Friday, February 01, 2008

Will the next President be saddled with the campaign legacy of denigrating Islam and Muslims?

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the governments of the United States and Canada, ordered the internment of citizens of Japanese ancestry at relocation centers in remote parts of the two countries. At the time there was panic about the loyalty of these people and concern that they may serve as some sort of fifth column. These were feelings shared by many but not all at the time. However since then, it has become almost universally accepted that the internment was a shameful and unjustified over-reaction.

Following the September 11th attacks nothing as extreme as internment took place but there has been no shortage of anti-Muslim rhetoric by some Americans that serves only legitimizing bigotry. Unfortuately, we have not reached the point when this kind of talk is universally accepted as shameful. Until then, we can expect it to be especially loud during campaign years.

Juan Cole has these observations in Salon:
Back when the GOP presidential field was still flush with tough-talking right-wingers, no one was more outrageous in targeting Muslims than Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, who suggested that Muslim terrorists inside America were plotting the imminent detonation of an atomic bomb on U.S. soil. How to prevent this Tom Clancy scenario? "If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina," Tancredo declared. "Because that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they otherwise might do."

That sort of wild-eyed bigotry only fuels the cycle of mistrust and vengeance. One can only imagine how much more difficulty Tancredo generated for U.S. diplomats attempting to explain to America's Muslim allies why a presidential candidate was talking about nuking Islam's holiest cities, the larger with a population nearly that of Houston.

But the failure of Islamophobia as a campaign strategy is no better illustrated than by the spectacular flame-out of Rudy Giuliani. Throughout his campaign (deep-sixed after his dismal showing in Tuesday's Florida primary), the former New York mayor evoked the Sept. 11 attacks at an absurd rate. Giuliani and his advisors appeared to revel in demonizing Muslims. They also reveled in their own ignorance -- never learning the difference between "Islamic" and "Muslim."

"Islamic" has to do with the religion founded by the prophet Mohammed. We speak of Islamic ethics or Islamic art, as things that derive from the religion. "Muslim," on the contrary, describes the believer. It would be perfectly all right to talk about Muslim terrorists, but calling them Islamic terrorists or Islamic fascists implies that the religion of Islam is somehow essentially connected to those extremist movements.

Giuliani complained that during their debates, Democratic rivals "never mentioned the word 'Islamic terrorist,' 'Islamic extremist,' 'Islamic fascist,' 'terrorist,' whatever combination of those words you want to use, [the] words never came up." He added, "I can't imagine who you insult if you say 'Islamic terrorist.' You don't insult anyone who is Islamic who isn't a terrorist."

But people are not "Islamic," they are Muslim. And one most certainly does insult Muslims by tying their religion to movements such as terrorism or fascism. Muslims perceive a double standard in this regard: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols would never be called "Christian terrorists" even though they were in close contact with the Christian Identity Movement. No one would speak of Christofascism or Judeofascism as the Republican candidates speak of Islamofascism. Muslims point out that persons of Christian heritage invented fascism, not Muslims, and deny that Muslim movements have any link to the mass politics of the 1930s in Europe.

Giuliani's pledge to take the United States on an offensive against Islamic fascism, which he also said would be a long-term battle, failed to excite the imagination of voters. It may well have alarmed them in a way different from what Giuliani intended: If, by Giuliani's logic, the United States is only on the "defensive" now, with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, what would being on the offensive look like? Would Giuliani have started four wars? Interestingly, Giuliani did especially poorly in Florida among retired and active-duty military personnel.

Current GOP front-runner John McCain has been prone to hyperbole and has let some bigoted statements escape his lips as well. He has said that the threat from Islamic extremism is greater than the one presented by the Soviet Union. Recently, McCain proclaimed, "I'm not interested in trading with al-Qaida. All they want to trade is burqas... " The senator seemed to be relating the Muslim custom of veiling to
terrorism. The Detroit Free Press, whose city has one of the largest Muslim populations, reported on Jan. 12 that McCain's remarks were hurtful to American Muslims. "Local Muslims say that criticizing al-Qaida is legitimate, but wonder why he would make a snide remark about a dress? The remark was especially bothersome, some said, considering that McCain's adopted daughter, Bridget McCain, is from one of the biggest Muslim countries, Bangladesh." One would think that raising a daughter from the Muslim world in the United States today would be difficult enough, even without the adoptive father's denigrating the customs of the women from that culture.

On another occasion, asked whether a Muslim candidate for president would be acceptable, McCain replied, "I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles ... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would -- I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead."

But according to Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Secularists and Jews joined American Muslims in condemning McCain's assertion that the United States was founded on Christian principles, and that Christian faith could be a key determinate for taking the Oval Office.

McCain's misconceptions about Muslims and perceived hostility toward them predates his 2008 presidential campaign. In 2005, he said on "The Charlie Rose Show" that a Muslim had killed the Indian political and spiritual figure Mahatma Gandhi. In fact, the assassin belonged to a radical Hindu organization, the RSS.

The candidates who played to fears of "Islamic fascism" the most -- Tancredo, Huckabee and Giuliani -- failed to light any fire under partisans in the party, and they have now faded from the scene. But the campaign has already left behind a bitter legacy of sloganeering against a single religious and ethnic community. The Republicans have repeatedly asserted that Islam has been perverted by radicals; their rhetoric effectively reduced American Muslims to second-class citizens and branded them as suspicious. Perhaps most worrisome of all: If any of the remaining candidates does win the presidency, he is going to have to cultivate close relations with Middle Eastern regimes to even begin resolving the mess in that region. And that president will have to do so saddled from the start with a legacy of denigrating Islam and Muslims.
You can read the entire article here.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

The Founding Fathers saw themselves as the personification of a new philosophical movement that placed itself above the problems that Christianity and organized state religion had caused.

Some were Deists, like Jefferson. Some were Anglicans, like Washington.

But all agreed that although their underlying tenants were moral, religion ought to have no place in state functions.