The More Important Question is Why

A few weeks back, Rufus asked whether there had been a recent uptick in people protesting against the construction of mosques and Islamic religious institutions.  As the recent NY Times piece (with which I assume all are familiar) demonstrated, the answer to this question is, sadly, an unequivocal “yes.”  Although little of this uptick has involved outright acts of violence against Muslims, it is nonetheless highly disturbing that many of them have involved calls for state action against Muslims, oftimes by government officials (and, as any doctrinaire libertarian will tell you, “calls for state action” are in fact calls for state-sponsored violence on at least some level).  Equally disturbing to me is the way in which many of the justifications for concluding that all Muslims want to create a new caliphate in the United States are exactly parallel to traditional justifications for anti-Semitism, and in particular the way in which verses from the Koran or other Islamic texts are selectively lifted to demonstrate that world domination is a central tenet of Islam and that all good Muslims accept as a matter of religious doctrine that they are entitled to rape, maim, rob, kill or – perhaps most significantly – lie to non-believers.*  This last is important because it makes it impossible for a Muslim to prove himself non-violent;   

But Rufus asked another question in his first post that remains unanswered: why?

In manys ways, this is indeed the more important question, as few of these attempts seem to have yet achieved any kind of lasting success.  It is also an extraordinarily puzzling question. 

Proponents of this antagonism Islam in the United States attribute it to Americans in effect “waking up” to the threat of Islamism and sharia, with Andy McCarthy writing:

Most of the American people are in a much different place. They see Islamists advancing, they are beginning to grasp that Islamists (not just terrorists but the whole Islamist movement) mean to change us in very fundamental ways, and therefore they understand that every such advance is a defeat for freedom. Every advance emboldens a determined enemy to press ahead. Over time, we could be conquered in that our way of life would be drastically altered.

This explanation makes about zero sense, particularly coming as it does during a time when the Great Immigration Menace (to the extent it is actually a “menace” at all) comes overwhelmingly from Catholic Central America.  We are now 9 years removed from 9/11.  We are five years removed from the London train bombings, six from the Madrid train bombings.  Although the Fort Hood shootings are only 9 months in the past, that attack appears more an isolated incident than the result of a coordinated effort, more comparable to the Holocaust Museum shootings than anything else. 

True, there have been a number of thwarted attempted attacks over the years, ranging from the absurdly outlandish to the (thankfully) incompetently executed.  Then again, even a thwarted attempt is the exception rather than the rule – we hear about such attempts only once or, at most, twice a year, not once or twice a month, much less once or twice a day.  The fact is that anti-Muslim sentiment right now seems to be running higher than it did in the traumatic days immediately following 9/11. 

I have little doubt that, for all his faults, George W. Bush’s repeated attempts to delineate between radical and mainstream Islam helped to keep this sentiment reined in.  That he was replaced by a nominally liberal Democrat with the middle name of “Hussein” probably did not help matters with the group most likely to hold deep-seated prejudices against Muslims. 

So that’s probably a big part of it.  Add to that the dreadful state of the economy and the historical link between nativism and isolationism and the economy and you’ve got a little bit more. But I don’t think it gets you to the point where it explains why politicians increasingly seem to be concluding that running on an anti-Muslim platform is the secret to winning elections, just as much and maybe even more so than running on a nominally Tea Party-ish platform.  I don’t think it gets you to the point where groups like the Anti-Defamation League feel comfortable signing onto this movement. 

So, I leave it to you, dear readers, even (perhaps especially) those of you who agree with the sentiments of the anti-Muslim movement: what explains this?  If you do agree with those sentiments and wish to chalk it up to “Americans are waking up,” though, then I want to know what is causing Americans to suddenly, in your mind, “wake up.”

Relatedly, given the insistence (however dubious) that Muslims are obligated to lie about their intentions, how do you propose that Muslims can demonstrate that they are neither bad Muslims nor intent on establishing a new caliphate or otherwise dominating the United States?

* I do not link to the supporting evidence for this point for two reasons: first, I am quite certain those sites are blocked by my filter software, and second because I don’t wish to give proudly anti-Semitic sites traffic.  I did, however, research this last night and suffice to say that claims that Jews are permitted to lie to Gentiles, as well as kill, rob, rape, and maim them based on carefully selected quotes from the Torah and the Talmud are quite central to anti-Semitism going back at least as far as Martin Luther (and, I assume, quite a bit further than that).

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29 thoughts on “The More Important Question is Why

  1. I made an anti-semite pointing this stuff out once.

    One of the few times in my life I convinced someone to change their mind, and what I convinced him of wasn’t that the Islamophobia was kookery. I convinced him that he had the wrong monotheistic bad guy group and he went on from there as the enemy of the Jews instead of the Muslims.

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  2. I have little doubt that, for all his faults, George W. Bush’s repeated attempts to delineate between radical and mainstream Islam helped to keep this sentiment reined in.

    It would be nice if he would say something now. Instead, nearly every person of any prominence to the conservative “movement” is either campaigning against the building of a mosque in Manhattan or is keeping his or her head down so as to “focus on jobs.” Jobs are important, but so is freedom. A full-throated defense of individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution is something that has apparently become incompatible with Republican and/or conservative politics. Instead, Republican politicians are chasing the votes of a very disagreeable fringe because their voices emerge from the echo chamber the loudest.

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      • @Mark Thompson, I’m not sure what good it will do at this point. I think that Bush had the effect he did not because he was so fantastically popular among conservatives (particularly during the second term) but because there was a degree of trust that he would use the office to defend against encroaching Islamism. Out of office, that trust is meaningless.

        Obama’s foreignness and international cosmopolitanism probably doesn’t help matters in this regard. If HRC were president, we probably would not be seeing as much of this. I think there is the sense among some that Obama has little interest in protecting the US from any external threat. I’m not defending that perspective (which I don’t have), but I think it’s out there.

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          • @greginak, there is certainly that sentiment towards Democrats in general, but I think that it is particularly pronounced when it comes to the Obama himself. Even beyond this particular subject, I think the enthusiasm that some have that Obama is not actually a citizen speaks to that. An outward reflection of what their insides are telling them: he’s not one of us. Not really.

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  3. This may seem over-simplistic, but I suspect that the answer to “why” isn’t all that complicated.

    I think the prejudice against the “other” has always been there, with a certain type of person. Our society has just made it far too embarrassing to admit to being a bigot, so many people just bit their tongues.

    But this new strategy by the right (and yes, I am a conservative) has two aspects that have changed everything: First, they have managed to hone a “you’re neighbors either agree with everything we think or they are the enemy” message that blares 24/7; combined with the successful creation of the much ballyhooed “epistemic closure” it is a powerful message indeed.

    Secondly, however, and perhaps more important is this: They have adopted the strategy of victimhood from the left to allow its members to justify thoughts, feelings and actions that might otherwise be too embarrassing. I do not, to point, see anyone attacking the idea of the mosques (and let’s be honest, the ability of Muslims to worship at all) in and of itself. Rather, they are responding to how these monsters (American Muslims) are making them (bigots) the victims. As I put in a rather flip comment in Jason’s gay marriage post: “Don’t want to have your Muslim neighbors worship in your town that houses 140 churches, but are afraid of being called a bigot? No worries! You’re not a bigot, you’re a victim of their Sheria laws that aim to destroy your way of life.”

    I suspect that those that are fueling these fires for their own rating/votes/donations by and large recognize the cynicism of what they are doing and are barreling right along anyway. It’s both sad and sick.

    I also suspect that in 20 years, just about every single person who is on this particular bandwagon will swear up and down to their children and neighbors that they never, ever supported such bigoted actions – nor would they ever. Just like everyone has with interracial neighborhoods, letting your kids hang out with Jews, or interracial marriage.

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    • @RTod, Thanks. I think you’re on to something here, although it doesn’t explain the ADL’s actions (admittedly only a small part of this phenomenon). The rapid rise of right-wing victimhood strikes me as a pretty important piece of the puzzle. It also, given the historical implications of a majority or politically powerful plurality of a populace adopting victimhood as its core persona, is extremely disconcerting.

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      • The ADL’s a Jewish organization. Israel has moved sharply to the right and condemned anything that even suggests the Palestinians (or, by connection, any Muslims) might be sympathetic people, and the ADL’s moved with them.

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  4. With the ADL, all you need to know is that Abe Foxman calls the shots there. If you’re not familiar with his work, a quick Google search should speak volumes. On the salsa scale of culture warriors, he’s just the “medium” to FOX News’s “picante”, and I guess the only reason he hasn’t really turned up the heat is that he still has to appear at least nominally to be doing his job.

    Some links that may be of interest to you:

    -Matt Yglesias had an editorial in the Post today chalking up this resurgence to the economy. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/06/AR2010080602665.html I think that’s about 50% of your answer.

    – The other 50% was mentioned above, namely the unspoken assumption that as long as Republicans are in power, no one is going to give Islam a free ride. This assumption exists for both liberals and conservatives, I think, with the major difference being that only conservatives see this as a net positive.

    In that respect I suppose we were lucky to have Bush as a president, if we had to have a Republican. At least he spoke out on behalf of American Muslims. Hence Jeff Goldberg’s appeal today: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/08/a-task-for-george-w-bush/61133/

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  5. The main issue with Islam should be, in my humble opinion, it’s historical resistance to separation of Church and State. As long as practioners of the Islamic faith living in America understand this principle, there should be no problem at all — each to their own — pray to Lady Gaga if you want.

    But this resistance to separate Church and State ought to be a central criticism of Islam, and this strengthens your point — no one should be promoting State action to limit or promote any religion.

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    • @Mike Farmer, I see this is the most common politically correct argument against the Mosques – that even moderate Islam is really a Trojan horse for Sharia. But it’s a statement that is as true for American Muslims as it is for American Christians. In fact, much of the protest seems to be coming from the kind of evangelicals and dominionists that are a mirror image of the enemy they purport to fight.

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      • @trizzlor, Precisely. It’s as if their real anger is that radical Islam stole their ideas and did them better. The Southern Baptist Convention gets flak for saying women should ‘graciously submit’ to their husbands, but them Muslims actually have LAWS making the wives knuckle under! It’s just not fair!

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  6. “The fact is that anti-Muslim sentiment right now seems to be running higher than it did in the traumatic days immediately following 9/11.”

    I think that the Iraq War was supported as much as it was because it was a displaced way to deal with the attack.

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          • @North, not saturation *NUCLEAR* bombing.

            Just daisy cutters.

            Daisy cutters, daisy cutters, and more daisy cutters. They only cost, like, $30k apiece. It’d be a bargain.

            “I suspect that would have complicated the Israel-Palestinian dynamic.”

            Dude, we can’t pee after getting up first thing in the morning without complicating the Israel/Palestinian dynamic. At some point we just have to change our relationship status to “it’s complicated”.

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            • @Jaybird, true dat, but then again a president Jaybird would have been a whole lot of interesting. For instance your State of the Union address “Attention other branches of government and my fellow Americans, I’ve traded in my Veto pen for a veto stamp in order to preven carpal tunnel since I intend to be vetoing the hell out of all the stuff you’re sending up. That is all.”

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  7. I kind of thought this thread ignored the obvious, but I wasn’t going to take it there, b/c if you guys didnt see it that way, then I wasn’t going to be able to make you.

    But now that I’ve seen someone who’s not a left-wing loony say it, and the thread is largely quiet, I’ll just leave my two cents, in the Tweeted words of @drstevemetz:

    “drstevemetz Reality is irrelevant in the mosque issue. It is about the Palins and Gingrichs of the world mobilizing anger and indignation.”

    Signaling, baby. She guides their rage.

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    • @Michael Drew, This will likely the last I write on the mosque issue; I’ve discovered some things in the last 24 hours that make me highly skeptical that it’s ever going to be built under any circumstance due to a general lack of funding (which, in its own way, would fully disprove the narrative that the project is intended as a symbol of victory for Islamists everywhere). Just some things in their media strategy in the last few days and weeks that don’t seem to make sense in context unless this is an organization that is desperate for funding.

      That said, I’m not sure I quite agree with that formulation. To be sure, I think Palin and Gingrich’s actions legitimized this issue in the eyes of the press and caused it to reach a fever pitch outside the conservative movement. But from what I was seeing, the issue had already reached a fever pitch even before Palin and Gingrich got involved. But YMMV.

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      • @Mark Thompson, The timing issue is what kept me from just running with that. The NYC issue is home-grown and was seized on by the opportunists not the other way round, I fully concede that; it was the reports of “spreading resistance all around the country” that followed that got my eyebrows to shoot up.

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        • @Michael Drew, “the issue had already reached a fever pitch even before Palin and Gingrich got involved.”

          This, though, I wouldpush back on. It was definitely that Palin tweet that got it in high gear nationally, at least as I experienced. Pls refudiate, tho, if I am mistaken.

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          • @Michael Drew, You should push back on it because it’s wrongly worded. What I was trying to convey was that I recall that it had already reached a fever pitch within the movement conservative bubble by the time Palin and Gingrich weighed in (IIRC, the project had already drawn protesters flying in from California by early July). Palin and Gingrich weighing in is what got it outside the movement bubble.

            One thing I’m curious about, though, since I don’t actually live in NY and I haven’t read or watched much NYC media closely in awhile. Was this even a major issue within NYC until the Palin and Gingrich statements sent it national?

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            • @Mark Thompson, Not sure, last lived there in 2008. I’m guessing in certain very particular quarters only. So you think it went NYC –> right-wing blogs (NRO?) –> Palin/Gingrich? That makes sense, though I’d credit Gingrich’s ability to smell it out directly from the source (SP, not so much). But I think you’re probably right, it likely got fed up the stovepipe first.

              Btw, on immigration in particular, I take Yglesias’ position that sentiments are economically rooted. On this type of pure xenophobia stuff, however, I think the fields are always fertile.

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