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“The Slippery Slope To Trump’s Proposed Ban On Muslims”: The Exploitation Of Anti-Muslim Feelings For Political Purposes

With little fanfare this fall, the New York developer who had planned to build an Islamic community center north of the World Trade Center announced that he would instead use the site for a 70-story tower of luxury condos.

Those who had rallied in opposition to the building because of its religious affiliation back in 2010 were exultant. “The importance of the defeat of the Ground Zero Mosque cannot be overstated,” Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, wrote on the website Breitbart in September. “The Ground Zero Mosque became a watershed issue in our effort to raise awareness of and ultimately halt and roll back the advance of Islamic law and Islamic supremacism in America.”

“Islamic supremacism in America.” Really?

It’s all well and good that so many Republicans have condemned Donald Trump’s reprehensible call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) was particularly forceful, calling proper attention to the “many Muslims serving in our armed forces, dying for this country.”

When he was president, George W. Bush honorably put a lid on right-wing Islamophobia. He regularly praised American Muslims and stressed that the United States needed Muslim allies to fight violent extremism. Once Bush was gone, restraint on his side of politics fell away.

Thus, Trump’s embrace of a religious test for entry to our country did not come out of nowhere. On the contrary, it simply brought us to the bottom of a slippery slope created by the ongoing exploitation of anti-Muslim feeling for political purposes.

You don’t have to reach far back in time to see why Trump figured he had the ideological space for his Muslim ban. Last month, it was Jeb Bush who introduced the idea of linking the rights of Syrian refugees to their religion. He said he was comfortable granting admission to “people like orphans and people who are clearly not going to be terrorists. Or Christians.” Asked how he’d determine who was Christian, he explained that “you can prove you’re a Christian.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) took a similar view, saying , “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”

Trump took limits on Muslim access to our country to their logical — if un-American and odious — conclusion. Vice President Biden said that Trump was serving up “a very, very dangerous brew,” but the brew has been steeping for a long time. This is why the “Ground Zero Mosque” episode is so instructive.

The demagoguery began with the labeling of the controversy itself. As PolitiFact pointed out, “the proposed mosque is not at or on Ground Zero. It does not directly abut it or overlook it.” It was “two long blocks” away. And while a mosque was part of the proposed cultural center, the plans also included “a swimming pool, gym and basketball court, a 500-seat auditorium, a restaurant and culinary school, a library and art studios.”

This didn’t stop opponents from going over the top, and Newt Gingrich deserved some kind of award for the most incendiary comment of all. “Nazis,” he said, “don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

When President Obama defended the right of developers to build the project, he was — surprise, surprise — accused of being out of touch, and Republicans were happy to make the Muslim center and Obama’s defense of religious rights an issue in the 2010 campaign.

“I think it does speak to the lack of connection between the administration and Washington and folks inside the Beltway and mainstream America,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), who was then chairman of the committee in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate. Voters, he said, felt they were “being lectured to, not listened to.” Sound familiar?

At the time, John Feehery, the veteran Republican strategist, put his finger on why Republicans were so eager to lambaste Obama’s response to the Ground Zero issue. “This will help drive turnout for the GOP base,” he said.

The Republican establishment is now all upset with Trump, but he is simply the revenge of a Republican base that took its leaders’ pandering — on Islam and a host of other issues — seriously.

You can’t be “just a little” intolerant of Muslims, any more than you can be “just a little” prejudiced against Catholics or Jews. Once the door to bigotry is opened, it is very hard to shut.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 9, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Ground Zero Mosque, Islamophobia, Muslims | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Default Religious Setting”: Christian Identity Politics On Fox

I try, with only partial success, to avoid spending too much time on the “A conservative said something offensive!” patrol. First, there are plenty of other people doing it, so it isn’t as if the world won’t hear about it if I don’t remark on the outrage du jour. But second—and more important—most of the time there isn’t much interesting to say about Rush Limbaugh’s latest bit of race-baiting or Bill O’Reilly’s latest spittle-flecked rant or Louie Gohmert’s latest expectoration of numskullery.

But let’s make an exception for this interview Reza Aslan did on Friday with Fox News to promote his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. You’ve no doubt seen Aslan on television multiple times in the last decade, and maybe even read something he’s written. In the post-9/11 period, he became a go-to guest on shows from Meet the Press to The Daily Show as someone who could explain Islam to American audiences. Young, good-looking, and smart, Aslan could be counted on to put events like the sectarian civil war in Iraq into historical and religious context in ways viewers could understand.

This interview is something to behold, because the Fox anchor, one Lauren Green, obviously not only didn’t read Aslan’s book (not a great sin, given that she probably has to interview a few people a day) but instead of asking him about it, decided to spend nearly ten minutes challenging whether Aslan has any right to write a book about Jesus, since he’s a Muslim. Seriously.

The first question she asks him is “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” Aslan answers defensively by citing his ample qualifications as a scholar of religion; he could have said he wrote the book because Jesus is one of history’s most important and interesting figures, but before he can get to that, Green interrupts with, “It still begs the question, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?” He manages to squeeze in a little bit about his book, talking about the political context in which Jesus emerged, but Green quickly returns to question his right to write about Jesus. “But Reza, you’re not just writing about a religion from a point of view of an observer,” she says. “I believe you’ve been on several programs and never disclosed that you’re a Muslim.” That’s just false, not to mention idiotic, and Aslan immediately corrects her by noting that he not only mentions his faith on the second page of the book they’re discussing, but it’s mentioned in practically every interview he’s ever done.

Now maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on Lauren Green—for all I know, her producer could have handed her these questions and told her how to conduct the interview. She obviously knew nothing about Aslan or his book. But I wonder about what kinds of conversation at Fox preceded the interview. “This guy calls Jesus a zealot!” somebody says. “And he’s a Muslim! Let’s nail him.”

I haven’t read Aslan’s book, so I have no idea what if anything it adds to the hundreds of books that have already been written about Jesus. But Green came pretty close to saying that as a Muslim, Aslan must by definition be hostile to Christianity in general and Jesus in particular and therefore incapable of writing a measured piece of history. This gets back to something I wrote about last week on the privilege associated with being the default racial setting, although here it’s the default religious setting. If you’re in the majority, it’s your privilege to be whatever you want and speak to whatever you want, and you can be treated as an authority on anything. But those in the minority are much more likely, when they come into this kind of realm, to be allowed only to speak to the experience and history of their particular demographic group. So Fox has no trouble treating Reza Aslan as an authority on Islam, but if he claims to also be an authority on Christianity, those Christians react with incredulity.

I’m not saying that similar assumptions never travel in the other direction. People in minority groups have sometimes told those in the majority that their identity as part of the majority renders them unable to speak to certain experiences; you can call that the “It’s a [insert my group] thing; you wouldn’t understand” effect. But what we’re talking about here isn’t testimony, where someone says, “Let me tell you how life is for us,” demanding to be the reporter and interpreter of their own experience. It’s history, and ancient history at that. If someone came on Fox to promote a biography of Aristotle (I know, I know), it wouldn’t be too likely the interviewer would demand to know who they thought they were writing such a book since they aren’t even Greek.

But at Fox and in many other places, Christianity and Islam aren’t just different tribes, they’re different tribes that are in a state of virtual war. The war flares brighter at some times than others—for instance, if you didn’t watch Fox during the “Ground Zero Mosque” brouhaha, you were spared an unbelievable orgy of anti-Muslim hate-mongering, as they gave shocking amounts of time to despicable bigots like Pamela Geller—but it’s always there. For all the talk from more establishment figures that America isn’t at war against Islam (and by the way, that was something George W. Bush was very good about repeating), down where conservatives get their news, it’s a very different world.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 29, 2013

July 31, 2013 Posted by | Muslims, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Substituting Identity For Motivation”: How To Understand Things When You Don’t Want To Think Too Much

Let’s be honest and admit that everyone had a hope about who the Boston bomber would out to be. Conservatives hoped it would be some swarthy Middle Easterner, which would validate their belief that the existential threat from Islam is ongoing and that their preferred policies are the best way to deal with that threat. Liberals hoped it would be a Timothy McVeigh-like character, some radical right-winger or white supremacist, which would perhaps make us all think more broadly about terrorism and what the threats really are. The truth turned out to be … well, we don’t really know yet. Assuming these two brothers are indeed the bombers, they’re literally Caucasian, but they’re also Muslim. Most importantly, as of yet we know absolutely nothing about what motivated them. Nothing. Keep that in mind.

But for many people, their motivations are of no concern; all that matters is their identity. The sentiment coming from a lot of people on the right today runs to, “See! See! Mooslems!!!” Some of them are using the suspects’ identity as a reason why we shouldn’t pass immigration reform, and the increasingly unhinged Glenn Beck is insisting even today that the government is protecting a Saudi man who was involved in the bombing, I guess because the Obama administration is in league with Al Qaeda or something. Whether this has anything to do with the receiver the CIA implanted in Beck’s brain to exert its mind control over him through satellite transmissions could not be confirmed.

We should note that there are people on the right being restrained and responsible; not everyone is like the repellent Pamela Geller, already referring to the “Boston Jihad Bomber” (and no, I’m not going to link to her oozing pustule of a web site). But here is an editorial from the upcoming issue of the Weekly Standard titled “Civilization and Barbarism,” in which William Kristol labors to remind his readers that in the world there is us, the civilized folk, and our enemies, the barbarians. He casts a wide net (barbarism can apparently be found not only in terrorist attacks but also in Roe v. Wade), but it’s a plea to simplify your thinking, to make sure that in matters of foreign or domestic policy the only question is who is Us and who is Them. Once you’ve established that and you know that Them aren’t human at all but just barbarians, all the solutions become clear. The foreign barbarians must simply be crushed, in the most violent way possible (though it will not be Bill Kristol or his children with their lives at risk; they have people for that). As for the domestic barbarians who reside in the opposite party, well, we don’t want to kill them, but you certainly wouldn’t compromise with a barbarian, would you?

To this way of thinking, when you’re dealing with barbarians, understanding their motivations just muddies your thinking and saps your will. Identity is all that matters. Maybe that’s because it can be so hard to understand other people’s motivations. For instance, I get how someone could become enraged over the death and suffering that have been the collateral consequences of all America’s various foreign adventures. But I can’t understand how a person could decide that blowing up a bunch of innocent people could possibly be a morally defensible or even practically effective response. Does the attacker in these kinds of cases say to themselves, “This is really going to make a difference”? It’s hard to get inside their head in a way that makes any sense.

So it’s easier to say, “They did it because that’s just how those people are.” It’s an answer that means you don’t have to ask any more questions.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 19, 2013

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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