Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Enabling the addiction

I read this article in the New York Times on the Islamic community center close to the site of the Twin Towers and was just disgusted. The main causes of the conflagration surrounding the center are completely elided by the article’s focus on the mis-steps of the organisers, Faisal Rauf and Daisy Khan. I can’t put it better than Adam Serwer:

[Faisal Rauf and Daisy Khan] are the people whom Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney smeared as “connected to terrorism” and having “dubious ties to radical Islamist organizations,” whom National Review falsely portrayed as unwilling to give a “full throated denunciation of terrorism” and Newt Gingrich, with his faulty understanding of history, accused of “Islamist triumphalism.”

The Times report, however, descends into a kind of “liberal” media known-nothingism when it comes to how this became a controversy, suggesting that ” a combination of arguable naïveté, public-relations missteps and a national political climate in which perhaps no preparation could have headed off controversy.” This is a remarkable formula that manages to place the blame everywhere except where it belongs — on a right-wing smear machine that went into overdrive in an effort to portray Rauf and Khan as terrorist sympathizers, an experience no one outside of contemporary partisan politics could have possibly been prepared for. The conservative media lied about the location of the project, they lied about Rauf’s background, they lied about the project’s funding, theylied about when the project would be built, and they lied about Rauf’s political beliefs. And it would have been one thing if it had just been a small group of people lying, but they had an entire cable news station to lie for them, and politicians who were willing to amplify their smears. This controversy isn’t about the “political climate.” It’s the fruit of a conscious, deliberate, and sustained effort.

I’m sure that the intensity of emotion shared by some of the projects’ opponents are sincere. But where they hold Muslims collectively responsible for the actions of a few extremists, they are mistaken, and where their feelings are the result of falsehoods spread by the conservative media, they are misguided, and where they believe the First Amendment does not extend to American Muslims, they are simply wrong.

The reason this became a national controversy is because Republicans see a political advantage in harnessing anti-Muslim sentiment, particularly if that forces Democrats to defend an unpopular minority group. Rauf and Khan are merely collateral damage in a larger political battle in which the rights of Muslims are forfeit as long as Republicans see some political interest in curtailing them or forcing their opponents to defend them. But just as no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, no Republican ever went broke underestimating the political cowardice of the Democratic Party.

So what we’re left with is a largely uncontested notion that any observant Muslim is a potential national-security threat, a view that was once confined to the conspiratorial right-wing fringe but is now, thanks to Republican demagoguery, Democratic cowardice, and mainstream media know-nothingism, an entirely respectable, mainstream view. This isn’t just a setback for religious tolerance and individual freedom; it’s a setback for the fight against terrorism, which demands that the United States marginalize violent extremists, not embrace their narrative and worldview.

Like I said, addicts. Leading figures in the modern Republican Party are engaging in completely irresponsible behaviour for political gain.  And it needs to be called out unequivocally.

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