Republicans, you can take advantage of this heated circumstance, backed by the families of the 9/11 victims, in their most emotional return to the public stage since 2001.

But please don't do it. There are a handful of good reasons to oppose allowing the Islamic center to be built so close to Ground Zero, particularly the family opposition and the availability of other, less raw locations. But what is happening now -- the misinformation about the center and its supporters; the open declarations of war on Islam on talk radio, the Internet and other forums; the painful divisions propelled by all the overheated rhetoric -- is not worth whatever political gain your party might achieve.

It isn't clear how the battle over the proposed center should or will end. But two things are profoundly clear: Republicans have a strong chance to win the midterm elections without picking a fight over President Obama's measured words. And a national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner -- the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy.

As I said, Republicans, this is your moment. As a famous New Yorker once urged in a very different context: Do the right thing.

This is excellent, thoughtful advice. It asks Republicans to look past the short-term gratification that demagoguery offers, and consider what's best for the country and our broader interests.

What Halperin wants, in other words, is for Republicans to demonstrate some decency and respect for American values. I would very much like to think this is still possible, but the party has offered no credible reason to believe it has the necessary strength of character.

I would genuinely love to be proven wrong, but waiting for GOP integrity invariably leads to crushing disappointment.

Anne Laurie (BJ): Just Be Like Us!

Want a CW-approved solution to the Great Not-Actually-Ground-Zero, Not-Actually-A-Mosque ‘Controversy’? Our Media Village Idiots are here to serve! Shorter Ross “Doubt That” Douthat:

History demonstrates that Real Americans™ will not accept those peculiar Muslim people as suitable neighbors until they stop flaunting their foreign-ness and accept the Velveeta-on-Wonder-Bread banquet of my gated-community fantasies. And who can blame us?

You think I’m exaggerating? Judge for yourself:

... During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream. Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.

So it is today with Islam…

It’s a sad, sad thing that Douthat was born out of his place and time—which, from his columns, would have been among the upper-middle-class Protestant grandees of William McKinley’s administration. But I can’t find enough pity in in my heart to think it acceptable for Douthat and the fReichtards, Talibangelicals, and Banana Republicans he cheerleads to drag the rest of us back to their dreams of a vicious and deservedly bygone era.

  • from the comments:


    I went to a wedding in Alabama when I was 17 and this old man asked me if we Catholics still cut up the babies nuns deliver after group sex with priests and used the flesh as the host and blood as the win at Mass.

    I said only if the babies are girls.

At a certain level, it's still hard to fathom why the Cordoba House is so controversial. A Burlington Coat Factory store closed down; a local religious leader wants to build a community center at the location. This isn't especially interesting.

At least, it shouldn't be.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued today on Fox News that his party, without a policy agenda or substantive ideas about the future, intends to pit Americans against each other over this issue during the campaign season.

"This is not about freedom of religion," Cornyn said. "I do think it's unwise to build a mosque in the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack."

First, saying it's "not about freedom of religion" doesn't make it so. When the right organizes to prevent a Muslim American from converting a clothing store into a community center, solely because Muslims will pray there, it's quite obviously about freedom of religion.

Second, Cornyn helps pinpoint the basis for conservative opposition: he believes it's "unwise" to "build a mosque in the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack."

No wonder Republicans are so upset -- they have no idea what they're talking about. If someone proposed building a house of worship for a specific faith group "in the site where" 9/11 occurred, I'd oppose it, too.

And while one would hope John Cornyn, never the sharpest crayon in the box, would understand the basics before going on television to talk about a divisive issue, now is as good a time as any to help him understand current events. Let's make this easy for him: no one is talking about building a mosque at Ground Zero. The proposal calls for converting an old Burlington Coat Factory into a community center, a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero.

I'm sure the conservative senator will want to apologize for his mistake, so the public isn't left with the wrong idea. In fact, Cornyn, who'll no doubt be embarrassed by his confusion, should probably let his Republican allies know. Once the right understands that there's no plan to build a mosque at Ground Zero, the whole dispute should fade away.


Think Progress: Former Bush Adviser Mark McKinnon Rips GOP’s Stance On Mosque: ‘We’re Reinforcing Al Qaeda’s Message’

On Morning Joe earlier today, a pair of leading Republicans — host Joe Scarborough and former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon — blasted the GOP for its xenophobic and unconstitutional stance against American Muslims’ right to build a new Islamic center in lower Manhattan.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has claimed that the new Islamic center project “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.” Referencing that quote, Scarborough expressed angry disdain at Gingrich’s intolerance. “I don’t know where to begin,” Scarborough said. “To suggest that someone trying to build a tolerance center for moderate Muslims in New York is the equivalent of killing six million Jews is stunning to me.”

McKinnon then chimed in, arguing that the debate surrounding the Cordoba House project is contrary to his party’s principles. “We may get our membership [by the GOP] revoked,” McKinnon joked. “Screw ‘em,” Scarborough responded. McKinnon then said that the GOP’s stance is “reinforcing al Qaeda’s message”:

McKINNON: Usually Republicans are forthright in defending the Constitution. And here we are, reinforcing al Qaeda’s message that we’re at war with Muslims. So we’ve got this issue; then we’ve got the 14th Amendment issue, where Republicans are saying you’re not welcome here, when we were the architects of the 14th Amendment. So, I see a bad pattern where we’re headed as a Republican Party.

McKinnon said he believed President Obama has “done the right thing in stepping forward at this time on this issue.” He added, “Tolerance means tolerating things you don’t like, especially when you don’t like them. … I respect the President for making this move.” Watch it:

Writing in the Washington Post today, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson — using Bush-era terminology — reinforced McKinnon’s view. “Those who want a president to assert that any mosque would defile the neighborhood near Ground Zero are asking him to undermine the war on terrorism. A war on Islam would make a war on terrorism impossible,” Gerson writes.

This morning, Scarborough remarked that when he first entered Congress in 1994, he was deemed to be some “crazy,” “right wing nut job” for his ideological views. He explained that, while he still holds “the same views,” he is “feeling further and further distant from the people who are running my party.”

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