Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Islamophobic Hard Right Really aren't any Different from 9/11 Truthers

This is a rather refreshing slice of sanity from Chris Christie:
At this juncture, it may be more efficient to highlight which interactions between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the media are not newsworthy. The Republican’s appointment of Muslim-American Sohail Mohammed to a state bench this week ruffled some feathers among some who fear the threat of Sharia Law, but when asked about those concerns, Gov. Christie made clear he had no patience for such “ignorance,” calling the complaints “crap.”

“Ignorance is behind the criticism of Sohail Mohammed,” he told a reporter asking about the complaints that he may be inadequate to be a judge because he defended Muslim Americans who were wrongly arrested post-9/11. “He is an extraordinary American who is an outstanding lawyer and played an integral role in the post-September 11th period in building bridges between the Muslim American community in this state and law enforcement,” Gov. Christie argued, adding that he was “disgusted, candidly, by some of the questions he was asked… at the Senate judiciary committee.”

But it was a follow-up question on the fear of Sharia Law that set the governor off. “Sharia Law has nothing to do with this at all, it’s crazy!” he cried. “The guy is an American citizen!” He concluded that the “Sharia Law business is just crap… and I’m tried of dealing with the crazies,” adding with disgust and frustration that “it’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background.”
(For those on the left who fail to see the appeal of Christie's bullying tactics, you have to admit it's kind of nice to see when he's making your point for you. That, and he is governor of a state known for its Darwinian principles of social management.)

Unfortunately, Christie's views are apparently the minority view in the GOP. Do check out Eli Lake's extended assessment of the current crop of GOP presidential contender's foreign policy philosophies. Among the more outlandish segments of the piece is this nugget from supposedly serious candidate Tim Pawlenty's camp:
“[Michelle Bachmann] really gets it that there is a stealth jihad by radical Islamists in this country,” says Sarah Stern, the president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth. Stern recalls a conversation that she had with Bachmann in the congresswoman’s office in October 2010. Stern says Bachmann was talking about “the depth of radical Islam in Minneapolis.” (Minneapolis was the site of a longtime operation by Al Shabab to recruit Somali-Americans to fight in Somalia.) “She actually said, ‘Right here, coming to a theater near you, we have stealth jihad in Minnesota,’” Stern told me approvingly.


BACHMANN’S VIEWS on sharia are apparently popular enough that Tim Pawlenty—who planned to run as the conservative alternative to Romney, but has found himself eclipsed by Bachmann—has felt the need to nod in the same direction. In March, Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Pawlenty campaign, told Politico that the governor personally shut down a sharia-compliant finance program in Minnesota, because “the United States should be governed by the U.S. Constitution, not religious laws.” And, when I asked Conant whether his candidate believed there was a threat to the Constitution from sharia, he said yes. “He does think there is a threat from sharia or any religious law or international law of undermining U.S. law and the Constitution,” Conant explained. “The threat is the courts would look to sharia law instead of the U.S. Constitution, and the governor would vigorously oppose this.”
I have to give Conant, an ex-editor of the Badger Herald, a lot of credit for being able to utter such remarkable bullshit with a straight face, especially given just how much this nonsense is just how couched it is in race-baiting and xenophobia. I understand this is standard operating procedure to bring base voters to the polls by creating boogie men -- and both parties do it -- but this particular bout of chest-pounding is particularly strange given Bachmann and Pawlenty's Minnesotan origins.

It's fairly well-known by now that the Twin Cities have a large Somali ex-pat population. The numbers aren't necessarily huge, but the community tends to stick out in a largely homogenous state. Lake omits this detail in his story. It should come as little surprise that an organization in the homeland, especially a bad one, looks to recruit and fund-raise from ex-pats abroad--the IRA, after all, was raising money in New York and Boston up through the 1990s. Ipso facto, according to Pawlenty and Bachmann, sharia law is slowly taking over the North Star State.

Lake also reminds his readers of the Frank Gaffney, the Islamophobic nutcase whose rantings are quickly becoming more and more unhinged with each passing day. As Luck would have it, Gaffney is currently espousing the utterly unsubstantiated theory that the manifesto of the murder responsible for the recent mass killings in Norway was planted as part of a "false flag operation" by the Muslim Brotherhood.

I bring this up because the phrase "false flag operation" should trigger a few alarms among people, like myself, who have a morbid curiosity with how conspiracy theories evolve and travel among the 9/11 Truther lunatic jetset. "False flag operations" are the conspiracy theorists' equant -- the abstract construction Ptolemy used to prove the universe revolved around the Earth. It should seem a little odd that two camps with diametrically opposed views are now adopting the same tactics to advance their respective points.

Or should it? Since Osama bin Laden was killed earlier this year it seems like the folks who have spent the last decade screaming like Cassandra of the imminent takeover of Islam now seem wrong. But when crazy people are given evidence that demonstrates the wrongness of their convictions, they don't change their minds: they double down. The next step is usually to apply their twisted worldviews to other areas and thus construct entirely new conspiracy theories from whole cloth, something noted Islamophobe Pamela Geller did three years ago when she gave mankind the Barack Obama is really Malcolm X's bastard son theory. Pretty soon Geller, Gaffney, Robert Spencer et al. will have constructed an entire alternative world history filled to the gills with enough conspiratorial nonsense to make even Moulder and Scully roll their eyes.

When we went looking for the reasons why Kevin Barrett believed all the crazy shit he believed we found that the common denominator underlying each pillar of his worldview was antisemitism. Somehow or in some way, whatever point Barrett tries to advance all comes back to the Jews. For the Islamophobic right, it's the same story, only with Muslims and couched in the delicate language of a think tank white paper:
Ever since 2003, when the thrust of the War On Terror stopped being the defeat of America’s enemies and decisively shifted to nation-building, we have insisted—against history, law, language, and logic—that Islamic culture is perfectly compatible with and hospitable to Western-style democracy,” McCarthy has written. “It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.
That extract from the Lake piece was written by Andrew McCarthy. It appeared in National Review earlier this year and its the very sentiment Chris Christie denounced at the very beginning of the post. At best, McCarthy's statement is a willfully negligent of the history of Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan (not the best example, I know, but one whose variables do more to explain the why democracy has trouble taking root in the Middle East as opposed to other parts of the Muslim world) and, the world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia (see also Bangladesh, Mali and Senegal). At worst, it's a throwback to the kind of racist justifications used in defense of colonialism during the 19th century.

And it's an opinion pervasive among just about every GOP presidential candidate, except Mitt Romney, who perhaps better than any of his colleagues understands what it's like to be a religious minority whose faith is poorly understood by the rest of the country. One of the most important things George Bush did during his entire presidency was reach out to the Muslim community immediately -- and I mean without hesitation -- after 9/11 and then continue to make the distinction between radical and mainstream Islam. There's no question that prevented a deluge of suspicion and recriminations in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks. I seriously doubt that most of the GOP candidates running for President would have done the same thing.

Then again, maybe this burgeoning pillar of GOP foreign policy is a reaction to Bush's efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East, a way for the party to collectively wipe it's hands clean of the failure. It's the exact opposite of neocon theory that democracy would quickly flower in Iraq, all it needed was a push. But the current crop of GOP White House hopefuls seem to have taken away a stunningly simplistic lesson from the misadventure in Iraq: Islam and democracy don't mix. It's only a matter of time before we start getting a revisionist account about how the Iraq invasion would have worked if not for the stubborn Muslims who just couldn't seem to grasp the concept of freedom.

Again, I don't know if this is just an issue the GOP uses to whip the base up into a frenzy or if they actually believe this drivel (or even if there a difference between the two anymore), but if notion that democracy and Islam are incomparable is as influential an idea as Lake claims, it will not be long before wild-eyed nutters will be sounding like Kevin Barrett, only they'll be doing it from behind a lectern during a presidential debate. Maybe only then this idea will finally sound as stupid to their ears as it should.

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