Thursday, August 26, 2010

Islamic Community Center Hysteria Reveals GOP Fault Lines

Given the rabid rants/electoral calculations of GOP politicians revolving around the planned Islamic community center blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, it’s fitting that Texas congressman and perennial presidential candidate Ron Paul becomes the first (and only –- taking bets) national Republican figure to condemn the “grandiose demagoguery” of GOP opponent(s) of the so-called mosque. In geopolitical terms, as a NYT columnist somewhat noted recently, the ironies abound:

We have sacrificed more than 4,000 American lives to “liberate” one Islamic nation (that did not attack us on 9/11) and formed alliances with another to wage perpetual war against the 100 or so in-country Al Quaeda terrorists (that attacked us on 9/11) and its more robust threat, the Taliban (that did not attack us but together with our nuclear armed ally, Pakistan –- the most populous Islamic nation in the region -- gives Al Quaeda continuous safe haven, although our as-yet non-nuclear armed enemy Iran, does not) as we pretend the corrupt administration of our ally, drug-dealing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is not disturbingly similar to Diem’s in South Vietnam c. 1963, while trying to put out burgeoning terrorist threats in neighboring Yemen (and distant Somalia; the global reach of terrorism) that could have been better contained with a regional balance of power rather than a chaotic power vacuum –- but that’s another story.

Tarnished U.S. Image A Terrorist Recruiting Tool?

Meanwhile, the man sitting in a Cairo café in Egypt (our ally, hence recipient of large chunk of U.S. foreign aid in the service of that elusive regional stability shattered by our invasion of ally-turned-enemy-turned-ally, Iraq) wonders whether it’s safe to travel in the U.S. when the moderate Imam who once called himself a Jew and traveled the region under Bush State Department auspices to promote friendship and understanding between Islam and the West is under siege by angry mobs in America. The Imam’s American crime is proposing to develop a community center near Ground Zero to serve a community of Muslim Americans that just happens to live within walking distance. The center will have quintessentially American basketball courts and a gym and cafeteria, with two floors out of 13 set aside for prayer. If New York City -- where days ago a cabbie was attacked by a drunken crazed Islamophobe -- isn’t safe for a Muslim, what part of the country is?

“Not to worry,” says the Cairo café man’s friend, who is traveled in the U.S. and a student of America’s schizoid culture. “It is an election year in America” and “George Bush’s party is out of power for two years,” he adds with a knowing finger wag. “Ah…” With a shrug of understanding the relieved Cairo café man takes a sip of his strong coffee. Perhaps it is safe for his son to study in American university, after all.

Newt Gingrich Exploits Fault Lines and Conspiracist History

As much as Ron Paul’s libertarian principles are offended by “how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion,” the “grandstanding” and “grandiose” demagogue of his blistering statement aptly describes one, and only one, GOP presidential candidate: Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich is not one to let a crisis go to waste; or rather, he will not waste an opportunity to gin-up a crisis for personal political gain. The faux controversy, initially created out of whole cloth by a wingnut Islamophobic blogger, soon went viral once Fox and parts of the MSM picked it up. Republicans swiftly seized on what they perceived as a juicy wedge issue plum for November. It’s not as if they have a governing plan other than oppose the President and his party. Gingrich, who had been making presidential noises for some time, jumped in with both feet.

It was vintage Newt, from the demagogic exploitation of the issue to his strained historical revisionism linking the center’s proposed name, Cordoba, to “radical Islamic triumphalism” ascribed to the Moor conquest/occupation of the Iberian peninsula in 711. Gingrich is apparently concerned that “radical Islamists” plan to set up a new 800-year Caliphate on American soil, with New York City as its capital, renamed New Cordoba. To assuage Gingrich’s paranoid historical fantasies, the center’s planners have renamed it the Park 51 Center. What could be a more benignly American name, right? Right?

Understandably unfamiliar with the Republican Tea Party’s history-as-a-paranoid conspiracy sources (Alex Jones, Dan Brown, the Knights Templar, Turner Diaries, Coast-to-Coast AM) the center’s planners failed to account for the Arab numeral “51” in the center’s RE-name. AREA 51, anyone … need I say more? Or perhaps these Illuminatti Numeratti were familiar with the hidden meaning of the Arab numeral “51” all along? (Cue spooky conspiracy soundtrack.) This may seem over the top … until one delves into the weird sources and beliefs of Tea Party extremists.

Gingrich compared the misnamed “Ground Zero mosque” to placing a “Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum” and branded the moderate community center planners “radical Islamists.” Republicans either parroted Gingrich or signaled their acquiescence in this madness with their silence. Which, in a way, is worse.

Undeterred by widespread criticism outside the right wing fringe, Gingrich persisted in throwing more rhetorical bombs, accusing President Obama of “pandering to radical Islam.” He whipped up the GOP wingnut base into Islamophobic hysterics, then rested to survey the damage: ugly demonstrations at Ground Zero in which a black man with a tight-fitting cap was confused for a Muslim –- he was not –- and jostled by a white mob; teabaggers in California pledging to show up at a Muslim prayer with dogs; opposition to mosques across the country and growing hate crime threats to life and property of Muslim Americans.

Ron Paul to the Rescue, Or GOP Eruption?

When Ron Paul finally spoke out, the loquacious Newt windbag was uncharacteristically mute. The eccentric libertarian Paul, whose loyal followers believe reason in politics trumps charisma, is usually mild-mannered and measured in his criticisms. Paul could no longer hold back his revulsion with the NeoCons in the GOP, Gingrich chief among them, “who demand continual war in the Middle East and Central Asia and are compelled [with the “mosque” controversy] to constantly justify it.” Even blood wasn’t thicker than NeoCon Kool-Aid: “Ayn” Rand Paul added one more to his “run the other way” list -- microphones, cameras, reporters … and now, his daddy.

High principle aside, Ron Paul must have been royally pissed to violate Ronald Reagan’s “Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” In a sense, Newt Gingrich’s flatulent bloviations did us all a favor, exposing the GOP’s dirty laundry. With the likely prospect of facing Newt and Sister Sarah in another quixotic presidential bid (who’s the Don and Sancho Panza in this matchup?), Ron Paul served notice he will not be a GOP talking point on-message drone this November. Not generally known for self-control or rhetorical discipline, Newt for his part must have had a talking-to behind the shed from the person(s) who will have something to say politically and financially about his fortunes as a future presidential candidate. ‘Cool it,’ they told him, ‘this thing could get out of hand for Republicans.’ Sure enough, Gingrich cancelled without further comment his attendance at a protest of the proposed “mosque” in lower Manhattan on the anniversary of 9/11.

‘Cain’t Nobody Here Lead This Party?’

What the Paul-Gingrich spat has revealed is a leadership crisis within the GOP/Tea Party. GOP movers and shakers (its leadership in exile), embarassed that Rush Limbaugh is widely viewed as the real leader of the Republican Party, are scrambling madly to find a suitable alternative Party leader without Palin’s high negatives among independents, RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s buffoonery, or Ron Paul’s blasphemous dovinshness and secular sacrilege. The face of the “Tea Party” is extremist: Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, Ken Buck, Marco Rubio. The face behind the “Tea Party” is corporate and sinister: Dick Armey, the Kock brothers, fake doctors, white supremacists:

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Almost by default, John Boehner was coaxed away from the links to give a “major address.” The dour, robotic Boehner was clearly not ready for prime time. A creation of his corporate donor base, the former Republican back bencher was once caught distributing tobacco industry checks on the House floor. In this Q&A with Meet The Press and Fox (Chris Wallace decides to be a journalist), Boehner is incapable of answering a simple question: Will the GOP pay for extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich?:

That this moron without a plan or a clue would be Speaker if Republicans take over the House should be enough to give most rational fence-sitting voters pause. The Republicans cannot expect to sit on a lead, like Dewey did when he defeated Truman, or win somethin’ for nothin’. When November rolls around, it will inevitably come down to a choice for voters. And not only will Democrats look a lot better then, but they will also turn out, confounding the fat analyst with the Justin Bieber haircut.

Churchill’s Way Out

The tragic irony of America’s Byzantine history in the Middle East is that we have sacrificed dearly in blood and treasure to encourage moderate Islam to fight and defeat its radical terrorist fringe. The U.S. has propped up a corrupt Afghan regime with military might and bales of billions tossed into a black hole with Swiss bank destinations. Meanwhile on the home front, jingoistic bigots supportive of the war effort -- as long as it involves killing lots of “bad guys”-- project an image of intolerance and Islamophobia aimed precisely at one instrument of America’s outreach to moderate Islamic hearts and minds, the now infamous “Ground Zero mosque” Imam.

When Winston Churchill famously said of the former Soviet Union –-
“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”
-- He could not have predicted our so-called “Af-Pak policy” or schizophrenic history in the region, although its outlines were hinted at during his time, when Britain was a world empire. Substitute “Russia” with “Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan” and “Russian” with “U.S.” and a way out of the quagmire is suddenly revealed. If we are wise enough to define what is and is not in our national interest.


Lula O said...

I keep wondering why someone doesn't tell this guy that fake tanning can cause skin cancer. He and george hamilton probably have regular screenings together, ooo maybe they even give each other full body scans..

Carlos said...

Hahaha...Now that's an unpleasant thought. President Obama called the 10% tax on tanning salons, the "Boehner tax."