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The Power of Numbers and Random Thoughts. Again

August 27, 2010

From the Village Voice.

I think this rudimentary illustration speaks for itself:

Unfortunately, it’s not just the incorrectly-termed “Ground Zero Mosque” that is being opposed- it’s pretty much any new Mosque anywhere in the country. And here’s more. Rachel Maddow did a story on the more organized right-wing campaign against Cordoba House (video is here) while I was away on vacation and if you didn’t see it, it’s worth a look. There is something disturbing about politicians using the anti-Muslim hysteria as a political ploy, particularly when some transition from words into action and turn to violence. Great American leaders of the past have always appealed to the best in all of us, not the worst. This constant fear-mongering from some on the right (and the center) about not only Islam, but death-panels, socialism, lazy unemployed people, gay folks etc. seems to me to be an embarrassingly weak, albeit largely successful, political strategy. After all, the media is largely interested in alarmist headlines and ratings as opposed to fact-finding and holding people accountable.

This goes back to a good, if at times heated, discussion that took place on this blog several weeks ago. There may be some 9/11 family members (and others) who find the expansion of the Cordoba House to be unnecessary and insensitive and certainly not all those that oppose it are bigoted or anti-Muslim. That goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway so I’m not accused of being a narrow-minded liberal. While I may disagree with their reasoning, I am not so much talking about the 9/11 families as I am the people who have made spreading disinformation about Islam their new purpose in life. In other words, the people that are piggybacking their more generalized anti-Islam sentiment onto the views expressed by some of the 9/11 families and using it to promote a much less benign agenda.

The problem, at least for me, is that many are using the controversy in NY (and by extension also using those who feel hurt by the Cordoba House’s proximity to the site of the WTC/Ground Zero) to promote a larger political agenda which aims to demonize all American Muslims for political gain in an election year. To me, such scapegoating is very un-American and does very little to honor those who died on 9/11. Nor does it show any respect or sensitivity to the families and friends of the victims since much of it seems motivated more by politics and personal bias as opposed to concern for the sensitivities of others (see this stunning interview with the Reverend Franklin Graham for an example of politically-motivated opposition to Islam. And see Professor Stephen Prothero’s pointed rebuttal of Graham here.). After all, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Pamela Geller, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey etc. have never before been too concerned about people’s sensitivities, hurt feelings or anything else for that matter. Again, I’m talking largely about the people who are using Islamaphobia for their own selfish purposes or people who simply make no effort to understand or learn anything about Islam and who instead prefer to demonize a whole group of people based on the actions of a few. I have repeatedly said that it is difficult for me to understand how so many people could view Islam and American Muslims as a threat if they actually personally knew some Muslims/had Muslim friends. Shabina Khatri makes the same point.

Stephen Walt over at Foreign Policy talks about some of the wider implications of the Cordoba House controversy:

…It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what is going on here: All you really need to do is look at how the critics of the community center project keep describing it. In their rhetoric it is always the “Mosque at Ground Zero,” a label that conjures up mental images of a soaring minaret on the site of the 9/11 attacks. Never mind that the building in question isn’t primarily a mosque (it’s a community center that will house an array of activities, including a gym, pool, auditorium, and oh yes, a prayer room). Never mind that it isn’t at “Ground Zero”: it’s two blocks away and will not even be visible from the site. (And exactly why does it matter if it was?) You know that someone is engaged in demagoguery when they keep using demonstrably false but alarmist phrases over and over again.

What I don’t understand is why critics of this project don’t realize where this form of intolerance can lead. As a host of commentators have already noted, critics of the project are in effect holding American Muslims — and in this particular case, a moderate Muslim cleric who has been a noted advocate of inter-faith tolerance — responsible for a heinous act that they did not commit and that they have repeatedly condemned. It is view of surpassing ignorance, and precisely the same sort of prejudice that was once practiced against Catholics, against Jews, and against any number of other religious minorities. Virtually all religious traditions have committed violent and unseemly acts in recent memory, and we would not hold Protestants, Catholics, or Jews responsible for the heinous acts of a few of their adherents.

And don’t these critics realize that religious intolerance is a monster that, once unleashed, may be impossible to control? If you can rally the mob against any religious minority now, then you may make it easier for someone else to rally a different mob against you should the balance of political power change at some point down the road…

[snip]

And finally, let’s not lose sight of the foreign policy implications. It’s hardly headline news to observe that the United States has an abysmal image in the Arab and Muslim world (for a variety of reasons), but the xenophobic and cynical posturing of the community center’s opponents is a free gift to extremists who are eager to portray the United States as inherently hostile to the entire Islamic tradition. The controversy itself has probably taken a toll already; if the critics win, then we should hardly be surprised if moderates elsewhere begin to have even more doubts about America’s ability to live up to the principles that we like to boast about to others. [emphasis added]

On a rather humorous-if-it-wasn’t-so-pathetic note, Fox News (GOP TV) has been blasting Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal for his financial support of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of Cordoba House. Where’s the humor in this? Well, Jon Stewart points out (video is here) that Fox News’ anti-Muslim obsession and recent targeting of bin Talal is ironic given Fox is owned in part by bin Talal. God forbid our crack mainstream media pointed out that hypocrisy.

NOTE: As always, feel free to comment irrespective of your viewpoint. It is not a requirement for commenting on this blog that you agree with me and in fact, in my experience, many readers of this blog don’t agree with me. It’s all good. I only ask that people stick to respectful debate as opposed to personal attacks.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. American Delight permalink
    August 27, 2010 8:32 pm

    As far as your venn diagram is concerned, about 25 percent of Muslims around the world in public opinion polls express confidence/approval for Osama Bin Laden, so I would say that the issue is broader than just the number of Al Qaeda members.

    • August 27, 2010 8:39 pm

      The diagram is not intended to be scientific, but rather it is intended to make a general point. That said, your point about AQ is also well-taken. The diagram probably singles out one group (AQ) due to the linkage to Sept. 11th and the Cordoba House/Ground Zero controversy. Certainly anti-American sentiment, with or without support for OBL worldwide, is a huge problem. As far as I’m concerned, that just makes it all the more important to not alienate moderate Muslims and to not fall into the propaganda trap of the extremists- it does not benefit us to come across as a nation of Islamaphobes- that would just make OBL’s job all that much easier when it comes to recruiting and radicalizing other Muslims.

      That said, I am a bit more interested in what is going on in THIS country (the U.S.) in this regard. I don’t think we’d find too many OBL supporters among American Muslims.

      • American Delight permalink
        August 27, 2010 11:19 pm

        “Certainly anti-American sentiment, with or without support for OBL worldwide, is a huge problem. As far as I’m concerned, that just makes it all the more important to not alienate moderate Muslims…”

        I’d say that many Democrats including Pres. Obama would agree with your statement above. And not just them, but I’ve heard Gen. Petraeus say very similar things. Petraeus believes that in counterinsurgency you have a continuum of beliefs from radical to reconcilable. His goal is to draw people farther down the continuum to a level where they can be worked with.

        He made it work in counterinsurgency ops in Iraq, but frankly, I’m extremely skeptical about how that approach works on the broader international political stage.

  2. Tovah permalink
    August 27, 2010 8:49 pm

    What is interesting is that whenever someone tries to bring up the issue of moderate Muslims in the U.S., someone always wants to change the subject and start talking about radical Muslims worldwide. I don’t think this is an accident- part of the anti-Islam movement makes no distinction between the two groups in an attempt to spread fear and disinformation.

    BTW, stacey, that Franklin Graham interview you linked to in your post is unbelievable. He really crossed a line, not only with his bigoted views of Islam but how he hides behind his title of Reverend and essentially slams Obama every chance he gets. This is a guy who refers to members of the Obama admin. as socialists. It’s not like he is some objective Christian leader- he’s a member of the Evangelical Right wing of the GOP.

  3. HillaryFan permalink
    August 27, 2010 8:50 pm

    She’s baaaaaack! Welcome back Stacy! You seem rested and sharp as ever😉

  4. Steve permalink
    August 28, 2010 11:21 am

    I just read a commentary about how Bloomberg and others are using SUPPORT for the Mosque to “score political points”? Hello? With whom exactly would they be scoring political points. There is absolutely nothing to gain politically by standing up for Muslims, but a great deal to gain by bashing them verbally every second of every day- something Faux News has been doing with cheerful abandon.

    The idea that those of us who defend the right of moderate Muslims to live without fear of violence and discrimination are somehow politicizing this is a f*cking joke. Again, standing up for Muslims is politically risky.

    • August 28, 2010 11:30 am

      I totally agree Steve. Politically, to support the Cordoba House or to speak out in support of NOT demonizing all of Islam is not politically prudent but I would argue it is nonetheless necessary on civil rights grounds.

      To me it’s pretty simple- scapegoating is wrong across the board, irrespective of which way the political winds are blowing. In fact, I would argue that it’s all the more important to stand up for vulnerable groups at a time like this- after a terrible terrorist attack perpetrated by radical Islamic terrorists and a time when we are fighting two wars against nations that happen to be Muslim. To wait until it is politically “safe” to speak out is cowardly. We see that with the Dems and gay rights and it drives me nuts- dems only speak out in support of gay rights when the polls show it’s safer to do so- and even then they won’t do so in an uncompromising way (ie. in support of things like gay marriage). Can you imagine if all throughout our history we had done that? Only spoken out about race discrimination or antisemitism when 70% of the population deemed it wrong? Thank God LBJ had the guts and determination to force Congress’ hand on the Civil Rights Act.

      I have noticed that the Jewish community, particularly in New York and other big cities, are really stepping up to the plate and defending Cordoba House and countering some of the smears about Islam. Props to them. I know the “Jewish community” is not monolithic and some groups like the ADL aren’t on board but I think it means a lot that prominent Jewish leaders are speaking out, particularly given difficult relations between Jews and Muslims in other areas of the world.

  5. Steve permalink
    August 28, 2010 2:16 pm

    I’ve seen this post linked all over Facebook, further solidifying my view that your commentaries always get attention, irrespective of who comments here or why. I think this is one of the biggest differences between this Clinton blog and others, which merely post her activities but don’t encourage any debate, particularly if the debate is at all critical of certain viewpoints.

    BTW, are we at war with Yemen and if so, when was it declared?

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/08/25/yemen/index.html

  6. Thain permalink
    August 28, 2010 2:19 pm

    Damn straight, Steve!

    And yes we are at war with Yemen but sssshhhhh, don’t tell anybody it’s a secret!

    So much for our anti-war President. Do any of the anti-Hillary, pro-Obama peeps have any doubt by now that The Chosen One would have voted for the Iraq War had he been in the Senate despite saying the exact opposite during the presidential campaign?

    God Obama people were so gullible!

  7. HelenofTroy permalink
    August 28, 2010 4:30 pm

    This is my first time to this blog. I really like the commentary. I don’t know if you saw this, but it’s along the lines of your post. Now people are starting to suspect others of being closet Muslims:

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/08/26/1794304/whats-in-a-name-your-faith-apparently.html

    • August 28, 2010 5:34 pm

      HelenofTroy- thanks much. And no, I hadn’t seen that article about the Florida judge.

      There’s a lot of social unrest and during difficult economic times, that can be like a lighted match and gasoline.

      Am I the only one who sees racial implications in *some* of this- the rising number of people who think our first African American president is Muslim, the fact that many (but certainly not all) Muslims are not White, the swing back to state’s rights rhetoric from the right, the xenophobia etc. I certainly don’t think opposition to the POTUS is primarily race-based- I oppose many of this president’s policies (or lack thereof) and it’s certainly not on racial grounds (!) but when I hear some of the rhetoric on Fox News and the fear mongering of Sarah Palin, Limbaugh, Dick Armey and some of the Tea Party I can’t help but think of the the subtle anti-Semitism of the McCarthy years- they rooted out purported communists (aka liberals) primarily in media, academia and Hollywood and they killed two birds with one stone- many of those liberals were Jewish and it was still a time when Jewish people were viewed with suspicion (and paranoia) in this country. And of course it culminated with the Rosenberg trial which was a legal disgrace resulting in their execution. Don’t get me started.

      When I hear some people talk about Obama and liberals, immigrants and Muslims, I see similarities.

  8. HillaryFan permalink
    August 28, 2010 6:39 pm

    This is kind of bizarre:

    http://www.poten.com/NewsDetails.aspx?id=10534894

  9. Avi permalink
    August 28, 2010 7:53 pm

    The reason Obama wimped out on Mideast peace is because one of his major contributors in Chicago is an Israel Firster who had a “talk” with the WH recently in addition to the fact that Mr. Crown also seems to be involved in shadow pro-Israel foreign policy and has close ties to the military top brass. If anyone thinks the average man and woman actually have a say in how the government operates, you aren’t paying attention. The speeches, the interviews- it’s all bullshit for mass consumption. The political elite and their monied special interests control policy behind the scenes.

    http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/freedom-rider-israel-big-money-and-obama

    Obama will bend over, grab his ankles and do whatever his big time contributors tell him to do and right now they are telling him to back off Israel and continue giving them a free pass even when it comes to murdering US citizens. The notion that the US can mediate between ISrael and the Palestinians is a JOKE. Basically, the Palestinians are on their own against TWO Israel negotiating teams- one made up of the Israeli government and the other Israeli team made up of the US negotiators.

    I wonder when the American taxpayers are going to get tired of this shit?

    • August 28, 2010 8:22 pm

      I don’t know if I agree with your analysis- it seems to hint at a secret cabal running the country and I don’t buy that. Do political donations and politics play a role? Of course. Have some people used dishonest tactics to try to scare the Jewish community into thinking Obama is a raging anti-Israel antisemite, thus causing the administration to bend over backwards in an unnecessary and self-defeating way in order to prove that it is in fact “pro-Israel?” Yes.

      And that’s really frustrating given this administration is obviously totally dedicated to Israel’s security, as they/we should be. But Israel’s security actually isn’t the issue here- there’s no disagreement about Israel’s security needs. The issue is, in part, whether certain interest groups and members of Congress will give the administration the leeway to act as a REAL mediator and apply pressure to BOTH sides when necessary in order to achieve a lasting peace- something which would do more to safeguard Israel’s future security than constant chest-thumping and mindless repetition of soundbites about there being “no daylight” between the US and Israel anytime, forever after.

      I am going to try to be optimistic about the negotiations but I think many have become jaded by decades of the same failed attempts, the same politics, the same roadblocks and sabotage etc. I want to keep as open a mind as I can and not let cynicism and low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts.

      So when you hear me getting cynical and annoyed, remind me that I’m supposed to be patient, ok?

      James Zogby wrote a commentary over at HuffPo that highlights something which fascinates me- how language is used to define the debate. I will say that I disagree with his total lack of optimism at this stage but I agree with him that Netanyahu is a very skilled politician who has been able to define the terms of the debate:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-zogby/trying-to-be-hopeful-abou_b_697890.html

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