Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The "mosque" debate is not a "distraction".

A man makes the mistake of walking through a group of people protesting against the Park 51 mosque and is turned on by the crowd who assume, because of his dress and colour, that he is a Muslim.

Members of the crowd are clearly heard to yell, "he musta voted for Obama," "Mohammed's a pig," and other anti-mosque slogans.

There are some who have argued that this is simply an August non-story and that, because it will probably not impact on the November elections, that this is unimportant.

Glenn Greenwald disagrees.

That's exactly why I've found this conflict so significant. If Park51 ends up moving or if opponents otherwise succeed in defeating it, it will seriously bolster and validate the ugly premises at the heart of this campaign: that Muslims generally are responsible for 9/11, Terrorism justifies and even compels our restricting the equals rights and access of Americans Muslims, and more broadly, the animosity and suspicions towards Muslims generally are justified, or at least deserving of respect. As Aziz Poonawalla put it: "if the project does fail, then I think that the message that will be sent is that bigotry and fear of Muslims is not just permitted, it is effective."
As we've seen before, objections to mosques being built in the US are not restricted to lower Manhattan. These objections are taking place all across the United States.

Members of one religious community are being discriminated against. And they are being blamed for the actions of terrorists with whom they merely share a faith. This is almost unprecedented. When the IRA were blowing up people and places across the United Kingdom, I never heard anyone speak of Catholic terrorists. Their religion was never an issue in the national debate.

In the US that is clearly not the case. Now, it is obviously unfair to highlight one crowd member shouting out, "Mohammed's a pig", and imply that this is indicative of the feelings of the crowd as a whole. However, from this mornings New York Times we can clearly see that someone has distributed posters with the word Sharia written in red. What the Hell is that about? Are they seriously worried that Sharia law might be imposed in the United States?

This is turning really ugly. One group of Americans are turning on another group of Americans and they are doing so based on their religion. They are demanding that one group of Americans should have fewer rights than other Americans when it comes to where they are allowed to build their places of worship.
Obviously, not all opponents of Park51 are as overtly hateful as those in that video -- and not all opponents are themselves bigots -- but the position they've adopted is inherently bigoted, as it seeks to impose guilt and blame on a large demographic group for the aberrational acts of a small number of individual members. And one thing is certain: if this campaign succeeds, it will proliferate and the sentiments driving it will become even more potent. Hatemongers always become emboldened when they triumph.

The animosity and hatred so visible here extends far beyond the location of mosques or even how we treat American Muslims. So many of our national abuses, crimes and other excesses of the last decade -- torture, invasions, bombings, illegal surveillance, assassinations, renditions, disappearances, etc. etc. -- are grounded in endless demonization of Muslims. A citizenry will submit to such policies only if they are vested with sufficient fear of an Enemy. There are, as always, a wide array of enemies capable of producing substantial fear (the Immigrants, the Gays, and, as that video reveals, the always-reliable racial minorities), but the leading Enemy over the last decade, in American political discourse, has been, and still is, the Muslim.

I am with Greenwald. This is not Autumn madness brought about by a slow news cycle. This has been going on for almost a decade. Where quite a large proportion of the US electorate - goaded on by the right wing media - have been quite willing to watch the erosion of one group of people's rights, as long as the erosion is happening to "them".

Click here for Greenwald's article.

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