Park 51 and the Cost of Hatred

The attack on Islam in the US has led to hate-filled propaganda, like this Facebook photo of a plane flying into the Masjid Hassan II in Casablanca

As the midterm elections in the United States come closer, one can only expect the whole Park 51 (the so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ that is neither on Ground Zero nor a mosque) controversy to continue to boil on front pages of newspapers and on the pages of conservative (racist? bigoted?) blogs.  Clearly, the construction of the Islamic Center in Manhattan is simply a way of putting pressure on Democrats or sane, Constitution-loving people in hopes of changing Congress from Blue to Red this November.  While the tactic will probably bear fruit during elections, the complete desecration of America’s sacred First Amendment is only creating more hostility towards the country.

The aim of Republican smearists such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin is so sadistic and transparent that even fellow Republicans are wondering what are the real costs of demonizing Islam and conflating Muslims with terrorists.  Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, were straight-forward as he scolded both parties of using the issue as a ‘political football:’

Given my last position, that I was the first U.S attorney post 9/11 in New Jersey, I understand acutely the pain and sorrow and upset of the family members who lost loved ones that day at the hands of radical Muslim extremists…

We cannot paint all of Islam with that brush. …We have to bring people together. And what offends me the most about all this is that it’s being used as a political football by both parties.

So what are the costs of burning the values that America was built upon (Hear that?  It is Roger Williams crying)?  Specifically, what is this controversy going to do to the image of the United States around the world and, specifically, in the Middle East?  I see three very distinct costs for the current attack on Islam in the US

First of all, the issue has apparently brought out the most racist xenophobic fears in America.  As if the debate surrounding Arizona’s racist immigration law was not enough to demonstrate how far the United States has wandered from the ideal of an open, tolerant, accepting society, the Park 51 issue is bringing such hate and racism to the forefront of political debate, and for the wrong reasons.  While there are some who have maintained a level head in this debate (hello and thank you Michael Bloomberg) many Americans seem to have lost their minds.  From KabobFest:

While much the country is focused on whether or not the organizers of Park51 will change their minds and move or whether or not jihadis are in a tizzy over the debate, some real home-grown extremism has been cropping up, and not of the Islamic variety:

The group is called “If they build a mosque at ground zero, Someone should fly a plane into it”, and if it hasn’t been taken down for TOS violations, you can find it at Facebook here. Though many of the Wall posts seem to be from Park51 supporters, digging a bit deeper brought forth some terrifying imagery.

The Facebook pages also apparently includes posts with suggestions to send pig products to the Jewish and Muslim supporters of the project.  Indeed, by stoking fears of the public, Republicans (and several Democrats) are undermining one of the very basic pillars of America.  If politicians are going to incite hated and xenophobia – and is American people are going to bite at the bit – perhaps it is time to rethink the country’s proud tradition of tolerance.

The second major cost of this controversy is how it is being perceived (correctly) by people in the Middle East.  Muslims are certainly not happy that America is quickly and violently closely its doors to Islam by illogically conflating Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf with extremists like Bin Laden.  Mark Lynch provides a helpful list of Arab opinions surrounding the debate and, unsurprisingly, they reveal how much the controversy has lowered the view of America:

  • Jamil al-Nimri, a Jordanian liberal writing for al-Ghad, who writes that the backlash against the mosque has unleashed a wave of bigotry and hate, at the expense of the intended message of an enlightened and tolerant Islam.
  • Mohammed al-Hammadi, an Emirati writer for al-Ittihad, who describes the mosque as a moment for America to choose whether it truly believes in freedom.
  • Abd al-Haq Azouzi, a Moroccan writing for al-Ittihad, who reverses the familiar question to ask “why do they hate us?,” and warns that those cynically manufacturing the issue for political benefit are unleashing an uncontrollable wave of hatred.
  • Abdullah al-Shayji, a Kuwaiti writing for al-Ittihad, who sees the mosque battle as a fundamental test of the place of Muslims in America and fears rising Islamophobia.
  • Ragheda Dergham, writing in al-Hayat, warns that the campaign against the mosque threatens Islamic moderation.
  • Manar al-Shourbji, in Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm, reflects that the campaign against the mosque demonstrates that the good intentions of the mosque’s founders were not enough in the face of rising anti-Islam extremism in America.
Misrepresenting Islam can only result in a bleak future for the United States

Interestingly, as Lynch notes, the topic is not the most discussed on many internet jihadist forums, meaning that many people either view the issue as not important or merely another example of American Islamophobia.  Even Americans are seeing the bigoted terms being used in reference to Park 51 and can connect the close dots: Islamophobia is rising to dangerous levels.

The entire Park 51 brouhaha and the proposed ‘Burn a Quran Day’ are two of the most outrageous examples of racism in the United States.  Add to this volatile pot the continuing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the secret extra-judicial killings in Yemen and an ex-president who famously called the American Middle East policy a ‘crusade’ and it is not a stretch of the imagination to see why there is a negative view of the United States is the Middle East.

When Obama was elected President and gave his famous speech in Cairo, many Muslims and Arabs in general spoke with hope that the President could really bring about meaningful change and could bring the two regions together.  However, the pessimism surrounding the new direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine (see: America’s inability or unwillingness to exert pressure on Israel) and the hateful words used everyday by Americans towards and about Muslims have many reconsidering Obama’s hope message.

The third cost of the attack on the proposed cultural center is a drastic shift in political loyalties by the American Arab and Muslim population.  Arab culture is unsurprisingly conservative and has traditionally been in step with the Republican party line.  Muslims and Arab played a massive role in the election of President HW Bush and, eight years later, his son, President W Bush, but have been abandoning the Republican party in recent years.  While Bush – dubbed the first Muslim President by Suhail Khan – “was elected President of the United States of America because of the Muslim vote” it is unlikely that any Republican candidate in 2012 will have the Arab and Muslim vote.  From Khan;

Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo commented in 2005 that the U.S. response to terrorism should be to bomb Muslim holy cities including Mecca. Virginia Republican Rep. Virgil Goode complained that the 2006 election of Muslim Americans such as Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison underscored the need for immigration reform (a curious argument considering that Ellison was born in Detroit to Roman Catholic parents). In 2007, after Bush made a statement pointing to Islam’s place alongside Christianity and Judaism in the Abrahamic religious tradition, conservative columnist Cal Thomas asked, “How can the president say that we all worship the same God when Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus?” When the House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring Ramadan in 2007, 42 Republican congressmen declined to vote in favor of it, instead voting “present.”

Since the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” controversy erupted last month, New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio has blasted the mosque’s “terrorist-sympathizing” imam; Gingrich has made statements equating Islam with Nazism.

On every issue and by every measure, Muslim Americans should vote firmly with the GOP. But they won’t until the party finds leadership willing to stop playing to the worst instincts of its minority of bigoted supporters.

[tweetmeme] Despite potentially losing a growing number of Muslim and Arab constituents, Republicans seem bent on demonizing everyone in what is predominately a peaceful religion.  Thus, in addition to compromising the validity of America’s Constitution and its reputation in the world, the Republican-led attack on Islam is also severely targeting the longterm health of the Republican party (Democrats, as Khan points out, have not been much better and would be wise to seize on this strategic error).

So is the attack on Park 51 worth it?  If you are resigned to an unending cycle of hatred and anti-Americanism in the Middle East, find nothing morally unacceptable in bigotry and have no problem defacing the Constitution, then you should continue to follow Palin, Gingrich and other hate-mongering, short-sighted Republicans, continue to insult Islam.  On the other hand, though, if you believe in the actual right to openly practice religion and care about the health of United States, perhaps it is time to accept Islam and the right of Muslims to practice their religion where ever they like.

Opponents of Park 51 are playing a dangerous game with potentially disastrous longterm consequences at home and abroad.  Long story short, the attack on Islam is bad for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike and it is certainly bad for the United States.

Photos from KabobFest and Marc Lynch

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