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“Pamela Geller Is No Rosa Parks”: Trying To Cash In On The Moral Authority Of The Movement While Scrapping Its Moral Foundations

After armed gunmen attacked a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last week, event organizer Pamela Geller went on Fox News to explain the moral righteousness of her cause. Responding to critics like Donald Trump, who accused her of “taunting” Muslims, she asked, “What would he have said about Rosa Parks? Rosa Parks should never have gone to the front of the bus. She’s taunting people.”

Nor was Geller alone in seeing the civil rights parallel. John Nolte, writing for Breitbart, contended, “Anyone who knows anything about history understands that tactically and morally, Geller’s provocative Muhammad Cartoon Contest was no different than Dr. Martin Luther King’s landmark march from Selma to Montgomery.”

They’re both wrong, in a particularly pernicious way. By drawing a parallel between Geller’s anti-Islamic events and the civil rights movement’s anti-Jim Crow protests, they are trying to cash in on the moral authority of the movement while scrapping its moral foundations.

There is a surface-level similarity between the two movements, one Geller and Nolte hope no one probes too deeply. Civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s knew that if they violated the laws and norms of the Jim Crow South, white Southerners would react with spectacular violence. Putting that violence on display was the point. Jim Crow laws gave Southern racial violence the veneer of a civilized legal code. The protests showed the rest of the world the ever-present threat of violence upon which that legal code was built.

Geller, too, meant to provoke violence with her Muhammad cartoon event. The question is, to what end? We already know that violent extremists are violent and extreme. If we want to see how extremists respond to people who draw Muhammad, we only need look at recent events in Paris and Copenhagen. The point for Geller and her cohort is to demonstrate that the West is at war with Islam – and ultimately to devote more resources to that war.

In other words, Geller hopes to use the violence she provokes to justify violence in return. And that’s where the civil rights analogy utterly fails. The radical potential of the early civil rights movement grew out of its moral commitment to nonviolence. And not just nonviolent action – King called upon activists to be nonviolent in word and thought as well. The reason the movement has such moral authority in America is because it was built on this deeply held belief in the transformative power of love-based politics and resistance.

Geller’s movement has none of that. She and those in her camp seek not a world with more peace but one with more war. Given that, it is especially repugnant that they call upon the names of Parks and King, trading on their courage and sacrifice while undermining the values of love and peacefulness that makes their work worth emulating.

 

By: Nicole Hemmer, Historian of Modern American Politics and Media; U. S. News and World Report, May 12, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Muslims, Pamela Geller | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Who Defines Islam In America?”: Muslims Must Learn To Define Themselves

You may have heard by now about the event over the weekend where more than 1,000 Muslims joined hands and formed a “peace ring” around a synagogue in Oslo, Norway in sub-zero temperatures. Why? Because the Muslims in that city wanted to make it clear they oppose anti-Semitism. As one of the Muslim organizers, Zeeshan Abdullah, explained: “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

So with the Muslims standing side by side with Jews, Norway’s chief Rabbi Michael Melchior sang the traditional song marking the end of the Sabbath. The head of Norway’s Jewish community organization, Ervin Kohn, added, “It is unique that Muslims stand to this degree against anti-Semitism and that fills us with hope… particularly as it’s a grassroots movement of young Muslims.”

This was truly an inspirational event. One that helps define Islam accurately, as opposed to the way ISIS and al Qaeda are striving to define the faith.

This story, happily, did end up going viral. But another story about Muslims this weekend made bigger headlines and top-lined media websites across the country. That was the threat made by the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab that it was targeting shopping malls in North America, including the Mall of America in Minneapolis. The Norway event got loads of play in social media, and to some extent the traditional media. But the mall threat was top-of-the-hour news everywhere.

And that is a perfect example to explain who defines Islam in America: The media. The adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” can be updated to “If threatens to cause bleeding, it leads.” So a story about Muslims doing what Islam calls for doesn’t hold a candle to one where Muslims act in violation of the faith is glorified.

We constantly see wall-to-wall coverage of the tiny percent of bad Muslims. Keep in mind that if ISIS is truly 30,000 fighters that means it represents .02 percent of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. We are talking less than a third of 1 percent of Muslims.

Yet our media barely covers the stories about the other 99.98 percent of Muslims. How often have you seen segments in the news about the interfaith work in the United States, such as the efforts of Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali? Or Muslim groups denouncing terrorism, or even stories about the millions of other Muslims simply living their lives?

Here’s another example of the media defining Islam more than the faith does. Last week, The Atlantic ran a front-page story telling readers: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.” The article’s conclusion was based on interviews with a handful of extremist Muslims, including Anjem Choudary, a person with no following of note and who has been continually denounced by mainstream Muslim leaders.

This would be the equivalent of relying on the Christian pastor in Arizona who in December called for the mass killing of all gays, which he claimed is mandated by the Bible, as revealing what Christianity is truly about.

Still the Atlantic story was extensively covered in media in the framework of being accurate. However, when over 120 Islamic scholars and clerics released a letter in September detailing in specificity how the actions of ISIS—such as beheading aid workers and forcing conversion to Islam—violated the principles of Islam, that received far less media attention.

Same goes for when Muslims are killed by terrorists. In the Charlie Hebdo attack, the police officer we saw shot and killed while lying wounded on the sidewalk was Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim who gave his life defending freedom of expression. While some media outlets covered that angle, it was a minor part of the story. The result is that the two terrorists defined Islam far more than Merabet.

And while our media rightly covered the recent despicable murder of 21 Egyptian Christians by ISIS, why don’t we see similar coverage of the literally daily slaughtering of Muslims by ISIS? The media’s failure to cover the Muslim men, women, and children killed by ISIS furthers the narrative that this is a war by Islam against the West, as opposed to what it truly is: ISIS versus everyone, Muslims included (and indeed on the front lines), who won’t submit to them.

While we hear other minority groups in the United States also bemoan the media’s obsession with covering their worst examples, the Muslim American community is unique. We are far more dependent upon the media in defining who we are since we are tiny, clocking in at about 1 to 2 percent of our nation’s population. And only 38 percent of Americans, per a Pew poll released last summer, actually know a Muslim.

So what can be done to change the media’s coverage? Well, complaining might have a slight impact, but I doubt it will change much.

But I did learn a valuable lesson this weekend. I tweeted out the article about the Muslims in Oslo, which ultimately made its way to Rush Limbaugh’s younger brother, David. (He’s also conservative.) He then tweeted out the link to the story with the words: “Bravo. Credit where credit is due” and included the link to the story. In turn, others shared the story.

The lesson is that to change media coverage, we, Muslims, need to strategically plan how to attract media coverage in a way that enables us to tell people what we are truly about. To date, we have focused on denouncing terrorism perpetrated by Muslims. But that isn’t working. First, not many people hear it because the media barely covers press events of Muslims condemning terrorism.

But more importantly, simply focusing on telling people what we are not does little to define who we are. Consequently, many of our fellow Americans don’t know what Islam is truly about and have no way of knowing that the terrorists are the exception, not the norm. We must change that.

True, it’s unlikely we can eclipse the coverage of the terrorists given the business model of the media. But perhaps we can at least create a counter narrative that chips away little by little at the inaccurate image created by the terrorists. I know that is a tall order, but it’s better than simply complaining and hoping things will change for the better.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 24, 2015

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Islam, Media, Muslims | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Triumph Of American Culture Welcoming Immigrants”: Why Republican Fear-Mongering About France Is Detached From Reality

One frequent criticism conservatives make of Barack Obama when it comes to terrorism is that he doesn’t “understand” the threats we face. This supposed lack of understanding, they say, is what leads the President to be so weak when what is needed is more strength, more military action, more belligerence. Those who “understand” terrorism know that this is the only path to combating it effectively.

With the attacks in Paris last week, conservatives and Republicans are again asserting that Obama’s lethal combination of ignorance and weakness is leaving us vulnerable, because terrorist incidents like the ones in France are soon to occur here in America. For instance, here’s an excerpt from a glowing story about John McCain in today’s New York Times:

He said in an interview last Thursday that Mr. Obama’s decision not to send more American troops to Iraq to thwart the Islamic State had put America at risk.

“That attack you saw in Paris? You’ll see an attack in the United States,” Mr. McCain said. He repeated his frequent assessment that the president’s foreign policy is “a disaster” and “delusional.” He said “of course” he would have made a better commander in chief.

Let’s follow the logic here. McCain is arguing that because we don’t have enough troops in Iraq, someone could get some guns and shoot a bunch of Americans — presumably at ISIS’s behest — whereas if we had more troops there, ISIS would still want to launch (or order, or encourage, or inspire) that kind of an attack, but they wouldn’t be able to.

So what exactly does McCain think was required for those two men to attack the Charlie Hebdo offices? Was it an international conspiracy involving a huge mobilization of resources and the coordination of large numbers of people spread across the world? No. Despite the fact that al Qaeda in Yemen is trying to claim responsibility for it, all that the attack required was two guys and a couple of guns.

Yet McCain thinks that whether such an attack occurs in America will be determined by how strong and aggressive we’re being against ISIS.

McCain’s good friend Lindsey Graham had a similar interpretation of the events in Paris: it’s going to happen here, and it’s because President Obama is weak. “I fear we can expect and must prepare for more attacks like this in the future,” he said, adding that, because of Barack Obama’s poor policy choices, “I fear our intelligence capabilities, those designed to prevent such an attack from taking place on our shores, are quickly eroding.”

But even if you believed that Obama is eroding our intelligence capabilities (and I have no idea what he’s talking about on that score), does that make us more vulnerable to a couple of guys with guns shooting up a public place? If such an attack were in the works, it wouldn’t require getting resources from overseas, and it wouldn’t require coordination and communication of the kind American intelligence might intercept. All that would be necessary is for someone who is angry enough to go to a gun show, pick up some heavy weaponry, and he’d be on his way. And he probably wouldn’t have to go far — according to this calendar, there are 61 gun shows happening this week in America — not this year or this month, but just this week.

Given how easy it would be to carry out an attack like the one on Charlie Hebdo, the real question is why it doesn’t happen all the time. While there have been a number of cases in recent years in which right-wing terrorists have tried to shoot a bunch of people, there have been only a couple of occurrences of politically motivated jihadist attacks like the ones in Paris — not an attempt to plant a bomb or do something similarly elaborate, but just somebody taking a gun and shooting a bunch of people — most notably that of Nidal Hassan, who killed 13 people at Ft. Hood in 2009 (there was also a Seattle man who killed four people last year and claimed it was revenge for American military actions).

So why doesn’t it happen more here? The answer is that unlike their European counterparts, American Muslims are as a group extremely assimilated and patriotic. So there’s virtually no one here who wants to carry out such an attack. Our relative safety on this score isn’t a triumph of intelligence, it’s a triumph of the American culture of welcoming immigrants.

Of course intelligence is important in preventing terrorism. But Republican critics, who are so proud of their supposedly deep understanding of national security issues, seem to believe that every kind of terrorist attack is exactly alike, and is made more or less likely for exactly the same reasons. That’s the kind of sophisticated thinking on terrorism we’ve supposedly been missing for the last six years.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 14, 2015

January 15, 2015 Posted by | John McCain, Paris Shootings, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cynical Pandering To Wingnuts”: Of Course Obama Is To Blame For Everything Bad In The Whole Wide World!

Because we are used to Sen. Lindsey Graham saying irresponsible things about world affairs all the time, there’s a temptation just to ignore him. But he’s so ubiquitous a media presence that this is difficult, and his poorly-earned reputation as a “moderate” means that he creates a lot of room for extremism with his utterances. So this sort of crap (per Mediaite’s Andrew Desiderio is worth noting:

While discussing the ramifications of Wednesday’s terrorist attack at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo‘s office in Paris, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said President Barack Obama‘s policies and campaign promises are “getting a lot of people killed” because he refuses to acknowledge that the France attacks and others are motivated by religion.

“The people who are attacking us and attacking France are motivated by religious teachings that say there’s no place on the planet for anybody that disagrees with them,” Graham said on Fox News Thursday morning, adding that Obama is “undercutting” other foreign leaders by not acknowledging that it is a religious war.

Now the reality is that Obama prefers to describe violent jihadists as ideologues who are pursuing a perversion of Islam, in order to express solidarity with the vast majority of Muslims who don’t agree with terrorists in any way, shape or form. It is unclear to me what is gained by insisting on calling murderers authentically religious, unless, of course, you want to imply their co-religionists are culpable or suspect, as an awful lot of conservative Americans most definitely want to do. So it’s kind of a no brainer, I guess, for Graham, who has offended said conservatives with his positions on immigration and a few other topics, to pander to them in this respect, involving as it does the ever-popular “Blame Obama” meme.

But Graham does have another ax to grind on this topic:

When he left Iraq, he did so on a campaign promise. He’s trying to close Gitmo based on a campaign promise. His campaign promises are getting a lot of people killed. Our intelligence-gathering abilities have been compromised. The only way you can stop these attacks is to find out about them before they occur. We’re reducing our military spending at a time when we need it the most. These policies driven by President Obama of being soft and weak and indecisive are coming home to haunt us.

Graham really, really wants to see people tortured, and really, really wants to pretend that “strength” is identical to stuffing the Pentagon with more money than it needs or has even asked for. So cynical pandering to wingnuts aside, there’s a decent chance he really believes what he’s saying here, which is worse.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 9, 2015

January 12, 2015 Posted by | Lindsey Graham, Paris Shootings, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ted Cruz & The New McCarthyism”: Inside A Dangerous Response To The Atrocity In Paris

Here are a few sentences I should not have to write but apparently must, all the same: Taking the life of another human being is an absolutely terrible thing for a person to do. By definition, murder is a crime — perhaps the most heinous one there is. No one should be physically threatened, much less killed, for sharing an opinion. Everyone should have the right to say, write, draw or otherwise express whatever sentiment they’d like without fear of violent reprisal. And anyone who thinks it’s not only appropriate, but righteous, to use violence or the threat of violence in order to silence those they disagree with is as profoundly wrong as they could be.

Some more things that should go without saying: The massacre of 10 journalists (and two law enforcement officers) at the offices of the Paris-based satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that was carried out this week by Islamic extremists was an obscenity, a crime whose evil could never be adequately expressed with words. No matter how blasphemous, callous, insulting and bigoted the political cartoons produced by Charlie Hebdo over the years may have been, there is nothing — absolutely, positively and undoubtedly nothing — that could ever justify or excuse such fanatical sadism. The men who organized and perpetrated this slaughter were villains of the highest order, opponents of many of humanity’s greatest intellectual breakthroughs and moral achievements.

You can probably tell already, but I resent feeling that the above two paragraphs are necessary. But because I also happen to believe that many of the cartoons produced by Charlie Hebdo were mean-spirited, lazy, unfunny and sometimes baldly racist; because I do not believe that it is necessary for me to promote these cartoons in order to oppose their creators’ murder; and because some of the more influential members of the media and the government are trying to make lockstep support for Charlie Hebdo’s work a new litmus test of one’s belief in human freedom and dignity, they are. Indeed, for far too many people, it is seemingly impossible to hate the cartoon but love its creator. It’s a mindset that reminds me of nothing so much as McCarthyism — and as Matt Yglesias explained the other day in a thoughtful and sensitive post, it really sucks.

When I think of the people insinuating, or outright claiming, that one cannot claim to be a true opponent of radical, eliminationist Islam unless one showers Charlie Hebdo with unqualified praise, there are a few folks — mostly former supporters of the Iraq War — that most immediately come to mind. My colleague Heather Digby Parton has quite skillfully dismantled Jonathan Chait’s latest piece of preening bravado already, but he’s hardly the only person of influence who’s responded to the attack by whipping himself into a frenzy of empty bombast and portending (or is it promoting?) a coming apocalyptic struggle. The New York Times’ Roger Cohen tweeted in response to the news that the “entire free world” must avenge the killers’ victims “ruthlessly.” Ayaan Hirsi Ali predictably agreed and wrote that “the West” must respond to the massacre by ceasing to “appease leaders of Muslim organizations in our societies.”

Even some journalists who present and think of themselves as on the liberal side of the debate over radical Islam could not help but frame the killings as just one small part of a larger, epochal struggle. “The … massacre seems to be the most direct attack on Western ideals by jihadists yet,” wrote the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. The attacks of September 11, 2001 were grand and nightmarish, he grants. But he argues that “satire and the right to blaspheme are directly responsible for modernity.” The New Yorker’s George Packer, meanwhile, described the attack as “only the latest blows delivered by an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades,” an ideology that is engaged in “a war against … everything decent in a democratic society.” (Ironically, Packer and Goldberg also both urge us not to alienate non-extremist Muslims by using the kind of clash-of-civilizations language they otherwise engage in.)

Considering this is the rhetoric coming from the folks paid to ruminate and write, you can probably imagine the stuff coming from Congress. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — who, others have noticed, bears a striking resemblance to “Tail-Gunner Joe” — proclaimed in a press statement that the murders were “a reminder of the global threat we face.” On Facebook, he said that they should be considered “an attack on us all.” For his part, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to thread the needle, claiming that the Charlie Hebdo atrocity was an element of “a larger confrontation” that was “not between civilizations, but between civilization itself and those who are opposed to a civilized world.” And to no one’s surprise, multiple Republican senators argued that what happened in Paris was proof that the NSA not only should not be reformed, but should be granted more sweeping powers instead.

As Yglesias notes in the column I praised earlier, it’s depressingly easy for someone who criticizes this kind of black-and-white, saber-rattling bluster to find themselves in the awkward position of having to assure that they’re not arguing that violent jihadism is not so bad. If one person claims that a threat is all-consuming while another person claims it to be “merely” dire, it’s almost certain that some if not many in the audience will conclude — through either willful obtuseness or simple faulty logic — that their difference of opinion is due to different values. This is the very same intellectual blindspot that McCarthy exploited decades ago in order to portray anyone to the left of Robert Taft — or anyone who was ambivalent about the country’s embrace of a permanent national security state — as either sympathetic to the Soviet Union or dedicated communists themselves. And it’s the same kind of Manichean worldview that, much more recently, helped return U.S. troops to the streets of Baghdad.

Like I said at the beginning of this piece, what a small group of masked men with AK-47s did in Paris this week was a horror, an atrocity, a tragedy and a crime. The pain the victims’ loved ones must be feeling right now is beyond my comprehension. When I try to imagine how the helpless journalists who were murdered on Wednesday must have felt — or when I come across the already iconic photo taken before one of the gunmen killed Ahmed Merabet, a police officer who was himself Muslim — it’s a struggle not to retch. And when I think about how, in my country, the debate over terrorism still demands some of us, if we want a fair hearing, to prove we’re as opposed to slaughter as anyone else, I struggle further still.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, January 10, 2015

January 12, 2015 Posted by | Paris Shootings, Ted Cruz, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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